In Defense of the Quick Fix

by Kelli Kehler

The conventional rules of design lead us to believe that things should be done the “right” way, or not at all — and, frankly, no matter how confident you are in your disregard to such rules, this adage can still stymie our design progress. We tell ourselves “I’ll just wait to decorate this space until I have enough money saved up,” or “I can’t paint that until it’s done professionally,” and “I shouldn’t do anything to this room until that’s fixed.” But then two years go by and you’re still living in a space that could probably make you smile a little bit more, if only those pesky rules hadn’t worked their way into your subconscious.

We here at Design*Sponge have seen a lot of interiors, and over the years we’ve gathered plenty of ideas we’re eager to try and have witnessed a gamut of tricks to fast-track the looks we want. We are quite fond of the quick fix when it comes to design, because not only does it empower budget-conscious decorating-lovers, but it allows us to express our creativity as soon as it strikes. It also enables us to create beautiful spaces that nurture us and give us a sense of home, regardless of the fact that you hung a picture over a hole in your wall or you slapped a rug on top of an unsightly spot on your floor. If a quick fix can improve your overall mood and make you feel more at home, we will always support that.

Today I’m sharing some recent quick fixes I’ve employed in my own home, and calling on our team to divulge their favorite tricks as well. So you can go ahead and throw that rule book out the window! —Kelli

Do you have any go-to quick fixes? We want to hear about them! Share your tips in the comments.

Embrace the texture

I live in a home that was built in the late 1980s, so it has a not-so-lovely texture covering every single interior wall. In a time when crisp, matte walls are found all over Instagram, it’s easy to wish our walls were scraped and smoothed to a clean finish. But that’s an update that not only takes time (if you’re doing it yourself), but it would be very expensive for me to hire out to our handy man. Instead of waiting for the day when we’ve saved up enough money to have our walls’ texture removed, we’ve moved on and painted anyways.

In our main bathroom, I had my heart set on a deep and moody green hue to replace the greige paint that was there before. This new color, while completely transformative of our space, was bound to highlight the texture, but we used it anyway. And it makes me SO happy — texture be damned.

Faux lighting

In the same bathroom, there was a metal plate on the wall (where the mirrors are) that holds the electrical for a sconce light fixture. Years ago, a previous owner installed track lighting (oh, joy) on the ceiling above, cutting the electrical line to this sconce source. Instead of just leaving the plate there and painting over it, my husband and I chose to install a light there anyway. We built an inexpensive light using Lowe’s parts to mimic a high-end look I was inspired by, and installed it knowing full well the light wouldn’t work. Some day, we will have a professional come out and rewire the plate (and remove the track lighting), but for now we still achieve the same overall aesthetic we were going for. In the meantime, our bathroom gets so much natural light in the daytime that an additional light source isn’t needed, and at night we just use the existing track lighting. The result is a space that feels way more like home, and that, to me, is worth the light being purely decorative in its current iteration.

Put a rug on it!

Grace: “When we first moved into our house we couldn’t afford (and still can’t) to redo all of the things we wanted to that were in need of repair. Our floors are in rough shape, so to cover up the worst spots, we threw rugs on top of any problem area we could cover easily (with pre-existing rugs). It’s not a ‘forever’ solution, but sometimes ‘okay for now’ is perfectly fine.”

Thumbtacks & wallpaper are friends!

Caitlin: “Our home is one big, open space with the bedrooms tucked away in three corners and the kitchen in the fourth corner. Brown paneling covers all of the walls in the open space, so in my dining area I put up a busy black and white wall paper with thumbtacks until I had the time and money to paint the paneling. Two years later, the wallpaper is still there, I still love it, and don’t see any reason to make it a permanent addition.”

Layered bed for less

Garrett: “A lot of patterned bed sheets only have the pattern on one side. To make my bedding look nicer, I put my flat, patterned bedsheets on upside down so when you flip them down over the top of the comforter the pattern shows.”

Hang it quick

Sofia: “I’ve completely given up hanging any art on the walls with nails because it’s just a recipe for me to destroy the walls with holes and marks. Picture hanging strips have proved priceless — I can swap pieces around to my heart’s desire without leaving the faintest of mark on my walls!”

Fake tiled backsplash

Last but not least, I’m still blown away by the look Aude Christin created in her Parisian rental’s kitchen by using vinyl tile stickers as a backsplash. There are so many possibilities for using a material like this beyond the kitchen — I’m looking into using them to tile the wall behind my laundry’s washer and dryer and to also cover a small mirrored shelf in a built-in cabinet unit we have. I imagine these would look dreamy in a bookcase, a small powder room, or even surrounding a fireplace mantel.

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  • I am a HUGE FAN of the “quick fix” and have quick-fixed almost every surface of my kitchen. I know eventually my kitchen is a gut-job, but for the last couple of years, I’ve been enjoying making small improvements so I can live with a nice space while I attempt to save up enough money for the real deal renovation. So far I have torn down the drop ceiling, painted the walls, skim coated my counters with concrete, covered the formica bar with contact paper, and ripped out the vinyl floor and refinished the plywood subfloor. None of these things are super durable, but they definitely have held up surprisingly well. Even if these changes weren’t exactly “quick” they were cheap/free and made a huge difference.

    floors: https://www.andthenwetried.com/2018/06/diy-faux-hardwood-floors-on-plywood-subfloor/
    counters: https://www.andthenwetried.com/2017/06/feather-finish-concrete-over-tile-counters/
    ceiling: https://www.andthenwetried.com/2017/04/phase-1-kitchen-finishing-touches/

    • I started down the road of doing a full kitchen redo (after three years of living with battleship gray walls and some pretty awful counter tops), and called it off after realizing I might be happier doing a quick fix!

      Your concrete counter tutorial might just put me off the fence to refinish mine. Looks like it’s been a year since you did the refinish? Are you still happy with how it’s holding up?

      • I am happy with how it’s holding up! There are a few more oil spots now because I forgot to be vigilant, but overall it was more sturdy than I expected! I’m going to lightly sand the counters this summer and add a couple more layers of sealer to protect them for the next couple years

  • Love this! And I’ll venture another argument in favor of the quick fix–these changes can be more easily undone by the next generation. I’m thinking of a hypothetical old home that was thoroughly modernized in the 1970s versus one that was “quick-fixed.” The latter probably still has the wood flooring under the carpet and original moulding under sheetrock thanks to those shortcuts.

    • Good point! I love old homes and always wonder what my kitchen, bathroom, and siding looked like before they were “remuddled” in the 70s. Thankfully the trim, built-ins, etc. were never ripped out of the rest of the house, and the carpets probably preserved the floors.

      It makes me wonder if someday my ugly puke-colored bathroom tile and avocado tub are going to be seen as charming one day, and people are going to curse me for ripping them out. The tiles are falling off the wall and the toilet is cracked, and I assume that once I start fixing things I’m going to realize it’s a huge water-damaged gut job without any quick fix, so I’m avoiding it for now but when it happens I plan on eventually restoring it to an appropriate 20s style instead of keeping the 70s stuff.

  • This is great. I enjoy the quick fixes of pops of colour of lamps and pillows to distract from problem areas already but some new ideas here. I have been staring at the awful wood chip walls (that didn’t seem to matter when I fell in love with my home but have niggled more and more over the three years since) and wondering how long it would be before I could afford to have them stripped and recoated then painted in my choice of colours. Rewiring and re-plumbing have taken all the money so far. Thanks for the timely permission slip to just get on with that painting!

  • I couldn’t afford new kitchen cabinetry/counters in my condo. The estimates were $10,000+ The original cabinets from 1977 are grey laminate with gold inlay and bronze handles. Instead of putting it off, I paid for a company to come in and paint the cabinets a bright white including the inlay, I changed out the bronze handles for chrome and left the laminate purple/beige (faux marble) counters as is. Total cost $600. With all of the bright white, the counter is not a focal point of the kitchen anymore and while this fix will only last a few years before I will need to get them repainted/touched up… it was a change that allowed me to live with the kitchen and be happy.

  • Our bathroom is such a pain; it’s windowless and utterly, utterly builder-grade. The shower and tub are a single unit and everything is beige, fake slate vinyl, or fake oak vinyl. I want to rip out that crappy tub unit. I want to paint the floor and the countertop. I want some damn tile in there.

    What’s much cheaper and makes the room look a lot lighter though? One of those spring-loaded shower curtain rod hung as high as I could get it, and an enormous white shower curtain. Painting the floor will be another quick fix, and at that point I’ll probably just shrug because eh, mediocre bathrooms aren’t the end of the world.

  • I am am a fan of quick fixes EXCEPT when they are covering up serious flaws or just done cosmetically for a quick flip on the market. We are shopping for our first home and so many entry level /first time home buyer homes have been “cosmetically” upgraded with paint and cheap carpeting and/or cabinetry. Meanwhile the HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems are all original. SO do to get things up to code for insurance underwriting or a better functioning house you have to undo all those quick fixes. It’s a shame.

    I wish real estate agents would stop pressuring home sellers into doing cosmetic facelifts to increase the “turnkey” aspect for new buyers. It is a false promise. We will keep looking till we find a jewel in the rough and can update the infrastructure as we see fit.

  • The sheets in that one tip are not on upside down. The fitted sheet is supposed to be put on pattern side up, and the top flat sheet is supposed to be placed pattern side down so that when you turn down the bed, the pattern shows. This also means the smoothest side of the fabric (patterned side) is what is touching your skin. You stumbled on the correct way to dress your bed!

  • Totally agree on the potential power / longevity of a quick fix. Best example I can think of is a family member painting her kitchen cabinets instead of replacing them, to try to extend the life of the cabinets as long as possible (the previous finish was very beat-up and not her style at all). It took a long weekend and about $125, and they turned out WAY better than expected, and have held up really well. Now that they’re no longer an eyesore, she’s cool with sticking with them for a while longer, so she’s now able to prioritize some other maintenance projects now that were lower on the list.

  • THANK YOU! This totally gave me inspiration AND permission to go ahead and do some projects that I’ve been holding off of forever because I wanted them to be perfect – for literally four years I’ve been searching for the perfect sconces for my upstairs hallway and never buying anything because I can’t afford any I want. In the meantime, we are living with visible holes in the wall with wiring coming out of one hole and a bare bulb on the other! I went ahead and bought some for $30 each from Home Depot after reading this, it took my husband about half an hour to change them both out, and THEY LOOK AMAZING!! I’m totally going to do this now for my front door sconces, living room rug, kitchen counters…..thank you!

    • Hi Tamanna

      Your comment is inspiring! Kelli’s post got me thinking about a project I actually want to commit to this weekend, and your comment made me pull the trigger on the fixtures this morning!


      • That’s great! We actually did a huge project yesterday of rebuilding our old 1875 back door and installing a new storm door and trim….funny how sometimes you just get momentum and can’t stop =)

  • There’s an old comedy show that was on TV here in Canada in the 90″s called “Red Green”. It was based on a character that was a DIY guy….His classic line from the show is still used regularly in our house and by the way, is almost always true…..
    “It’s temporary, unless it works”.

    It doesnt have to be perfect….sometimes it’s ok to be good enough for now.

  • Good post, it is always worth reinforcing the idea that you can change the look of your house without spending a fortune.
    I just spent the morning with a client who wants to make some changes in the flat where she lives but she doesn’t want to spend much because eventually she would like to buy a bigger place. I tried to explain to her that she is actually in the best position to experiment new colors or creative solutions, without spending much. It is a concept I try to reinforce in my blog to, decorating doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

  • I love Caitlin’s wallpaper and thumbtack fix!

    We live in a rented apartment and, while we are allowed to hang pictures, etc, wallpapering is discouraged. But thumbtacks to hold up the wallpaper would be completely allowable. Oh, the possibilities….!