• Tue. Jul 27th, 2021

14 home improvement and interior design hacks to try in 2021

The year 2020 has seen most people spend much more time in their homes than usual due to the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns and restrictions and this has resulted in a significant growth in people updating their homes including trying new things.

We have chatted to four interior design and home improvement heroes who are Welsh or based in Wales.

This group are willing to take on just about any project and share it on Instagram, they’ve done these projects and can pass on their experience and lessons.

Here are to get their favourite hacks for you to try choose your favourite and maybe even try in 2021.

1. Update the stairs

Go wild with your stair update

Expert: Carla Elliman

Carla specialises in taking something standard and arguably boring and bringing new life to it via pattern and colour. You can find Carla on Instagram as @carlaelliman.

Carla says: “In a lot of houses the stairs are the first thing you see when you open the front door so it’s a great way to make an impact on anyone coming into the house.”

In this example Carla decided to trial a zebra style makeover.

How to do it:

Carla says: “Take up your carpet from the stairs. Be sure to pull off all the carpet grippers and any staples that are left in the wood. Give everything a good sand and fill any holes/cracks. Give the wood a coat of primer then paint using a black satin.

“For the zebra effect I used vinyl from Jes Rose, it was so easy to apply, just measure each section, cut it out and stick it on.”

Carla’s strong piece of advice for this hack is to measure at least twice so the measurements are accurate so you only have to cut the vinyl once.

Cost: Approximately £100.

What to use: Zinseer BIN primer and Leyland Trade quick dry satin paint in black from Bromborough paints. Vinyl from Jes Rose.

Time: It took about a day.

2. Update flatpack furniture

Ikea cupboard updated to look stylish as well as functional – as a cat litter tray!

Expert: Carla Elliman

Carla says: “In this instance the project was to makeover a normal flatpack cupboard into a cat litter tray!

“Having a cat means, for most people, they have to have a litter tray in the house which is really unsightly. We wanted to create a space for it to be hidden away but still be accessible for our cat to use.”

How to do it:

Carla says: “Purchase an IVAR unit from IKEA. Before it is built, identify the side panel and mark out a circle to cut a hole in it using a jigsaw.

“Next build the unit as per the instructions that come with it. These units are great because they are pine so can be painted/varnished in any colour to suit your home once they are built.

“We marked out a pattern to paint on the front of ours with masking tape. You can also customise them further by adding legs and handles.”

Cost: Approximately £100.

What to use: IVAR unit from IKEA £65, paint was Zinseer BIN primer, Leyland Trade quick dry satin in brilliant white and Johnstones Trade quick dry satin in Midnight Blue – all from Bromborough paints.

Time: It took about a day,.

3. Stencil old floor tiles

Helps if your tiled floor is fairly flat but the update of stencilling is a cheap way to refresh a space

Expert: Carla Elliman

Carla says: “Replacing tiles can be really expensive, it’s a cheap and easy way to change the look of them for a fraction of the cost.”

How to do it:

Carla says: “Give the tiles a good clean with sugar soap and allow to dry. Next prime the tiles then paint them with your base colour; we used white.

“Use a stencil to paint your pattern on the tiles using a foam roller, use masking tape to hold the stencil down while you roll the paint over it. Once they are all done seal with a varnish to ensure no water damage can occur.”

After the experience of this project Carla advises that less is more when painting the stencil. She advises to only put a small bit of paint on the roller.

Carla adds: “Start stencilling with the full tiles, by the time you get to the edges where the tiles are cut you can then cut your stencil to do these ones.”

Cost: Approximately £100.

What to use: Zinseer BIN primer, Leyland Trade Vinyl Matt Emulsion in Brilliant White, Leyland Trade Vinyl Matt Emulsion in Black and Deocraters Varnish all from Bromborugh Paints. Stencil from Dizzy Duck Designs.

Time: Around an hour average every day for a week – waiting for the coats of paint to dry adds on the time! In total there is one coat of primer, one coat of white, one coat for the stencil and three coats for the varnish.

Find your next perfect home here:

4. Create a table feature

Summer branch

Expert: Dee Carter

Dee Carter specialises mainly in transforming a space using colour, finishing touches and updating what you already have in your home. You can find Dee Carter as @maric_living on Instagram.

One of the most unusual and versatile interior additions to Dee’s home is the branch she has hung over her dining table.

Dee says: “It’s a cost effective way of adding seasonal décor to a room. As much as I love a table centrepiece, they can get in the way when using the table for actually dining! It’s nice to have an interesting piece to raise the eye.”

Halloween branch

How to do it:

Dee says: “Either buy a branch or find one in the garden, remove any debris and leave to dry out, the time it takes will depend on whether the branch was already on the ground or if it has just been cut down.

“With a roof light above the table, add plastic strips (if there aren’t currently any) around the inner edge of the glass (glue it to the wall) and screw two hooks into the plastic each end of the roof light.

“Then attach a length of fishing line to each hook and to the branch to suspended it. A branch could also be suspended above a table or on a wall above a mantle or bed. Then decorate according to seasons.”

The branch was initially just going to be hung for Christmas, but Dee loved it so much and visitor’s positive feedback means it is now used for all seasons.

Christmas branch

Dee says: “I bring in flowers and foliage from the garden for a more natural look. I used it for drying hydrangeas in the autumn.”

One aspect of this project to consider is the help you will need, Dee says depending on the size of the branch, it’s a two person job to hang it and also ensure any decorations are securely fastened using string or florist wire; you don’t want one landing in your soup.

It is also not advised to have lit candles below the branch.

Cost: £0-£30 depending on whether you are buying a branch or find one and how you want to decorate it.

What to use: Foraged finds in the garden, paper decorations, battery lights from The White Company, decorations from various places.

Time: One hour (plus time to dry out the branch) and however long you want to have fun with the branch!

5. Add finishing touches

From a plain round mirror to a pompom festival

Expert: Dee Carter

Sometimes all a home accessory needs to give it a lift and a refresh is to add a few extra details, from fringing to adding beads and jewels, and in this example using pompoms to add extra colour, texture and movement.

How to do it:

Dee says: “Have fun making your own pompoms, a fun activity to do with the kids. Either do it the traditional way but cutting cardboard circles out or using a pompom maker which you can get from places like the Range or Amazon.

“Then add them to any accessories such as mirrors or lampshades using a glue gun, again these can be bought from places like the Range or Amazon. You could also buy pompom strips from places like frumble.co.uk. and simply glue the strip onto your accessory, for example a lampshade.”

Dee has some extra advice, she says: “I initially tried using glue dots and sticky pads to stick the pompoms to the mirror, but being wool, it was quite difficult.

“Using a glue gun is the most successful method, just be careful not to burn fingers (lesson learned the hard way!!) and especially around children.”

Cost: £15-£20

What to use: Wool from Poundland, B&M Bargains or the Range, pompom strip from frumble.co.uk, glue gun from Amazon, or the Range, pompom maker (optional) from Amazon or The Range

Time: 3-4 hours (including making the pompoms)

6. Paint a mural

Painting the rainbow over a doorway adds interest

Expert: Dee Carter

For anyone looking to add colour and something special to a room, a rainbow has in 2020 become a symbol of support and hope. Painting a rainbow design is a cost effective and easy way to add some colour to a room and over a doorway provides extra interest.

How to do it:

Dee says: “Measure out the thickness of the lines and number of colours you want to use. If you were doing a circle you could pin a piece of string to the middle of the circle with a pencil at the end and draw the circle from there.

“I was doing a semi-circle above the door so I measured the middle point and found a circle big enough (the huge clock in our hallway!!) to draw around onto a piece of cardboard, which I cut out and used as a template.

“If you are doing straight lines, use a spirit level to make sure they are straight. Once your design is drawn out, you can use masking tape to mask off the straight edges or you can paint it free hand. I used tester pots that I already had left over for the colours. Have fun with it and remember, it’s only paint, so mistakes can be easily rectified!

While creating the rainbow Dee learnt that small painters or children’s paintbrushes are easier to use than normal emulsion brushes, for painting free hand.

She adds: “Have a plan of how you are going to draw it out, planning and preparation is key. If you are nervous about painting free hand then start with a mural of straight lines, so you can use masking tape to get a neat edge.

“Just remember to let the paint dry thoroughly before putting tape on top of it!”

Cost: £15 – £20 depending on if you already have tester pots

What to use: Tester pots of paint colours, pencil, cardboard for a template, small artists paint brushes, frog tape.

Time: 2 days (to include drying time)

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7. Bathroom update: grout and walls

Updating the tiles and walls can create interest as well as a visual refresh

Expert: Dee Carter

Replacing the suite or tiles, or both, in a bathroom can be an expensive project and so two of our home hack heroes have come up with some ingenious ways to refresh the room without spending a fortune.

Simply refreshing the tile grout can be the cheapest way to instantly uplift a bathroom and this is where Dee started. But then she decided to take the plunge and repaint and add wall stickers.

How to do it:

Dee says: “We had a plain white bathroom with plain white tiles, which seemed a bit bland, so rather than go to the trouble and expense of ripping out the tiles and replacing them, we used a grout pen to change the colour of the grout from white to dark grey which added some depth to the tiles.

“Also as the walls were plain and wallpaper in a bathroom can sometimes be a bit tricky, the walls were repainted and the wall stickers added to give the space some personality.

“The grout pen is really simple to use, especially if your tiles are gloss finish. You simply draw onto the grout using the pen, leave for a minute or two and wipe off the excess on the tiles using a damp cloth.

“With the wall stickers, ensure the wall is clean and dry then simply place them on the wall in your own pattern.

Dee’s number one tip is to measure how big the area is to avoid multiple trips to the shop to buy grout pens, and the same for the wall stickers to ensure you purchase enough to cover the space.

She adds: “The tiles need a good clean afterwards to remove any residue from the grout pen, I used the Pink Stuff.”

Cost: £48

What to use: V33 Grey Matt Grout Pen from B&Q, Wall stickers from happydecs.co.uk where you can choose your own colour combinations in lots of designs.

Time: One day.

8. Bathroom update: using vinyl decals

Painted tiles given a further uplift with decal star stickers

Expert: Clara McGillian

Clara McGillian and her partner Nicholas Felstead have been renovating the tired 1930s house she bought on a budget and this has brought out her creative side, using clever ideas in every room to bring colour and personality to every room.

Clara can be found on Instagram as @dustandbricks, find out more about her house renovations and interior design ideas here.

Like Dee, Clara has updated her bathroom without the expense of ripping out the old yet still usable white suite by painting the sink unit but also all the tiles and then adding decal vinyl to them on each wall.

Clara says: “Replacing tiles, panelling and wallpapering can be time consuming and expensive. Using vinyl decals opens up a world of colours and designs that are cheap, quick and easy to do in every room of your house.”

How to do it:

Clara says: “We used a Cricut Joy crafting machine to cut the vinyl. Choose your stencil design with the app, put the vinyl in, press go and then stick to the wall. Easy peasy!”

Whilst taking the plunge and diving head first into the world of decal, Clara learnt that using permanent vinyl is a must if you are going to use them in a shower or wet area like the kitchen sink, splashback, or bathroom.

Clara adds: “Use a range of colours and designs to brighten up different parts of your house and make each room completely unique.”

Cost: Approximately £200 (including the craft machine you can use again).

What to use: Cricut Joy machine, permanent and removable vinyl in a range of colours and styles.

Time: Around 2 hours per wall for printing and cutting the designs and then sticking to the wall.

Incredible lockdown transformations

9. Paint bold colours using blocking

Clara has been brave and colour blocked green with pink to balance the top of the space with the chairs – and it looks incredible

Expert: Clara McGillian

If you love colour but are slightly nervous about adding bold shades to your walls, or conversely if you are creative and want to try new ways of painting your home, then colour blocking can be a friend to both of you.

Clara says: “By colour blocking you can introduce fun, vibrant colours that match your personality whilst not dominating an entire room.”

How to do it:

Clara says: “Choose how you would like to colour block – a square, a horizontal/vertical band, a circle – and measure the size you want your feature to be, for example a 50cm high band across a whole wall.

“Using a spirit level or laser level, mark on the wall the top and bottom line then use Frog Tape to mask the area. Paint using an appropriate roller (emulsion or gloss) and then remove the Frog Tape whilst the paint is still wet to achieve a crisp line.”

Clara has done enough colour blocking in her home to give some good advice to a beginner, she says: “Definitely use Frog Tape instead of normal masking tape – it’s much less sticky so it doesn’t damage the existing paint.

“Remove the Frog Tape when the colour blocked paint is still wet to achieve a lovely crisp line.”

Cost: Approximately £10.

What to use: Left over emulsion or gloss paint (depending where you are painting), tape measure, spirit level/laser level, pencil, Frog Tape, emulsion or gloss roller.

Time: Around 2-4 hours depending on the size of the colour blocking and how fast the paint dries.

10. Create a dreamy bedroom using ombré painting

Cheaper than wallpaper and dreamier than just one flat paint colour

Expert: Clara McGilliam

If the idea of hanging wallpaper sends you screaming to the paint section of the DIY store, but you want to try something more unusual than flat colour, ombré may be the answer.

Clara says: “By using paint to create an ombré effect you can control the colour, the design, get the perfect finish and save a few quid in the process.”

How to do it:

Clara says: “Choose your base colour emulsion (we used Saxe Blue by Craig and Rose) and some bright white emulsion.

“Paint the top 3rd of the wall white (if you want to fade light to dark down the wall) and the bottom third of the wall in your base colour.

“The middle third of the wall (plus a little extra for blending into the base colour and the white) will be the area where you create the ombré effect.

“We mixed a 50:50 base colour: white, a 75:25 base colour: white and a 25:75 base colour:white – these are your three colours to blend together in the middle third of the wall.

“Use the 50:50 in the centre of the middle third of the wall, the 25:75 between the 50:50 and the white, and the 75:25 between the 50:50 and the base colour.

“Use a brush, a sponge and spray bottle of water and roughly paint each of your mixed paints onto the middle third of the wall.

“Then use a brush in a criss-cross motion to begin blending these mixed colours together, as well as blending into the solid white and the solid base colour.

“Use a sponge and spray bottle of water to blend the colours, removing sharp lines and add extra touch ups of the relevant paint colour to parts of the wall where you want to improve or modify the ombré effect.”

The one piece of advice Clara states when having a go at ombré is to make sure you get the paint mixes right.

She says: “You should have five colours (base colour, white, 50:50, 75:25 and 25:75). Mix enough of each paint blend to ensure you can complete the entire wall, or multiple walls in our case!”

Cost: Approximately £80 for the paint.

What to use: Paint, emulsion roller (use a different roller head for each colour), emulsion brushes (you’ll need four, one for each ‘blending zone’), and tape measure so you can split your wall into thirds.

Time: 4-5 hours per wall.

11. Making your own blackboard

A blackboard is not just for doodles and messages

Expert: Clara McGilliam

A blackboard is a popular addition to a busy family home as a central and changing artwork for the children or to a place to list what you need at the supermarket when you next visit. But Clara has her own and clever reason for making her own blackboard.

She says: “We did this to hide our extractor fan above the cooker/hob and the beauty is: you choose the size of your blackboard!”

How to do it:

Clara says: “Cut a piece of 18mm thick MDF. Use ‘green’ MDF for areas of high moisture e.g. above a cooker, to your chosen size.

“Measure and mark your size on the MDF, cut using a handheld jigsaw or a handheld circular saw.

“Seal the cut ends of the MDF with PVA glue to stop water getting in and ruining your lovely blackboard.

“Paint using Rust-Oleum Chalkboard paint and a small emulsion roller, you’ll need two coats. Mount your blackboard using hanging hooks, strong double-sided tape or, if you’re like us, Command Picture Hanging Strips (6 x Large size).”

Clara’s advice to use picture hanging strips means you won’t damage the wall when putting the blackboard up or taking it down.

She says: “It gives you greater flexibility in where the blackboard can be displayed and also makes it easier to remove and draw new designs.”

Cost: Approximately £30.

What to use: 18mm MDF (‘green’ MDF for high moisture areas), tape measure, pencil, jigsaw/circular saw, PVA glue, Rust-Oleum Chalkboard paint, small emulsion roller, Command Picture Hanging Strips.

Time: 1-2 hours.

12. Add height to a room

Using four tones of the same colour to add height, starting at the darkest on the floor and getting lighter up the wall to the palest on the ceiling

Expert: Juan Sandiego

Juan is an interiors blogger and Instagram influencer who specialises in using interior design to solve problems and promote well-being, whilst creating elegant interiors within his own home, taking all his followers on the journey with him.

Juan is known on Instagram as @MrJuanSandiego and his blog is called Boreal Abode.

He was also a judge on BBC’s Best House in Town property show when it filmed in the Cardiff area.

Juan has experience in his own home of making a space look bigger.

He says: “Regardless of the room size, it’s easy to make your ceiling look higher to create a sense of spaciousness. When the size of your room is limited, the only way is up!”

How to do it:

Juan says you can achieve the biggest impact by simply using paint.

He says: “This is for flat ceilings only, so remove any ceiling texture or Artex as it creates visual distractions. Original features are fine and welcomed.

“Choose ceiling paint with a matt finish to disguise minor surface imperfections and use gradual colours.

“Pick the darkest colour for the floor (painted or carpet) and use lighter colours as you work your way up. You can paint split walls, as I did, to enhance the effect. Just make sure the bottom section is the darkest.

“The magic trick to achieve the greatest impact is by painting the ceiling in a lighter tint than the walls, for example brilliant white with a dollop of your wall paint of choice.

“For example, my ceiling pictured is not white, but a diluted green. It blends the walls and ceiling making it feel higher.

“Ditch the white woodwork, paint the skirting boards the same colour as the wall. The eye will be drawn all the way down to the floor, instead of stopping at the skirting board.

“If you feel inspired you can try these extra tips: draw attention upwards using vertical lines (tall curtains, slim furniture, etc.) and also, use uplighters and lamps with diffusers – rather than ceiling spotlights – to create an even distribution of light, with no harsh shadows.”

Juan’s completed bedroom

Cost: £200 for paint only. Juan says you can save a lot if you shop around different manufacturers.

What to use: Little Greene Paint Company. They have a fine selection of traditional and modern colours.

Time: About 28 hours for the full room renovation.

13. Split-paint a wall

Perfect straight line between the two tones thanks to Juan’s advice

Expert: Juan Sandiego

If you are going to try Juan’s advice on adding visual height to a room, then splitting the wall with two tones of paint colour will also add visual interest.

But make sure the two-tones are not spotted for the wrong reasons – a split between the two tones that is not straight!

Juan says: “The ultimate goal is to achieve a super low-cost faux panelling or wainscoting effect that will elevate any space.”

How to do it:

Juan says: “Decide on the colours you want for your walls. A good rule of thumb is to use different shades of the same colour, or a neutral and a contrasting colour, for example white and navy.

“Mark the desired height of your dividing line, 90cm-100cm is a good range. But you can go higher in high-traffic areas such as a hallway and if you are painting a staircase wall, match the height to the handrail opposite.

“Paint the lightest block first, which is usually the top one. Make sure you paint well over the dividing line.

“Measure the dividing line again and apply the painter’s tape. The most accurate technique is to use a spirit level. Apply wide low-adhesion painter’s tape in strips of 1m of length, checking with the spirit level each time to make sure you stay on track.

“Paint the remaining block and remove the tape slowly before the paint cures for a sharp finish.”

Juan is experienced at this technique now and says that patience and the correct tools are both needed.

He says: “Using a spirit level instead of the floor as a height reference is time-consuming, but you can achieve perfectly straight split walls with less than 1cm of error. The floor or ceiling is not a good reference because of height variations, especially in period homes.”

Cost: Besides your choice of paint, all the extra tools you need are a basic spirit level about £4 and wide low-adhesion painter’s tape, about £5, all from B&Q.

Time: Under an hour for applying the tape and about six hours for the two coats of paint.

14. Use your alcoves to the max

Storage and style will maximise your alcoves and make them stunning and useful

Expert: Juan Sandiego

Alcoves, especially in a period property can bring character to a room and extra space but they can also bring challenges.

Juan says: “Victorian alcoves in particular can be a nightmare to decorate. Dark, narrow and often not very deep. If you’re looking for a stylish solution, beyond the typical bulky built-in cabinet or lonely floating shelves, this decor hack is for you.”

But Juan has some clever ideas to transform these spaces into show-stopping storage-packed alcoves.

How to do it:

Juan says: “Ditch the symmetry. Instead, play with the asymmetry or the different widths and decorate each alcove differently. Tie the two alcoves together by using common colours, materials or shapes.

“For example, in my living room, I focused on straight lines. I picked a wide metal shelving unit and smaller cabinets in the other alcove. Even though the designs are different, the height of the shelving unit matches the accent blue storage cubes. This creates harmony without having to resort to symmetry.

“To hide the clutter, there are two types of storage and you need to use both for the perfect balance.

“First, you have hidden storage, such as cabinets, to store all the unsightly clutter items you don’t need to see. Second, there’s styling storage, such as carefully curated shelves, whose main purpose is to display the objects you love and make you happy.

“You can clearly see this with my living room example. I use the metal shelving unit to showcase special accessories and my favourite decor books. On the other side, the white cabinets hide dozens of CDs, board games and box sets.

“The biggest mistake I see people doing is packing every surface and spare gap with stuff. You need negative space to allow the space to visually breathe. Negative space is the area on the walls and surfaces where there is nothing and the eye can rest.

“You can easily allow for some negative space as I did. I limit the number of items on each styling shelf so the accessories become the central pieces. Also, notice how there’s nothing above the metal shelving unit. Adding stuff there would make the space feel cluttered.

“Trial and error is your alcoves’ best friend. These are just guidelines to get started. Now, try it and let your creativity flow.”

Cost: My modular storage combination costs £200. Metal shelving costs £499 but look for special promotions codes, sales and discounts or low-cost copies.

What to use: IKEA (Eket range) and Swoon Editions (Aero shelving unit).

Time: Under two house to assemble flat-pack furniture and style.

Get busy and don’t forget to share

These trail and error hacks that other readers have taken the plunge and tried out should keep you busy and bring some low-cost ways to brighten your home during the winter months, just don’t forget to share your experiences, photos and videos on the Walesonline property and homes Facebook group.