The trouble with upscale home upgrades to your home is that they tend to come with up-market price tags. But there are home projects that can bring a sense of class and distinction to a home for $1,000 or less—sometimes much less. These upgrades won’t just impress your guests and make your house a more appealing place to live—they also could help attract buyers when you sell. We asked Hilary Farr, cohost of the popular HGTV show Love It or List It, for inexpensive ways to make a home appear more upscale inside. Here are six of her favorite ways to get an expensive look for less…
Install crown molding, a decorative strip traditionally made from plaster or wood that runs along the tops of interior walls. This molding creates a visual transition between wall and ceiling and adds design detail, making a home feel more upscale. (It also hides drywall imperfections where walls and ceilings meet.)
Hiring a skilled plasterer to install a traditional plaster crown molding would be very costly…as would hiring a carpenter to put in an elaborate wood molding. There are less expensive, preformed moldings made from fiberboard, but those are very heavy and difficult to install well. Fortunately, there’s a fourth option—install polystyrene foam moldings, which can be glued in place. Unlike wood moldings, polystyrene moldings do not expand and contract with changes in temperature, so cracks and gaps will not develop over time, and unlike fiberboard moldings, they are not very difficult to install. They are quite sturdy and can be lightly sanded and painted.
Select a crown molding that is at least five inches in height—anything smaller won’t make enough of an impression to be worth the trouble.
Cost estimate: Expect to pay about $2 per linear foot—that’s less than $200 for a 20-foot-by-20-foot room. If you opt for professional installation, it might add up to $200 more per room to your bottom line, depending on the amount of molding and local labor rates.
Related project: Beef up your baseboards. Replace the insubstantial-looking molding found along the bottoms of most walls with baseboards that are five-and-a-half to six inches tall. These should match the room’s crown molding in color and style, but they should be made of wood, which can take the beating that baseboards can get over time.
Expand the trim around interior window frames to make windows seem grander. Windows are the single most important feature in the typical room—our eyes are drawn to them. The easiest, least expensive way to make windows appear more upscale and impressive from the inside is to expand the trim around them. Just add a “backband”—a three-quarter- to one-and-a-quarter-inch strip of wood that is nailed in place around the outer perimeter of the existing interior window trim and painted to match.
If you’re willing to tackle a larger project, you could remove the existing window trim and replace it with something more substantial. This will look even better and save the effort of searching for a backband that will work with the existing trim. If you want to improve your home’s curb appeal, upgrading the trim around the exterior of windows is worth considering, too.
Cost estimate: Backband molding made of paint-grade wood such as poplar for interior use or pine for exterior use typically costs just $1 to $2 per linear foot, so even factoring in the price of paint and finish nails, this project should cost no more than $30 to $50 per window.
Related project: Expand your window dressing. Purchase curtain rods that extend six to 18 inches beyond the edges of your windows on each side. Install these rods at least four inches above the tops of the windows and ideally all the way up near the ceiling or crown molding. Purchase curtains that extend all the way from this rod to the floor—they should just touch the floor, not stop a few inches above it. This also makes windows of modest size seem grand.
Install subway tile in your bathrooms and/or kitchen. Home owners who want tile that seems upscale and special have three choices. They can pay up for expensive tile…they can choose unusual colors or patterns that stand out but that might later go out of style or alienate future home buyers…or they can install subway tile.
Subway tile is rectangular—typically three inches by six inches—so it is more eye-catching than ordinary square household tile. It has been in use for well over 100 years but is timeless and has never gone out of style. White subway tile with black grout or black subway tile with white grout produces a particularly upscale result. A staggered “brick” tile pattern creates a traditional look…a straight-line tile-on-top-of-tile “stack” pattern creates a more modern look…while chevron and herringbone patterns, created by laying the tiles on a diagonal, are distinctive.
Cost estimate: Three-by-six-inch ceramic subway tile often costs just $2 to $3 per square foot. A typical kitchen backsplash of 15-to-20 square feet could be done for less than $200 per backsplash if you do it yourself. Professional installation can add $5 to $10 per square foot.
Upgrade interior doors. High-end homes do not just look more upscale than other homes, they also feel more upscale. Their components are solid and substantial to the touch. One simple way to make a conventional home feel more solid and substantial is to replace its hollow-core wood interior doors with solid-core wood doors. This works because doors are among the parts of the home that are handled most frequently by home owners and guests.
When doors open with some weightiness and close with a subtle thunk, the whole house feels more upscale. Also, solid-core doors keep out noise better than hollow-core doors.
Cost estimate: Solid-core wood interior doors can be found for around $200 apiece. One way to control the cost of this project is to upgrade just the doors that you and your guests use most often, such as guest bathroom doors and/or master bedroom doors.
Related project: Upgrade doorknobs. Select new knobs based on their solid feel, not just their appealing looks. You can get a good-quality doorknob for $20 to $30.
Transform entryways from clutter receptacles into visual greetings. In many homes, entryways are ad-hoc storage areas. Shoes and umbrellas are lined up near the front door…keys, mail and other clutter rest on any available flat surface. Clutter is inelegant, especially as a first impression. Your home instantly will seem more upscale if you remove all clutter that can be seen from its entryway. If necessary, purchase closet organizing products to make it easier to stow entryway clutter in the hall closet…and/or an elegant, understated cabinet or a small table for the entryway featuring drawers to hide small clutter including keys and mail. Use the surface of this cabinet or table to place a beautiful element of welcome such as a vase containing one fresh flower.
Install laminate kitchen countertops that look like quartz, marble or granite. Quartz, marble and granite countertops make homes look upscale because they are upscale—they typically cost $75 to $100 or more per square foot, installed. But these days, there are laminate countertops that do an excellent job of mimicking the look of those desirable, high-end materials for less than half the cost. Examples: Wilsonart HD laminates (Wilsonart.com)…and Formica 180fx laminates (Formica.com).
Take a close look at the edge of laminate countertops in showrooms before buying. Some do a wonderful job mimicking high-end materials when you look only at the top but ruin the illusion by looking like laminates along the edge
Cost estimate: $30 per square foot, installed, for laminate countertop.