Michael Murray, Rach's go-to design guru and general manager of Rachael Ray Home, has spent decades helping people create spaces they love without blowing their budget. He shares small, easy ways to update your home so you don't mind spending lots (and lots) of time there.

living room with striped ottoman doubling as table
1. Bold, colorful drapes make a temporary space feel special, particularly if you don’t want to commit to painting. Mount them 4 to 6 inches higher than the frame to create the illusion of larger windows. 2. A couple of potted plants instantly add texture and interest to your space. 3. Choose throw pillows in punchy patterns instead of going the solids route—they add personality and can easily be switched out.
| Credit: Photography by Brittany Ambridge/Otto

Q: How do you make an impermanent home feel personal? 

If you're going to be there for a year or two, put up some drapes. Do not live with the institutional blinds that came with the place. Use some panels in a color that makes you happy. Another simple, inexpensive trick is to add a little bit of temporary wallpaper. It's great for rentals because it pulls off easily, unlike contact paper, which is a commitment. Note: Avoid fake anything, like brick. You don't need to pretend it's something else. Find a really rich or interesting pattern and go with that. 

I'd also recommend some touches of nature, especially if you're in a place where there aren't many windows. Get a couple of live plants. ZZ plants are super durable. If I can't kill them, they're un-killable! Get a couple of throw pillows, too. Invest in yourself. You won't believe how a room will change with a plant, some throw pillows, and a candle or two. 

Q: Should your door hardware, plumbing fixtures, and light fixtures all be the same metal finish? Is it OK to mix them up? How can you make it look intentional and cohesive? 

You do not need to have all one finish. There's something to be said for planned eclecticism, where you mix your metals but don't have them arguing with each other. I suggest going with something simple and classic for more permanent hardware like door handles and hinges, and then going crazy with easily changeable items like cabinet knobs and dining room fixtures. My go-to for door hardware and hinges is always oil-rubbed bronze or brushed steel because they're both timeless. But for a cabinet pull or a light fixture above the dining room table, I like to have some fun with brass or polished nickel. You can change those things in an afternoon, so go all out and try different looks.

Q: I’ve seen advice saying you can use patterned contact paper as a DIY in the kitchen and bathroom (like subway tile for the backsplash, marble for counters). Can you really keep it looking good in those high-use rooms?

Nothing lifts your spirits faster than a quick fix, a little pop of color. So using contact paper to update counters or backsplashes can be a great idea. Patterns are OK on these smaller areas, but go with lighter, more neutral colors. They're not real surfaces, so you don't want to draw too much attention to them. And see my earlier note about "faking" anything, especially when you're trying to create texture using something that has none. Stick with simple and durable. 

To keep it looking good, avoid overuse. Make sure you have a couple of work surfaces to cut on, to work on, to pour (and spill) coffee on, and then you're not wearing and tearing on the physical contact paper so much. 

Have a home design question from Michael Murray? Email us at editor@rachaelraymag.com for a chance to be featured in a future issue! 

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2020 issue. Get the magazine here