10 zero-cost ways to update your home this weekend

Tired of staring at the same four walls but don't have the budget to spend right now? Here are some ideas to get you started

Living room scene
Create a reading nook within a room with a chair, table and lamp; Interior designers De Rosee Sa (deroseesa.com) zoned this open-plan space using furniture Credit: Alex James

Spending every bit of your time at home draws the attention to all those areas that aren’t working, whether that’s a piece of furniture you’ve fallen out of love with, or a room that doesn’t feel right. You might have to wait a while to effect a major decorative change, but there’s a lot you can do to switch up your decor without having to buy anything new or get the professionals in – especially if you have leftover paint, offcuts of wallpaper or swatches of fabric to spare. Here are 10 ideas to get you started.

1. Play with layout

Rearranging furniture can completely change the way a room feels, without adding anything new. Try moving sofas and chairs away from the edges of the room, and putting a slim table between the back of the sofa and the wall, where you can arrange plants, books and other objects. 

Alternatively, if your seating is clustered together, create separate areas. In an open-plan living space, move the sofa in the sitting area so that the back faces the study area or kitchen – it will create the feeling of a separate zone. 

2. Make a mural from tester pots

Add a bit of drama with a wall mural Credit: Crown

If you’ve decorated in the past couple of years, you may well have a collection of tester pots in similar colours, which could make a nice tonal mural. To keep it simple, go for an abstract design of geometric shapes. Use masking tape to create a square or rectangular box on the wall, then use the tape to outline shapes within the box, and paint, waiting for each section to dry before removing the tape and starting the next one.

Alternatively, apply a background colour over the whole area and paint free-hand shapes over the top, or as here, extend a shape over the door frame for added drama.

3. Create a Zoom wall

Prepped and ready for all those conference Zoom calls Credit: Nat Maks

Those who are regularly attending Zoom meetings with colleagues and friends will already have noticed that whatever is visible behind you when you’re on screen will probably be a subject of interest for whoever else is on the call. Up the ante by adding some decorative flourishes to your background wall.

If there’s already shelving there, rearrange whatever’s on it, or make a new display with stacks of books, candles or ornaments, or move a plant into view. If it’s  a blank wall, now might be the time to use up that spare roll of wallpaper, or simply frame a sample; this wallpaper mural (above) is by Nat Maks. You could also use a mirror or picture from another room to hang there, even if just for a few weeks.

4. Make a pantry cupboard

Extra time on your hands means a bit of decluttering can finally happen Credit: Neptune

Decluttering is one of the most rewarding ways to make changes at home for free, and the kitchen is a good place to start. A pantry cupboard has become one of the most coveted elements of kitchen design recently, but you can create something similar with your existing cupboards. It’s surprising how much space you  can create when you have a proper clear-out of old food, chipped crockery and gadgets you no longer use.

 Start by removing everything from your cupboards, discarding what you don’t need, then think in six categories: breakfast,  dinner, snacks, sweets and baking. Have a breakfast cupboard near the kettle, for example, where you store coffee, tea, cereal and bread. The cooking cupboard could be where you keep the food you might use in the evening, such as tins, pulses, pasta and rice. Find baskets or boxes that you can use to organise other categories, so that when you’re baking, for instance, you can just pull out a basket of flour, sugar, baking powder etc. It’s a simple idea, but can make a big difference  to daily life. 

5. Swap in DIY artworks

A black frame is the perfect match for a line drawing, and will add edge to a pale wall Credit: John Lewis

Putting a simple artwork in a fancy frame is a great interior-designer trick for budget decorating. Also, if you have a picture that has been hanging in the  same spot for a while and you  don’t really notice it any more, think about popping a new print in the frame. Try a collection of photographs, a poster or print you haven’t had a chance to frame yet, a wallpaper sample or one of your children’s paintings. Or have a go at one of the line drawings that have become fashionable lately: all you need is plain paper, a black pen, crayon or charcoal, and a bit of inspiration. You could even try an online class with artist Alexandria Coe.

6. Do up your door

A pop of colour can go a long way... Credit: Chris Snook

‘As you’re going to be seeing a lot of the inside of your front door, why not paint it a cheery colour?’ says interiors blogger Bianca Hall. All you’ll need is around a litre  of interior eggshell or gloss. ‘Give it a light sand, wipe it down, allow to dry and remove the handle,’ says Hall. ‘Two coats will normally do it.’ This one  is by decorator Beth Dadswell.

7. Rethink what you already own

Small interiors changes can go a long way Credit: Little Greene Intelligent Paints

If there’s a piece of furniture that you’re not happy with, the chances are you’re stuck with it for the time being. A blanket or throw, or even a large scarf or shawl, can be draped over an ugly chair. Most of us have things in cupboards, such as china or drinks bottles, which could brighten up a dull space. Make functional things decorative, for example by displaying chopping boards or bowls on the kitchen worktop.

8. Add a splash of colour

The walls here are painted in Pall Mall and the dining chair is in Trumpet, both by Little Greene  Credit: Little Greene

‘While confined to your home, why not use the time to create little moments that lift the spirits through the power of colour?’ says Farrow & Ball’s colour consultant Joa Studholme. Half a tin of paint, or a few tester pots, should be enough to spruce up a shabby-looking chair, table or stool; if you don’t have enough of one colour, switch to a different one halfway down the legs for a ‘dipped’ effect. Painting a chair a different colour is one way to zone your office area in an open-plan room, and coating a picture frame, a mirror frame or a shelf in a bright colour requires little paint, and will give the room it’s in a cheerful update.

9. Arrange a plant vignette

Bring in greenery to boost your mood! Credit: Chris Snook

Bringing the outside in is more important than ever right now. For green impact, try making an indoor plant theatre. Choose a shelf, table or mantelpiece,  and group together any potted plants that are dotted around the house, mixing mature plants with small potted herbs and, if you have them, trailing specimens (look up #plantshelfie on Instagram or Pinterest for inspiration). Bring in greenery from the garden, whether that’s flowers, blossom or branches, and arrange in vases to add height.

10. Use up wallpaper offcuts

Leftover swatches are a cheap and impactful way to spruce your cupboards up  Credit: Getty

If you have leftover swatches of wallpaper, you can use them to add a flash of pattern to your furniture. Stick panels of paper to the inside back of a shelving unit, or on to the wall between floating shelves.

Use it to line  the bottoms of drawers: you might be the only one to see it, but it will give you a lift when you open the drawer. If you’re feeling confident, and you have wallpaper paste or a craft glue, try applying it to  the fronts of drawers or cupboard doors.