Your family is visiting for the holidays -- and you cringe at the idea of Grandma and Grandpa sitting at your rickety dining table, channel surfing on your 12-inch TV, and noticing the spills and stains on that ancient couch in your living room.
Here are 10 ways to spruce up your house or apartment in time for the holidays. Each project costs less than $200, can be finished in an afternoon, and includes an "alternative" for renters who can't make permanent changes (such as replacing those hideous kitchen countertops).
1. Repaint Kitchen Cabinets
People tend to gather in the kitchen around the holidays, so give yours a major facelift by sanding down and repainting your existing cabinet doors. While you're at it, change out the hardware -- including knobs, pulls, and hinges. It's a fraction of the cost of entirely replacing your cabinets and makes a big impact.
For example: If you have oak cabinet doors from the 1980's, sand and repaint these with a chic white tone. Add satin nickel or oil-rubbed bronze hardware (you can get great deals at Ikea or Amazon), and voila -- you have an instant facelift for the cost of a few cans of paint and a handful of knobs.
Renter Alternative: Switch out cabinet hardware for something a little more modern (just be sure to save the original pulls so you can put them back before you move out, and shop for the same dimensions so you don't need to drill any holes). Alternately, "wallpaper" your cabinets with contact paper, which comes in a wide range of designs and colors and is easy to remove when it's time to move on.
2. Turn Your Bathroom Into a Spa
New fixtures can make an old bathroom look new again. You can snag a seriously cool waterfall faucet for around $100 if you bargain-hunt, or upgrade your bathroom with a new medicine cabinet or pair of wall sconces. If you're a serious thrift-shopper, you can buy gently used fixtures from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore and use the money you saved to also repaint your vanity.
Renter Alternative: You can't do anything about those awful pink tiles or that chintzy countertop, but you can distract from them with accessories that summon up a luxe, soothing feel.
Decorate with fluffy towels, a high-end shower curtain and fancy containers for your toothbrushes and cotton swabs. Place a few candles on your vanity and around the tub.
Put a large art piece in your bathroom that commands attention – and distracts from those 1970's tiles.
3. Create an Accent Wall / Feature
Highlighting one part of your room can add energy and personality-and draw your guests' focus away from the things you don't love. Try a bold color on just one accent wall, use a stencil kit to paint pretty details onto the wall, or paint the back of those built-in bookcases for a subtle-but-powerful pop.
Renter Alternative: Wall décor doesn't have to be permanent. Check out removable stick-on decals in various styles and patterns. Hang eclectically framed art in one area to create an impromptu gallery. You can even display all those holiday cards you've received in an artistic way, like hanging them on strips of ribbons with clothespins.
4. Lighten Up
Replacing outdated light fixtures with more modern ones can make a big difference. Try a statement piece like a candelabra in the dining room, or create cozy conversation areas in your living room with table lamps.
Renter Alternative: As long as you keep the fixtures that were there originally, there's no reason you can't swap out that hideous builder-grade fixture for something a little more modern and sleek. Simply stow the old one away to reinstall when you move and take the new one with you to your next place.
Not that handy? You can also use floor lamps, table lamps and mirrors to make a small space seem bigger and brighter.
5. Upgrade Window Treatments
High-quality curtains can make small rooms look bigger. Simply hang floor-length curtains a few inches above your windows, and run the curtain rods to the far outside edges of the windows. The visual effect makes the ceiling appear higher and the windows seem larger.
Renter Alternative: Take down those horrid plastic mini-blinds and stash them somewhere until you move-or at least cover them up. Nothing makes a room look more sophisticated and pulled together than a great pair of curtains in an eye-catching pattern.
Whether you own or rent your home, these additional tricks will help you take your place from "blah" to "ooh, ahhh" in no time.
There's no need to replace that stained couch or those worn-out armchairs. Just cover them with a crisp new slipcover and they'll look as good as new. (Bonus: if any holiday spills occur, you can just pop the cover in the wash.)
7. Corral Clutter
Make use of decorative storage like boxes, bins and totes to keep smaller odds and ends out of sight. Dual-use furniture, like an ottoman with a lid that lifts up, can add extra style and storage and give guests another seating option.
8. Add New Accessories
Breathe new life into a room with accessories around a common theme-for instance, a set of new throw pillows, picture frames and table lamps in festive tones of red, green and gold (or blue and silver for a more contemporary ambience).
Use area rugs or interchangeable tile rug squares to cover up worn patches on the floor or add extra warmth. Add a new tablecloth or runner to that old dining room table. Create picturesque arrangements by grouping items - picture frames, vases, candles - in strategic groups of three.
9. Create "New" Furniture
Scope out yard sales, estate sales, Craigslist, Freecycle, even your own attic for furniture that needs a little TLC. Get a set of cheap dining room chairs and repaint them so they look fresh and modern. Reupholster the worn cushions on your current chairs. You could even "shop your home" -- swap pieces from rooms that your guests won't use to replace rickety pieces or mix up your current furniture arrangements.
10. Festive Touches
Never underestimate the power of decked halls to distract your guests from less-than-opulent parts of your home. Drape wreaths and garlands over banisters and bookshelves. Dim the light in the dining room and use candles to set a cozy vibe (and hide the nicks in the table). Use scented candles or potpourri to summon homey smells like baking cookies or cinnamon and spice. Even if the bits and pieces of your home are a little bland, the overall feel will be warm and welcoming.