Jennie Bentley is the author of the best-selling Do-It-Yourself home renovation mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime. She doesn't just write about home renovation, she lives it—working as a renovator and real estate assistant as well as a writer. Today, Jennie shares her top 5 cheap and easy renovation tips with Book Case readers.

On March 2, the third installment in my Do-It-Yourself Home Renovation mysteries featuring textile-designer-turned-renovator Avery Baker, and her boyfriend, handyman Derek Ellis, will be in bookstores everywhere.

I’ve always done my best to make Avery and Derek ‘real people,’ the kind of fictional characters most of us can relate to and that we might like to hang out with. Inherited house and lapsed medical degree notwithstanding, they’re not independently wealthy and they’re not dilettantes. They’re hard-working people trying to make ends meet the same as the rest of us. At the beginning of Plaster and Poison, they find themselves in a place we all are likely to find ourselves sooner or later, especially in these economic times: short of cash.

In Derek’s and Avery’s case, what this means is that instead of buying a new house to renovate, they’re forced to go to work for someone else until their cash flow situation improves. For the rest of us, being short of cash usually means tightening the belt, skimping on luxuries like going out to eat and going to the movies. Updating our homes go on the back burner, except for fixing important things like leaking roofs or dripping faucets.

Sometimes, though, a change of scenery can do wonders for the morale. Here are a few tips from Avery for updating the look of your home on a budget:

Rearrange your furniture. You’d be amazed at the difference it can make. While you’re at it, try to get rid of some of the clutter, too. We all accumulate lots, and it can obscure and even make you forget the things you like about your home.

Paint a wall—or four. At $20-$25 per gallon, paint is the quickest and cheapest picker-upper, because it can totally change the look of a room. Even if all you do is paint one wall, it’ll change the entire space. With not much more money and a little more work, try a special effect, like sponge painting or crackling. Remember too, that paint doesn’t just work on walls: you can paint floors, doors, furniture, kitchen cabinets . . . all kinds of things.

Have some fun with fabrics. New curtains can make a huge difference, at not too prohibitive a price. Slipcovers are great: they totally change the look of a sofa or chair. Toss some new, cheap throw pillows on the furniture to update the look. For a dining room or kitchen, try a new tablecloth. If you’re feeling adventurous—and have access to a sewing machine—grab some cheap fabric remnants at a craft store and whip up your own pillows and window treatments. Or do a Scarlett O’Hara and recycle an old pair of curtains or even a shirt or sweater. Slipcovers, pillows, and window treatments in different fabrics can transform a room in no time flat.

Update your accessories. It’s amazing how the artwork on the walls and the tchotchkes on the table can define a room. Try changing your accessories to get a different look. Move things from one room to another, and update both spaces at the same time.

Play hardball with your hardware. Change out your doorknobs, the kitchen or bathroom faucets, or the cabinet handles and drawer pulls. The difference something so small can make is profound. On a slightly larger scale, a new chandelier above the dining room table, or replacing an outdated ceiling fan with a new, streamlined model, can make a world of difference as well.

So there you have it. It doesn’t have to take an arm and a leg, or a fortune, to update your house. And if you run out of ideas, you can always pick up a DIY-book for some inspiration. Preferably one of mine.

Jennie Bentley lives in Nashville with her husband (a realtor), two kids, two frogs, two goldfish, a parakeet, and a hyperactive dog. Learn more about Jennie and the DIY books on her website.

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