5 Stylish, Easy Ways to Upgrade Plain Walls on an IKEA Budget

published Aug 21, 2022
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If you’re sick and tired of your walls but don’t know how to upgrade them without investing tons of time and money into a huge makeover project, I’m here to help. The following five hacks are budget-friendly and can breathe new life into your space in just a weekend’s time (or less!). Whether you crave dreamy Parisian touches or are looking to liven up your living room with some pattern, you’ll want to scope out these simple wall DIYs (many of which are renter-approved, too!).

Credit: Anna Page

Install picture frame molding using polyurethane

If you long for a home outfitted with Parisian picture frame molding but live in a cookie cutter rental, I’ve got you. It’s easy to transform your walls with this renter-friendly polyurethane hack, which home influencer Anna Page swears by in her apartment’s entryway, living room, and bedroom. While polyurethane molding can be pricier than regular wood, it’s much easier to hang due to its light weight, Page explains. A little also goes a long way, since you don’t have to cover the whole walls but can just make squares or rectangles in sizes of your choosing. Page used both box and hand saws to cut the molding pieces then adhered them to the wall using adhesive mounting tape. “This adhesive mounting tape doesn’t damage the wall when removing it, which is an added bonus,” Page explains. She then painted over the molding so that it truly blends in with her space. “Every time I add wall molding, I am shocked at the difference it makes,” Page adds.

Use wallpaper to get the look of classic beadboard

Perhaps you love the look of traditional beadboard paneling but aren’t in a position to make any permanent changes to your walls. “For added architectural interest and to achieve a cozy cottage feel, I love the look of beadboard behind shelves,” home influencer Shelby Roebock says. However, rather than going through the process of installing actual paneling in her rental, Roebock was able to fake the look with paintable textured wallpaper, which she has since used in both her kitchen (shown above) and in a home office nook. “To activate the pre-pasted wallpaper, our bathtub came in handy, and while it was slightly messy, it didn’t take long at all to adjust on the wall,” she reflects. You can also use strong double sided tape to hang this kind of wallpaper, too, if you really want to be able to reverse the install.

Jazz up plain walls with small brush strokes

Even if you’re not looking to cover an entire hallway with wallpaper, you can still achieve a similar patterned look with just a little bit of paint, all while staying majorly under budget. Home influencer Imani Keal says that her dotted wall “is the cheapest DIY ever!” Just grab two or three paint brushes of various sizes — Keal picked up these brushes in sizes 8, 10, and 12 — and find some paint in a color that makes you happy. You can definitely get away with leftover paint or a sample size pot. Go about making small brush strokes randomly on walls to give your space some extra oomph. “I wanted my wall to feel organic, so I started with the biggest brush and filled in the open spaces with the smaller brushes,” Keal explains. A few hours (and just $15) later, and Keal’s walls went from plain to poppin’.

Make a statement with wooden slat walls

If your style leans a little more contemporary, this wooden wall hack is an excellent way to add intrigue to your space. “Wood slat walls have become very popular in recent years,” says home design blogger Chelsea Johnson of Making Manzanita. “Unlike the shiplap trend that is usually painted, people are letting the natural wood tones shine through.” When implementing this DIY in her own home, Johnson had to get creative budget-wise due to rising lumber costs. “Instead of using 1 by 2 oak boards, we ripped down sheets of oak plywood into 1 1/2″ wide strips, which saved us over $500,” she comments. She then cut the plywood sheets into slats, sealed them with matte polyurethane, and attached them to the wall in the configuration seen above using a pneumatic nail gun. Again, you can keep costs down here by only covering a portion of a room, as Johnson did here in this blank corner.

Go bold with a herringbone accent wall

Add some major visual interest to the wall behind your bed with a herringbone hack like this one that home design blogger Kristi Murphy completed. “I think it creates a wow factor right when you walk into the room and really makes the bed and accessories pop,” Murphy says of the finished product. She achieved the look using stick-on wood planks from Stikwood. “You would never know this is stick-on wood,” she comments. “The product is so thin you can actually do small cuts with a utility knife.” Before adhering the wood to the wall, though, Murphy says that you may wish to paint the wall the color of your wood. “This makes any gaps in the wood disappear,” she explains. Murphy actually skipped this step in her own home but appreciates the touch of character that the slight gaps added. When applying the wood, you’ll need to locate the center of the wall and begin placing your herringbone pattern from there. “Work from the center of the wall outward, making large cuts using a miter saw and making small cuts using a utility knife,” Murphy shares. The last step involves creating a border around the wall using your planks.