Home is where the heart is—and this year, the rest of our bodies, too. Many of us have been working from home, or at least hanging out there more. And the extra time spent at home has exposed the flaws, shortcomings, and secret treasures our living spaces hold. If being home more is part of your future, even if you hope it isn’t, changing and rearranging your space can make it more pleasant, productive, and private.
Many people are adding to their abodes, as they may not be set up to provide the utility or ambiance you are looking for.
Here are a few things you can do to modify your current space without cutting down a lot of trees or throwing debris into the landfill. We’ll start cheap and easy, and work up to harder and/or more expensive.
An accent wall, a new color, or some trim or border painting can all be done at minimal cost, and each will completely change the way you see and feel in a room. Both BRING Recycling and local manufacturer Forrest Paint have recycled latex paint available in a variety of colors. Rejected orders at almost all paint stores can be less expensive and require no new manufacturing. If you have leftovers, PaintCare.org will steer you to one of the many local places you can take opened cans of paint.
Paper or panel
Wallpaper is easy to put up and really changes a space. Consult a shop or website about what kind of pattern is right for your use. There are websites that allow you to virtually put up paper or a paint color to see how you like it. I love—and save—old wood. I recently added salvaged wood wainscoting to a dining area, and I am enjoying my meals more than ever.
Solar tubes or skylights
Solar tubes do not require any structural changes in your house, and they bring in so much light that you will keep reaching to flip off the light switch after they are put in. Skylights are more complicated to install, but the standard 22-inch units fit between the roof framing of most modern houses. Working on the roof can be scary and dangerous. Making sure things don’t leak is easy with a solar tube, and skylights just require proper flashing. More caulk is never the answer to a leak.
Adding a window or door
More light or easier access can turn the “storage bedroom” (donate or sell that stuff) into a more usable or unique part of your home. Turning an existing window into a door is easy—the structural supports are already there. Adding a window in a blank wall requires more knowledge of building, but it’s not an impossible task even for a novice. (You will thank YouTube for having more than cat videos if you are new to construction.) BRING, Habitat ReStore, and Craigslist are good places to find pre-owned windows and doors (and paneling and wallpaper and sinks . . . ).
Add a cover to an outdoor space you already have
Winter can be chilly here, but a south-facing covered or enclosed porch or deck can become a room most of the time with a minimal investment of time and materials. If it works as a usable space for 10 months of the year, you’ll only be explaining cat sounds to videoconference contacts for two.
Move, add, or remove a wall
Adding walls is easy. Sometimes the open floor plan of the ’70s is too open for a heavily shared space. Shoji screens (the movable wood and paper walls often found in Japan) can be used to test the idea of a new partition. If you want privacy in the new space —“Kids, I’m on a call. You know the cat doesn’t like that game”— consider where the door will be and insulate the walls for sound. An inside window or French doors can help make the space private or shared, depending on the need.
Removing walls from a truss-built house (usually mid-’70s and later) is easy. For a “stick framed” dwelling, some kind of ceiling support will likely be needed. Don’t just hope the design can work with one less interior wall. I have seen roofs collapse on improperly done remodels when the first heavy snow fell.
Now an admission: As an ex-builder, I like construction projects, and I am quite capable. I added to our home as we had children, and now we have an extra room. It is closed off from the lived-in space unless guests are using it. So, an addition can make sense, as can a remodel—but it shouldn’t be your default choice. If you don’t have or want the skills for a DIY project, make sure the professionals you involve know your needs and are open to all solutions—simple and complex.
Bigger is not always better when it comes to your home, and it is always worse for the planet (you’ll have to heat the new space, too). So, when you look at possible changes to where you live—and increasingly, work—start with an eye to better using what you have, not creating more.