Most people would love to splash enough cash to transform their house into the home of their dreams. But the cost-of-living crisis means such transformations have to remain in dreamland for many of us.

But there’s no harm in dreaming – and property expert Kunle Barker points out that some of those dreams can become a reality at a far cheaper price than you might think.

Barker, who’s presenting at Grand Designs Live, which runs at ExCeL London from May 4-12, has recently renovated his own house at a fraction of the expected cost.

“I’ll be doing a session on what we call romantic renovations, which is all about falling back in love with your house,” says Barker. “And I did one on my house, which was going to cost £100,000, and in the end we spent £15k, which is still a sizeable amount of money. But in the session, I’ll be explaining how you can just take whatever budget you have, however small, and make changes to your home and really make a difference.”

Here are Barker’s easy tips to improve your home without spending a fortune…

Paint pops of colourBarker’s first tip is to think about painting colour in rooms. “A really good lick of paint makes a huge difference to a home, especially if you experiment with colour,” he says. “And the beauty of that is it’s something you can do yourself – you can go and buy some paint and spend the weekend creating a feature wall or repainting a room with different colour and it will completely change that room around.”

He says that while the trend for many years was ‘Scandi sheep’ white walls, “while we’re not going back to really strong block colours in rooms, what people are using is accents of colours, on either feature walls or some walls, and those things make such a difference to your home.”

He suggests householders who aren’t sure what colours will suit their rooms should look on the internet, Pinterest etc and see how people are mixing colours, or look at the ‘colour wheel’ on the internet which outlines which colours clash and which are complementary.

“Just see how people are blending or mixing colours in slightly different ways,” he advises. “I always say looking in your wardrobe is a good place to start because the colours of your clothes are the colours you like.

“I think we’re settling on a happy medium where the Scandi sheep thing is fine, but people are using a few pops of interesting colour too.”

Splash out on indoor plants and flowers

Another simple way to make rooms look better is by planting indoor flowers and plants, suggests Barker. “They make a huge difference to your home, don’t cost a fortune, and it’s something people can do themselves.”

Use the three-box decluttering technique

Decluttering will improve any space, says Barker, who suggests people try the simple method he uses to get rid of unnecessary clutter.

“Think about the things you don’t want in your home,” he says. “I always have this little trick where I have three boxes, and in one box I put stuff that I can’t do without and that we’re going to have to keep, the middle box is the box I’m not sure about, and the other box I put in stuff I know I can get rid of. That goes to a charity shop or recycling, the stuff I’m not sure about goes in a cupboard under the stairs, and then I’m just left with the stuff that I know I love.

“And the rule is, if within the next three or six months you don’t go back to the other box and pull that stuff out, then that also goes to charity.

“Something like that makes such a difference to a home, and it doesn’t cost money. And these are things that people can do in their weekends, they’re fun things to do, and you’ll be surprised how much of a difference it makes.”

Small changes can make a big difference in the bathroom

If your bathroom needs updating, you don’t have to shell out thousands of pounds for a whole new one, says Barker – just change some of the fixtures and fittings to revamp your room cheaply and easily.

“If you have a little bit of money, rather than doing a whole bathroom think about investing in new fixtures and fittings,” he advises. “So things like taps and mixer valves – these things can make a real difference to your bathroom.

“Or you can upgrade your existing toilet, which might be an old-fashioned-looking cistern, for a hidden cistern wall-hung unit. Just that one thing could help change the look of the bathroom.”

He says such alterations might cost a few hundred pounds, plus the same again for fitting, but he points out: “For less than £1,000 you can have a real new look in that bathroom.”

Make your kitchen look brand new at a fraction of the cost

Similarly with the kitchen, minor alterations can change the aesthetic and mean you don’t need to buy a whole new kitchen, explains Barker. “People think ‘I have to change the whole kitchen’ – but just think about the taps and stuff,” he advises. He recently renovated his own kitchen by painting the unit doors and spending around £3,500 on new worktops, which he says he probably could have paid about £1,000 less for.

“I just changed the worktop and the kitchen is completely different,” he says. “I was getting quotes for £30,000 to change that kitchen but I spent £3,500 on the worktop, £200 on the taps, and I probably spent £100 on paint because I  painted the doors myself. It feels brand new.”

He also suggests painting existing tiles rather than retiling, or even opting for granite worktops at a fraction of the price by having a thin granite worktop placed over your existing worktop. “It will completely change your kitchen – everybody will think you’ve got a new kitchen when you haven’t,” says Barker. “It’s a lot cheaper than getting a brand new granite worktop, and it’s a lot, lot cheaper than completely changing your kitchen, which costs a fortune these days.”

What about the living room?


Barker suggests investing in a few nice pieces of furniture or lighting. “That makes a real difference,” he says. “and you don’t have to spend a fortune.”

In addition, rather than splashing out on a new sofa, get your old one reupholstered. “I did that recently to my sofa,” Barker says. “Rather than spending thousands, it cost about £250, which isn’t much, and it gave a look of a brand new sofa.”

He says low-level lighting like floor and wall lamps and/or uplighters can be inexpensive but can change the whole feel of a room. “Lighting is something that’s very overlooked, particularly in living rooms,” he says, pointing out that one big central light doesn’t give any flexibility to change the look and feel of the room. “However, if you have downlighters and lamps then you can change the way that room feels – they make rooms feel much more comfortable.”

Think comfort for the bedroom

Decluttering and installing the right lighting is key for bedrooms, says Barker, who explains: “The bedroom is slightly different – really focus on what makes you comfortable and rest well in your bed. Get nice soft furnishings and quilt covers and new pieces of artwork and shelving – all of them make a huge difference, and they’re all relatively inexpensive.”

Kunle Barker is presenting at  Grand Designs Live, which is at  ExCeL London from May 4-12.

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