What Low Budget Renovations Make the Biggest Impact?

I am SO excited about today’s question: What low budget renovations make the biggest impact?

In my life, I have been on all different budgets, but there is an element of thriftiness that we learned from our parents that I think is permanent. I LOVE finding ways to make a big impact for a modest budget.

I will say that budget is completely relative. So I am interpreting this question as VERY low budget that someone on almost any income could save up for. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves in the design world (ahem ahem, HGTV) when people say you can renovate a bathroom or a kitchen for just a couple thousand dollars. It’s just not true 99% of the time. If you want to fully renovate a room (change counters, add tile, etc.), it’s going to be expensive—even with the less fancy options.

That said, you can make a room feel fully renovated on a small budget. Here are my top three renovations that give you a lot of mileage for your money.

1. Paint! 
Captain obvious, I know. Paint is one of the easiest DIYs to do a great job on. We almost never hire a professional painter (with the exception of our home’s exterior).

For so long this was the only renovation I could really afford and it can make a MASSIVE visual impact. From walls to cabinets to trim and shelves and even my stone fireplace, painting a room with a fresh coat of white paint can make it look and feel cleaner, more expensive and sometimes even larger.

On the flip side, painting something a bold color can make it seem more interesting, more trendy or more dramatic.

Paint is for sure the hero of most budget renovations!

And one more thing, paint is the best way to make a really ugly room feel “better” until you have the time and money to actually renovate it.

2. Update light fixtures. 
Another area where you can get a lot of mileage is swapping out outdated fixtures in your home for fixtures you love. They go a long way in bringing a certain style to a room. In fact, I would argue that outside of paint they are the most important home update that most homes can benefit from.

And a cool thing is that you can usually sell the fixtures your home came with to make back some of the money (and if not, donate them to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore).

3. Concrete countertops.
We did this DIY here and also here. They hold up much nicer than the cheapest vinyl countertops and they cost even less. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a great way to get a super nice countertop on a small budget.

(and one bonus one!) Refinish wood floors. 
Dollar for dollar, this is one of the best updates you can give your home (especially if you have original hardwood hidden under old carpets). It’s a lot more affordable than most people think and can really modernize a home.

If you don’t have hardwoods, look into options like bamboo flooring. This can also be a great, affordable investment.

I have read a LOT of articles about which renovations actually add value to a home and which don’t, and a lot of it is debatable to be totally honest. But many people agree that refinishing or adding hardwoods to a home adds dollar-for-dollar value (meaning you can add the money you spend to the value of your home).

OK … I am going to pass this one over to Mandi, who is currently in the middle of an incredible full-house renovation that has me in awe every other day. She has a lot of experience stretching her budget without compromising on style!

I definitely agree with all of what Elsie has said, and will say that paint and light fixtures have been the easiest way I’ve made big-impact changes in the midst of my own home renovations! I’ll add some other low-budget changes you can make which will also make a big impact in your home.

4. Cabinet hardware and doorknobs
Replacing cabinetry is a big project and costs a lot of money. In addition to refinishing or painting cabinets and refacing cabinet doors, simply swapping out hinges, knobs, and pulls can make a huge impact in the feel of a kitchen and bathroom. Depending on which doorknobs you select, replacing the doorknobs on passage doors in your home is also an easy way to make a big change. If your old knobs are junky or out of date, you’ll really appreciate this minor update! But some higher end doorknobs cost over $100, and if you have a lot of doors, the price can add up quickly.

5. Open shelving
If you don’t have room in your budget to replace or fix up old cabinetry, consider removing them and simply installing shelving instead. In my old kitchen, I actually reconfigured my existing upper cabinets and combined them with new open shelving. Open shelving is an easy option for a budget kitchen renovation, but it can also work for media centers and in home offices too. Just keep in mind that most people have untidy elements they want to hide, and open shelving makes this difficult. Most likely you’ll have to invest in some nice storage boxes and bins to place on the open shelving to organize your belongings.

6. Window treatments
One of the easiest ways Elsie and I dramatically changed the look of rooms in our home was by rethinking the window treatments. The previous owners of my home had valance boxes over some windows along with basic blinds. I removed the valance box, installed a really long curtain rod high up on the wall, and hung multiple sets of curtains that I situated beside the window.

Hanging curtains high and beside my living room window made the window look much larger, and for a very nominal cost. I purchased my long curtain rod and brackets from IKEA, and my white 96″ long curtains were purchased for a great price from HomeGoods. I also replaced other window treatments with nicer window shades and/or new rods and curtains placed higher and wider around the window. Each of the rooms feel much more grand now!

7. Moulding
If you’re interested in attempting some DIY work on your home, moulding treatments won’t cost a ton of money, but they will make a huge impact in the sense of quality and craftsmanship of your home. I plan to eventually remove the thinner builder-grade baseboards and door/window trim in our home to replace with thicker trim. I’m so excited to get to do this one day as I know it will make a huge impact on the sense of quality in our home! My brother did this in his small bungalow and it looks amazing.

In the meantime, I did add some board and batten details in my master bedroom and study, and it added such a cozy and custom look to my home for not a lot of money.

8. Slipcovers
Don’t have the cash for new furniture, but your current furniture is looking pretty shabby? Why not spring for slipcovers? I have worked with Comfort Works in the past to provide nice slipcovers for my IKEA furniture. In addition to their line of IKEA replacement covers, Comfort Works also makes custom slipcovers for any upholstered furniture. Recently, I had Comfort Works make a custom slipcover for a sofa in my new home, which I’ll be sharing soon. Other companies like Bemz also make IKEA slipcovers, and if you search on Etsy and locally, you’ll have even more options.

Thanks so much for reading! Let us know if you have any follow up questions in the comments! xx. Elsie

Credits/Author: Elsie Larson and Mandi Johnson, Photography: Janae Hardy.

  • So I LOVE the look of open shelving I see everywhere on blogs now, but a question about upkeep — doesn’t it just make you need to dust all your dishes all the time, especially the stuff you don’t use as much? Just wondering if it’s worth the extra work. Thanks!

    • That’s a good question! I personally only have two shelves in my kitchen for this reason. I only store dishes we use every day. When most of the dishes are in the dishwasher, I wipe down the shelf with a washcloth. I also rotate drinking glasses occasionally because we don’t usually use all of them. So when I unload my dishwasher, I’ll sometimes move the ones in the back to the front, putting the clean ones in the back. But for the most part, I have no issue with dust on my dishes. Just on the actual shelves.

  • These are all such great tips! I feel like adding plants to your space really makes an impact and changes the feeling of a room as well.

  • Gals! This inspired me so much, it actually gave me hope! I’ve been dreaming of renovating an awful, no-windows but great sized warehouse room back in my shop that currently looks like a den but I think has the potential of becoming a study room, but was super stuck because of my almost inexistent budget. With this tips you kinda guided the way to take small steps that could potentially go a long way to bring this dream into a reality. So thanks for that!

  • What an insightful post, I one day hope to buy a house to renovate so this advice is invaluable! I will 100% be bookmarking this to be referring back to, you guys are awesome! Thanks so much!

    Holly from The Art of Being Holly xo

  • I inherited my parents home which was built in the 50’s. I had the cupboards refaced & a new tile floor installed-probably more $ than I should have spent but what a difference! I changed several light fixtures and am painting each room. The draperies were in excellent condition but on traverse rods with a valance. . I removed the valance and purchased new rods and clip rings and hung them higher over the windows. Quite pleased. . I love economical changes. Thanks for some more ideas

  • I love it!

    Refinishing hardwood floors is a cost-effective (not entirely cheap, but a whole lot cheaper than other options) way to change the feel of your place.

    I also liked this blog (https://www.emeraldcitycarpetrepair.com/carpet-repair-pros-and-cons/) that talks about the things you can do to fix carpet problems. A lot of people, faced with loose, torn or ripped carpet, decide to replace it when a simple repair would be easier and cheaper. It works – and if it’s an option, take advantage of it!

    In the future, I would love to hear your thoughts on low-budget carpet renos and repairs!

    Thanks so much for the advice!

  • I just finished painting my cabinets and it made the BIGGEST difference. I have been loving the two tone cabinet trend that has been popping up here and there so I decided to just bite the bullet and do it. I can’t tell you how much it customized my home and made my kitchen feel like mine! I think I have an unhealthy addiction to just browsing through kitchen cabinet “before and after” photos lol!

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