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8 Things (You Can Do Right Now!) To Make a Big Difference In Your Home

We filled up on a lot of heavy lifting throughout the entirety of the garden apartment renovation, and while those things certainly make for a more dramatic before and after, every teeny, tiny thing we did added to the overall equation, too. More often than not, it’s those little things that really make the biggest impact, because without them, we couldn’t ever really call a room ‘done!’. Think about it: You’re in the home stretch of, say, your half bath renovation. The toilet is plumbed, the floors are down and the vanity is in place. You’ve added a pretty new faucet and hung the mirror you’ve been eyeing for months – but! Until you caulk the baseboards, paint the trim and put every last switch plate cover done, your work isn’t able to shine.

Finishing details are my very favorite thing, not only because it means we’ve almost made it, but because they’re typically quick to complete, and is there anything more satisfying than crossing off three items – all at once! – on a to-do list? While we spent the majority of our time in the garden unit slicing away at the big, fat to-dos, we would make sure to mix in a handful of the smaller to-dos every so often, if only to feel the relief of accomplishment amidst one of the fastest whole-apartment renovations we’ve ever done.

When it comes to those little things, the good news is that many of the ones we tackled are projects you can do right now and still get that high impact change in your home. In fact, some of them are things we still need to do to our own home, so I’ll consider this a reminder for us, too!

Thing #1: Swap all outlets and switches to the same style.

When we started, we had an assortment of switches throughout the apartment, not only in style, but also color. Almond, ivory and white outlets and switches filled the rooms, some rockers, some toggles. No matter what your style, pick one and run with it. I spent 10 minutes making a running tally of every electrical outlet and switch plate cover that needed to be changed, and we scooped them up at our next hardware store run. Over the course of an hour, Scott and our friend Pete (hi, Pete!), took the time to swap out every. last. one.  Bonus: We added sliding dimmers in all the main areas, because you can never, ever have enough dimmers throughout your home. Mood lighting for days!

Thing #2: Replace old incandescent and CFL bulbs with LEDs for cleaner light (and energy efficiency!).

We did round one of the repairs on the garden apartment over four years ago, and my goodness, how times have changed since then! Almost every last light bulb in the home was an incandescent, because at the time, LEDs still carried a hefty price tag. Today, LEDs are not only more affordable, but once you replace your old incandescents and CFLs, you likely won’t have to think about changing them for a long, long time (20+ years, or so they say!). Plus, LEDs give off much a cleaner light, so rooms don’t feel so yellow in the evenings. Our favorite LEDs are dimmable, and they’re labeled as ‘soft white,’ with a color temperature of 2700-3000K. (Anything higher than that can end up looking slightly cold in the room; here’s an easy chart that explains the Kelvin scale you’ll see on every box of bulbs.)

Thing #3: Clean your vent covers.

We added a whole bunch of (LED!) recessed lights to the garden unit and had the ceilings painted a bright white, and when all was said and done, the existing vent covers were looking pretty gross. Some of them were even a bit rusty! We cleaned up the few that we could, but most of them weren’t salvageable. We measured our vent openings and bought new covers, and they were worth every, single penny. So fresh! So clean! In our own home, we also clean the ceilings around our vents, which are quick to attract dust and discolor the paint. A quick swipe with a damp cloth will have things feelings shiny and new.

Thing #4: Upgrade your shower head.

I’m not typically a fan of stopgap measures, as I’d prefer to wait and spend the money until we’re ready to renovate. (I can drive Scott crazy with this!) But sometimes, a quick upgrade here and there is all you need to feel fancy until you can invest in larger renovations. A lot did happen in the garden bathroom, but even if you aren’t moving around plumbing, upgrading your shower head to something a bit more luxurious will make your mornings brighter. We did the same before we renovated our master bath, and ohmigoodness, why oh why did we wait so long? Treat yourself.

Thing #5: Update your door hardware, and try a new-to-you finish.

We went on a new handle kick (both in the garden apartment and our own home!), and we’re always so impressed with how much of a difference it makes to the feel of a room. Our favorite finishes are matte black, oil rubbed bronze or antique brass, but if all your door handles are a standard steel finish, try opting for something new-to-you! During this most recent renovation, we even went so far as to change out all the closet knobs in a similar black finish for continuity throughout the space. Depending on how many doors you have, it can certainly be an investment, so start small. Maybe update the knobs on one room – or floor! – at a time. Below, we chose these pretty matte black Bowery knobs from Schlage. Psst: Don’t forget to install matching hinges to complete the look!

Thing #6: Give your doors and trim a fresh coat of paint.

Aah, paint. The most magical tool in our DIY arsenal, right? While we were changing out the door hardware, we took an hour to spray all the doors a fresh bright white. And when you throw in painted trim, too, well, this falls under the most tedious task on this list – but not without the biggest reward, we think.

Thing #7: Replace your kitchen cabinet hardware with something fun!

Replacing your kitchen hardware – or adding hardware, if you have none – I’m telling you now, is going to change the entire look of your space. We chose these brass handles and adorable finger pulls, and although it was a splurge in the grand scheme of things, they also make that kitchen. This is a more modern look than the traditional Mission style we chose in our kitchen, but we think the brass color still feels timeless – while earning a pretty patina over time as well. (Full IKEA kitchen reveal later this week!)

Thing #8: Add hooks in a tight space to corral clutter.

Both the entryway and back mudroom to the garden apartment are tight-ish spaces, and we noticed that our former tenants would (more often than not) toss their coats on a chair, making the area that much harder to squeeze through! We decided to nip that problem from the beginning, and we installed a handful of these hefty cast iron coat hooks in both areas. Of course this is a pretty obvious solution to the room where you’d hang your jacket, but hooks are an affordable, easy solution to get clutter off the floor – whether it’s to hang bags or baskets filled with toys/crafts.

What else would you add to this list? It’s little updates like these that can help you fall in love with your home all over again, and chances are, for better or for worse(!), they’ll encourage you to keep going!

A quick note: The garden apartment is now available to rent! If you’re in Chicago and looking to make your move by October 1st or sooner, send us an email. Available immediately. Serious inquiries only, please.

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  • Eric8.22.17 - 6:19 AM

    These are great tips! Almost all of them are touch points, knobs, switches, handles, so not only do they get heavy use, but they are also the first to wear out.ReplyCancel

  • KM8.22.17 - 10:02 AM

    We need some hooks just like this by our front and back doors, but I’ve stalled out because I’m not sure if individual hooks like this could withstand heavy coats and bags, or we should instead find something that has individual hooks on a board and displaces the weight more? What do you recommend?ReplyCancel

    • Kim8.22.17 - 10:08 AM

      We LOVE these hooks. They’re super strong (cast iron!) and much larger than they might look in photos. Each one received it’s own anchor, and I guarantee each one can hold a winter coat (or three), bag and hat with no issue.ReplyCancel

  • Katya Pereira8.22.17 - 10:26 AM

    Congratulations! First for the baby and now for finishing this reno, it’s gorgeous! I hope you find great people to live there!ReplyCancel

  • susan8.22.17 - 10:39 AM

    Great job with the finishing touches and really helpful post.
    Did I miss a previous post’s link to the adorable light fixture over the kitchen sink?? I love it and need one for my sink area!
    Thanks muchReplyCancel

  • Sara8.22.17 - 11:02 AM

    Great tips here, thank you. Can’t wait to see the kitchen! Would you mind sharing your hallway and baseboard paint colors? I apologize if you’ve already done so in previous posts. I am getting caught up. Love your work!ReplyCancel

  • Christy8.22.17 - 12:06 PM

    Quick tip on the LEDs: check with your utility provider for instant discounts or rebates on lighting and other easy energy efficiency upgrades (smart thermostats, etc.). Most utilities offer assistance for homes and well as businesses.ReplyCancel

    • Kim8.23.17 - 11:50 AM

      That’s a GREAT tip, Christy! We recently got $100 off nest thermostats for our home using a rebate our energy company provided. Definitely something worth checking into.ReplyCancel

  • Amanda8.22.17 - 12:15 PM

    Can’t wait to see the full reveal!ReplyCancel

  • AshleyM8.22.17 - 2:32 PM

    I love all of these details and I agree with each of them. Another thing I would say is a bonus to adding the hooks with renters is that you guys know what you’re doing and you know how to hang them so that they are secure and will stay in the wall. A renter might want hooks there, hang them and then you’re left with four or five holes in your walls when they leave. It’s smart and useful for both you and the renters that you put them there in advance! Great work!ReplyCancel

  • Jaime8.22.17 - 4:44 PM

    Terrific ideas all. I can’t believe I didn’t think about changing the knobs in my house. What a great idea, and the black looks so smart against the bright white. Could you share a link to the knobs you used on the bifold doors?ReplyCancel

    • Kim8.22.17 - 4:49 PM

      We picked them up at Lowe’s! I can’t find them on their site, but Lowe’s has a lot of great matte black options right now.ReplyCancel

  • Julia@Cuckoo4Design8.22.17 - 6:59 PM

    I so agree with all of it and your amazing photography made these tasks look amazing.ReplyCancel

  • Heather8.23.17 - 12:00 AM

    Congrats on the baby. And congrats on the demo. The suite looks great.

    When moving into a condo I made the same changes you did. I also replaced 70’s door/window trim and added baseboards once all the carpet was gone. I also replaced the electric baseboards with a newer model. Those things date a place as much as almond or ivory toggle light switches.ReplyCancel

  • Lauren8.23.17 - 7:14 PM

    AHHH! This post just made me so excited for our move in November. We’re going to be buying a new home in a new state, and I look forward to making it our own. Thanks so much for the inspo !ReplyCancel

  • Vanessa8.23.17 - 7:42 PM

    All great points and all things it took me years to learn, not that I do them all, but I know that I should.ReplyCancel

  • Isadora Guidoni9.5.17 - 7:03 AM

    Updating door hardware is sure a great tip! All of these are, actually..but the door one is my favorite!ReplyCancel

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