Skip to main content
Advice for HomeownersOrange

Before You Renovate or Decorate, Ask Yourself 2 Questions

By 06/28/2010November 5th, 202032 Comments

How do you know when you should renovate or decorate? If more than one space in your home needs an update, it can be hard to figure out where to begin. To help you make an easier decision, ask yourself two questions.  

diy painted kitchen cabinets

DIY Painted Kitchen Cabinets by Cherished Bliss

As a homeowner, your list of updates is long and sometimes it’s hard to prioritize which project to tackle next.

It could be a list that looks something like this:

  1. Painting (this, of course, creates the biggest bang for your buck!)
  2. Flooring (it’s the one that’s the easiest to change—well relatively—for the second biggest impact)
  3. Kitchen or bathrooms—countertops, flooring, cabinets, plumbing fixtures
  4. Fireplace mantle/tile/stone
  5. Additions, balconies, sunrooms, etc.
  6. Landscaping and curb appeal

should you renovate or decorate patio

Gal Meets Glam

The list goes on and on but unless it’s falling apart and truly decrepit, here are the questions you should ask before you start demolishing your kitchen or bathroom (for example):

1. Can it be painted?

Adding a coat of paint is many times the simplest and least expensive way to make an update. Backsplash tile, cabinets, even countertops can be painted to get you through until the renovation really needs to be done.

Below is a lovely example of painting the backsplash to make do until a full renovation could take place.

Can backsplash tile be painted


2. Is my living room decorated?

One of the participants from my True Colour Expert Training said one of the many things she came away with in my course was to take one room and finish it—whether it’s the great room or living room—the one you spend the most time in and your guests see. Instead of spreading your money around to a bunch of rooms/areas in your house that maybe you don’t use as often and then not getting anything finished.

When you don’t finish decorating any of your rooms, you can’t walk into any room in your house with any kind of satisfaction and enjoyment because your always going to see something that you know needs tweaking or updating. Finish decorating one room!

is my living room decorated

Maria Killam 

I know I sound biased because I am a decorator, but unless your new kitchen is going to completely transform your living or great room, I would not spend my money there until I had spent some money FIRST on creating atmosphere in the main areas of my house. And how do you achieve astmosphere? With new furniture, lighting and accessories—that’s how.

The rental I’m in now has peach kitchen cabinets that I will eventually paint. Instead of a weekend away I would rather buy paint and love my space than worry about the money I’m spending on a rental. Plus this is what I do, and I cannot live with apartment beige.

However that is last on my list because my living/dining/entry is my first priority. There’s only so much you can do to a kitchen or bathroom to create atmosphere—these spaces have have very little opportunities for creating softness and colour with fabrics and lighting.

cognac sofa living room style

Stephen Gambrel

I know I’ve said this before, but I’m saying it again here.

Before you start installing crown molding or replacing the doors and closets in your entire house, hire a designer to help you. Or at the very least a consultation to get you started in the right direction in terms of furniture colour, style, space planning so that you can create your very own slice of heaven. Because, after all, you want to feel happy every time you walk into your home!

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact us! We would love to help you choose colours, select the right combination of hard finishes or create a plan to pull your room together. You can find our fabulous e-design consultation packages here.

Related posts:

Danger Zone; The First 24 Hours after you Take Possession

Atmosphere; The one Thing you Cannot Buy

How to Create a Tablescape

New to this Blog? Click here ; Subscribe to my free Monthly Newsletter; Become a True Colour Expert

While you’re here, subscribe to this feed so you don’t miss out!

736 pins


  • Karena says:

    Great thoughts Maria, I agree. Did you receive your earrings from Beth Cosner Designs?

    I also hope you will join my designer Giveaway from Pillow Mint!

    Art by Karena

  • Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions says:

    Great tips, Maria. I very much agree with completing one room and not buying a bunch of things for several rooms. It is so much more satisfying to know that you have one room that is done and out of the way.

  • pve design says:

    indeed, paint can be life changing.
    Lists can too-
    With the view of that first image, wow, I would not change a thing!

  • Tara Dillard says:

    Exactly what I tell my landscape design clients.

    $500-$1000-$$$ whatever, spend it in one area. Otherwise that money will look like ZERO.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  • LiveLikeYou says:

    It's amazing what a fresh coat of in a fun new color can do.

  • Lynda says:

    you got my attention!!!!! You say I can paint my countertop????? That would be GREAT because I don't like my kitchen at all……I know I can paint my cabinets…..but the countertop has me worried……how can I change that….low budgetlike;)!


  • Kim@Chattafabulous says:

    Good advice Maria, especially in today's economy! Get that one room done where your mind can rest and enjoy the beauty!

  • Nichole@40daysof says:

    Awesome post and something I needed to read! I have trouble prioritizing and go in too many different directions.

  • marty (A Stroll Thru Life) says:

    Great advice. Sometime a few cosmetic changes can really make all the difference. Hugs, Marty

  • Sally@DivineDistractions says:

    You know how much I love paint!! It's my go-to first with almost every client. I think you have outlined a logical way of looking at decorating projects, but I often try to get a client to do the most comprehensive project that they can as soon as they can. So many of our great rooms here are open plan, so you almost have to tackle the kitchen update along with the great room for a cohesive look.

  • Mary says:

    I bet I know what color you're painting your cabinets!

  • Pangaea says:

    This post fit my current project perfectly! Renovating is out of the question right now, so I'm doing a mini-makeover, mostly with paint & hardware in my kitchen/family room. Taking my own advice to paint outdated wood cabinets & updating the hardware. Also getting rid of the horrid pinky beige brick on my fireplace by painting that. It is feeling better already!

    I had put this off so long waiting for the day I could do a major remodel. But this little makeover will give me a great lift.

    Excellent advice to concentrate your efforts in one room, and for it to be the place you spend the most time in.

  • Melissa Blake says:

    Ah, so many great ideas in this post! xoxo

  • Between you, me and the Fencepost says:

    I love you for saying this! Finish the spaces that you live in the most and make them beautiful. (if one can't afford the whole house to be done) Somehow it takes the pressure off to have every corner perfect and fabulous. Same with painting know what to ignore and still have a beautiful space. I love you. Learning so much by reading your blog.

  • Cyra DuQuella says:

    I agree completely that having one room finished will bring you the most satisfaction. You have an area where you can relax and enjoy the environment without having the next detail on the list bugging your mind!

    Painting tile? As a tile maker this makes me shudder ….but I also realize what an endeavor it is to replace tile and how unbeautiful (aka ugly) tile can really be obnoxious.

  • traci zeller designs says:

    Great post, Maria! It's hard to discipline yourself to finish one room at a time, but it's so much more satisfactory. I always like to do the master bedroom up front, so that it can really be a haven for the owners. It's usually the last priority and it shouldn't be!

  • Lazy Gardens says:

    You left out the most important two first steps, de-cluttering and repairing.

    STEP 1 – De-clutter! Whether it's hauling trash out of the basement or pruning the dead flowers out of the garden … get all the broken and dead stuff out of the way.

    Get trash completely off the property.

    If you plan to re-use it later, at least stack it tidily so you can get at it when you need it and so it is not blocking you from doing higher priority items.

    2 – Repairs. Until you have roof/basement/plumbing that doesn't leak, electrical service that doesn't throw sparks, and walls/foundations/hillside that is not crumbling … you can't afford to decorate areas that might get leaked on, burned, or crushed.

  • Struggler says:

    I have to constantly remind myself to finish one area before I move onto the next… 3 years in our home and the master bedroom still isn't "done".
    Please hop on over if you'd like to enter my $80 CSN Giveaway.

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Lazy Gardens,
    You missed the part where I said "falling apart and decrepit. I think it goes without saying that repairs must be done before any decorating can happen!
    Thank you for your comment though, maybe it's not obvious to everyone.

  • casey at loft and cottage says:

    This is such good advice! I redid the hideous bathroom when I moved in and fixed the kitchen; my bedroom is adorable; but my living room is still not what I want and it's driving me crazy! I have to decorate but money/time are tight. But, you have inspired me to make it a priority.

  • Jen of Made By Girl says:

    Good advice for sure…I have always been hesitant to hire a designer out of fear that I am going to get a HUGE bill! 🙂 but I;d love to have one design the interior decor in my home…

  • Mona Thompson says:

    Great advice! We always try to get clients to focus on one room at a time. It's the only way to make a big impact and gain satisfaction. As always, your advice is right on, and you say it all so well. Tthanks! Mona

  • Kat says:

    Very good advise! It always make such a difference to have a beautiful spot to be able to be in and say " it will all be worth it in the end…really"

  • Donna says:

    Maria–Everything you just said makes such perfect sense. Besides, that main room is the heart of your home..the room your guests will visit first and the one your family will 'hang out in' at the end of the day. I would think it 'stamps' the home with your personality signature..saying, "This is what I and/or my family are all about." This room describes who we are as a person and what we care most about. And the best thing is that you put your money and effort where you will get the most immediate value.

    As I've been reading and trying to apply all the principles you teach so well here at Colour Me Happy, I finally realized that I needed to focus my efforts on the livingroom. I think the rest of the house will follow. My best accessories are there and when we have a budget..which we will eventually…I want to start there on the couches, drapes and painting. Some of my rooms are still 'ho-hum'. I haven't really worked hard on the master bedroom. There is a lot of unfinished work to do in several of the rooms. But except for painting, couches and curtains..the Living room is really looking nice. My daughter gave me the best compliment this morning. She sat down at the newly decorated dining table and looked out over our re-arranged and re-decorated living room and said, "I'm really liking this part of the house Mom." and she almost seemed to sigh a bit with contentment. (She's very sparing with the compliments so I was thrilled!)

    All the reading, and shopping, and arranging is finally starting to pay off. Thanks, so much, for helping me make my home a wonderful place to live, Maria!

  • Elizabeth Brown says:

    Even though I work as a color consultant and whole heartily endorse the merits color will create in a space, I think importance should also be placed on what you physically handle each and every day, not just what your place looks like. For example, your kitchen faucet that you use day in, day out should be impeccable in its operation as well as your entry hardware. These little things(albeit expensive) make an enormous impact in the well being of one's home life.

  • Marcus Design says:

    This post makes me feel very happy!! I have been decorating/furnishing my living room (where everyone spends time in) while ignoring other spaces in my home until I can afford it. Your post made me feel validated in my focused efforts!!

  • Donna says:

    Maria, I almost forgot to mention that the first question is my first question..without even thinking!

    When you have to decorate on a limited budget..painting is the best fix I can think of.

    That you would suggest painting rather than a compliment to your integrity and value as a decorator who is in tune with your clients' best interests.

    I was stunned when I first heard you mention that counter tops could be painted..and now I'm floored to find out you can paint tile too! Amazing!

    Donna :o)

  • Kate Smith says:

    I agree with completing the room where you spend the most time or at least the most free time first 🙂

    You might need to put blinders on in order to stay focused but finishing one beautiful space to enjoy is nice reward.

  • Annie, bossy color says:

    The magic of paint! You're so right, Maria: it's amazing what a coat of paint can do to transform cabinets – or even tile.

    Great post! I hope all is well with you, color queen!

  • Carol@TheDesignPages says:

    Don't forget about the impact of adding more ambient lighting. This can instantly transform a room and add drama…Carol

  • Lauren says:

    Totally agree!!

    I always feel like the personality of the whole hosue stems from the main living area & so always attack it first to set a tone.

    huge hug and miss you!!!!

  • Lazy Gardens says:

    Maria – I saw the "falling apart and decrepit", but it doesn't have to be that bad before you repair or replace.

    My sister, a realtor and house-flipper and compulsive re-modeler with a contractor husband, has developed a routine for getting settled before she starts remodeling.

    She always starts by having the place cleaned until it gleams. Replace bad caulk, adjust door hardware so everything opens and closes easily, repair or replace faucets that don't work smoothly, replace outlets that are so loose the plugs fall out, replace rusted or paint-caked registers … the sum of all these minor annoyances can add up to a depressing place to live. Most of this is homeowner level maintenance.

    Anything so ugly she cringes when she walks in the room is removed and if it's essential, it is replaced with something inexpensive but attractive.

    Closets and cabinets immediately get more shelving and organizers and pullouts to maximize storage (they come from the previous house, of course). Functional but ugly is better than just plain ugly.

    If the carpet is gross or really ugly, she yanks it out. Bare wood or painted concrete is better than baby-poo brown shag.

    She initially paints the walls a certain pale yellow-cream because it goes with all of her Persian rugs and artwork. Spread the rugs, hang the art, move in the furniture.

    Infrastructure in place, then she's ready to get serious about remodeling and decorating. Some walls get repainted, baths and kitchens may be redone, flooring changed, whatever, but she never has that "half-done" feeling.


Leave a Reply