Which small updates make the biggest difference to your home? We asked interior designers

It's all in the detail – discover which small updates make the biggest difference to your home, according to the experts

living room with fire lit and steel framed windows with vaulted ceiling
(Image credit: Julie Soefer)

Every so often it's good to change things around a bit at home with some fresh interior design ideas. We asked interior designers which small updates make the biggest difference to the home and their suggestions have got us raring to go. 

From changing the address numbers outside the home, right through to trying new interior design trends in your bathroom, there are ideas for all around the house. So if you haven't got the time or cash for a whole-house or even whole-room redesign, take a look at these tried and tested tips and give them a try: the results from small updates can be dramatic. 

Which small updates make the biggest difference to your home?

We call these the easy wins. Small changes or additions that will improve the style of your home with minimal fuss or effort. Without talking themselves out of a job, the design experts we spoke to were all in favor of homeowners getting involved in mini-makeovers. To ensure we get off to a good start, they've shared their favorite small updates that will make the biggest difference to your home. 

Their expert advice covers great ways to refresh the exterior and foyer, thoughts on pillows and throws, using artwork, updating the kitchen, living room, flooring, bedding, lighting and bathroom.  

1. Show the exterior some love

Exterior of modern farmhouse

(Image credit: Paige Rumore)

We're talking small updates here, so it's not about new windows for the whole house, or resurfacing driveways. Focus instead on front yard landscaping ideas, particularly the decorative, cosmetic details such as seasonal container planting and lighting and you'll be surprised what a difference they can make. 

'You can make a big splash with really nice pots with leafy tropicals, evergreens or seasonally flowering plants,' says, Tami Ramsay, co-principal of Cloth & Kind design studio. 'Also, uplighting on aspects of the home and landscape deliver a lot of bang for your buck.'  

Seth Ballard, AIA, Principal of Ballard + Mensua Architecture in Washington DC., also suggests refreshing outdoor lighting ideas and front yard lighting ideas as small updates that will make a big difference. 'Bevolo offers amazing fixtures and now has an led bulb type that emulates the gas light look,' he says. 

'Adding ceiling cladding to the roof of a front porch is a great way to increase the curb appeal,' says Stuart Pumpelly, team leader at Four Brothers Design + Build. 'But changing the house numbers and exterior sconces can be simple and cost-effective updates that will make a big difference.'

2. Get the entry foyer formula right

entrance foyer with wooden floor and door open and console with artwork above

(Image credit: Aaron Leitz)

The entry foyer is the first space you see and naturally is one of the areas we're the most concerned about when we're welcoming visitors. Are your entryway ideas doing their job? If not, fixing them with a small update is surprisingly simple, according to New York City-based interior designer Sarah Tract: 'I swear by this perfect formula for the entry foyer: one table, two coffee table books, a catchall, a frame, and a vase!' she says. 

We're adding two more items to the checklist, thanks to interior designer Cathleen Gruver of Northern Virginia firm Gruver Cooley.  'Nothing beats a new lamp or a framed piece of art to create an instant warm welcome in a foyer,' she says. 'You could even find a nice area rug to give new life to the space!'

3. Bring in new pillows and throws for the easiest of updates

Bungalow DK velvet and linen cushions

(Image credit: Bungalow DK velvet and linen cushions)

Do not underestimate the power of pillow arrangements and throws to give a new look. From what our interiors experts are saying, you can forget all the other updates: pillows and throws are the game changers and it really is possible to transform a room with cushions.

'This makes the biggest difference in any home,' agrees Sarah Tract. 'How you style your main living spaces with pillows and throws is how you tie the entire home together!'

Cathleen Gruver is also on team pillow, and says: 'Throw pillows are such an easy way to update a space. There are so many vendors through places like Etsy if you don't want to spend a ton and want to be able to use your current inserts.'

Replacing worn throws and outdated pillows that don't work in your current scheme will make a dramatic and instant improvement that you can replicate throughout the house. 

4. Use artwork to add personality to your home

den with bright poster and dark teal sofa with yellow chair

(Image credit: Nick Smith)

You can have the most beautifully designed furniture, statement floorcovering and dramatic light fittings, but if the walls are blank it's like nobody's home. Decorating with art is a good skill to learn and using paintings and prints will really enhance your home. Choose artworks that mean something or appeal to you, or seek help from a gallery or interior designer to select pieces that will work in your home but whatever you do, don't leave empty walls. 

'Gallery walls of grouped, sometimes themed art remain very popular in relaxed settings, such as family living rooms or kitchen-diners,' says Jennifer Ebert homesandgardens.com's editor-in-chief. 'But with more expensive art, and for a more elevated style, it's best to give each painting some breathing space for maximum impact.'

Remember to add artwork in bathrooms, kitchens, and powder rooms. The practical, hardworking areas of the house are just as entitled to a style update and it's always great to see well-placed art in these rooms.  

5. Refresh the kitchen with small but effective tweaks

green contemporary kitchen in boston home with grey marble and shelves

(Image credit: JARED KUZIA)

There are so many small updates that will make a big difference to your kitchens. The problem is going to be choosing where to start. However, no one knows the intricate workings of your kitchen like you do, so take a look around, and make sure your kitchen update tackles one of the things that bugs you most about the current set-up. 

'New cabinet hardware and overhead lighting or island pendants can dramatically change the look of a kitchen as well as new window treatments.' says designer Tami Ramsay. 'And tabletop accessories, like a big handmade ceramic bowl on the island for fruit or something more organic like a vintage dough bowl, add great texture and color too.' These small details might not sound crucial but like so many accessories, they are the all-important finishing touches. 

Stuart Pumpelly agrees that updating cabinet hardware will make a big difference to the kitchen, as will faucets, but suggests taking it a stage further with a more hands-on approach by learning how to update kitchen cabinets without replacing them 'There are several new furniture and cabinet paints that make it possible to get a fantastic paint finish with little prep work, enough to make a homeowner feel like a pro,' he says. 'Valspar's semi-gloss enamel cabinet furniture paint works well, as does Behr Premium enamel interior/exterior Cabinet, Door & Trim Paint.'

Are the key finishes in the kitchen looking tired or dated? Perhaps it's time to rethink your kitchen backsplash  'A new backsplash is an easy way to add a new pop of color, add some contrast or another dimension,' says Seth Ballard. 'Replace the hardware and lighting to bring a new metal and fresh look and consider adding toe kick lighting.'

6. Layer the living room

living room with stone fireplace and white sofa

(Image credit: Julie Soefer)

For an instant update to living room ideas, Tami Ramsay suggests new pillows, colorful and textural throw blankets (yes, those gamechangers again) but also 'coffee table books, candles, vintage found objects and sculptures; all of this adds needed layers' she says. 

Stuart Plumpelly has his sights set on new living room wall ideas too. 'A fresh coat of paint is always an option,' he says. 'But if one is feeling a little more adventurous, wall sconces can add a nice touch. Trim and wall paneling is also a good option. We are seeing a lot of clients add simple wainscoting ideas that can upgrade the look of a room.' 

Indeed wainscoting is becoming increasingly popular, but as to whether that's a small update or too much of an upheaval, well, you be the judge. 

7. Choose a new (or vintage) rug

mud room with gray cabinets and bright vintage style rug

(Image credit: Martin Vecchio for Cloth & Kind)

Just as blank walls leave us with an empty feeling inside, so too do wooden or tiled floors, or indeed any kind of floors, with no rug. For Tami Ramsay, who designed the mud room pictured above, it's exactly that: 'Rugs are art for the floor so we are always fans of vintage rugs for one of a kind specialness,' she says. 

We like to see area rugs and runners bringing a touch of comfort, color and pattern to all parts of the home, and current rug trends favor vintage rugs or runners in mud rooms, kitchens, and even bathrooms. All rooms will benefit from an instant injection of personality if you find a rug you like. 

8. Switch up the bedlinen

bedroom with beamed ceiling, stone floor, leather headboard, designer modern chair, white silk bedding, white walls

(Image credit: Gingerlily)

One easy small update that will make a big difference to your bedroom is to treat yourself to some good quality bedding. Whether you're a natural linen fan, or prefer cool cotton or luxurious silk, a refresh and a change of color, pattern or texture will give a new look that takes just a moment. 

'We love to use vintage kantha quilts at the end of the bed,' says Tami Ramsay. While Cathleen Gruver adds, 'A new coverlet can make a world of a difference, throw pillows are always easy to update a space and maybe some fresh frames for table-top photos.'

Lastly, don't forget to style your nightstand, says Sarah Tract. 'Table lamps and/or shades will add a new design focus to the space, and add coasters, frames, and catchalls.'

9. Boost the bathroom accessories

bathroom with chandelier leafy wallpaper and wide pale green vanity

(Image credit: Katie Charlotte Photography)

Whether or not you're happy with the big players in the bathroom – tub, shower, and vanity – it's still possible to make a big difference to your bathroom ideas by updating even the smallest details. From special soaps, beautifully packaged, to fresh new towels, all play their part in the overall scheme. 'New dispensers for shampoo, conditioner and body wash can also make a big difference in the aesthetics of a bathroom,' says Cathleen Gruver. 

If soaps, shampoos and towels don't do it for you, look to some of the peripheral fixtures and fittings. 'We find that bathroom mirrors are often too small and prefer to place large mirrors over a vanity,' says Lauren Sparber, interior designer and co-owner of Jodi Macklin Interior Design. 'Having a frame shop create a custom mirror that is as large as possible does wonders to open up a bathroom, often helping bounce natural light coming from nearby windows.' 

We think having a custom mirror made is a great idea, and we also love to see antique and vintage mirrors bringing character to bathrooms or powder rooms. Don't forget vanity lights around the new mirrors, says Stuart Pumpelly, 'And the toilet paper holder, towel bars, and robe hooks can all be easily changed out to elevate the look.'

10. Give any space a glow-up with new lighting

dining room with black round table and white chairs

(Image credit: Amy Bartlam)

We've said it so many times, and we hear it from almost every interior designer we speak to, but choosing the right lighting and positioning it well is a key component of a well-designed room scheme. It makes sense then, to look at your options for small updates to lighting that will make a big difference. Can you add an extra table or floor lamp to a dark corner? Or swap in a more contemporary lampshade? 

You might not consider completely swapping light fittings a small update, since you will need to involve a qualified electrician but if it's the only change you're making to a space, the results will be well worth the cost. 

To soften the light in a bedroom, Seth Ballard suggests adding a ceiling cove, with indirect lighting. 'Inside the cove can be wallpaper on the ceiling, wood on the ceiling, or a special paint finish to add warmth. Today's lighting trends offer lots of options for cove lighting now, but pay attention to the color scale of the LED so it is not too bright and make sure it is dimmable,' he advises.  

The new year is the perfect time to be making small updates to your home, you want a refresh but may not need a huge project. All these ideas are manageable in a weekend, and a lot of them you can do yourself.

Karen Darlow

Karen is the houses editor for homesandgardens.com and homes editor for the brand’s sister titles, Period Living and Country Homes & Interiors, and an experienced writer on interiors and gardens. She loves visiting historic houses for Period Living and writing about rural properties for Country Homes & Interiors, and working with photographers to capture all shapes and sizes of properties. Karen began her career as a sub editor at Hi-Fi News and Record Review magazine. Her move to women’s magazines came soon after, in the shape of Living magazine, which covered cookery, fashion, beauty, homes and gardening. From Living Karen moved to Ideal Home magazine, where as deputy chief sub, then chief sub, she started to really take an interest in properties, architecture, interior design and gardening.