7 Ways to Refresh a Room in 15 Minutes or Less

Time is relative. Fifteen minutes may seem like an eternity if you’re stuck in traffic and late for work. Or, it may seem like the blink of an eye when you’re in the zone working on a project.  It’s the same quantity of time, and it will pass whether we are sitting still or moving fast.

When decorating your home, you can make an enormous difference in a room just 15 minutes at a time. So without further ado, here are 7 ways that you can start to refresh your entire home. Simply set a timer and work for 15 minutes. You might be amazed at what you can do.

Who says there’s no time to decorate?


1. Clear some clutter

Cluttered table

Sometimes refreshing a room is like the old adage, “you can’t see the forest for the trees.” Meaning, there’s just too much stuff in the way of seeing the room and its features and furnishings.

I’m not saying you’re going to completely de-clutter and organize your entire house in 15 minutes. But what can you do? Maybe it’s just cleaning off the kitchen table or the counter. The room will look and feel better instantly!

Nearly every decorating plan starts with cleaning and decluttering—removing anything that is not used frequently, belongs somewhere else, or gets in the way of the room’s purpose. Examples might include shoes, toys, magazines, papers, clothes, dishes and glasses, or even furniture.

Look at your room with an objective eye. What really doesn’t belong there? Unless you belong on a show about hoarding, chances are if you slow down and look at the room from a new, fresh perspective, you’ll see lots of items that can be removed.

When in doubt, ask a neighbor or friend what they see as clutter in your room. (Or try my Clutter Clearing and Organizing audio course.) There’s a great Polish proverb, “A guest sees more in an hour than a host in a year.” Sometimes we just get comfortable with all the stuff. Pare it down and let the room breathe.


2. Let there be light

Lots of lights

Light is one of the most overlooked elements of interior design, and yet it’s one of the easiest to acquire and manipulate.

Light makes a room feel larger, brighter and fresher, so take some time to assess the lighting situation in your room. If the room has a window, wash it inside and out to let in more sunshine. Open any shades or blinds during the day to maximize natural light. If there are window treatments, are they too heavy, dark, or outdated for the room? Just taking down drapes—even if you don’t have anything to replace them with just yet—can have a dramatic impact on a room.

Then look at the light fixtures and lamps in the room. Is there enough light to move around the room at night, or if there are no windows? If not, add more lamps to the mix. Check the maximum wattage stated on each fixture and lamp, and install higher wattage bulbs to bring in more light.


3. Rearrange the furniture

Room arranger w arrows

Arranging furniture in a room is a lot like a puzzle. And once we think we have it figured out, we keep it that way. For years. (I’ve certainly been guilty of this!)

But what if there was a different way? Switching up the furniture arrangement can shift the feeling of a room in an instant.

Before you start moving anything, play with the arrangement on paper. Create a scale drawing of your room on a piece of graph paper, measuring the walls and noting any doorways and windows. Then measure and draw shapes to represent the furniture pieces and place them on the room drawing, playing with different layouts until you find one that feels right. Pay attention to traffic patterns and how the room is used, and try to create “zones” for each use. I’ve created a design tool that makes it super easy to try this designer trick. You can get it FREE here.

And, it may be that the current arrangement is the best for the room, and that’s great! At least you’ve looked at other options.


4. Get your group on

Grouped items

Have you noticed most of these tips so far have been fast and free? #4 follows that lead with a “use what you have” approach to accessorizing your room.

Shop your house for accessories—objects, candleholders, vases, picture frames, figurines—that have a common, unifying theme or motif. Maybe they’re all red, or they’re all ducks or apples or sailboats. Chances are there’s a collection of something hiding in plain sight around your home. Bring everything together and display items together on an end table, dresser, sideboard, console.

Displaying similar items together gives them more presence and makes the room more personal. Visually link smaller items together by placing them on a tray. This is a heart display I put together for Valentine’s Day a few years ago.


5. Update with textiles

Pillows on sofa 2

One of the easiest and fastest ways to change the entire look and feel of a room is with fabrics.

Look around your room. What fabric elements could be changed, either by bringing in something new or swapping them with something from another room? Think about:

  • Drapes
  • Area rugs
  • Toss pillows
  • Slipcovers
  • Throws
  • Table coverings
  • Shower curtain
  • Towels

As a bonus, updating the textiles also means bringing in new (or more) color, texture, and/or pattern.


6. Add life … literally

green plant

Live, leafy green and/or blooming houseplants (not silk plants or cacti) are great additions to nearly any room. Their green color is automatically calming to the eye, and they produce oxygen. Plus, they are relatively inexpensive and can easily fill a large area—like an empty corner— if need be. Or, opt for one or two smaller plants placed around the room. If you don’t have much of a green thumb, ask your florist to suggest a hearty variety, or add a self-watering tube like an Aquaglobe®.

Fresh cut flowers are also a great decorating secret. Their color, life, texture and fragrance can be elegant or fun, indulgent or whimsical. And with most supermarkets now selling flowers, they’re convenient, too!

To get the most from supermarket bouquet, be sure to re-cut the stems when you get home and make sure the vase is scrupulously clean to prevent bacteria from killing the blooms prematurely. If it’s a mixed bouquet, consider making smaller arrangements and tuck them all over the house, in the bedroom, bath and kitchen for example.


7. Alter the art

Blank art

Art can set a mood, reinforce a theme, or be just plain wonderful to behold. Like light, art is often an afterthought in a room’s design plan, but it deserves much more attention.

Art is also fairly easy to swap from room to room and season to season. Think of your rooms like a gallery with an ever-changing collection. Look around your room. Does it currently have or need some art? Is there a focal point piece, for example over the bed or fireplace? If so, is there another piece in the house that could be traded out to give the room a fresh look?

Anyone who’s followed this blog knows that at holiday time, I love to change up the art all over the house. Here’s a quick and easy seasonal tip: Use the same frame and mat, but swap out the image. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage from some simple silver frames in the guest bath, with a rotating display of everything from calendar pages to greeting cards and trip photos to scrapbook paper.

Children’s art is also a great addition to any room, and can be updated as the child creates new masterpieces. Nearly anything can be art!

A few tips about displaying art:

  • Be sure to hang it at eye level. Not too high and not too low, although most folks hang their pictures much too high. Look at magazines and home catalogs to get a feel for placement.
  • If there’s any doubt about how high to hang something, make a template of the art piece with some newspaper or kraft paper and tape it to the wall, then stand back. How does it look and feel in comparison to what you’ve seen in magazines or on design shows?
  • As a general rule of thumb, the top of the frame should be no more than 6 ft. from the ground.
  • Or, hang up on hanging art and use a gallery ledge instead. By far the easiest way to swap and rotate your favorite works of art.

What’s your favorite 15 minute life or design hack? Share your comments and stories on the Facebook page!

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Nature-Inspired Color Schemes

Hot Pink Hawaii

Sometimes the inspiration for a color scheme is just outside the door. Mother Nature has a way of knowing what colors just work together, doesn’t she?

Recently I had the chance to visit the botanical gardens at the Kaua’i Marriott Resort at Kalapaki Bay on Kauai, Hawaii. The gardens are the largest on the island and include a massive koi pond—also the largest on Kauai. In between rain showers I wandered along its paths and although not everything was in bloom (I missed the fragrant tirare flowers by a few days) I was stuck by the vivid hot pink and green color scheme of many of the flowers and plants.

From a tropical variety of geranium (top left) to the fuchsia-into-purple leaves of the ti plant (bottom right), the vibrant color is set off by lush greens. A pink ornamental banana plant (top right) offered a change from the usual yellow variety. An interesting variegated leafy plant (whose name was not identified, lower left) showed that pink and green are a natural and effortless combination.

I could see this combination in a fun powder room or a teen girl’s bedroom. Mixed with warm gold and black accents, it could also be the basis of an eclectic living room!


Hawaii koi 2

As I was leaving the gardens, I had to stop and marvel at the variety of color in the koi pond, from creamy ivory to golden yellow and striking fiery orange, all set on a backdrop of deep blue. It’s a very rich palette, perfect for an elegant dining room or even a bedroom as it combines the calming qualities of blue with the cheeriness of orange.

So the next time you’re stuck on a color scheme for your home, get out of the house and see what nature might inspire in you!


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5 Tips to Clean Off Your Desk


The second Monday of January is “Clean Off Your Desk Day” and although its exact origins are unknown, it’s not hard to guess why we need to designate a day to clearing the clutter from our workspaces. Most of us feel unorganized and tell ourselves we need to make an effort to “get organized”—a perennial and popular New Year’s resolution.

The start of a new year, just getting back into the swing of things at the office, is the perfect time to begin again with our good intentions towards keeping a clean and organized desk.

And yet, setting aside one day for what can feel like an insurmountable task feels somehow unrealistic. So here are 5 tips to use Clean Off Your Desk Day as a starting point to a more clutter-free, organized and efficient work space.

1. Schedule time to work on your desk. One of the most common excuses for keeping a cluttered work space is not having enough time. Ironically, the busier we are the more important it is to be organized. An Office Max Work Space Organization Survey (2011) revealed that 90 percent of Americans feel that being unorganized has a negative impact on their productivity, state of mind, motivation, happiness and even their professional image.

Therefore, make an appointment with yourself to clear some clutter from your desk. Put your phone on “do not disturb” and give yourself that time. It can be as little as 15 minutes or all day. The amount of time doesn’t matter as much as the activity. Just getting started can help motivate you to keep going. Then make a reoccurring appointment every week to stay on top of clutter before it’s back to feeling insurmountable.

2. Use a system to sort the contents of your desktop. Many years ago when I was fresh out of college I purchased a Franklin planner to use for my daily schedule, and I signed up for a seminar on how to get the most from the planner. During that course, I learned a simple but effective system for cleaning off my desk that I’ve used ever since. It’s TAF – Trash, Action, or File.

Before getting started, it’s a good idea to create areas for each of these categories. It could be a space on the floor or an empty bin or box. Nearly everything will fit into one of the three categories.

TRASH – The no-brainers here are things that no longer work, are broken, or expired. Where it gets more complicated is knowing what to keep and what to toss. This is the #1 challenge to work space organization cited in the Office Max survey.

For work papers, always consult your company’s recordkeeping policies and any applicable state or local laws and professional rules on document retention. For home and personal papers, use this handy chart to help determine what needs to stay and what can go.

Anything that you no longer need but is still in working order can be allocated to a separate “donate” bin or pile rather than trashing it.

ACTION – Lost in the sea of papers on your desk might be time-sensitive documents that require a response or some other action. If you need to remind yourself what action needs to be taken, put a sticky note on the document (I put it in the upper right corner) with the action and date, if applicable. Current projects go in the action pile.

And what about all those newsletters, reports and articles you’ve been meaning to read? One system that might work for you is to create a separate “TO READ” file and write a “read by” date on the article. Then schedule time each week (or each day) to read something from that file. The next time you’re doing a clean out, if the article is past its read by date, then chances are it’s really not that interesting or important to you and it can go in the trash.

FILE – In my office, this is always the biggest pile! For purposes of cleaning off the desktop, anything that is not part of a current project or doesn’t require action goes in the file pile. This includes reference materials and notes that can be stored. If you have someone helping with you filing, make a note in pencil in the upper right corner of the document where it goes.

The bigger task here is usually creating a filing and storage system that makes sense for your home or office and then creating a time to actually file things away and maintain the system. For now, we’re just getting these things off your desk.

One final tip while using TAF: stand up when sorting your desktop. It’s an active position, whereas sitting down you’re more apt to open that magazine and start reading or reminisce about the event where that photo was taken. When you’re standing, you’re in action mode.

3. Dust and clean your desk. I’m always amazed at where dust can collect! Even if you don’t have time to sort through all of the piles and stuff on your desk today, take a moment to dust, clean and polish your desk. (Move the piles if you have to and clean under them.) Microfiber cloths and Swiffer® dusters are perfect for this. If your desk is wood, apply an appropriate oil or polish. I make a ritual of cleaning off and oiling my teak desk twice a year and it always gives me a lift to know I’m prolonging the life and beauty of one of my favorite pieces.

4. Think of your desk like the cockpit of a plane. The top of your desk and the top drawer are the most precious pieces of real estate in your office. Be mindful when arranging your desktop. Think about HOW and HOW OFTEN you use an item. Does it really need to be in easy reach?

The only items that should permanently live on your desktop are those things that are essential to your daily tasks as well as a few items to inspire you such as flowers or family photos. Your desktop is for working, creating and inspiring—not storage. Any non-essential items such as old notebooks, files, that box of 2,000 staples and the like should be stored elsewhere.

Of course while you’re working on a project, things will collect on your desk like files, papers, samples and what not. One of the most important steps in keeping your desk clutter-free is to remove those things when the project is complete, or better yet, when you’re done working with them for the day. Consider open boxes or trays to keep project-specific paraphernalia contained and place it on a credenza or bookcase when not in active use. I used this trick when I worked as an attorney, lining one wall of my office with active files.

5. Give yourself permission to take more than a day. As they say, Rome wasn’t made in a day, and chances are your desk won’t be clutter free and pristine in a day. Particularly if you’re fitting in some organizing time into your workday calendar. Take the pressure off yourself to “get it done” and realize that organizing isn’t an event, it’s a process. It can take time to find a system and a flow that works for you, your work style and your life.

Congratulations! You’ve taken a huge step towards a more clutter-free and productive workspace. For more tips on creating an inspiring and enjoyable office, grab my free resource “5 Essentials for Home Office” success here.



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How to Apply Window Film

Here’s a great idea to hide unwanted messiness in any cabinet with glass doors.

Windo film

I’m using Gila Window Film in bronze to coordinate with the brown tone of a media unit that I re-purposed into more of a display area for my client. The former home of media components is now used for storage, and we wanted to mask that. Here’s the before photo:

Cabinet 1

A frosted window film would work great, too! See what’s available in your local hardware store or home improvement center.

Click on the video for a quick how-to:

For about $25 for both the film and the application kit, it gives a whole new look to the cabinet, and there’s plenty of leftover supplies to work on other pieces.

Here are the after photos:

cabinet 2

cabinet 3

My client is really happy with the new display area and is using the now-opaque glass doors for more storage. This was an easy process and a great way to re-purpose a display cabinet.

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The $100 Decorating Challenge: Guest Bath

Guest bath before

Recently I was collecting towels from the guest bathroom to launder them, and I looked around the room. The tub was still sporting its Valentine’s Day shower curtain and valance (shock! horror!) and it just seemed … jumbled with accessories. Cheerful colors, but it felt disjointed.

Ah ha! It was suffering an identity crisis.

The guest bathroom has evolved over the years culminating with new Italian porcelain flooring that I had installed last November. But I hadn’t updated other elements of the room to flow with the feel of the more sophisticated, spa-like floor.

I’ve known for a while that I’ve wanted to update the shower curtain. The “everyday” ensemble that is usually in place from March to October is one I made nearly 20 years ago. But it never really fit this tub and shower enclosure which is a foot taller than the standard 72-inch shower curtain. So I was determined to find drapery panels that I could use as a shower curtain, since they would be longer and would still conceal the basic vinyl shower liner.

On a recent trip to Target I found “the one” – a design and color that inspired a more tranquil, spa-like feel. Done and done. I gave myself $100 out of the house kitty and embarked on a “$100 Decorating Challenge.” The drapes took nearly half the budget, but their style (and importance in the room) was well worth it.

I replaced nearly every decorative element in the room. After a thorough cleaning and decluttering (most of the accessories went bye-bye), I purchased the new drapes/shower curtain, plus a shower rod, accent paint, bath products, wastebasket, wash cloths, tub mat and rug. I ended up spending $109—a $10 clearance rug was the perfect texture and color and I just couldn’t pass it up, even though it put me over budget. (The tax deduction for the items I donated to Goodwill as part of the decluttering will more than cover the overage.)

Other items such as the towels, artwork, candles and accessories were brought in from other rooms. Here’s the after photo!

Guest bath after

I love it and I hope my guests will, too. Here’s a tour of the room ….

Guest bath new 0814 006

In addition to the drapery panels ($24.99 each, Target), the shower curtain rod was updated to a brushed nickel finish ($12.99 Home Goods) to coordinate with the grommets in the panels. I also hung the rod just outside the tiled enclosure and found it gives a more polished look to the tub area. The wall color stayed the same, although I will probably update it within the year.

Guest bath new 0814 030

The vinyl liner remained, but a fluffy new tub mat ($9.99, Bed Bath and Beyond) will feel cushy stepping out of the shower.

Guest bath new 0814 029

Guests will enjoy new luxe body wash (and a basket of amenities I stashed under the sink).

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The area over the toilet was a confused mess of decorative shelves and knick-knacks. I removed the small shelves, painted the shelf a shade called “Twig” ($4.99, Target) and added simple white tealights from my inventory. Then I hung a poster I found in France in 1993, that had been hanging in the garage. The artwork adds just the right drama and color.

Guest bath new 0814 018

Across the room, I re-used the existing brushed nickel frames (and hung them more securely and straight!), replacing the images with pages from an old Paris calendar with dramatic black mats from another room. The white bath towels I already had on hand, while the hand towels are borrowed from the master bath.

Guest bath new 0814 023

The tired orange rug (that didn’t wash well the last time I laundered it) has been replaced by a super soft rug ($10, Home Goods) in a shade I’d call “Malted.” It’s not white, it’s not tan – it’s like the lightest whisper of the hue in the shower curtain.

Vanity top: before

Guest bath new 0814 040

One of my favorite transformations is the vanity top.

Guest bath new 0814 051

The colors for the accessories were chosen from the Paris calendar prints. Alstromeria in tall, slender vases frame the sink and are a lovely addition when I have overnight guests.

Guest bath new 0814 043

When I was cleaning out the linen closet, I found a bunch of fancy soaps that I’ve received as gifts or picked up over the years. Unwrapped and piled into an apothecary jar, they are the perfect accessory for a spa-like bath. The jar also brings much needed height, whereas in the “before” photo, there was no variety in the height of the vanity accessories.

With the jar, I’ve grouped a Himalayan salt candle and whimsical porcelain dish to use a jewelry tray.

Guest bath new 0814 036

New, fluffy white wash cloths ($2.00 each, Home Goods) sit in a pretty silver and mother-of-pearl bowl from the kitchen, while a silver-framed greeting directs guests to bath necessities.

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I’m glad this art glass soap dispenser fits with the new decor. It’s possibly my favorite thing from the “old” guest bath.

Guest bath new 0814 014

One thing absent: tissues! I could not find a suitable tissue box cover, so I’m keeping the tissues under the sink. (Anyone who visits my house is now on notice!) If I find the right box cover at a good price, I’ll add it later. But for now, I like the look of the candles on the shelf!

My goal for this room was to create a tranquil yet functional space for overnight guests to feel like they’re in a hotel. I think I achieved that. This is the new “everyday” look, although I’m already thinking how to add a bit of holiday color for the Christmas season. What can I say? I’m incorrigible on that count.

So how about you?? Is there a room in your house that could use a $100 makeover? I hope these changes will inspire you to create a look that is uniquely you, reusing what you can and shopping smart! Please post your challenge room and results on the Facebook page!

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