I moved from Toronto into a two bedroom 950 square foot condo in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood at the end of March 2020. Talk about bad timing!! The pandemic was breaking and I lost my job soon afterwards. My new home was drab and neglected, and my finances suddenly became really tight. I had planned a bigger renovation but, instead, embarked on a budget-friendly makeover, with the help of a handy friend, that was limited to online shopping and big box stores – the only two sources available at the time. Here are ten budget-conscious tips that made my small home shine:     (This post is sponsored by Home in BC.)

Raffi, my constant companion, in the living room.

ONE: Overall PlanThe pandemic put the brakes on my new job so while I had the time to plan the project myself, I had to spend every dollar carefully. I focused on the most important rooms and then researched everything I needed online to come up with a shopping list and budget. I wanted to keep the project as simple as possible with minimal disruption like construction or water shut-off since other residents in my building were all at home. Couch, Article.

Tip: I saved inspirational photos from Instagram accounts I follow (home decor magazines and interior decorators) in a file within the Instagram app. Pinterest is also an amazing source of ideas.

TWO: Colour Scheme – My home was surrounded by trees so the rooms didn’t get much natural light. To keep the space bright and make it feel bigger, the walls and ceilings in each room were painted white. The simplicity provided a neutral background to highlight my accessories – and in the long run, bright white walls are also smart for resale. 

Tip: Pick your white carefully. Some are blue-greyish in tone which will make a room appear darker while others have a more yellow cast. I chose Decorator’s White by Benjamin Moore.

Matte black hardware and a rug accented the black and white toile wallpaper.

THREE: Accent Shades –  To give the white rooms a bit of edge, I chose brushed gold as my accent metallic in lighting fixtures and the main bedroom wallpaper. Black was my tone in hardware details and the bathroom. Both neutral tones work so well to let colourful accessories sparkle. Wallpaper, Benjamin Moore.

Tip: Keep a file of photos and notes on dimensions (room sizes and major pieces of furniture) in a file on your phone for easy reference when shopping. Knowing exactly what you’ve already bought cuts back on mistakes and impulse buys. That way, when I found a terrific bargain or special piece, I knew if it would fit.


FOUR: Focus RoomsWhenever I move into a new home, I always want the whole thing fixed up perfectly asap. But as the cliche goes – “Rome wasn’t built in a day” – so I focused on the two most neglected rooms – the kitchen and bathroom – that are also the most important for resale. 


I chose to update the walls and cabinets, but nothing that would require construction (ripping up floors or cabinets) or shutting off water (replacing the tub and adding a shower). Those bigger disruptions could wait for another time. I was mindful of my budget so chose a laminate bathroom countertop over stone or marble, and researched sales for the best deal on lighting.

FIVE: Wallpaper or Paint? – Paint is the fastest way to update a room but I love wallpaper. Here’s where I tossed the idea of “resale value” out the window. I knew that the black and white toile pattern I coveted wouldn’t appeal to some people but I wanted to make a major statement in the bathroom. The walls were uneven from previous patching jobs so the busy print was a perfect distraction. And it took attention away from the dark green floor tiles that I couldn’t afford to replace. I also had wallpaper applied on all four walls in the bedroom. The room was large enough and the gold fan pattern airy enough to cover all of the walls. Wallpaper, Benjamin Moore. Light fixture, Aerin Lauder at Circa Lighting.

Tip: Choose a wallpaper you really love. Some papers are expensive so cover just the feature wall behind your bed. I took photos of a lot of patterns I loved and scrolled through them constantly. I waited a week before ordering to make sure I could live with my choice long term.

SIX: Lighting – The living room lighting was tucked away in pot lights, but my dining room (in the centre of the condo) needed a style signature. I replaced its cheap foil paper chandelier (it gave off a gold haze) with a whimsical light that reminded me of a shimmering dandelion head. I ordered it online and by the time it arrived in the store, the price had been reduced twice. Chandelier, West Elm; Chairs, Structube

SEVEN: Kitchen cabinets – I couldn’t afford a full renovation with new cabinets and countertops so I updated the cabinet and drawer fronts. The bashed-up plain kitchen doors and drawer fronts were refaced with bright white Shaker style panels. (At the same time, I had the fronts replaced in the large bathroom cabinet.) Spray painting the fronts is a less expensive option if your cabinets are in good shape but mine were chipped with worn edges. The stained wood shelves in the kitchen were also painted white to make them blend into the tile better, and give the room a bigger airy feel. Refacing by Home Depot. 

Tip: Replacing drawer pulls is a quick inexpensive way to update cabinets. I replaced the nickel hardware in the kitchen and bathroom with stylish matte black pulls – a sleek bar shape in the kitchen and round knobs in the bathroom. Drawer pulls, Richelieu at Home Depot.

EIGHT: Bathroom accents – I was replacing three quarters of the bathroom so I wanted to distract from the wall that I couldn’t afford to touch – the one with the bathtub and shelves (not quite big enough to fit a shower stall) which would be hidden by shower curtains. Busy wallpaper on three walls created a cosy feel and then I used matte black accessories with gold trim (lighting and mirror) to tie the look together. I couldn’t rip up the floor so I found a washable indoor/outdoor rug that was cut and trimmed to size. Bath mats over top kept it clean and distracted from the dark green floor tile underneath. Rug, IKEA. Square mirror & shelf, Home Depot. Round mirror, Homesense.

NINE: Work-from-home room – I was planning to use the small second bedroom as a guest room but since no one would be visiting anytime soon, it quickly became a place to work from home. A day bed doubled as a place to read and my writing desk was turned into a mini office space for the job search. Day bed & book shelves, IKEA.

TEN: Power of PersonalityA simple white box is just that without art and books that reflect your personality. I love to read and have amassed a treasured collection of art books and novels. Book shelves were added to an open space beside the fireplace. (I still have so many more boxes of books in storage!) My art is a mix of calendar art, greeting cards, book pages, and photographs from my career as a fashion magazine editor-in-chief.

Tip: Most of my framed artwork is from pages torn from coffee table books. I invested in professional framing services to make them look like more expensive art. Worth every penny. Photograph by Isabelle Menin at Lumas Gallery


By the time my condo makeover was finished, it was time to move! My partner joined me from Toronto in the fall, and the Kitsilano condo was just too small with both of us working from home. Less than a year after I moved in, my realtor sold the condo the very first day for a nice profit. And now I’m off to another bigger decorating project. Let the fun begin!