‘A £150 update transformed my kitchen’
Easter weekend brings with it the first major DIY event of the year; the perfect time, as the days lengthen and spring optimism kicks in, to give a room a fresh new look. And this year, while the rising costs of materials and accompanying squeeze on disposable income may be causing some to shelve larger renovation plans, it seems many of us are planning to whip out the paintbrush and toolbox and do a little decorating.
Recent research by Consumer Intelligence found that a third of the population are more likely to take on home improvements themselves since the start of the cost of living crisis, while 16 per cent are putting off major home renovations.
Another survey, by American Express, revealed that 28 million British people have already started or plan to start some DIY improvements to their homes this year. And although many of us gained new decorating skills during the pandemic, only half of UK adults said they were confident in their DIY skills, with one in three saying that it put them in a bad mood.
The key to enjoying DIY decorating, perhaps, is to choose a rewarding yet achievable task that doesn’t require much in the way of either expertise or prep, and one that can easily be done over a weekend.
Painting part of a room or a piece of furniture, for example, rather than taking on a complete room overhaul, can be a simple and enjoyable job that can make a significant difference to the way a room makes you feel, and also provides a chance to practise some decorating techniques on a smaller scale.
Apply a quick fix
As director of interior design at paint brand Lick, Tash Bradley is, naturally, fond of a decorative spruce-up at home. “When it comes to DIY, everything I do is super quick, fun and doesn’t cost the earth,” she says. “You can do it in a weekend, and it makes a real difference.” She also believes DIY should be enjoyable, “as long as you remember it doesn’t have to be perfect”.
In the case of her own studio flat in Clapham, one simple but effective change she made was to the front entrance hall, a small and previously uninspiring white-painted space. She decided to bring a little colour and character to the area by painting a striped design on the walls using Lick’s White 03, Green 09 and Green 14, also using the latter on the door and woodwork (£45 for 2.5 litres, lick.com).
Although painting stripes on a wall usually involves a fair amount of prep, with some judicious measuring and the careful application of decorator’s tape to get a sharp edge, here, the freehand effect that Bradley used lends the design a more laid-back look – and, crucially, also made it much quicker and easier to do.
“I just painted a thick stripe, let it dry, painted another stripe, let that dry, then painted the slimmer darker green stripe over the top to blur the edges. It was fun,” she says. “I didn’t do any prep, because I think when you get the urge to do something you should just do it, and the doors were in good condition already so I didn’t need to prep them. If the existing paint is flaking, you do need to sand that off before you paint over it, but otherwise I just wipe the area I’m painting with a damp cloth and clean any dust out of the corners before I start.”
The finished result has brought character and detail to the area and, says Bradley, the vertical stripes also give it the illusion of extra height. “It used to feel quite dark here, whereas now it’s a bit of a moment as you come in,” she says.
Further into the flat, Bradley also brought her DIY skills to bear on the kitchen, where she added a small island to provide somewhere to sit and an extra worktop for food prep. She found the secondhand butcher’s block for £50 on Facebook Marketplace, painted it with leftover white paint, the same colour as the walls, then picked up an offcut slab of marble at a reclamation yard for £100 and stuck it to the top of the butcher’s block with silicone glue.
“The whole thing cost £150, but it makes such a difference to the kitchen,” she says. “Normally I’d advise a client to paint an island like this in a contrasting colour to add a bit of interest, but there’s so much colour in the flat already, I thought more might be too much.”
An example of the bursts of colour and pattern dotted throughout is the headboard in the bedroom, covered with a leafy palm-print fabric, which Bradley also did herself after taking an upholstery course during lockdown. She started with a plain upholstered headboard from Wayfair (which costs from around £40), chose the fabric at a nearby fabric shop and had it cut to size, then staple-gunned it into place.
“Some people are quite nervous of using a staple gun, but once you get used to it it’s easy,” she says. “Upholstery is quite physical work though – you need to put your weight on to the headboard and pull to make sure the fabric doesn’t wrinkle, and fold it into hospital corners to get a neat finish. The good thing is it would be easy to unpick the fabric and redo it if you move house or change the decor in the room.”
It’s an easygoing, make-do-and-mend approach to decorating that shows that the important thing about DIY decorating is to just have a go, and remember that any mistakes can usually be painted over or patched up. For further inspiration, try the following ideas, each of which could be achieved over the long weekend.
Paint your own border
Borders are all the rage right now, and the quickest and cheapest way to get the look is to paint your own.
At her cottage in Wiltshire, interior designer Katharine Paravicini plans to renovate and turn what is currently the kitchen into a sitting room. In the meantime, however, she wanted to add more interest to the room, which she did by painting a sweet scalloped border around the fireplace.
“I actually used a teacup as a template, as it seemed the perfect scale for the scallops,” she says. “I drew around it with a pencil, then painted it in using Calke Green by Farrow & Ball. The inside of the fireplace is painted in Pigeon, also by Farrow & Ball, to add some depth behind the scallops.”
It’s a clever hack that could take an afternoon’s work if you’re quick, and adds a decorative touch to a plain wall. All you need, says Paravicini, is “a teacup, a pencil and paintbrush, your chosen paint colour, and a steady hand!”
Update a piece of furniture
Upcycling an old or tired piece of furniture is a rewarding task that can be done in a day, and gives you a one-off, personalised product.
To paint a piece of wooden furniture, remove any hardware, then give it a light sand and wipe away the sanding dust with a cloth. Apply two coats of paint, leaving three to four hours between coats (gloss or eggshell paints work well on wood), while chalk paint such as Annie Sloan’s can be painted directly on to a bare wood or painted surface without the need for sanding first. Once it’s completely dry, reattach the hardware or update it with new handles or pulls – Anthropologie and Zara Home both have good selections.
For a slightly more involved project, try this chequerboard coffee table (below), which was made from an old table found on eBay, updated with ceramic tiles from Wickes and Simply Refresh Multi Surface paint in Fresh Foliage from Dulux. If you’re new to tiling and want to try doing a bathroom or kitchen project yourself, a small job like this is a good place to practise. To create something similar, follow the steps below:
Refresh your woodwork
It isn’t always necessary to repaint an entire room in order to effect a dramatic change. Focusing just on the woodwork, for example painting skirting boards, picture rails and cornices in a darker or contrasting shade to the walls, gives a room a smart, tailored look. However, if time is short, there’s an even quicker option: as these pictures show, concentrating just on a window surround and giving it a new colour to stand out against the walls can be instrumental in changing the atmosphere of a room.
While in the first picture, the off-white window frame blends with the creamy walls and sofa to create a calming effect, in the second picture, the rich green window surround –which is extended on to the wall on one side – draws the eye to the window and the view beyond, making it the focal point of the room. Note that just painting the surround, rather than the entire frame, is enough to make a statement, and is a job that can be done relatively quickly.
To get a clean finish, sand the frame first with sandpaper, brush off the dust and wipe down with a damp cloth. Apply masking tape along the edges of the surround and paint it in a consistent direction, following the grain of the wood. Remove the masking tape, leave to dry for two to three hours, then apply fresh masking tape and repeat.
Using a green shade, as here, will chime with planting if there is a garden outside the window, while choosing a bright yellow is a good trick to give the illusion of a sunny day in a north-facing room. Extending the paint colour a little on to the wall surrounding the window will make the window appear bigger.
The cream wall paint shown here is Pearwood and the deep green is Herball, both by Morris & Co (£57 for 2.5 litres, anthropologie.com); all the furniture is from Anthropologie’s new collection.
Embrace the colour drench
The beauty of the fashionable “colour drench” effect – ie using the same colour over walls, woodwork and even the ceiling – is that, in practical terms, it does away with the need for masking tape or cutting in. In the case of Dead Flat, a new finish from Farrow & Ball, which can be used on walls, woodwork and metal, it can also be done using only one type of paint, too.
Aesthetically, colour drenching blurs the edges of a room, making it appear larger. As Farrow & Ball’s colour expert, Patrick O’Donnell, puts it, “You can create the illusion of space in a bedroom by painting wardrobes to match the walls, or hide utilitarian radiators; it’s a decorator’s dream.”
To add further texture and character try installing panelling first, as has been applied to the back wall of this bedroom. Wickes (wickes.co.uk) has just launched similar Shaker-style panelling kits which cost from £15.
The “colour drench” – using the same colour over walls, woodwork and even the ceiling – is a painting technique that helps to blur the edges of a room, making it appear larger (as well as being far quicker to do, in practical terms, than using different colours on walls and woodwork).
But if you lack the time or inclination to paint an entire room, try painting a single stripe or block of colour instead, to bring a contemporary look while also highlighting architectural features.
Dulux has just launched a new multi-surface paint formula, Simply Refresh Multi Surface, which comes in 18 colours and has a built-in primer, which means it can be painted directly on to wood, MDF, metal and melamine. Here, it has been used to colour-block a corner of a room and highlight a collection of house plants, and the same colour – Pressed Petal – has also been used on the little wooden stool (£24.40 for 750ml).
Or add a trim
To add an accent of colour, rather than repainting a whole door, a painted trim is a super-quick job. Paint brand Mylands recently reported, somewhat surprisingly, that gold is its best-selling colour so far in 2023. Used to gild an entire wall, it might call to mind the infamous wallpaper at a certain Downing Street flat, but in small doses – used to pick out the panelling on a white door – it can subtly elevate a room and add a little light-reflecting shine.
As metallic paint doesn’t come cheap (the Mylands version costs £52 for one litre), using it sparingly also makes it more affordable.
Alternatively, use just a sample pot to paint the edge of a door in a bold, contrasting shade, as here, where Benjamin Moore’s Coral Gables adds just a flash of colour (£5.95 for a sample pot). The deep-blue circle painted around the wall light (in Blue Danube, also by Benjamin Moore) adds another contrasting accent. Use a circle stencil for a clean finish (try Amazon or Etsy).
Make a statement with a door
Painting an interior door is a low-effort, high-impact way to give a room a new look – particularly if it’s in a contrasting colour to the walls.
To start, remove the handle and cover the hinges with masking tape, then sand and wipe down the door. Apply the first coat of paint, starting with the panels and moving on to the rest of the door, making sure you brush in the same direction. Leave to dry before applying a second coat.
Painting the architrave in the same colour helps to give the door more impact and grandeur.
The doors here are painted in Baked Clay eggshell (£30 a litre), with walls in Chateaux and Soft Smoke matt (£25 per litre), from Graphenstone.
For tips and materials for other upcycling projects, visit eBay’s new DIY hub for inspiration and advice.