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“Cottage it” is my advice to renovators. In other words, your home doesn’t have to be perfect. I knew this to be true as we started renovating the guesthouse on our Pennsylvania property with our great crew at Williamson Construction. I wanted it to be cost-effective, knowing this space isn’t necessarily going to be used every day, all day. How could I be smart about the budget while also making it nice? I leaned into a homemade, nitty-gritty approach that, really, I’ve been taking since the beginning of my career as a designer. 

I dove into being scrappy—starting with our Smeg range. We bought the appliance new and green. My original vision for the space was different at the time; it was dark and cozy. As my inspiration evolved, the color made everything feel too rustic, and I didn’t want that. That’s where the custom vinyl wrap came in. I found a local place that makes these sheets for cars and gave them a sample of a pink-peach Pantone color I liked (they can match the vinyl to just about anything). My brother Steve applied a new heat-resistant covering, sans air bubbles. Now it looks totally new and we didn’t have to splurge on another oven.

Read on for more of my top quick tips for cutting costs on your next big project.

  • Old wood ceiling rafters make for great open shelves.
  • Spruce up Hobby Lobby shelf brackets by dry brushing them with paint (basically, apply very little liquid to the brush).
  • Leftover patio tiles equals backsplash (the terracotta ones pictured above are from our henhouse).
  • Scour Craigslist for a simple kitchen faucet.
  • Give walls a storied glow by wiping old coffee brew on them with a rag (swoosh it on and let it drip).
  • Many old houses have a crawl space on the second floor: Cut it open for extra square footage or built-in storage.
  • Leave dated bathroom tiles where they are! A statement sink will change your whole perspective.
  • Don’t be afraid to paint new things (I covered the pendants I bought at an Anthropologie outlet).
  • Hand-sand old parquet floors to get rid of the orange sheen (Hart Tools is my go-to source for supplies).
  • So you’ve ripped out a wall and now there’s a concrete gap? Instead of ripping up the floors for the sake of cohesion, fill the spot with old clay tile—make it an artistic decision.
  • Swapping your exterior sconces can be a big payoff.
  • Always paint the front door for fresh curb appeal.

The things you stare at when you’re in the middle of construction—the “Oh, this is off by an inch” things—all goes away once you fill the space with furniture, pretty lighting, and paint.

Our Winter Renovation issue is here! Subscribe now to step inside Leanne Ford’s latest project—her own historic Pennsylvania home. Plus discover our new rules of reno.