Affordable high design

A look at 14 economical upgrades for single-family homes.

By Susan Bady, Contributing Editor | April 1, 2013

14 affordable single-family upgrades

(Note: Each page displays two design upgrades. If, after clicking one of the links above, you do not see the idea you are seeking, please scroll down the page.)


Craftsman porches on a budget

Detailing the front porches that are so much a part of the Craftsman style is less costly now that there are vinyl and stone veneer products to do the job. This home in Camillus, N.Y., won an exterior makeover in the Fox & Friends “Homeliest Home” contest. Ply Gem provided the siding, windows, stone veneer, railings, trim, and all accessories and accents, including soffits and rainware. The columns feature Fypon’s PVC Craftsman tapered column wrap. GAF supplied the roofing.

Architect: BSB Design, Jacksonville, Fla.; Photo: Ply Gem; Illustration: Mike Crocker, BSB Design

Artsy headboard

Interior designer Lita Dirks added a 4-inch-deep drywall bumpout to create an art ledge for the headboard in this master bedroom. The headboard is painted a different color than the walls to define its shape. Above the bed, a simple, brightly colored artist’s canvas and eye-catching sculptures create a focal point for the room.

Builder: Hornrock Properties, Paramus, N.J.; Interior Designer: Lita Dirks & Co., Greenwood Village, Colo.; Photo: Michael Kehl


Trim out the fireplace

Two pieces of trim applied to the drywall above this fireplace mantel, plus a crown molding at the top, enhances the volume of this great room. The trim and mantel surround are painted the same color to heighten the effect. A bright accent color provides a backdrop for interesting vertical art, complementing and adding value to the builder’s standard fireplace.

Builder: Carteret Group, Pearl River, N.Y.; Interior Designer: Lita Dirks & Co., Greenwood Village, Colo.; Photo: Jeff Fadellin

Break out another color

Using two body colors on the exterior is an affordable way to add dimension and visual appeal.

Builder: New Leaf Construction, Jacksonville, Fla.; Architect: BSB Design, Jacksonville, Fla.; Photo: Deryl Patterson, BSB Design


Gutter go-round

Switching to a half-round gutter profile shows off the roof edge to create a feature that’s more distinguished than the usual K-style gutter.

Architect: LS3P | Neal Prince Studio, Greenville, S.C.; Photo: LS3P | Neal Prince Studio

Throw a slumber party

In this secondary bedroom, two wood columns support a box that becomes a platform for a kid’s sleepover. Another bed slides underneath for everyday use. The platform area is defined with 1-by-12s, corkboard, and corrugated metal. Inexpensive factory lights illuminate a low, open bookshelf.

Builder: Kettler Forlines Homes, Montgomery Village, Md.; Interior Designer: Lita Dirks & Co., Greenwood Village, Colo.; Photo: Bob Narod


Enliven the garage wall

Another good, cost-effective idea is to pad out the wall over the garage and make it pop with a second body-paint tone. This treatment animates “what is otherwise an ugly wall,” says architect Deryl Patterson.

Builder: Providence Homes, Jacksonville, Fla.; Architect: BSB Design, Jacksonville, Fla. ; Photo: Isabel Brown, Providence Homes

Big finish, small price

A well-chosen plastic laminate finish on an affordable, factory-made cabinet can have a lot of impact. This kitchen looks like a million bucks, but actually cost far less.

Architect: LS3P | Neal Prince Studio, Greenville, S.C.; Photo: LS3P | Neal Prince Studio


Go ahead, vent

One of architect John Edwards’ favorite inexpensive products is Cor-a-Vent’s polypropylene strip vent. “It helps to clean up those hard-to-paint-around soffit vents that we all dislike and gives the roof a sharp, crisply defined edge,” says Edwards. The company’s S-400 strip vent blends in with cedar or other stained or painted roof overhangs, and can be installed in any design from boxed-in eave to zero overhang.

Architect: LS3P | Neal Prince Studio, Greenville, S.C.; Photo: LS3P | Neal Prince Studio

Wing it

In the suburbs of Detroit, home builders and buyers alike are going crazy for wing walls, reports architect J.R. Ruthig. “They’re mostly decorative, but they can spice up front elevations,” Ruthig says. Wing walls help screen the garage doors from the street and make a clean transition from stone to brick going down the garage side of the home, “saving a few dollars and [making the home look] like it was designed that way instead of [as] an afterthought.”

Wing walls make small houses look wider. They also help tie in landscape elements such as planter boxes, walkways, and lighting, giving the home a custom look without adding square footage.
In this example, a wing wall on the garage side integrates exterior lighting. The wing wall on the other side softens the transition to a falling grade on the property.
Architect: TR Design Group, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; Illustration: TR Design Group, LLC


Recycle old fixtures

A one-of-a-kind, salvaged antique double sink is the central design element of this bathroom. In Greenville, S.C., refinishing an old sink typically runs about $250. Such items can be an affordable alternative to new fixtures, but architect John Edwards cautions, “Find a fixture that has drain openings and faucet drillings that match well with plumbing hardware that’s in use and available today.” Before you make a purchase, consult your plumber, interior designer, or local plumbing/hardware store. “They can help you record key measurements that will quickly tell you if your salvage piece is a bargain or a money pit,” he says.

Architect: LS3P | Neal Prince Studio, Greenville, S.C.; Photo: Taylor Architectural Photography

Blow up the trim

Another trick is to upsize major trim components. For example, you can use broader window trim to set off window openings for a dramatic effect. The same rule applies to fascia.

Architect: LS3P | Neal Prince Studio, Greenville, S.C.; Photo: LS3P | Neal Prince Studio


It’s wide, but not wood

According to PPG’s New Home Construction Trends 2013 survey, wide-plank wood flooring is all the rage. Ruthanne Hanlon, national color and design consultant for PPG Architectural Coatings, says the whitewashed look offers vintage appeal. Pale woods with an untreated appearance are also popular. But if solid wood flooring is too cost prohibitive for your project, try laminate. The design choices include Armstrong’s Rustics Premium collection. Shown here is X-Grain Khaki/RoughCut Khaki, which simulates rough-hewn planks of white oak, deeply textured with knots and saw marks.

Photo: Armstrong Laminate Floors

Use brick as an accent

Reclaimed brick, when used as a partial facade and strategically placed, can make an inexpensive but significant visual impression.

Architect: LS3P | Neal Prince Studio, Greenville, S.C.; Photo: LS3P | Neal Prince Studio



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