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DECOR SCORE- House Too Small? Get Out! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Rose Bennett Gilbert, Creative Syndicate   
Thursday, 15 March 2012 03:03


A do-it-yourself pergola can make too-tight living space as big as all outdoors.

Q: We planned to move two years ago when our fourth child announced herself, but then the economy tanked. Now we are bursting at our seams. How can we get the most new family living space on a not very big budget?

A: Remodeling is the obvious answer. It's seldom inexpensive, nor dust-and-tumultfree, but even a small remodeling project can add valuable living space — or at least, the illusion of it.

I've seen modest "bumpouts" that actually net only a few extra feet but dramatically enhance a room's livability. Perhaps you can knock out a ceiling and expand a room upward? Or remove an interior wall and let small rooms flow together into what just looks like a much larger space?

An encouraging word about remodeling: Almost any project done well will increase the value of your home. The annual Return on Investment report from Remodeling magazine ( says a new family room will pay back 60.2 percent of its renovation costs, should you sell your home within the next few years.

Add a second bath, and you stand to recoup more than half the cost.

Another thought altogether: Add a new room outside your house, and you'll add at least three seasons' worth of extra living space. More good news for tight budgets: A pergola can be a do-it-yourself project for any reasonably handy person.

The al fresco addition we show here comes packaged in a complete kit with all the necessary components and assembly hardware. According to the manufacturer, Trex (, it can be installed by two adults in less than two hours. And it comes all ready to be painted.

One important detail: You'll need a deck, patio or porch to anchor your new pergola.

But still more good news from Remodeling magazine's cost-vs. -gain report: A new deck addition should pay back more than half what it costs to build.

With outdoor living so in, home furnishing manufacturers are going all out to make things easy and long-lived. Trex, for example, makes its pergolas, decks and furniture out of recyclables, such as sawdust, reclaimed wood and old plastic bags (They consume some 3.1 billion bags a year). Virtually impervious to the weather, the company's new textured "wood alternatives" do a good job of emulating the real thing.

According to Sunbrella and Chella, also up for year-round use — outdoors or in — new fabrics and decorative trims are engineered to shrug off sun and rain, dry almost instantly and refuse to rot.

It's all good news for the housebound, looking for a sensible way to get out (literally) and enjoy more family room.

Q: I want to do over a bedroom for my husband's 9-yearold daughter but don't want her to outgrow it when she hits her teens. I'm thinking of wallpaper. What can you suggest?

A: York Wallcoverings has done a charming job of reinterpreting five Walt Disney favorites that reference the cartoon sources but never come close to "cute."

For example, there's "Steamboat Willie," based on the animated short of l928 that made Mickey Mouse an international star. You have to look twice, but yes, those are Mickey's unmistakable ears, printed on gold or silver Mylar.

Any 9-year-old-going-on-16 should love York's equally sophisticated takes on Snow White, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland and even Bambi. See

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the coauthor of "Manhattan Style" and six other books on interior design.