Contractors use these cheap tricks to make homes look 10x better — & you can easily do them too

Budget-friendly shortcuts to a fabulous living space.

ByClaire Epting
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When it comes to making your place look its best, you can count on home contractors to have some tricks up their sleeves. From general contractors to interior designers to housecleaners, these experts gave us their money-saving home hacks that can help you achieve your dream living space.

All their recommendations are easy to execute, whether it’s updating your kitchen cabinets by installing new hardware, or investing in storage solutions that will transform the amount of space you have. You don’t have to spend a ton of time and money to upgrade your home — here’s how.


Use a sleek tray to transform your bench into a coffee table

“To get the biggest bang for your buck, look for items that can serve more than one function in a room,” says Octavio Estrada, Senior Architectural Designer at Block Renovation, an end-to-end renovation platform. “For example: A bench can double as a coffee table if you add trays on top.” To incorporate this design hack into your home, pick up this sleek, modern tray with gold-tone handles. The sturdy tray serves as a catchall for your mugs, glasses, books, and more — and since it comes in two dozen hues and patterns, you’re bound to find one that perfectly complements your space.

  • Available colors and patterns: 24


Get a storage bench that pulls double duty as extra seating

Estrada says a tufted storage bench is another multi-functional piece that allows you to “comfortably seat more people when entertaining without reducing clearances around small spaces.” Besides serving as a mini coffee table or seat, it also offers hidden storage. Lifting the padded lid off the ottoman reveals a hollow interior, which can be filled with spare blankets, throw pillows, board games, and more. There are six versatile neutral shades to pick from, as well as a smaller square-shaped option for compact spaces.

  • Available sizes: 4
  • Available colors: 6


Display your knife collection on the wall where you can easily grab what you need

“When it comes to your kitchen, don't underestimate the value of small details,” says Bernadette Cuaycong, Design Manager at Block Renovation. To unleash your “inner Michelin-starred chef,” she recommends setting up a magnetic knife strip to proudly display your kitchen tools. Made from heavy-duty stainless steel, the wall-mounted bar securely holds your knives, whisks, and kitchen shears at arm’s length. This way, you can simply grab your utensils as you need them (and show off your collection when not in use).

  • Available sizes: 10 inches — 24 inches


Use a visually appealing cutting board that doubles as kitchen decor

Cuaycong also recommends picking up a large cutting board that “can serve as a semi-sculptural piece.” Made of a rich brown bamboo wood, this board definitely adds a bit of “wow” factor to your kitchen. A couple extra functional features — including side handles and a grooved border for catching runoff juices — make this piece just as practical as it is stunning.

  • Available sizes: 4


Declutter cabinets by storing pots & pans on a minimalist rack

According to Cuaycong, a minimalist pot rack is another way to combine form with function — this one is designed with eight sturdy tiers. Each layer is height-adjustable and accommodates up to 10 pounds, allowing you to store your collection of pots, pans, and lids securely and neatly. The organizer can be set up vertically or horizontally in either your cupboard or on your countertop, reducing clutter and boosting the overall visual appeal of your kitchen.


Add visibility to your under-cabinet area with these LED light bars

“You can also install cheap stick-on LED lights under and/or above your cabinets to add some interesting depth to your space, and help with visibility,” advises Cuaycong. Measuring 12 inches apiece, these self-adhesive lights do the trick. You have the option of wired lights or battery-operated ones, depending on your personal preference — both types of lights can easily be adjusted with the included remote control. In addition to sticky tape, the lights also come with mounting screws for more secure installation.


Complete your bathroom with a gorgeous fabric shower curtain

“A well-designed shower curtain can really bring a space together,” says Cuaycong. With a thick, linen-like texture, this particular shower curtain lends a sophisticated look to your bathroom. The wrinkle-resistant fabric is incredibly moisture-wicking, allowing any stray droplets to roll right off. It’s also weighted at the hem, so it won’t billow out like a lighter-weight alternative. Choose from relaxing shades such as sage green, blue-gray, and blush pink.

  • Available sizes: 4
  • Available colors and patterns: 9


Replace cabinet or vanity hardware with knobs in upmarket finishes

“You can also choose to update the hardware on your vanity to spice things up a bit (for example, if your vanity has doorknobs, you can swap the default ones out),” says Cuaycong. These brass cabinet knobs have a sleek look and feel, and their unadorned style fits in seamlessly with just about any decor imaginable. Pick from satin nickel, brushed silver, champagne bronze, and matte black finishes — you really can’t go wrong.

  • Available colors: 6


Clean hard-to-reach corners with this extendable duster

“Often, we don’t clean what we don’t see, but just because something is out of sight doesn’t mean it should be out of mind!” says Vanesa Amaro, TikTok cleaning expert, former professional housekeeper, and Clorox spokesperson. She reminds us to regularly wipe down the tops of our ceiling fans, which can be quickly done with this extendable duster. The fluffy microfiber head has a donut shape that completely wraps around each fan blade, swiping off dust and debris with ease. Since you can lengthen the arm from 27 inches to 47 inches, it’s totally possible to clean the tops of your bookcases, shelves, and cupboards, too.


Stash plastic grocry bags in a dispenser for later use

“We’re all guilty of hanging onto plastic bags that we swear we’ll use one day… but never do,” says Amaro. Rather than stuff them into a drawer or let them litter the area under your sink, she suggests setting up a bag dispenser for easy grab-and-go access. Made out of sleek stainless steel, this wall-mounted unit features a wide opening at the top and a long dispensing slot on the front. Set it up on the wall or inside a cupboard, so you can grab one to line a small trash can or reuse at the store.


Use a soap-dispensing brush to keep your shower walls looking pristine

“I like to keep a soap-dispensing brush filled with soap and vinegar in my shower to scrub down the walls during my shower as a quick way to cut down on buildup,” says Amaro. You can do the same with this OXO brush that features a comfortable, ergonomic grip. Press the button on the handle to release some soap, then screw the top off the end whenever it’s time to refill. Using this highly rated brush in the shower will majorly cut down on cleaning time later on down the line.


Trade in your light switch plate for one with updated style

“Swapping out builder-grade finishes for even slightly nicer options goes a long way!” says Lisa Cole, designer and founder of interior design company One Door Home. For example, you can replace your current wall switch plate with this one made of brushed brass. Resistant to corrosion and easy to install, the switch plate adds a sleek, contemporary touch to your room. If you want a more textured look, opt for one of the hammered metal styles instead.

  • Available colors and styles: 7


Decant your soap into nicer-looking dispensers

Cole also advises readers to “consider the aesthetic of utilitarian things in hardworking spaces like kitchens and bathrooms.” One aesthetic upgrade she recommends? Swapping out your plastic soap bottles for nicer dispensers. Designed with sturdy stainless steel pumps with a matte black finish, these amber glass soap dispensers make any liquid hand soap, dish soap, or lotion look so much more luxurious.

  • Available colors: 4


Go for neutrals when it comes to your scrubbing brushes

Yes, even something as small as your scrubbing brushes can impact the overall look of your home, and Cole recommends going with something neutral. These eco-friendly sisal brushes are designed with lightweight bamboo handles, which give your kitchen a natural feel. The set of three brushes comes with a crisp white ceramic holding dish, plus a tie cord that allows you to hang them up on a hook near your sink.


Choose towels that blend in with your home decor aesthetic

Cole also recommends selecting towels that “align with your design sensibilities,” so you don’t have to hide them away just to enjoy how your home looks. Available in black and natural beige, these 100% linen towels boast a natural aesthetic and a waffle-weave design for extra absorbency. Quick-drying and more durable than cotton, they’re available in sizes for both your kitchen and your bathroom.

  • Available sizes: 6
  • Available colors: 2


Create an accent wall with interlocking panels

“One thing that makes homes feel more custom are accent walls, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy a bunch of tools and paint,” says Ben Neely, Texas Hill Country builder and owner of boutique custom home building company, Riverbend Homes. All you need are these interlocking PVC wall panels — the pieces in this set can be arranged to create a subtle yet striking windmill pattern. “The textured panels bring a lot of movement and life into a room,” Neely adds. The set includes enough panels to cover up to 32 square feet, giving you lots of flexibility in choosing a wall to upgrade.


Dampen the sound in noisy rooms with acoustic panels

“Also, if you have a room with a back echo like an office or a bedroom, adding textured acoustic panels is a great way to upgrade the space and reduce the noise,” Neely states. With an interlocking honeycomb shape, these high-density acoustic panels can help insulate your room against loud, distracting sounds. Even better, they double as a piece of interesting wall art — choose from lots of vibrant hues, such as bright orange, lime green, and hot pink. Besides these flat panels, you can also select a three-dimensional design to add even more texture to your wall.

  • Available colors and styles: 26


Color coordinate your storage with some matching baskets

“Decluttering your home is always a way to make your home look nice, but upleveling from there — coordinating the color of the bins and baskets used to organize and store items in rooms — is an easy way to get a polished look,” says Christina Hidek, Ohio-based professional organizer at Streamlined Living. This trio of matching cotton rope baskets is a great place to start; the subtle, two-tone design complements a wide range of decor styles. Perfect for holding laundry, blankets, throw pillows, and more, the baskets are equipped with a pair of handles for easy portability from room to room.

  • Available colors: 9


Add hidden storage with these under-bed organizers

“Another idea is to make sure every room has some hidden storage,” adds Hidek. With these flat storage bags, you can utilize the space under your bed — fill them with clothes, spare blankets, shoes, or anything else that’s cluttering up your closet. Thanks to a transparent window on top, you can easily view everything that’s inside at a single glance. A pair of reinforced handles on the sides allows you to easily pull out the bag from under your bed as needed.

  • Available colors: Java, Black, Gray


Use a dishwasher magnet so everyone knows when the dishes are clean

“Dishwasher magnets are a simple but effective way to add a touch of style and organization to any kitchen,” says Karina Toner, Operations Manager at Washington D.C.-based housecleaning service Spekless Cleaning. This double-sided magnet features an elegant cursive font and nature-inspired border, keeping your household updated on the status of the wares inside the dishwasher. Simply flip it as needed — if your dishwasher isn’t magnetic, just adhere the included metal piece to the front with the included adhesive.


Eliminate dirt & germs with a handheld steam cleaner

“For anyone who wants to keep their home looking fresh and clean, a handheld steam cleaner is [...] a practical tool that can help remove dirt and stains from different surfaces, making the home look clean and polished,” says Toner. This model from Bissell comes equipped with several different attachments that help you remove stubborn grime and grease from your bathroom and kitchen. Not to mention, it only requires water to successfully eliminate germs.


Use a motion-activated trash with sleek, contemporary style

If you prioritize style as much as you do convenience, Toner recommends picking up an automatic trash can for your home. “Sleek and modern designs are a hallmark of many smart trash cans, making them a great choice for those who appreciate contemporary aesthetics,” she says. With a 13-gallon capacity, the stainless steel bin is large enough to accommodate the daily refuse that accumulates in your kitchen, and it uses motion-sensor technology to open and close.


Infuse your home with scent by using a whisper-quiet essential oil diffuser

Essential oil diffusers are great [...] because they can help enhance the ambience and mood of your home,” says Toner. With a smooth wood texture and built-in LED light, this model can help create a calm vibe in any room. It creates up to eight hours of continuous mist on a single fill, and the whisper-quiet motor won’t disturb your peace. You even get a set of 10 different fragrance oils to get you started. “The right scent can make a home feel more inviting, cozy, and put-together,” Toner adds.


Label storage bins with these reusable chalkboard stickers

“Labels can be a great way to keep items organized and easy to find,” says Jennifer Rodriguez, Chief Hygiene Officer at housecleaning agency Pro Housekeepers. “Use them on bins, boxes, or shelves to identify the contents inside.” These waterproof blackboard labels are especially great because they are reusable — simply write with the included chalk marker, then wipe it down with a cloth when you need a blank slate. This set’s stickers come in an elegant, wavy shape, but you can also pick from ovals, rectangles, and circles.

  • Available styles: 6


Create lighting schedules with smart bulbs

Patrick Grayson, founder and CEO of Paramount Property Buyers in Indiana, suggests sprucing up your room with a fixture that’s equipped with a smart light bulb, as they can “be programmed with motion sensors or automated schedules.” The smart assistant-compatible bulb can be controlled with a simple voice command, or via the easy-to-use Kasa mobile app. This particular light bulb also has color-changing capabilities, so you can create your desired ambience any time of day.


Bring in some faux greenery to add life to your space

“Bring in decor items such as plants, wall art, and colorful throw pillows,” says Grayson. “These items are relatively inexpensive but can easily bring color and life to any space without breaking the bank.” If you don’t have a green thumb, you can invest in this pair of faux plants — they look just like the real thing, yet they don’t require any watering or maintenance. Each one comes in a paper pulp pot that lends a natural vibe to your space. Place them near a windowsill, on your bookcase, or on top of a coffee table book.


Add color to your sofa with these ultra-soft chenille pillow covers

Following Grayson’s advice, these chenille pillow covers come in jewel tones and neutrals, and are a fantastic way to liven up a dull-looking sofa or bed. The wallet-friendly covers can be placed directly over the throw pillow inserts you already own, saving you from having to buy a whole new set of cushions. (No pillows? Buy some inserts on Amazon.) With visible stitching around the edges and an ultra-soft texture, the covers add an inviting touch to the furniture in your home.

  • Available sizes: 7
  • Available colors: 9


Install a modern light fixture to add contemporary style to your space

“As an electrician, I always find the results achieved by adding contemporary light fixtures to a home to be remarkable,” says certified U.K.-based electrician David Nicholas. This semi-flush light fixture features a matte black base and a seeded glass shade, giving it a distinctly modern look. It even comes with an energy-saving warm white LED bulb that creates an ambient glow in your room. The urban-industrial style isn’t just suited for state-of-the-art living spaces, either. “Older properties can really benefit from the juxtaposition of modern lighting design against the backdrop of vintage architecture,” Nicholas explains.

  • Available colors: 4


Give your existing light fixtures wireless dimming capabilities

“If going modern isn’t your thing, then having the existing lighting converted to LED with modern wireless dimming controls can be another great option, especially for extravagant light fixtures found in entrance hallways,” says Nicholas. This smart dimmer switch from Kasa offers so much convenience at such a wallet-friendly price. Once you set it up, you can adjust the brightness of your lights by manual control, mobile app, or even voice command, as the switch can be paired up with your smart assistant.


Use a natural woven rug to create a coastal aesthetic

To incorporate the on-trend “coastal grandmother aesthetic” into your living space, home design expert Nina Hendrick suggests picking up a natural woven mat — like this one made of smooth seagrass. According to Hendrick, a mat like this can “look right at home in a luxury beach house but can add a practical, neutral style to any home.” There’s a wide range of sizes to pick from, whether you want a mat large enough to cover your entire entryway or small enough to fit under an end table. A non-skid layer on the bottom ensures the mat stays securely on your floor.

  • Available sizes: 21
  • Available colors: 6


Add wall lighting with these wireless, battery-operated sconces

“One of my favorite tricks right now is adding battery-operated sconces to walls that don't have electrical wiring,” says Hendrick. Equipped with magnetic puck lights, these cordless wall sconces couldn’t be any easier to set up — and they seriously elevate the look of your room. The linen fabric lampshade diffuses the light that shines underneath, casting a gentle glow in your choice of warm white, natural white, or cold white. The pair of lights also come with a remote control, so you can set timers and adjust the brightness from a distance.


Use crisp, white sheets to give your bedroom a 5-star hotel feel

“By using white sheets and duvets in your bedrooms, you can make your home feel like a luxury hotel,” says Kerry Sherin, consumer advocate at home valuation company Ownerly. Complete with a fitted sheet, a flat sheet, and two matching pillowcases, this crisp bedding set allows you to capture that vacation vibe any time of year. Made with double-brushed, wrinkle-resistant microfiber, the soft, lightweight sheets feel amazing against your skin.

  • Available sizes: Twin, Full, Queen, King, California King
  • Available colors: 13


Add pops of color against neutral backdrops

“For refinement on a budget, use neutrals for drapes, furniture, rugs, and paint,” says Sherin. “Next, add color and trends to your home decor.” One way to add a vibrant hue to your room? This cozy knit blanket with a subtle zig-zag pattern. Made of ultra-soft acrylic yarn, the blanket comes in over two dozen color options — choose from relaxing hues such as dark lavender, coral pink, and olive green. Drape it over your sofa or armchair for a casual, inviting look.

  • Available sizes: 3
  • Available colors: 26


Create a gallery wall with this budget-friendly frame set

“Whenever you find some inexpensive frames, buy plenty and use them to show off your favorite photos,” says Hilton Head, South Carolina real estate broker Dino DeNenna. This set of seven matte black frames is a great place to start — arrange them together on your wall to create a stunning photo gallery. Made from lightweight plywood, the frames include an optional crisp white matte that make your pictures pop. If you’re going for a more natural look, you can opt for driftwood, mahogany, or oak finishes instead.

  • Available colors: 9


Conceal any cords & power strips with this sleek box

“Cords can be the biggest eyesores in a room,” says DeNenna. “Cord boxes can help to manage, cover, and hide cords around your PC, TV, kitchen products, etc.” He suggests picking one that fits the aesthetics of your room — you can’t go wrong with this crisp white cable management box with a lightweight wooden lid. Measuring 12 inches in length, the box neatly conceals your power strip, charging cables, or router wires so they don’t create a distraction from your home’s curated decor.