Paul Liberatore

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Budget-friendly reno ideas give outdated condos a boost

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Vancouver’s real-estate market is currently nothing short of cutthroat, so if you do manage to get your hands on a property, it’s likely not without some compromise.

But while that ’80s condo may not be the brand-new, open-concept space you had in mind, there are some adjustments that can be made without blowing your already-tight budget out of the water.

“With everything being so expensive, it’s really nice to be able to update your home a little bit to ensure you’re getting what you want in this market,” explains Amanda Severson, one half of local interior-design firm Marie Joy Design, by phone.


Ahead of Severson and her partner Kristina Hibbs’s appearance at the Vancouver Home + Design Show next Sunday (October 30), where they’ll be dishing on the perks of considering design elements before a renovation, the designer duo shares some tips for transforming your condo on a budget.


Overhaul cabinetry

If you’re stuck with weathered wood cupboards but don’t have the resources for an entire kitchen gut, painting your cabinetry is an easy fix. You can go for an eccentric look by opting for a bright red or pewter blue, though Severson and Hibbs suggest sticking with a clean white when working with limited square footage.

“If it’s a smaller space, doing white makes way more sense,” explains Hibbs. “It will make it feel way larger, and you can add your contrast with the backsplash or countertop and things like that.”

Faced with updating melamine cabinets? Keep the boxes, says Severson, and simply replace the doors. Swapping out your knobs and pulls—in both the kitchen and bathroom—is another DIY move with big impact.

“If you have a decent layout but if it’s a bit dated and the cabinets are fine and a good colour, just switching out the hardware changes it up a lot,” says Severson.


Switch out lighting

Ditch outdated lighting units—or worse, the builder-grade “boob light”—by installing new fixtures throughout. To keep your budget in check, Severson suggests fitting cheaper options in high-traffic areas so you can spend more in feature rooms.

“Splurge on dining fixtures or pendants that you might have in the kitchen, because that’s an area where you really want to draw your eye up as a focal point,” she says.

For foyers and hallways, a simple flush-mount light—available from $20 at home and hardware stores like Home Depot—will do. You can have more fun in the dining room, for example, with a drum-shade pendant or modest chandelier.

However, try not to go too OTT. “If you add in a very elaborate fixture, it can sometimes take away from the space, and you never want it to feel that way,” adds Hibbs.


Refresh the basics

Simple finishes like baseboards and casing can easily be overlooked when it comes to partial renovations, but replacing these seemingly small details can make a world of difference. “You’re not removing a wall or anything, but it will make it feel a little bit fresher,” says Hibbs.

In the bathroom, a large, clunky mirror can be replaced with a chicer option from HomeSense, for example. Look for a framed ornate or vintage-inspired piece that will add charm to your space.

Severson and Hibbs also stress the importance of good window coverings. Consider tossing the requisite blinds for airy linen drapery. “Keeping it light in colour just softens the space and adds enough texture without being too much,” says Severson.


Streamline flooring

A little bit of vinyl, a dash of parquet, and some questionably clean carpeting seem to be the go-to formula when it comes to flooring in older spaces. To help bring your space into the 21st century, rip out the mishmash of materials in favour of one type all the way through.

Severson and Hibbs recommend laminate wood flooring, which is more durable than many people think. It’s also pretty easy on the wallet and eyes. “People are kind of scared to do laminate in kitchens…but we say install it throughout the whole place just to make it feel larger, more open,” says Hibbs.

The two note that homeowners working with south-facing spaces, which are exposed to more natural light, should opt for flooring options that feature a low sheen. “The shinier you go, the more you’ll notice dirt and marks—especially if you have a lot of windows,” explains Hibbs.

Create a feature wall

While wallpaper can be a big—and costly—commitment, wall decals are an affordable alternative. Whether you go for oversized polka dots, tropical palm leaves, or a cheeky animal print, the patterns help add a punch of personality to any space.

“Something like that, especially for a kid’s room, is really fun to update it, modernize it,” explains Severson, “and it’s totally inexpensive.”

Severson and Hibbs are fans of Urban Wall, a Vancouver-based producer of vinyl wall decals that are easy to both install and remove. When decking the walls in a tighter space, however, keeping the print to one side may work best.

“If your room isn’t huge, you don’t want to do the whole space, because it will just feel too busy,” says Hibbs.


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