Scoffing at those more fortunate is a near-universal guilty pleasure: When a celebrity regains her pre-baby figure in record time, we love to sneer, "Well, if we all had a chef and a personal trainer, we could do that, too."
The same goes for home makeover shows: Even as we salivate over those designer looks, we snidely opine that in the real world, creating such a knockout room would require a matching knockout budget.
That's partly true. But admit it: While we may not be able to achieve movie-star looks, it's possible to shed pounds and improve our appearance for free by following a couple of steps: Eat less and exercise more. The same is true for improving an interior. Your home may never make "MTV Cribs," but designers say you can reinvent a room without paying for it -- just follow these steps: Remove, rearrange, rediscover and redecorate.
"First, empty the room of all accessories, artwork, accent tables, so you can see the bones of the room," says Merrick designer Marlaina Teich. Next, "Reposition your furniture to take advantage of a different focal point." Then browse for easily movable furniture and accessories such as end tables, lamps, wall art, rugs and window panels.
If items don't match, leftover paint can do wonders, says Lori Guyer, an interior design consultant and the owner of White Flower Farmhouse, a Southold shop selling refurbished and handcrafted furniture and antiques. "If you have a hodgepodge of different furniture and you paint it all the same color, it makes a huge difference."
"You just have to walk around your house, see what you've got and move it to another space, and it will look different," says Teich. To prove her point, she persuaded her sister, Lauren Massa of Hauppauge, to allow a no-money makeover in her dining room (opposite page).
It was an improvement on an already-pretty space, but Newsday decided to take things a step further: We challenged designers to prove that it's possible to repurpose things already in the home to transform the look of anyone's room -- without spending a dime. Two brave designers accepted the dare and performed no-money makeovers for two more Long Islanders who volunteered their homes.
Cutchogue living room
THE PROBLEM Five-year-old Tyler Harkins-Phieffer's toys were taking over the living room of this snug 1,200-square-foot Cutchogue home, which he shares with his mother, Abby Harkins, "Grandpop" Bob Harkins and "Nana" Barbara Harkins. The home needed minor repairs, major reorganizing and a touch of redecorating. Designer Lori Guyer and carpenter Doug MacArthur, both of Southold, donated their time and expertise for the room rescue -- and gave the homeowners a space they can feel proud of.
REMOVED Guyer began by removing the toys, furniture and clutter. The coffee table and armoire were moved to the child's bedroom to hold the toys. MacArthur helped the family install closet doors for more storage in the bedroom, and he repaired a pocket door that was stuck, so the family could say goodbye to the vinyl blinds they'd hung in the family room doorway.
REDISCOVERED Guyer says she scored some vintage finds around the house -- a cat sculpture, a camera and a white dog. She unearthed some paint in the garage, and some furniture and accessories in the basement. Plants and plant stands, a mirror, a lamp, sheer curtains and a curtain rod were recruited from other parts of the house. A chair once barely visible amid the toys became a new focal point.
REARRANGED The sofa was moved under the window and the flat-screen TV came out of the master bedroom. The wall art was rehung, and the throw rug was moved.
REDECORATED Guyer custom-blended the homeowners' brown and black paints to create a chocolate-brown shade for the walls and brick around the fireplace. "An additional layer of watered-down black paint was used over the surface to give the brick more dimension," Guyer says. "Old wooden window grills that were found in the basement were used as decorative accessories." The desk was slipcovered in an old drapery panel.
Wantagh sitting room
THE PROBLEM Wantagh homeowner Barbara Held longed for a sitting area where she could entertain friends, but this room never felt comfortable, despite great light and a host of precious antiques. Lorraine Waitz Gropper, owner of Room Lifts, a Port Washington design firm that specializes in decorating on a budget, helped the homeowner on the emotional journey of choosing what to showcase, what to move -- and what to give away. It wasn't easy -- the homeowner felt a deep attachment to her heirlooms, mementos and artwork -- but the result is a bright, comfortable space to sit, converse and appreciate each beautiful piece.
REMOVED "First step, I took everything out of the room. The room had so many treasures in it that I felt you couldn't focus. We needed a clean slate," says Waitz Gropper. The purple sofa was given away to a friend. Some tables, a chair, the doll and carriage, and some paintings came out. The window treatments and a shelf were taken down.
REARRANGED Waitz Gropper moved the chest with the doily to a different spot, changed the seating and helped Held, an artist, sort out and reorganize decorative pieces and wall art.
REDISCOVERED This was the fun part, says Waitz Gropper. "I walked around her house and went on a treasure hunt. . . . We moved a white couch from her basement up into the room. And this beautiful chair with a leopard throw -- there was a matching one in another room, so we put that in across from the sofa. She had a gorgeous antique trunk, which I brought up to use as a coffee table."
REDECORATED The designer arranged the seating and antique chest to create an inviting and comfortable conversation area and designed a wall to showcase artwork, mirrors -- and antlers. "I made a gallery wall across from the couch so she could look at everything," she says. A quilt made by the homeowner adorns the wall above the chest. "She loves it," Waitz Gropper says. "She and her husband have never sat in this room so much in their lives. She was happy after the initial shock -- it's very emotional."
Hauppauge dining room
THE PROBLEM Despite pretty colors and furnishings, Lauren Massa's Hauppauge dining room felt slightly off. The flow was disrupted by an awkward layout, and a lack of visual interest made the space less inviting than the homeowner liked. Marlaina Teich (who is Massa's sister) corrected the problem and livened up the space with a quick shuffle of the furniture and a few decorative items she borrowed from around the house.
REMOVED "Between the windows she had a black plaque. The scale was wrong for that," Teich says, so she took it down. "The plant was doing nothing for this room, so we moved it to the family room," she adds.
REARRANGED The wall chest was moved to open up the entry area. In its new home under the windows, the chest is "better proportioned and a better height than the bar cart that was there. The bar cart was totally lost in that space." Teich moved it to the corner. "By moving the furniture around, it balanced the room better, and now you can appreciate the bar area," she says.
REDISCOVERED A wall mirror was taken from a hallway, a rug from the master bedroom and candles from the living room.
REDECORATED Tabletop accessories create a lively look that invites people to pull up a chair and enjoy. In place of the small black plaque, the mirror brightens and fills the space between the windows. "Placing the mirror between windows balances the scale, and it brings in some shimmer that the room needed because there were not a lot of reflective surfaces in there," Teich says.