Making a house a home seems to be big business these days. The average home improvement project costs $3,000, according to the National Association of Home Builders. But there are easier—or at least, less costly—ways to make a space your own than springing for a set of granite countertops, as the authors of these new books attest.
One of the most popular places on the Internet to get a daily dose of decorating savvy is apartmenttherapy.com. The four-year-old website offers decorating tips and tricks, and posts complete home tours of apartments from L.A. to New York City. The site's founder, Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, has chosen 40 of the best home tours to feature in full-color photos in apartment therapy presents. Despite the book's title, not all of the living spaces profiled here are apartments. Though you won't find McMansions in these pages, the homes range from 500-square-foot studios to 2,000-square-foot homes and townhouses. Most of the residences contain modern design elements (there's heavy reliance on basics from both IKEA and the pricier Design Within Reach, and I've yet to see this many Eames chairs outside of a museum), but inspired copy-it-yourself touches abound. For example, one New York City apartment owner uses a collection of colorful vintage freezer doors (you know, the ones that were inside the fridge) as wall art. And who would have thought to use a shadowbox from Target as a toilet paper holder, wallpaper an office with Post-its, or transpose a paint-by-number street scene into a wall mural? Now you can incorporate these and other inventive ideas in your own home.
Speaking of inventive ideas, the editors of Romantic Times have several up their sleeves in Vintage Vavoom. Not only the title of their book, "Vintage Vavoom" is also a decorating philosophy that—judging from the full-color photos in this book—is typically marked by white or neutral walls and backdrops that set off an interior filled with antiques and other one-of-a-kind items. The "vintage" in their vavoom seems to come mostly from the early years of the 20th century—even though the authors encourage mixing in modern touches, you will find more doilies than Eames chairs here. Still, there's plenty of useful advice that could apply to other types of decorating styles. From how to effectively shop a flea market (come early and bring a flashlight!) to figuring out how to mix and match patterns and colors (tearing out pages of magazines that appeal to you is a start), those who are aiming for a step beyond shabby chic will find plenty of food for thought.
Even the most organized homeowner might cringe at the thought of throwing open their closet doors to a visitor. Melanie Charlton Fascitelli offers ideas for pulling together this often cluttered area of the home in Shop Your Closet. Fascitelli gives advice for culling your wardrobe down to the essentials, buying clothes you'll actually wear, and then storing them in the most efficient manner possible. She suggests shelving options for different types of closets (walk-in, reach-in, etc.) and how best to use them. But this guide isn't limited to bedroom closets; there are also ideas for keeping linens organized (store sheet sets together in a pillowcase), whipping kids' closets into shape and cleaning out that medicine cabinet. Whimsical illustrations by Keith Geldof keep things light, as does Fascitelli's playful writing style, making this daunting task seem fun and best of all, doable. With her advice, stress over what to wear can become a thing of the past.
Do it all yourself
For adventurous homeowners who want to save money by tackling major projects on their own, The Black & Decker Complete Photo Guide to Homeowner Basics: 100 Essential Projects Every Homeowner Needs to Know is a great resource. Each of the five authors—Jodie Carter, Matthew Paymar, Steve Wilson, Jerri Farris and David Griffin—takes on one of the five topics covered in the book: wiring, plumbing, flooring, painting and decorating, and outdoor work, respectively. The projects they've deemed "basics" range from the truly basic (finding an item that's gone down the drain, painting walls or installing an automatic thermostat) to improvements you may not have thought about doing yourself (refinishing hardwood floors, pest-proofing your home and repairing an asphalt driveway). Somehow, these ambitious projects seem accessible when accompanied by step-by-step instructions (with photos for each step) and a list of all the tools you need to complete each project. Committed DIY-ers will snap this one up, and more cautious types will find the courage to try something new.
Decorating's a laugh
"Serial redecorator" and syndicated home columnist Marni Jameson shows readers how to love the home they're with in the hilarious The House Always Wins. Jameson, whose uproarious voice recalls Erma Bombeck's, dishes out home advice in witty essays on choosing paint color, hanging drapes, shopping vintage and more. Jameson's style is personal, and her husband and children make frequent appearances in her musings on home décor. On her husband's desire to get a home theater, Jameson asks, "What, the kids, dogs, vacuum cleaner and dishwasher all going at once aren't enough for you?" She finally relents. "I know how fragile and vulnerable men can feel at certain stages of their lives, the way women feel all their lives." Accompanying these informal essays are sidebars full of tips and tricks and interviews with other designers and home interior specialists. You don't necessarily have to be in the middle of a remodel or redecorating project to appreciate the laughs in The House Always Wins, but anyone on the rocky road to making a house a home will find Jameson an especially charming companion.
Trisha Ping just bought her first place and needs all the decorating advice she can get.