Spa Bathrooms, Wine Cellars, and More: 8 Dream House Features That Are Actually Pretty Doable

published Oct 21, 2020
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Credit: Apartment Therapy

The idea of a dream home has likely been circulating in your imagination for years. Perhaps you’ve pictured a wide open lawn leading to a front door that opens to a grand staircase. Maybe the bedrooms are large and the bathrooms resemble a spa, and every space is lit from a backyard that includes a pool, naturally.

While all of those features sound worthwhile, to say the least, a dream house probably feels more like a dream deferred these days. But that shouldn’t stop you from using your imagination—in fact, your present surroundings should only encourage it. “I’m a firm believer in creating your perfect space no matter the budget, and that doing so creates a redefined ‘dream home,’” says  L.A.-based interior designer Patrick Maziarski. “Whether you own or rent, a little effort can positively influence your mood and get you closer to a dream home.”

Classic dream house features can be possible with the insider knowledge of designers and DIY experts like Maziarski, Alexandra Gater, Raili Clasen, and Gina Gutierrez, and they’re lending their tips for achieving eight spaces on a budget. Here’s how to make everything from a movie theater to a wine cellar, library, and more possible, no matter your budget.

A Nancy Meyers-approved kitchen

“When I think about a ‘dream home,’ I think about paying close attention to finishes—knobs, countertops, sinks—and really investing in beautiful pieces that bring personality to the home,” Alexandra Gater says. She notes that even a rental property can be put on a pedestal with this mindset, especially in regard to a kitchen. 

To create a dream kitchen on a budget, Gater recommends choosing a cabinet paint color with neutral undertones. That doesn’t mean you’re stuck with whites and creams, though—it’s possible to still pick a somewhat bold shade. For instance, Gater picked a mossy green for her own cabinets; the green paint’s gray undertones make it feel timeless and versatile.

Next, and this is Gater’s biggest secret, is to embrace peel-and-stick backsplashes if traditional tiles are out of the question. “It goes on like wallpaper, is completely removable, but looks like real tile,” she says. Pick something a little more bold than you’d normally choose to create your dream kitchen aesthetic. If you tire of it in a few years, you can remove it and add something new.”

Once this backdrop is in place, finish off a dream kitchen with new hardware, lighting, and shelves. “When you spend a little more money on these tiniest accessories, it makes a huge impact on your space and elevates a boring kitchen into something a little more sophisticated,” she adds. 

A luxurious spa bathroom

If you take Gater’s advice in the kitchen, then applying it to a bathroom should be a cinch. She also recommends painting cabinetry and using peel-and-stick tiles on the floor, but with a slight difference. “In the bathroom, I’d go for something clean and white to brighten the space, and then you can have tons of fun layering in colorful, textured accessories,” she says. “A temporary, patterned vinyl floor is waterproof and will cover dated tile, without the expense of tearing your entire floor up.”

The spa-like quality of a dream bathroom comes down to the accessories—think plush towels, cascading plants, and mood lighting—so focus your attention on the details. Gater prefers vanity lights that are structural yet functional to add dimension, and recommends decorative wall hooks to double as art.

In your shower, swap out a so-so shower head for one with luxe features, like built-in aromatherapy or a built-in hand shower.

Finally, if you have a shower curtain, make sure it brings in a pop of color. “I think people stray away from decorating their homes because they don’t want to invest in rentals or temporary homes,” she says. “But the truth is, just these tiny details will make even a rental feel like a dream home.”

A dreamy pool

When Clasen designs a home, she studies how the owners live: what activities they like, where they gather, and how they like to be inspired. And given her home base of Southern California, those answers often lead her to design comfortable retreats outside. If your home already has a pool, but it’s dated, Clasen says that it’s still possible to transform it into a modern dream on a budget. 

“I once had a remodel project where the existing pool was built in the ’80s,” she says. “We ended up transforming it into a ‘pond’ to match the rest of the house.” To do that, Clasen and her team added boulders and stones around the perimeter of the pool, built a deck with an edge that extended slightly over the water, and filled in the rest with plants. “We collected the rocks and boulders, and built the dock ourselves from raw redwood.”

Of course, like most of the country, you may not have a pool at all. If you’re looking for a backyard paradise come spring, try one of Instagram’s favorite trends of 2020 and reach for a stock tank pool. It requires no digging or plumbing, and far less square footage than a traditional pool.

Not enough room for a stock tank pool? Bring the relaxing vibes with a bubbling outdoor fountain.

A ritzy wine cellar

When designing, Gina Gutierrez likes to keep six things in mind: color, shape, scale, metal, texture, and life. These are benchmarks for every home she works on, and can apply to the “dream home” addition of a wine cellar. Sure, a flashy wine cellar would be temperature controlled, but Gutierrez thinks you can bend those rules a bit. “You can create a wine cellar experience in a closet, den, or under the stairs,” she says. “It can also be a defined space in a particular room, like a kitchen or living area. But avoid any place in your home with lots of light, and choose a spot that can accommodate the number of bottles you own.”

Once a location is determined, Gutierrez would figure out a layout that accommodates a wine fridge for storage, a console for pouring, and shelving for display. And as for the design particulars? “When I think of a wine cellar, I think of a rich, moody, and organized area,” she says. “I like the idea of mixing neutrals, black, brass, and leather together. Pops of color can include jewel tones in the artwork and accessories. At the end, add a beautiful plant for that life!”

A cozy home movie theater

“Now more than ever, people are trying to create some sense of normalcy, and part of that is hosting a small gathering for movie nights,” Clasen says. A dream home could include a fancy movie theater complete with plush stadium seating, but Clasen doesn’t think you have to go that far to make movie magic. “I’d search Craigslist for a collection of club chairs in various shapes, add in cozy blankets for each chair, and then paint the room a dark gray,” she says. 

Juice up a plain old TV with external speakers (like this soundbar) and a subwoofer. Or you can really lean into that home theater vibe with a projector and external speakers.

If you don’t have a dedicated space for movies, change up the atmosphere of your living room with a popcorn popper and a candy tray. “I’d add a thick shag rug to finish things off,” Clasen adds. 

Credit: Minette Hand

A grand entryway

“I want a home to provide a calming, welcoming, and bright environment,” Gutierrez says. “A dream home should showcase your collections with seamless flow.” This sentiment should start at the entrance, even if it doesn’t have the grand entryway of a fantasy dream home. “This is the first space your guests are going to see as they walk in, so think outside the box to utilize every nook and cranny,” Gutierrez says.

Gutierrez recommends thinking about your everyday needs and pairing that with how you’d like to feel upon arrival. First focus on the entryway door and see if it could use a fresh coat of paint or new hardware. Then, stare down at the floors: Could they use a refresh of new tiles or wood, or perhaps a budget-friendly runner instead? After that, fine-tune the details. 

“Everyone needs a spot to sit down and throw on shoes or drop off that shopping bag,” she says. “I love when this bench or stool is something out of the ordinary. It could be vintage or have a unique shape.” Group that stool with a sleek console table for keys and mail, and hang a mirror above it. Finally, add in artwork and greenery—and don’t forget about lighting, too. “Whether it be a large chandelier or a stylish surface mount, your light will make any first impression memorable,” Gutierrez says. 

A charming library

“Big or small, a home’s library should conjur equal parts mental stimulation and serenity,” Patrick Maziarski says. While a dream home may devote an entire room to a book collection—or try to recreate “Beauty and the Beast”Maziarski says a corner of a bedroom or living room can do the job. “Consider a spot where the birds’ singing is loudest or where the sunlight hits at the perfect time of day,” he says. “I gravitate toward libraries with organized chaos, which balances books with beautiful, found objects.”

Embrace the mood of a library by painting walls in rich shades like emerald or cobalt, he says, and then section off the area with classic bookshelves or open shelving. It’s possible to make the bookshelves feel even more intentional by using crown moulding to have them appear built in, or to install open shelves from floor to ceiling. “Plaster the walls with art, so anything from magazine clippings, to thrift-store oils, to old love-notes, and then intersperse the books with plants and accessories,” he says. “Most importantly, ensure you have a place to elevate your feet as you read—an upholstered ottoman or window seat will do quite nicely.” 

If you’re on a tighter budget, Maziarski recommends relocating a bookshelf and chair to a cozy nook, and adding a light fixture. “Repurpose as much as you can before making any purchases,” he adds. “There’s something very cathartic about completely restyling a bookshelf.”

An envy-inducing walk-in closet

“If you’re anything like me, then your idea of a dream closet involves perusing your clothing with a glass of wine in the evening,” Maziarski says. That’s possible, even with small closets, if you imagine yours as a personal boutique. The goal is to maximize square footage with ample storage, make use of lighting wherever possible, and blend as much style with function as you can. “I think of any closet as a chance to create a dressing room,” he adds. 

Start with decluttering, and donate or trash items that haven’t been worn in years, are broken, or just no longer speak to your sense of style. Once you have a cleared-out closet, Maziarski recommends thinking ahead about how you access your closet everyday—what details are important to you? Then, fill it in with items that will help you stay organized and excited about your wardrobe. 

“Nothing has to be fancy, but simple metal bars for hanging or modular storage boxes will help,” he says. “Set these items against a backdrop of paint or peel-and-stick wallpaper, even on the ceiling, and add warm lighting to soften all of your things. And don’t forget that a dedicated shoe display will make your closet feel infinitely more chic, and a full-length mirror will create the illusion of space and offer the perfect ‘dress-up’ partner.”