You're back from the summer holidays - or maybe you weren't able to make the escape. Either way, this is a time of year when many of us feel the urge to update a tired interior. Perhaps, after a break, you're seeing things with fresh eyes (and what you see doesn't look as fresh as you'd like) - or, if you've been here all summer long, the familiarity of your surroundings has slid into boredom. But there's a catch: for many of us this is not a good time of year to spend money, whether because holiday credit card bills are providing a cold reality check or the new term's school fees have to be paid. Worry not. Here are our favourite ways of giving your home a lift for just a couple of hundred dirhams - or nothing at all.
1. Don't assume that you need to shop; look again at what you have and move things around.
2. Rearranging your furniture is the easiest and cheapest way to get a new look. To save time and effort always map it out on paper beforehand. Place items around a focal point, leaving plenty of space for navigating the room. Place your sofa so that it faces the doorway to make the living room more inviting. If you can't do that, place a console or low bookshelf against its back and line it with attractive books and knick knacks.
3. Even easier is to rearrange your accessories, ornaments, the art on your walls - even your area rugs. Sometimes it's as simple as moving the accessories to a better spot - that bathroom display of shells and coral might look great on the coffee table. Alternatively, rotate your collection by storing some things away and bringing them out every few months, packing the previous display away in their place. 4. Tidy up and clean up! Nothing makes a place look more stale and tired than mess. 5. Buy only what you love. It's easier said than done, but just because you have space, it doesn't need to be filled. If you don't need something and don't absolutely desire it, leave it at the store.
• Pare down. We all have too much stuff. If you're not sure that you can part with something, place it out of sight for a few weeks. If you miss it, bring it back. Otherwise, donate it (Take My Junk is a good option; Red Crescent has donation tents in many areas), Dubizzle it - or strictly as a last resort, dump it.
• Host a swap meet. We've all bought something that turns out to be not quite right. Rather than stuffing those abandoned "treasures" away in a cupboard, get together with friends and trade. • Invest in storage - the more decorative, the better. A wicker laundry hamper spray-painted in your colour of choice is great for children's toys or your sports kit. Ikea's metal drawer units (from the home office section) are great for bathroom products, its decorative cardboard boxes for almost anything in the living room or bedroom. • Once you've redecorated a room - or an area within it - step away and have a rethink. Chances are the space would look better with one or two fewer objects.
• Capitalise on new trends quickly with accent pieces, such as cushions and vases. They're relatively inexpensive and can be changed when your tastes change. (And remember, you need buy only new covers for existing cushions, not the inner pads.)
• Switch with the seasons: although the changing seasons are less obvious than elsewhere in the world, you should still refresh your decor several times a year to avoid boredom. It can be as simple as alternating cushion covers or switching your throws or bedspreads. • Use clear glass containers to display found objects in new ways - for instance, a cylindrical vase filled with shells or pebbles. Keep the colours of the objects unified. • Change your lampshades, whether on table lamps or pendant lights. In terms of colour, shape or material, anything goes as long as you keep the proportions right. • Do you have vases that look good even without flowers? Drag them out of the cupboard and display them in a group. • If you can't resist the urge to shop, buy new accessories (such as glassware or coloured ceramics) in the same colour or style "family" as things you already have - and display it all as a single group.
• In every room, group things by colour to attract the eye, creating a cleaner look with greater impact, rather than looking "spotty". Even arranging your bookshelf this way makes a big difference. • Add colour to your kitchen with citrus fruit. A bowl or large, clear glass vase filled with lemons and limes will instantly brighten the worktop. (For greater impact choose just one or two varieties of fruit, not a mixture). • Replace old towels in the kitchen or bathroom with new ones in a strong, block colour that either complements or contrasts with your main colour scheme. • Paint a bathroom a dark, rich colour that contrasts with the sink, tub and toilet. It won't make a small room look any larger, but will give it a touch of luxury. • Paint dark wood door frames in a light or bright colour. By choosing a colour that matches the wall you can make them "disappear" for a more streamlined look; with a soft, contrasting shade or a bright, deliberately clashing one you can turn them into a feature. • Save empty bottles that are either rich in colour or interesting in shape and soak off the labels. Use them in rows or groups to display flowers. They look especially good on a windowsill, with the light shining through them. • Brightly coloured saris in fine cotton have countless uses. Drape them over your existing curtain poles to create a bright overlay for plain curtains (or a colourful substitute for standard white sheers); pin or staple-gun one across the top of a door frame and drape it to one side; stitch short lengths of ribbon to the top edge of a sari and tie it onto your shower-curtain rail to create a decorative outer layer over the existing curtain. In the fabric souqs saris cost as little as Dh40 for a standard six-metre length and the shop staff will direct you to the nearest tailor, who will hem the lengths for Dh5-10.
• Dress up the sofa with a new slipcover and a few colourful cushions. Shadows in Abu Dhabi comes well recommended for re-covering sofas. • Turn your bookshelves into pleasing focal points by distributing various interesting objects, from photos to vases, at intervals among the books (and, as above, rearrange the books by colour). • Try up-lighting for a more subtle effect, highlighting anything from a piece of art to a favourite chair. Visit The One for inspiration. • Use wall decals to highlight a space. Online stores such as www.wallglamour.co.uk have hundreds of options, and Ace Hardware, Home Centre and Ikea are inexpensive local sources. • Create an accent wall, either by painting it or with wallpaper (modern wallpapers are easy to hang - gone are the days of glue buckets and trestle tables). • Don't let the television set take centre stage in the living room; move it to a different position. (And if you have a wall-mounted screen, kick yourself.)
• Add a personal touch with a memento from your travels, childhood or a home-made papier mâché mask. • Bring the family together. Print family photos in sepia or black and white, then display them in frames of similar size and colour to help unify the images.
• Buy a houseplant: choose those that complement your mood and decor (phalaeonopsis orchids mean cool elegance, while kalanchoe add a splash of colour and fun, and ferns are perfect for steamy bathrooms). Dubai Garden Centre, Ikea and Al Mina Souq are good sources. • If you already have houseplants, group them together to fill an empty corner. Grouping different plants in a single, large container can also work wonders. • Add flowers. Fresh flowers help lift a tired room. Arrange for a weekly delivery through florists such as Denise Flowers or Exotica Emirates. (Re-cut the stems and change water every few days to extend the life of the blooms.) Or buy everlasting flowers. The best faux flowers - those made of silk - are uncannily realistic and worth the extra money. Sia Home Fashion and Olivier Dolz, both in Dubai, are best for these.
• If you like having framed photos on display, change the pictures every so often (after all, how often do you open your photo albums?) • Have favourite photos enlarged and printed on canvas to create your own art. Digital printing means that you can transform them with Pop Art colours, a vintage look or whatever pleases you. The Dubai-based www.riot-art.com comes highly recommended. • Move your lamps around. Changing the position of the physical object will look new, as well as change the patterns of the light cast. Just make sure to keep your favourite reading place appropriately lit. • Group your works of art. Whether hung on the wall or displayed on a table, several small pictures closely grouped will have much more impact than a few dotted about the place. • Reupholster your dining room chairs - or have slipcovers made if the chairs are a simple shape. For something completely different, choose fabrics in several different but related prints and colours. Everest in Dubai, a full-service furniture factory, has a wide range of materials or go to Satwa's fabric shops. • Give your kitchen a quick and affordable update with new cabinet doors (from Under One Roof in Dubai or Ikea), or simply re-paint existing doors (use an oil-based paint). For an even faster solution change the cabinet doorknobs - easiest if they are the single-screw variety, as you don't have to find something exactly the right dimensions to fit two screw holes. • Use sheer or semi-sheer curtains or fabric panels to create separate spaces in a large room. • Re-think your curtains: if they are elaborate and heavy (not needed in this climate) store them away and replace them with something simple and inexpensive. If they are already simple and inexpensive, change the colour. Faded or drab window coverings can tarnish the appeal of even the nicest room.
And if that's not enough inspiration... • Have a redecorating party. Invite a few friends whose taste you admire and let them offer advice. They might even help you move some of the furniture.