A small, dull utility area gets a wake-up call with wallpaper, painted cabinets, and a checkerboard-pattern floor.

Challenge
To refresh a small, drab laundry room located in a high-traffic area between the garage and the living room. Its lack of personality--neutral walls, dark cabinets, and a washed-out linoleum floor--made it unappealing as a work area and walk-through space.

Solution
A red-and-cream color scheme makes this small room feel larger. The cheerful combination is certain to brighten laundry chores. Plaid wallpaper is a natural choice for a casual room and works well with the checkerboard floor. White painted cabinets and colorful, inexpensive art also contribute to the overall effect.

Low Cost, High Style
You can liven any room with art, and it doesn't have to come from a gallery. Start looking for wall ideas everywhere you go. You'll be surprised at the variety of styles available at discount stores, flea markets, and high school and college art shows. You can drape a wall with a rug or hang old architectural fragments. If you've taken some great vacation photos, consider matting and framing them--either do it yourself, or visit a frame shop for help. Try grouping the pictures for more impact. Some children's art rivals modernist paintings, and by framing it, you'll preserve the piece for years to come.

QUICK-CHANGE ARTIST
  • New floor on a budget: An attractive, durable floor doesn't need to be costly. You can cover linoleum with inexpensive vinyl composite tiles (around 57 cents each) available at home-improvement stores. They come in a variety of colors, so you can create a custom look. Basic colors can be purchased individually. The red used here had to be ordered, and there's a minimum per order. These tiles cut easily with a heavy-duty utility knife, so corners and hard-to-fit places are not a problem.
  • Amount: To determine the number of tiles for your project, find out the room's square footage. Because these tiles are 12 inches square, you can easily convert the square footage directly into the number of tiles needed. For example, this room was 6 1/2 x 5 1/2 feet, so at 35.75 square feet, we needed 36 tiles, 18 of each color. Always buy a few extras to allow for mistakes.
  • Supplies: Tiles, ruler, pencil, tile adhesive, utility knife, and trowel
  • Installation: To lay out the pattern, find the center of one wall, then the other. With a ruler, draw a line from side to side to locate the center of the room, then begin laying the tile from the center of the room out, alternating your colors. Practice laying out the floor, and precut your edge pieces to make sure the layout works before gluing down. Use a small amount of the adhesive, rubbing it on the floor with a trowel; position the tile as close as possible to the adjoining tile, then press down. Clean up any excess adhesive with a damp cloth. Allow the floor to set overnight.
  • Paint power: In a small room, dark wood cabinets may contribute to the cramped feel. Don't hesitate to paint them--it's easier than trying to strip and refinish them. Make sure the cabinets are clean, and then sand to remove the glossy finish. Use a pretreated tack cloth to pick up sawdust. Remove any drawers or detachable shelves to paint them separately, and take off any hardware. Apply a primer that matches the paint color, then follow with at least two coats of either latex or enamel paint. It's best to paint the inside of the cabinets first, then the outside, and finally the cabinet doors, inside then outside. Make sure everything is completely dry before closing doors or putting any shelves or drawers back in.

SPACE SAVERS

  • Drying racks take up a lot of room, so consider installing a retractable clothesline like the one used here, which cost $10. It's easy to install and convenient. Just keep some clothespins on hand, and it will make drying a breeze.
  • In small laundry rooms, there's usually no space for an ironing board to remain set up. An over-the-door style is one solution and requires no installation. The board fixture hangs over the door frame, drops down while in use, and snaps back into place. The cost is around $30. More advanced closet-like laundry systems involve cutting a space into your wall. These units are sturdier than the over-the-door styles, but you need an appropriate wall. Obviously, they are more expensive (around $160).
  • Stackable washer and dryer units may alleviate space concerns if the ceilings are high enough. Front-loading versions also come in a compact style.
  • As in any small space, organization is key. You may want to install additional shelves in your cabinets or purchase premade units to keep products within easy reach. A laundry hamper on wheels is also a good idea so you can move it out of the way.