It's been more than a decade since glossy shelter magazines and home-improvement TV shows became popular. We've been hearing their drumbeat more steadily than ever lately: Go ahead and tackle a home decorating or repair project! We'll tell you how!
That can be good advice, especially in a recession. And many Americans are heeding the call, taking the do-it-yourself route rather than outsourcing home projects to professionals.
Sales are up at the major home-improvement chains and interior designers say many of their clients are curious about trying do-it-yourself projects around the house.
These projects can be great fun and a real money-saver. But choosing wisely and planning carefully are the keys to avoiding a DIY disaster.
Interior designer Mallory Mathison gets frequent calls to fix home improvement projects gone wrong. "A lot of people say, 'I've tried something myself and it didn't work.' So I'm coming in and fixing someone else's mistakes," Mathison says. "It definitely can cost more to try and do it yourself and then have someone come in and do damage control."
How do you make sure your weekend DIY project ends up a success?
Step one is research, says interior designer Janine Carendi. She recommends surfing online for free, step-by-step videos for a particular project.
"The nice thing about seeing it visually is you can actually follow the person, rather than reading instructions in language that might be foreign to you," she says. "A video is a good way to decide if you can do it, and it's great because they usually include a list of tools needed."
You can buy or rent tools you don't already have. But consider whether you'll use the tools more than once, and weigh the cost against the cost of hiring someone to do the job.
Researching also gives you a realistic idea of how much time the project will take.
"A lot of things can be a two-day project or more," Carendi says. "A lot of people don't realize, and they start a project and don't finish it."
What projects are best for inexperienced DIY-ers?
Painting: Go for it
Walls, furniture, even light fixtures — designers say painting is among the easiest and most affordable ways to improve a home yourself. Just don't cut corners. To make it look professional, you've got to clean and sand surfaces before painting.
Mathison suggests painting cabinets to give a kitchen an affordable facelift.
You can attempt to paint the ceiling, says designer Brian Patrick Flynn, but there may be a better route: One of Flynn's favorite new products is a laminate plank system for ceilings (he loves Armstrong's Woodhaven collection). It can be affixed over an existing ceiling with screws for a sleek, professional look.
Outdoors: Lots of possibilitiesMathison says even home-improvement novices can put down a pretty stone walkway in their yard. She also says staining a deck isn't difficult, provided you research the job and buy the proper materials. Add a few attractive planters and your DIY yard is complete.
Wallpaper and Upholstery: Try tiny jobs "Everyone now wants some kind of wall covering," says Flynn, but it's tough to do the entire wall on your own. "Do all the prep work yourself. Sand the walls with a sanding block and fine-grade sand paper. After that, take a damp cloth get all the dust off, then prime with wallpaper primer," says Flynn. "You can probably save up to $300 for a 12-by-12 space. The person you hire just cuts the paper and hangs it. They can be out in a day."
Some wallpapers are precut and pre-pasted, says Carendi, and they can turn out beautifully if you're doing a small space. But take your time and work carefully.
Similar rules apply to upholstery: Covering a chair cushion with new fabric and attaching it with a staple gun is relatively easy, says Mathison. But real reupholstering takes knowledge and expertise.
Tiling: Tread carefullyMost tiling projects are best left to the pros. Stripping old tile from a bathroom wall is more complicated than it sounds, and the wall underneath can easily get damaged. Flynn says mosaic tile that comes attached to a net backing can be relatively easy to hang. Ditto for subway tile. But be sure to thoroughly research bath and kitchen tile projects, and leave any related plumbing work to the experts: "There are reasons why professionals have to be licensed to do that sort of work," says Carendi. "If one thing is done incorrectly, it can be extremely costly to fix."
Lighting: Stick to cosmetics
"If it involves adding electricity or moving electricity," says Flynn, leave it to an expert. But "swapping lightweight pendants is a much more user-friendly DIY task."
Buy a drum shade from any home goods store, some decorative trim and a pendant light kit (hardware stores carry them, he says, as does Ikea). "Use a glue gun to add your own trim to the top and bottom of the shade, then insert the pendant kit and cut the cord to size. ... You will be amazed how easy this is," Flynn says.
Above all, says Carendi, know your limitations. But don't be afraid to learn a new skill.
"If you're stubborn, that's the best ingredient for any home project," she says. "You have to be really stubborn and determined."