Bright Idea: Give Your Program a Facelift on a Budget

Photo of a carpeting knife, carpet swatches and a tape measure.

Youth programs should be fun, homey places, but many organizations don't have the cash to redecorate. To help our readers brighten up their spaces, we spoke to interior designer Inola Walston of Frederick, MD, about how to redecorate for pennies. She laid out the following steps:

Assemble your team. Getting youth to help redecorate a space they use can be a great way to teach them life skills, get them and staff to have fun, and practice Positive Youth Development. Invite youth to plan the project, draw floor plans, paint walls, refinish furniture, decide where to place furniture in the room, and create artwork to frame and hang on the walls.

Volunteers and staff members can contribute elbow grease too, but let youth take the lead.

Assess the space. "Decide exactly what the space is going to be used for," Walston says. "Will it be a private space meant for use by an individual or two, or is it a public space in a high traffic area of the building? This will help you to determine what materials to use on the floors, walls and the best type of furniture needed." states Ms. Walston. You may also want to consider what mood you want the space to convey be it a fun space with bright colors or a relaxing space with cool colors.

If you are transforming, say, an office into a game room, "Make sure that it can accommodate the furniture, equipment, and number of people that will be using the space," Walston says.

In addition, when designing a public space, take into account different tastes, she says. She recommends clean, uncomplicated but comfortable furniture, neutral colors, and engaging artwork on the walls.

Set a budget. Decide exactly how much you can spend, and stick to that amount!

To save money, consider giving old furniture new life rather than buying new, Walston says. "Giving the good pieces a new coat of paint or stain can really make a difference in the space and your wallet," she says, and new hardware can give dressers and cabinetry a new lease on life. You can also recover couches and chairs and sew drapes with donated or on-sale fabric.

If you do buy new furniture or décor, "Consider speaking with a store manager about making a donation to the agency. There may be clearance and discontinued items that are just sitting in the warehouse that they may be willing to donate to you," she says. You might also have your fundraising department contact the corporate giving departments of furniture or department stores. (See NCFY's article on "in-kind" donations.)

Choose your colors. Different colors evoke different emotions, Walston says. For example, blue and green are calming and "clean feeling," she says, while soft yellows create a warm, cozy, welcoming environment. Light colors make a space look larger, and dark colors make a space feel smaller.

Assemble your tools. Walston recommends picking up the following materials from a nearby art supply or hardware store:

  • Tape measure (preferably 100 feet), to measure the size of the room, the height of windows (to determine how long curtains need to be), and so on
  • Straight edge ruler (metal with cork backing to prevent slipping), for marking off where you will place pictures on the walls, tape for painting, or flooring
  • Exacto or utility knife and blades, to cut carpet and fabric and to open boxes
  • Screwdrivers (both Philips and flathead)
  • Hammer, nails, screws and wall hanging kits to hang lighting and youths' artwork and to reupholster furniture
  • Pencils
  • Templates (for instance for setting out furniture or designing a kitchen or bathroom)

Set aside a weekend, and get started making your space a more youthful and inviting place to be. Invite youth, community members, and staff to take part in your "redecorating party."

To see a redecorating project in action, read the Washington Post's "The Comforts of a Temporary Home," by Jura Koncius.

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