Dazzling decorating secrets for those on a budget

A dab of paint, fabric, fringe or photos could transform a room

February 02, 2003|By Claire Whitcomb | By Claire Whitcomb,Universal Press Syndicate

Let's say it's a dark and dreary Saturday and you wake up with an urge to redecorate. What can you accomplish by dinnertime? If you have Anne McKevitt's Style Solutions ($29.95, Clarkson Potter), the answer is a lot.

A bed canopy, for instance, is a simple project. All you have to do is attach brass curtain rings to your ceiling. Loop filmy white fabric through the rings, knot it at each corner, and you have flowing drapery and the illusion of a four-poster bed, all before the 6 o'clock news.

Anne McKevitt is a petite British dynamo who has staple- and glue-gunned her way to prominence, apparently without breaking a single red-lacquered nail. She poses on the cover of Style Solutions brandishing a red paint roller, wearing a sleek black outfit and promising "365 of the freshest looks, smartest tips and best advice for your home."

Consider picture-hanging. One of the simplest things you can do to give your rooms a lift is to hang something new on your walls. McKevitt assumes you have photographs languishing in a drawer. Instead of displaying them in the expected way, she suggests mounting them on old newspaper, photocopied fabric, sheet music or gift wrap. You could even use a flag or a wonderful scrap of vintage textile as backing.

As for the frame, an inexpensive one will do. If you don't like the color or the quality, paint it or cover it with fabric.

You can dress it up further by tacking on bay leaves using brass pins, or gluing on buttons, baubles or ribbons.

For kids, a good idea is to attach little plastic lizards or tiny teddy bears.

Embellishment is a simple way to update other aspects of the home.

If your lampshades need a lift, glue on glittery bead trim. If your window shades are dull, edge them with costume jewelry beads. If your pillows seem too plain, treat them in tassels and braid.

Many decorators rely on slipcovers to revive a room. Although McKevitt understands fabric -- she cleverly slipcovers an office chair with a white fringed blanket -- she's more interested in the power of paint.

In one living room, for instance, she stripes the floor, allocating one color per floor board. In a child's room, she paints the floor purple and then adds polka dots in yellow, green and blue. For templates she uses dinner plates, saucers and mugs.

Walls, too, are transformed with painted-on swirls and handprints. Wooden chairs are transformed with checks and stripes (thanks to large quantities of masking tape). In one teenager's room, she decorates the walls with snippets of poetry, inscribed with thick gold felt-tip pens.

One of McKevitt's most effective quick changes is to top a dining table or dressing table with glass.

The effect is like a large horizontal picture frame, perfect for displaying photographs slipped beneath the glass.

The exhibition underneath can be rotated. Instead of photographs, letters, maps, dried leaves, coins or rose petals can be used. (If you're thinking of heading to the glass store, McKevitt advises measuring scrupulously -- "a fraction of an inch can make the difference between success and disaster" -- and making sure you ask to have the edges polished.)

McKevitt has an interesting view of cupboard doors, which she regards as a neglected art form.

In a kitchen, she decorates them with carrot cut-outs and art deco arcs, a technique that eliminates the need for knobs since fingers can simply be tucked into a cut-out to pull the door open.

In a child's room, she completely transforms a colorful bookcase with cupboard doors. One is shaped like a castle, another like a house, complete with little paned windows and a purple mini door that opens. As additional decoration, a shelf is trimmed with petite fringed theater curtains for imaginative plays.

At times, McKevitt's exuberance outweighs her taste. Not everyone would want to rubber-stamp designs on pillowcases or slipcover a file cabinet in fake suede. But she thinks of everything.

She's figured out that if you stack large cardboard tubes in a beehive pattern they make great CD holders. And if you unroll those gold mesh scrubbers you get a glittery knit tube that's the perfect "slipcover" for fat white candles.

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