The end of summer is always sad, but the thought of snuggling down in front of a warm fire on a cosy sofa is often very appealing after months of outdoor living. As the nights draw in, a few tweaks to your décor are all it takes to get your home ready for autumn, and most of them can be done cheaply and easily.
Julia Kendell is spokesperson for The Homebuilding & Renovating Show, which runs from 21 to 23 September at ExCeL, London. As you would expect of BBC One’s DIY SOS guest designer, she is full of good ideas about how to decorate a home on a budget, and she says the change of season is a great time to put your house in order. ‘Thinking seasonally means you can ring the changes with ease,’ advises Julia.
Upgrade your walls
Paint is, of course, the go-to first choice for most people thinking of updating a room in their home. With a finish for every surface, there has never been more choice available – but you still need to follow a few golden rules when redecorating.
‘One of the key mistakes people tend to make is to go for a really pricey paint, thinking it’s going to look fabulous, and then to use incredibly cheap paintbrushes to apply it,’ says Julia. ‘Not surprisingly the effect will never be as they hoped, because brush quality is essential. If you invest in good-quality paintbrushes it’s possible to get away with using a cheaper paint – and if you take the time to prep properly you can get a really good finish with paints of all prices. More and more high street stores are bringing out their own well-priced ranges of great paints, so make sure you shop around.’
Wallpaper takes skill to paste and hang, and is usually – although not necessarily – more expensive than paint. Instead of papering a whole room, Julia suggests creating panels, both to keep costs down and to make the job easier.
‘If you’re very practical, construct frames with timber beading or picture rails and wallpaper within them. Alternatively, simply hang the paper and finish off with some kind of border.’
Creating three large panels works best, she says, and has almost as much impact as papering the entire room, but is so much cheaper. "You won’t need to worry about joining the wallpaper together, which is particularly helpful if you’re not that great at wallpapering,’ she adds.
Let there be light
Lighting is key to brightening the dark days of winter. Add table lamps to dark corners and place spotlights so you can read or sew without straining your eyes. Clamp spotlights are cheap and effective and can be moved around to wherever they are needed.
Non-toxic aromatherapy scented candles give atmosphere and perfume a room, and fairy lights twinkle romantically when draped across a mantelpiece or around a bedhead.
If lampshades look past their best, remove the fabric and re-cover the frame with material. Just weaving pretty ribbon around the wire frame and finishing it with an old button or buckle will give you a bespoke new lampshade.
Furniture, fabrics, texture and pattern
‘Add energy to your rooms by using colour. and make use of seasonal palettes,’ says Julia. ‘Most people’s houses tend to be fairly bland, because it does take a certain amount of confidence to add colour, but it’s such a simple way to transform a room.’
The current trend for retro colours is perfect for autumn – burnt orange, mustard, deep blue and moss green. By adding cushions and throws in these shades, in textures such as sensuous velvet or a wool knit, or you'll instantly update your sofa.
You can also try experimenting with pattern. ‘Add texture by introducing different combinations of patterns and designs – but before you fully commit to a whole room, get small swatches to see how they work together.’ Florals and stripes always go together, but match the dominant colours to avoid a jumble-sale look.
A furry throw on the back of chair or sofa will give you something to snuggle into. Sheepskins can be bought fairly cheaply from places such as Ikea and Dunelm, and come in a wide variety of colours and finishes, from clipped to shaggy. Then, Next has a great selection of cuddly faux-fur throws. Opt for a neutral shade so the throw can be used on both the bed and the sofa.
Flimsy muslin curtains that blow in the breeze in summer won’t be robust enough to repel winter draughts, so change your drapes for something thicker – there are lots of ready-mades at Next, Dunelm, John Lewis and Laura Ashley. If you fancy something tailor made that will work in both summer and winter, invest in reversible curtains – jewel-coloured velvet on one side, say, and a printed linen on the other (the velvet needs to be sun-resistant or it will fade).
In the bedroom, tatty headboards can be re-covered with a hardwearing fabric that is either stain resistant or will wipe clean (because greasy hair leaves its mark). If it's just a simple, rectangular shape, you could do it yourself with your chosen material, some padding and a staple gun.
Beneath your feet
Laminate, wood and tiles all need a warm-up for winter. Chilly toes never make for happy feet, so invest in rugs that add texture, colour and warmth. Make sure they are big enough – they should extend under the full width of the bed and out each side, or across a living room and under the sofa. As well as looking more sumptuous, they won't slip as much, but do add anti-slip underlay as a precaution.
In the kitchen and bathroom, new floors can be laid on top of old. Sheet vinyl is an economical option but it should be laid professionally as it is difficult to get the joins 100% accurate; vinyl or cork tiles are easier if your DIY skills are up to it.
Cabinets and drawer fronts can be given a new lease of life with a specialist paint. (Check the instructions on the tin to see if you need a coat of primer first to cover a melamine or other surface.)
Alternatively, if your carcases are in good shape, there are plenty of companies online that will replace doors etc.
New worktops instantly lift a tired kitchen. There is a huge selection of laminates out there in a range of depths, lengths and finishes that replicate stone, wood, marble and granite.
Replacing door and drawer knobs can make all the difference, but make sure your choice covers existing screw holes.
Hygiene is everything in a bathroom, so spend a bit of time cleaning. Polish dull chrome with limescale remover or white vinegar and rinse clean to get it sparkling again.
Scrub dirty grout with weak bleach and an old toothbrush, and touch up stained areas in seconds with a grout pen.
A set of fluffy new towels always feels luxurious – Asda and Matalan have a great selection at bargain prices, both patterned and plain. A new shower curtain is always a good idea, because soap scum and limescale stain the bottom and are hard to wash out.
If your bathroom is dark, use strategically placed mirrors to reflect light and bounce it around the room, or use mirrored tiles for splashbacks. If storage is required, a wall-mounted, mirrored cabinet does the trick.
Finishing touches such as a pretty glass jar to hold cotton-wool balls, smart soap dispenser and a scented candle will complete your makeover.
Pick up a bargain
Find out when the designer fabric and wallpaper houses are having their warehouse sales by subscribing to their mailing lists. ‘Make sure you arrive super early – you'll potentially pick up some tremendous pieces at a snip of their full price,’ Julia urges.
Scour markets and car boot sales for unusual, one-off pieces that add focus to a room and draw the eye. ‘Look for those with a lot of height, size or bulk, as these will create the greatest impact and transform a room much more efficiently than lots of little ones. There are all sorts of incredible things available if you’re open minded in your thinking and creative in your shopping.’
Upcycle your old stuff
‘Painting pieces of furniture and updating their appearance with new knobs, handles or feet is a great way to save,’ Julia. continues The current range of furniture paints at your local DIY store makes upcycling a breeze – Rust-Oleum even has multi-purpose spray paints which cover both metal and wooden furniture.
‘You’ll be amazed at the difference a lick of paint can make. If you’re creative, you can add découpage, stencilling or other finishes. You don’t need to be highly skilled to update and upcycle your furniture – you’ve just got to have a bit of patience and persistence.’
Five instant fixes:
1. A deep autumn clean and clear-out of clutter will instantly uplift your home.
2. Clean the windows inside and out – they'll be spattered with flies after the summer.
3. Move your furniture around, so sofas and comfy chairs are near the fire.
4. Add fresh flowers and foliage – autumn berries mixed with twisted twigs and tall grasses look great and cost nothing.
5. Pop a welcoming autumn wreath on your front door.