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Make Over

Home Office Gets Budget Makeover

Donna Talley transforms her dreary New York home office into a winning workplace with a slim budget of $1,000 and just a little elbow grease.

Courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens® 

A Color Nightmare

It all started one winter morning when Donna Talley, a photo stylist and magazine story producer who lives in Saratoga Springs, New York, turned a critical eye toward the room in which she'd been spending most of her days: her home office. She saw clumsy, mismatched furnishings and skimpy storage, with files and papers jammed in shoeboxes here and there. But one matter pushed her over the edge.

"I took a look at the green walls, and they started to look a lot like pea soup," says Donna. "I couldn't help but wonder: What was I thinking when I painted them that color?"

On the plus side, the office had abundant light, ample square footage, and a pair of closets that practically begged to be put to better use. There were also two big blank walls that Donna longed to fill with hardworking storage. She planned a do-it-yourself makeover to punch up the room's personality and functionality, while keeping the tab at or near $1,000. With that thought, she drew upon her creative prowess and diligent bargain-hunting to take her office from cramped and cluttered to sunny and efficient.

Creative shopping helped her pull it off. She combed discount chains and home improvement stores for new furniture that could hold her books, files, and supplies. Size, shape, and function trumped color and finish, which Donna figured she could easily alter. Two gallons of antique white paint covered the walls and a handful of furnishings -- a major facelift for about $50. Recycling a few existing pieces helped shave additional dollars off the price tag.

A black-and-cream palette ties together the disparate elements and gives Donna a break from the constant visual stimulation of her work. She admits she's fickle about color -- "I get enamored of a color and then grow tired of it," she explains -- so she limits it to small, easily changeable accessories. Chartreuse, in favor at the moment, brightens the room through vases and throw pillows.

"The office feels so spacious and airy now," Donna says. "I feel like there's room to breathe, so I can really focus and be productive. Everywhere my eye rests is something that's visually pleasing. That frees up space in my brain to be creative."

Home Office Gets Budget Makeover Home Office Gets Budget Makeover 

Budget-Friendly Solutions

File Cabinet Wall: $295

Expanded filing and storage space topped Donna's wish list. She wanted something dressier than utilitarian file cabinets, but her budget couldn't handle built-ins. So she compromised, purchasing five simple oak-veneer cabinets at an office supply store and painting them the same cream hue as the walls.

She nestled the cabinets together along the wall opposite her desk, creating an instant credenza with a custom-built look. "The really important stuff -- my files, my [photo] shoot folders -- is in there so I can get my hands on it," she says. Necessities such as a printer and fax machine rest on top.

Home Office Gets Budget Makeover

Bookshelf Duo: $238

Two premade bookcases, painted cream and butted side by side, mimic custom units. Donna chose them for their depth because many of her design books are extra-wide. Her desk has no drawers, so a tiny file box stores supplies such as paper clips. Black-painted wicker baskets keep hot projects close at hand.

Home Office Gets Budget Makeover

Embellished Curtains: $74

Plain curtain panels, two for each of the two windows, were dressed up with black braid trim from a crafts store. Donna hung them on discount-store metal rods painted black, which pick up the black accents in the room and enhance the custom feel.

Home Office Gets Budget Makeover

Burlap Bulletin Board: $144

"I am not a little-bulletin-board person," Donna says. "At any given time I have two or three projects going simultaneously." To get the pinup space she needed, she wrapped a piece of Homasote board (made of recycled material and often carried at home centers or lumberyards) with burlap. When she heard about a framing sale at a crafts store, she pounced on the chance to have the board custom framed. At $110, it was still a splurge, but Donna thinks the extra visual flourish was worth it. "It's the big punctuation mark over the credenza," she says.

Home Office Gets Budget Makeover

Spruced-Up Desk: $32

A pair of desks in the old office -- one a clunky wooden unit, the other a salvaged door propped on file drawers -- gave Donna plenty of room to spread out papers. But with her chair sandwiched between them, "I really felt squished in," she says. The wooden desk had to go, but she liked the old door for its breadth.

She painted it cream and used screws and L-brackets to attach newel legs, bought unfinished at a lumberyard and painted black. A faux leather office chair was replaced with a Parsons chair Donna already owned, which she slipcovered in her favorite black-and-white ticking.

Home Office Gets Budget Makeover

Fast Frame Fix: $44

Burlap inserts add texture to off-the-rack picture frames with white mats. Donna simply laid the burlap (which she already had on hand) behind the mats and then mounted photos to the front with double-sided tape. The frames' back panels hold the burlap securely in place.

Home Office Gets Budget Makeover

Closet Cleanup: $137

Although the two closets were equipped with wire shelving, Donna needed more specialized storage solutions to tame clutter. Decorative file boxes, assorted trays and baskets, and standing magazine holders corral photos, CDs, periodicals, and office supplies for easy access.

Home Office Gets Budget Makeover


What She Spent

Thanks to smart buys and do-it-yourself labor, Donna was able to keep the office makeover close to her $1,000 target.


  • Paint (antique white and black) $56
  • File cabinets $295
  • Bookcases $238
  • Curtains and trim $50
  • Curtain rods $24
  • Homasote board $24
  • Bulletin board frame $110
  • Burlap $10
  • Newels for desk $32
  • Chair slipcover fabric $9
  • Picture frames and mats $44
  • Storage baskets and boxes $137
  • TOTAL $1,029  

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