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Dollar decisions
Where to spend and where to save when making home improvements



An investment in high-quality kitchen countertops is worth the splurge, says one local kitchen expert.

You love your home, but lately it seems so Ö well, drab and boring. Redecorating can add a new look and feel, but how should you spend your money? Local design experts give their advice about the best places to spend ó and when it makes more sense to save ó if youíre considering making some changes.


Save: A kitchen face-lift is one of the best improvements homeowners can make. In fact, even a minor kitchen update returns more value than any other home improvement project. "If youíre on a budget, hold off on some of the more expensive details like an imported tile backsplash, says Molly Madsen, co-owner of Affordable Bath & Kitchen in Greenfield and Mequon. "Your kitchen can still look fabulous without it and you can easily install the tile several months later without disrupting anything," she says.

Splurge: Good quality countertops are an investment in the future, Madsen says. "Countertops are one area of the kitchen where I advise getting the best you can afford. It will pay off in the long run," Madsen says.

Save: One of the biggest budget busters in a kitchen remodeling project is appliances. To avoid buying new appliances all at once, choose the one that is most out of date and then add others as your budget allows.

Splurge: On the other hand, you may save enough on your electric bill in the coming years to pay for the new appliances. For example, a new refrigerator can use 40 percent less energy than an older model ó and thatís a big savings. Look for Energy Star appliances. And, do your homework. "You can pay for the name on the door, but you can also get the same functionality from appliances that donít have high-end names," Madsen says.

Save: Custom cabinetry can cost a fortune. "Instead of custom cabinets, stick to plain stock cabinets. Or, keep the cabinets you have and get more mileage out of them by painting them and updating the hardware," Madsen says. "You might be surprised at what a difference it makes."

Along those same lines, when you purchase new cabinets, you can save by adding accessories after the fact. "Itís much cheaper to buy cutlery trays and other things after market," Madsen says. "And, if you wait, youíll have a better idea of where thingsshould go."

New bed linens are a relatively inexpensive way to update your bedroom.


Splurge: People donít update their bedrooms very often, but they are sometimes the rooms that most need it. "Spend your money on quality furniture, even if itís only one piece," says Jadi Bachman of Bachman Furniture in Milwaukee. "If youíre on a limited budget, get a good quality bed and wait until you can afford the dresser and night stands. This also goes for the living room. You use your bed and your sofa every day so it definitely pays to buy something that doesnít wear out in a year or two," she says.

Save: If you just want to make some quick improvements, simply change whatís on the bed, advises Melissa Strowig, manager at West Bend Furniture & Design in West Bend. "Changing the comforter, pillows and other accessories can make a world of difference," she says. "Use colors and fabrics that make you feel relaxed and comfortable."

Splurge: When it comes to carpeting and area rugs, you usually get what you pay for, advises Caroline Taylor, designer and owner of Heritage Carpet and Interiors in Hartland. "Installing new carpet is one of the most effective things you can do to improve a room. Worn and dingy carpeting takes so much away from a room," she says.

Save: Create a new look by painting just the trim in your room. Or, add wainscoting to the walls for a tailored look. "There are a lot of small things you can do that create a big effect," Taylor says.

Adding a new chair to a living space can make an immediate impact without breaking your budget, design experts say.

Living Room

Splurge: "Multifunctional items are a great investment, especially if you are short on space, living in a condo or small house," Bachman says. "You can buy an ottoman/coffee table that also serves as a storage piece. We even sell a sofa that has storage space underneath," she says.

Save: To make a statement without spending a lot, consider adding an accent piece such as a new chair or a desk. "A new occasional chair or decorative table chosen correctly can make a real difference," says Claire Hochrein, owner of West Bend Furniture & Design.

Splurge: Painting is one of the best bets for a quick makeover for any room, Taylor says. "Changing your wall color creates instant results," she says. "Your color choices should be influenced by the type and amount of light coming into the room. Different exposures enhance certain colors. For example, northern light casts more of a blue tone. You can create a mood with the colors you choose."

Save: Window treatments are a budget-conscious makeover when redecorating your room. Spend little money for a lot of impact in any area of your home, especially the bedroom or living room, Strowig says. "You can spend as much or as little as you like on window treatments that can add real beauty to your room. Decorative rods and blinds are still very much in style," she says.

Save: If youíre thinking of recovering your older furniture, you might be better off spending the money on new furniture, says Bachman. "Recovering furniture now costs about the same as buying new. Itís worthwhile exploring the option," she says.

Save: One of the least expensive updates you can make to any room is to simply rearrange the furniture. "Pull the furniture off of the walls," says Bachman. "Everything does not have to be up against the wall. Try floating the couch away from the wall," she suggests. This also works in the bedroom. Try placing your bed on an angle to give the room a completely different look.

Lighting, faucets and tile are three areas to focus on in a bathroom project.


Splurge: Bathroom updates are one of the smartest changes a homeowner can make. And, small improvements can have a big impact, Madsen says. Whether in the bathroom or the kitchen, donít skimp on the quality of the faucets you install, Madsen advises. "You use your kitchen and bathroom faucets more than anything else in those rooms, so you want to invest in something thatís high quality," she says.

Save: You donít have to buy the most expensive brushed nickel or bronze finish faucets. "Chrome is back in style and it is attractive and so much more economical than nickel or bronze. Many people like it just as well," Madsen says.

Splurge: The right lighting makes a big impact in any room, but it is essential in a bathroom or powder room. "The right light fixtures are important; they can enhance your bathroomís theme and make a dramatic improvement," Taylor explains.

Save: If you can only afford to do one thing at a time, focus on what is most visible. First, replace the sink and vanity, then the floor and then the tub, according to experts.

Splurge: Speaking of replacing the floor, tile is the way to go, Madsen says. "You should get the best quality ceramic or stone tile you can afford, but there is a wide range of prices, so it makes sense to shop around."

One final word from these designers: Take advantage of the advice of experts when youíre ready to make some changes. "Iíve seen it so often ó people donít know how to choose colors to work together," Taylor says. Bachman concurs. "I really advise taking advantage of design services," she says. "For example, if you purchase a new bedroom set or other furniture, we offer our complimentary design services to help you select colors or fabrics. And a designer can help you work your new pieces in with your existing dťcor, which can be a valuable service." m