The Under-$20 Way to Make a Room Look Brighter (and Bigger), According to a Home Stager

published Aug 1, 2021
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Home stagers have so many solutions for zhuzhing up a client’s home before a showing. Though some things, like removing old carpeting or updating cabinets and hardware, are heavier lifts, others can be done in about 15 minutes — and for about $15. 

One common improvement that home stagers recommend? Swapping out clunky window treatments for white panels.

Not only are window decorations like cornices and ruffled valances a bit outdated, they can also make a room feel darker and smaller. “Heavy drapery tends to close a room and make it feel heavy,” says home stager and interior designer Cathy Hobbs, owner of the Manhattan-based company Design Recipes. “I suggest that you swap that out for sheers.”

Swapping dark panels for lighter, less opaque ones is a smart choice — whether your place is on the market or not. “Adding light automatically will help open up a space,” Hobbs says.

She says you’ll want to find the right balance between giving yourself privacy and letting in light. Hobbs recommends sheers with 30 to 40 percent opacity to strike that balance. A good keyword to search with is “semi-sheer.”

“Honestly, I have found the most bang for the buck in selecting sheers from Big Lots, Lowe’s, and Ollies,” Hobbs says. Although your best bet might be to browse the clearance section at your local big-box store, there are under-$20 semi-sheer white panels online.

This 84-inch white polyester option is from one of Hobbs’ go-tos, Lowes. 

This grommeted 63-inch panel has a high-end look for less than $15.

And this tab-top option from Big Lots will work for many different curtain rod sizes.

Be sure to measure your windows before browsing, because another pro tip is to hang your panels a bit higher than the window actually begins to exaggerate the room’s height.

If your too-small or too-dark room needs an extra helping hand, Hobbs has a few other tips. Employing white paint, for example, is step two. White paint works the same way white panels do in a room — they make it brighter because white reflects light, Hobbs says.

“A lot of times we have people who struggle with paint colors, and so when we’re asked to come in and stage — it may not be the most exciting color in the world — but we always stick with a basic white,” she says. 

Mirrors are another good option for reflecting light, especially when you have limited windows. “We use a lot of mirrors in very innovative ways,” Hobbs says. “We’ll do, say, 20 mirrors along a long wall… it bounces light and color and texture, and they actually act like windows.”

And it may seem simple, but it’s easy to forget: If you have a dark room, make sure your lamps and overhead lights are firing on all cylinders by opting for high-wattage light bulbs.