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A Designer’s Guide to Renovations at Any Budget

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So, you’ve decided to spruce up your space. Maybe you’re starting small: new throw pillows, getting artwork professionally framed and mounted, or finally starting the garden of your dreams. Before you know it, you’re ready to make an even bigger investment in your living space—a fresh coat of paint, new rugs, overhead lighting fixtures you actually like. And if you own your home? Even bigger projects might be on the horizon.

Interior designer KV Harper has been there. As the founder and principal of KEX Design + Build, she’s worked with clients all over the country to turn houses into forever homes (not to mention her own space in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward). Harper got her start in set design, and her firm works on renovation and design projects of all shapes and sizes, from taking a kitchen down to the studs to choosing tabletop accessories that will give a dining room new life.

Whether you want a cosmetic upgrade that will make your backyard snapshot-ready or to turn a bathroom into your own personal spa escape, Harper has shared ideas below for any budget.


Smaller Spruce-ups: Under $5,000

Dipping your toe into the home renovation waters can be scary—though wildly less so if you’re not as concerned with the finances, with which Discover® personal loans can help.

It’s also a good plan to start with smaller projects, which can be the ideal jumping off point. One option, says Harper, is to change up the look of the kitchen without doing a full renovation. “I actually did this myself,” she says. “I re-tiled my kitchen backsplash and then changed up some countertops. So, not a full kitchen renovation but enough to really see a noticeable difference.”

kv harper kex design build kitchen

Harper’s personal kitchen in her house in New Orleans. “I wanted to keep the original footprint of the kitchen and not make it larger,” she says. “I used stock cabinets from a big box retailer and gave it a nice coat of paint and new hardware.” The counters are reclaimed wood that is sealed.

KV Harper

If you’ve been dragging the same bookcases around since college, investing in custom shelving can also be a great project that won’t cost a ton of cash (or turn your home into a construction zone). According to HomeAdvisor, the cost for adding built-in bookshelves starts at $1,200 and goes up from there, depending on material, size, and labor.


Just-Right Redo: Under $10,000

When it comes to giving your space a new look, says Harper, it often makes sense to start at the ground level—literally.

kv harper kex design build 3

The original windows in this living room were restored to give the space more light, says Harper, and it was opened up for easy access to the kitchen.

SNAP Real Estate Photography

“In this price range, I love new flooring,” she says. “If you currently have carpet or old, outdated flooring, with that budget I think you could make a big impact.” And feel free to switch up the flooring in each room—using decorative tiles can make an entryway pop against a more neutral hardwood elsewhere in the house.

Per HomeAdvisor, laminate wood—a good choice for anyone worried about durability—can be installed in a 1,000 square foot space for around $5,500, and comes in a huge variety of shades and styles. Tile falls into the $6,000 range, and hardwood floors can be done for around $8,000.

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Mid-Range Makeover: $10,000 to $20,000

Want to spend a little more money? Consider picking one bathroom to totally update, says Harper.

kv harper kex build design bathroom

Harper used a mix of limestone and cement for the walls and floors of this bathroom.

Courtesy KV Harper

kv harper kex build design bathroom 2

The bathroom’s vanity is made of reclaimed wood, and the modern tile gives a fun twist to the space, Harper says.

Courtesy KV Harper

“I think with that investment you’d be able to renovate a small bathroom, even do some updating to plumbing and electrical.” That includes fun upgrades like a new shower and/or bathtub, plus the chance to reconfigure the space, in case you want to move the vanity for optimal light or scoot the toilet into a different corner.

In that price range, says Harper, “we like to do a lot of open concept bathrooms. Basically, that means having everything separated as space allows: a separate area for shower and tub and toilet, which is a very European thing.” Adding high-quality tile floors to a bathroom, or splurging on a claw-foot or spa-style tub, can make a bathroom feel like the most luxurious room in the house, especially if you choose finishes you really love.

Another project Harper recommends at this price point is turning a backyard or patio into the ultimate outdoor living space. “$10,000 to $20,000 is where you can completely transform your backyard,” she says. “For one client we’re building out a little area that has a fire pit and a pergola.”

“$10,000 to $20,000 is where you can completely transform your backyard,” says Harper.

Harper estimates that more than half of her clients right now are incorporating outdoor upgrades into their projects. “It’s so popular that I even redid my own personal backyard,” she says. “It’s also a completely different living space, so it makes you feel like you added square footage, too.”


Gut Renovation: $20,000 to $35,000+

Smaller projects can serve as a launching pad for larger-scale changes. Many clients, says Harper, work their way up to the big stuff, like adding bathrooms or tackling full electrical upgrades.

And if you’re ready to make a big change (and a bigger investment), it might be time to think about the most-used space in many homes: the kitchen!

“A kitchen renovation at that price point could include some updates on electrical: new overhead hanging lighting, new ventilation,” Harper says. It also might include new cabinets, appliances, and even countertops.

kv harper kex design build exterior

Harper loves projects in which she can completely restore an exterior. “When I found this house, it had brick veneer and shuttered windows,” she says. “For historical exterior projects, I use real reclaimed wood. The shutters are reclaimed barge board. The windows are original and were retired.” 

SNAP Real Estate Photography

kv harper kex design build kitchen

This kitchen’s beams were salvaged from a home of similar age, and the wood paneling on the walls is also salvaged wood.

Courtesy KV Harper

When it comes to kitchen projects, Harper suggests working around existing electrical and plumbing hookups to save money, which will in turn increase your budget for the fun stuff. For a larger space, consider man-made marble or quartz countertops, which can be less expensive than more specialized materials.

“If your kitchen is on the smaller side you may be able to do a more expensive marble or other natural stone, like soapstone,” she says. If you’re the kind of gadget-lover who gets a new phone every year and loves the idea of being able to see what’s inside your fridge without opening it, a kitchen remodel might also mean choosing new smart appliances that let you start dinner using voice-controlled apps.

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