Do-it-yourselfers use color, creativity

The most useful tool Westbury resident and do-it-yourselfer Jill Becker uses comes cheap -- 44 to 89 cents for a two-ounce bottle of acrylic paint. Becker, a yoga instructor, takes a pie plate, mixes in a few colors and livens up nearly every room in her house with hand-painted touches. She sponged her white, boring monolith of a kitchen fireplace gold, added ornate metallic stencils to bathroom wallpaper, and made her backsplash pop with bright metallics.

When wielding color, she's fearless.

"You can always repaint it . . . so what's the risk?" says Becker. "It's just time, really, and effort. But if you enjoy it, then it's worth it."

Anyone can emulate her techniques -- with a little patience and practice -- and gain DIY status simply by doing. If you want to learn how to lay tile, for instance, start with a small second bathroom so you can refine your techniques, suggests Bruce Androlowicz, a workshop expert at Home Depot in Huntington. "It's a learned skill over time."

Often design success comes from copying what you like and adapting it to your needs. "Copy is where all inspiration begins," says Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, founder of ApartmentTherapy .com, an online home resource. For neophytes, imitation actually builds skills, and Gillingham-Ryan, who owns a home in the Hamptons, advises that you take ideas from the more advanced. "It is like playing tennis with someone who is better than you," he says. "You will get better by striving to copy it."

For example, Gillingham-Ryan painted a cornflower blue line down the middle of his East Hampton barn after seeing it done in a book. "I thought, 'Wow, that's great.' And it made sense because there is a natural path of door-to-door," he says. He's since changed the color four times -- to red, then black, and red again.

Here are tips for those who want to spruce up their house using their own two hands:

1Replacing

old wallpaper

To remove it, steam off the old wall covering. If it's vinyl wallpaper and you can't scrape it off, Androlowicz advises using a cutter tool to make holes that will allow steam to penetrate. He suggests hanging new wallpaper from the corner that's least obvious (not the first one you see when walking into a room). Take a level and make sure each sheet hangs appropriately. "Otherwise, each one will be off, and it will get progressively worse," he says. You can also use fabric as a wall hanging, such as the paisley pattern Becker tacked over her cabinets in lieu of stenciling during one kitchen renovation.

2Paint

transforms

a room

"For 50 to 60 bucks, you can change the whole color of a room," says Androlowicz. He advises spending time prepping. "Any time you rush and try to cut corners, it always shows in the end -- whether it's extra labor or it doesn't come out right," he says.

Definitely spackle demarcations -- just don't put on too much, or you're in for extra sanding. You can always add more if the mark remains after a few hours of drying.

You also should apply a primer, a base coat that smooths the surface and makes the colored application look better. If you're feeling lazy, look for an all-in-one paint/ primer.

3When choosing color, do your homework

Tape up samples or try a splash from a mini-can to see how you like the shade in the morning, afternoon and evening lights.

4Painting like

a pro just requires time

Miriam Torres, a DIYer from Huntington Station, discovered after buying a fixer-upper about a decade ago that becoming a good painter is a matter of practice. "The house was really a mess, so we started room by room, and we haven't finished," says Torres, a bookkeeper. Now she's so good she never uses tape before painting.

Gillingham-Ryan suggests that newbies not mix paint palettes. Color is generally divided into two broad categories: cool (blue, green, purples -- cool, watery colors) and warm (red, oranges, yellows -- hot, stimulating colors). Go for a green-blue room, for instance, rather than mixing red and blue. "You'll never make a mistake," he says.

Of course, he points out, there is "a value in delegating" sometimes, and hiring that painter is worth it -- especially if you plan to do several rooms or if the walls need a great deal of work.

5Accent walls

You can perk up bedrooms and living spaces, not just by repainting, but also by adding an accent wall (usually the wall opposite the entryway, where it'll have the most impact) in a different color or a painted or wallpapered pattern. "The accent wall should always have something special about it. Otherwise, it's not an accent wall," says designer Marlaina Teich of Marlaina Teich Designs in Bellmore. "Don't bother if you are going to do something soft and light. That's not an accent."

6Tools

When painting, rollers and brushes usually do the job. But, don't limit yourself when it comes to application tools. Using a plastic bag turned inside out, for instance, along with your original color diluted with white paint, will create a faux finish. Sponges also are fun to work with and will fill in stencils easily. Try things.

7Not just walls

You can paint anything -- furniture, wicker baskets, mirrors, even pillows. Janette Vega, a paint associate at Lowe's in East Patchogue, suggests painting using a stencil (pre-made or homemade with contact paper and an Exacto knife) and topping the color with Scotchgard to make it waterproof. Another trick is to use gold and silver paint glitter to make hues glisten -- so if you put a sun and a string of flowers near the top of a mirror, for instance, they sparkle. "There is no limit to what you can do," she says. "If you can think of it, all it takes is a little bit of paint."

8Giving furniture a new life

"Everyone is looking to save a little bit of money and reuse things," says Teich. "It's just a shame sometimes to have to throw out and buy a new piece of furniture if you like the lines of the furniture that you have."

When painting furniture (or anything, really), it's all about the prep, says Teich. You either want to sand down the item or use the appropriate primer -- sometimes both. When unsure of your needs, ask questions when you buy your supplies: Tell the salesperson, for instance, that you're painting Formica and ask what to use. Becker often redesigns pieces. She sawed off the back of her chairs after her cat tore them and covered the seats with a brown microfiber suede, creating new kitchen stools.

9Move items from room

to room

"It's so cool when you find something from another space and you move it," said Becker. "I love decorating that way. It just gives it [the item] a whole new life. I love giving new life to old things."

Taking items out of a room creates breathing space -- you never want too much clutter. If, for instance, you have a bookshelf, you should leave space between the objects -- little gaps so when the eye moves across things, it can rest, suggests Gillingham-Ryan. A successful room isn't necessarily about fitting everything in.

10Rearrange furniture

Another easy way to revive a space is to just change the position of the room's furniture, says Torres. "It makes a huge difference." So do small changes, such as switching doorknob styles or the cabinet handles in a kitchen, or swapping one lighting fixture for another.

11Use rugs for bursts of color

Gillingham-Ryan suggests refreshing a room by painting it first and then swapping out the carpet. "Build on your ideas," he suggests. "You need to decide how one thing feels before moving to the next."

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