Eight tricks of a DIY queen

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Kristan Cunningham and Scott Jarrell have employed cool ideas and techniques in their Venice home, expressing their personal style without sinking too much money into a residence they don’t own. Some of their affordable tricks, which apply not only to renters but anyone looking for an economical fix:

1. Have a plan, but be flexible.

“Having been a budget designer for as long as I have, I’ve learned that you may not get your first choice,” Cunningham says. “Think hard, and maybe your second or third choice can work better.” She wanted subway tiles on kitchen walls but chose inexpensive V-groove board.

2. Learn when (and when not) to compromise.

Cunningham invested in solid teak for kitchen shelves and went with solid bronze hardware instead of faux. In other places, however, “You can get that high-end feel when you use lower-end materials and supplies but install them fabulously,” she says.


3. Super-size artwork.

Cunningham and Jarrell wanted to make a dramatic statement on the dining room wall. They loved the bespoke murals from Surface View, a company that has the rights to reproduce artwork from the Victoria and Albert Museum and other British art institutions. A turn-of-the-century shipping scene from the National Maritime Museum caught their fancy. Printed on a 6-by-8-foot canvas and delivered in a tube, the print was easily mounted on a stretcher frame. At around $1,000, it was one of their most expensive purchases.

4. Group books by color.

It’s a point some may contest, but Cunningham likes to remove and store paper dust jackets, then create separate clusters of green, blue, yellow and white on the living room wall unit. “I stacked all my red books on the fireplace mantel,” she says. “They make a nice detail.”

5. Layer area rugs.

A vintage rug was too small to cover the living room floor, so Cunningham placed it atop a larger jute rug (under $300) from West Elm.

6. Go bold with paint.

Cunningham and Jarrell put dark colors on most ceilings. The front door and guest bedroom closet also got splashes of intense color.

7. Open up the closet.

With the mirrored glass sliding doors removed, the guest closet is “like the inside of a Hermes box,” Cunningham says.

8. Don’t invest thousands in tools.

“You can rent anything at Lowe’s or Home Depot for just a day,” says Cunningham, She is also a big fan of bartering with handy friends for renovation help.


-- Debra Prinzing