Do you ever walk around a city and wonder how all of those condo buildings got there? When did it happen? How do they build them so tall – so fast! Buildings are bigger, condos are smaller and prices seem to climb by the minute. And as soon as a unit hits the market, it sells just as quickly, often without time for conditional offers or a proper home inspection. This hotcake condo trend has promoted sub-par finishes, cheap builder basics and the bare minimum required to pass inspection, leaving its residents with a ‘brand new’ unit that looks like it was built 30 years ago. Here are 10 easy updates for condo eyesores that you’ve probably overlooked.
Brian McCourt is a contractor, design expert and co-host of HGTV Canada’s Backyard Builds.
Stark White Walls
This is a rental apartment that I helped my friend Ashley upgrade. She needed a hand because she had never painted before, and she used the oldest trick in the book: “beer and pizza?! I’ll be right there, Ash.” Painting stripes on a wall isn’t a new design concept, but I have a few quick tips on how to do it well: Always use two different sheens, one flat wall paint (usually already there) and one semi-gloss. When the stripes are one shade apart, it adds a nice soft contrast. I also suggest spacing the stripes five to seven inches apart for a look similar to the above, which resembles wallpaper.
Wall-Mounted Towel Bars
Raise your hand if you have a towel bar that looks like this. What in the what? I may be more passionate about this than the average person, but I feel it’s my duty to save the world, one towel rack at a time. These puppies are glued directly onto the wall. Thankfully, a wide putty knife will fix the scars after you remove it. Make sure you install at least one side of your new bar into a stud.
The most basic type of interior door is the flat slab style (pictured above), and while they sometimes work for a minimalist aesthetic, more often than not they look cheap. Changing door handles can go a long way, and if you’re feeling extra adventurous, paint the doors a dramatic charcoal, black or trendy navy shade. Bonus: darker hues conceal dirt, and the deep contrast offers more visual interest.
On the subject of doors, the casing or moulding that frames the perimeter of the door is often thin and unimpressive. Installing an additional moulding, called backband, around the casing can really dress things up, as seen here. This is usually installed before the baseboard, but for all intents and purposes, it’s still a worthwhile upgrade.
Lighting is one of the fastest ways to modernize a small space. I need to take the PG13 rating off for a minute and talk about the all-too-infamous ‘boob’ lights. You know, the half circle flush-mount fixtures with the nipple in the middle. They run for about $15 a piece, which is about $14 too expensive. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but a $60 fixture can go a long way. Make sure you know what you’re doing when you make the swap, or hire an electrician.
Minimal Bedroom Lighting
In condos, it’s common for the bedroom light switch to control only one plug in the wall. Hanging bedside pendants is great for raising the plane of light, and for offering more table surface for your bedside essentials and decor. My hometown friends at Ottawa-based Leclair Decor make it a design feature rather than a shortcoming.
Closet organization is one of the things you long for as a condo dweller… because those white wire racks just don’t cut it, and wouldn’t it be nice not to purge every time you did a little retail therapy? I’ve come up with a pretty inexpensive way to get the most out of this small space: Buy a prefab shelving cabinet, install it in the middle of the closet and then add hanging bars to its left and right side. Done!
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of shower curtains. They make a space feel cramped and they’re difficult to clean. A glass panel on the other hand instantly updates the look of a bathroom. While it may sound expensive, it’s not as bad as you’d think. The one pictured above retails for $250 and swings on a hinge. You’ll need a diamond drill bit and some caulking to install it, but it’s a 60-minute project for the average DIYer. Make sure you buy a squeegee, too!
Many bathroom mirrors are glued to the wall without a frame. These frameless styles can work in the right space, but I always install them with a half-inch space between the wall and the mirror to give it some depth. There’s something about a mirror being glued flush on the wall that feels basic and cheap. If you’re going for a more contemporary look, glue moulding onto the face of the mirror to create a frame. It’s easy, inexpensive and effective.
Popcorn is great when you’re at the movies, paired with some sort of contradictory ‘diet’ pop, but it’s not so great when it’s on your ceiling. While you’re probably thinking my opinion is more controversial than that diet soda, I’m going to stand by my claim that the skill level for removing this chunky nightmare is basic. Sure, it’s a labour-intensive dusty business, but anyone who is in decent physical shape and has greasy elbows can handle it. Most condo buildings have concrete ceilings, and exposing the concrete can completely change the feel of your space. You’ll want to use a flat blade, scraper and orbital sander to remove the snap-crackle-pop, and finish with a concrete enhancing sealer.