Quick and Easy Decorating

Updating a space doesn't have to be expensive or time-consuming. Use our completely doable tips to refresh any room in your house in just a few hours.

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Before: The Family Room


Read on to learn how designer John Loecke fixed up this space.

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After: Finders Keepers


"Sometimes things look best left where they are," says Loecke. In addition to adding height, the cabinets provide twin surfaces for displaying collectibles and are practical, hiding stereo components, games, and other clutter.

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Take Away


Less can be more. Loecke replaced small, distracting bric-a-brac on surfaces with statement pieces—a grand-scale ceramic snail found at a flea market, an eye-catching grouping of vases, and candlesticks in a mix of heights and hues.

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True Colors


"Look for something in the room that can be a jumping-off point for bringing in color," Loecke says. The painting inspired the vibrant accents that helped wake up a dark, dull room—a throw taken from the bedroom and the jauntily striped rug.

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Bold Moves


The quickest way to revamp a room is to rearrange the furniture. Loecke repositioned the large, light blue sofa to face the fireplace and TV, the two focal points. The result is a comfortable, clearly defined seating area for relaxing or entertaining.

Extra Credit: Once you've settled on a basic seating setup, make a list of decorative pieces to add. "Accessories—pillows, lamps, books—can do a lot for a room," Loecke says. "Flowers, like these tulips, inject brightness anywhere it's needed."

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Lighten Up


Too many heavy-looking pieces can make a space appear crowded and disorderly. Loecke removed the boxy club chair and clunky tables. He brought in a glass-topped coffee table from eBay ($300) that practically disappears in the room.

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Floor Play


Shop your house first. A graceful pair of rocking chairs swiped from a bedroom wind up in front of the window. In a smaller space, pieces like the side table borrowed from the patio and a floor cushion are ideal because they do double duty as extra seating.

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Table Service


Cubes make stylish end tables and provide solid footing for lighting and accessories. Keep clutter at bay by corralling magazines, remote controls, and other necessities in a lacquer tray. Not everything has to be functional. Choose an eye-catching and decorative object, like this mobile, to complete the arrangement.

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Side Show


Turn up the volume in a flash with colorful pillows and table lamps. "The trick is to make sure each hue appears more than once in the room and isn't used in just one area," Loecke says. "Color should draw you into the space and help keep your eye moving around the room."

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Speed Decorating 101: One Day


Change the look of a room without spending a dime.

Evaluate: "Look at the room critically from the entrance as if you're seeing it for the first time," says Jill Vegas, author of Speed Decorating: A Pro Stager's Tips and Trade Secrets for a Fabulous Home in a Week or Less (Taunton Press). Or take a picture of the room and decide what items work and what needs to be changed. Are traffic patterns clear? Is a sofa blocking the view from the window? Do seating arrangements encourage conversation? Is there too much furniture—or too little? Is there enough light from floor and table lamps?

Reorganize: Ruthlessly declutter. Remove anything that doesn't go with your scheme, like the country coffee table that clashes with your contemporary sofa. "If you feel guilty about tossing out a hand-me-down armoire, sell it on Craigslist and put the money toward buying something you love," says Vegas. Evaluate accessories and create groupings by color, material, and type of object. Display just a few choice pieces. Put away the rest, and rotate art, photos, and objects with the seasons.

Repurpose: Look around your house for anything that might be an asset to the room. Try using a trunk from the attic as a coffee table or an ottoman for extra seating. Resuscitate the old table stored in the garage with a coat of paint.

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Speed Decorating 101: One Weekend


With a little more time, add a couple of key elements, maybe even paint.

Bare Essentials: If you do just one thing, dress up windows with ready-made fabric panels that are easy to install, care for, and replace when you want a fresh look.

Bright Idea: The right lighting can alter the mood of an entire room. Install a couple of sources—at least one table lamp for a laid-back feel and a floor lamp for brighter ambience.

On a Roll: A rug helps carve out spaces for activities as well as give instant color and texture. If you have wood floors or a sisal or tightly woven neutral carpet, layer on an area rug in an appealing hue or design. "A small rug is less of an investment, and you can be adventurous with a bold style," says Loecke. "Plus, it can always be changed."

Details Count: Create a portrait gallery. Photocopy favorite family photos in black-and-white, put them in modern white frames, and group them on one wall. Or hang a big, striking mirror over a console or cabinet to add sparkle.

Brush Strokes: Although it isn't mandatory, a new color on the wall or trim can quickly change the vibe. Road-test with large-scale swatches or sample-size jars of paint, and apply the hues to every wall. "You want to see how the colors look at different times of day," says Vegas. To save time, buy paint with a built-in primer, like Behr Premium Plus Ultra. A fresh shade is also a great way to energize vintage furniture or get new life out of an old brick fireplace.

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Bargain Hunting


Try these strategies for anything on your wish list:

—Before you buy at a thrift shop, inspect each item carefully. Check for sturdiness. Look for nicks, scratches, or any other damage that can't be repaired.

—If a sofa isn't in your budget, shop secondhand stores, yard sales, and Craigslist. "You can find an old piece for under $500 and have it slipcovered in an inexpensive cotton twill from a store like Jo-Ann Fabrics," Loecke says.

—If you're a regular eBay shopper, buy from people who have provided good service and merchandise in the past. If you're new to eBay, study the seller's profile and any posted comments to see what others have said.

Originally published in the March 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.