Lighting, Landscaping and More: 10 Ways to Invest in Your Home


Home is where the youknowwhat is. You know the phrase. So you may as well make the most of whatever walls you’re living within, no? Here, we tap the stylish knowledge of six interior experts, with their top tips for investing in your home – for resale value, sure, but mostly for your own happiness.

Our panel of experts

Anne McDonald, Minneapolis-based interior designer
Alyssa Terpstra: principle designer of Coco and Jack, an interior design studio in Ontario
Bianca Sotello: prop and interiors stylist in the Bay Area
Erin Kestenbaum: photographer and design lover in coastal Connecticut
Crystal Palecek: Bay Area interior designer and editor of Rue
Meagan Camp: New York City-based interior designer


If you aren’t moving anytime soon, buy what makes you happy.
“People often come to me to help with their spaces after years and years of hating it,” says Minneapolis interior designer Anne McDonald. (See her work in action at the Elliot House.) Why is it that we so often delay what we know will make us happy – whether that be buying a sectional the whole family can lounge on or retiling your 1950s bubblegum pink bathroom?

“Sometimes people delay buying something new or doing that big remodel because they think they’re going to sell soon, or they’re worried about resale value, or they’re waiting for their dishwasher to break, or they want to research more. The list goes on and on. Those are valid concerns, but more often than not, buying that nice sofa or renovating your kitchen will bring you joy every day,” Anne says.

“It’s your home, after all. Your safe space. Your nugget in this crazy world. Make it yours. Make it living. Make it what you want it to be, right now.” – Anne McDonald

Lights, more lights, action.
Lighting can make or break your experience in a space, and no one who’s ever been abused by overhead lights in a dressing room would argue with that. (Mariah Carey agrees.) Unlike permanent pieces in your home – like paint and countertops – lighting is easy to switch out, or place into a moving van when it’s time to pack up.

“Quality lighting is expensive; there’s no beating around that,” says Meagan Camp, a New York City-based interior designer. “Think of light fixtures – overhead, wall sconces, table and floor lamps – as pieces of art.” For a small space, like an entryway, Meagan recommends outfitting it with a show-stopping pendant, acting as functional art. Erin Kestenbaum, photographer and design devotee, says, “I love using light fixtures to create visual interest in a space, like pairing a modern light fixture with a traditional ceiling medallion to create tension and contrast.”

“When in doubt, brighten it up,” says Crystal Palecek, Bay Area interior designer and editor of Rue magazine. “It’s surprisingly easy to have an electrician add a junction box for a light to brighten up dark areas of your house.” If you’re in the market, check out Crystal’s go-to places for affordable lighting: Cedar & Moss, Worley’s Lighting, Rejuvenation and Shades of Light.   

Pony up for quality paint.
“Don’t let the primer and paint in one fool you!” says Meagan. Inexpensive paint will oxidize much faster, oftentimes fading within a year. Overall, this costs you more – not only in money, but in time and energy too. 

Concentrate on the kitchen.
“The kitchen is the heart of the home, so it makes perfect sense that this is the number one area homeowners want to focus on,” says Crystal. “If a full kitchen renovation is in the cards for my clients, we pay close attention to creating a functional flow, ample storage and organization, and using top quality appliances and materials.”

And if not? “If gutting your kitchen isn’t an option, a simple refresh can make a world of difference.” Crystal knows this first-hand. “When we moved into our new home, the first thing I did was paint the dark cabinetry a beautiful light gray hue, swap out the existing hardware for something with a weighty hand to create a more elevated look and feel, and update all the light fixtures. The impact was incredible.”

So, what materials should you use? Meagan is an advocate for quartz, which gives the high-end look of marble, but with no-fuss maintenance with added technology. “The surfaces need to be workhorses, while remaining in-tact and beautiful.” Want to go the end mile? Meagan suggests extending the surface down the side of your cabinetry to achieve a “waterfall” effect.

Alyssa Terpstra, principle designer of Ontario design studio Coco and Jack, recommends built-in panel ready appliances with cabinet fronts for a seamless, custom look to your kitchen, especially when working with a smaller space. “In the past, built-in fridges were only available from high-end manufacturers, and were over most homeowners’ budgets,” Alyssa says. “However, over the last couple of years, more companies have started offering both panel-ready dishwashers and fridges at a lower price, which has made this look much more achievable.”

Extend your living space to the outdoors.
“When I started spending less time living inside my space, and more time living outside, my happiness multiplied,” says Bay Area prop and interiors stylist Bianca Sotello. If you’re fortunate enough to have outdoor living space – sorry, big city dwellers! – make it, well, liveable.

Just picture it: “Spend some money creating an outdoor oasis complete with a chaise lounge to relax and read, a table and chair set up where you can enjoy breakfast on the weekends and a barbecue that makes cooking and entertaining fun!”

The future is here: spend on smart home technology.
“It might seem nerdy, but considering how technology can improve your daily life in your home it can have a big impact on how you enjoy your space,” says Erin. One way to do that is to update your thermostat to be wifi-enabled; this allows you to control the temperature while you’re away from home, cutting energy costs.

Same for wifi-enabled light switches. This is especially useful for your exterior lights, ensuring you’re always walking up to a well-lit front door – especially handy late at night or with an armful of groceries.

Storage, storage, storage
“Creating a home for everything allows you to keep clutter out of sight, so you can enjoy your home even more,” says Erin. Consider built-in storage solutions that’ll work overtime for you. Think a built-in dining banquette where you can safely store grandma’s china, built-in cabinetry to tuck the TV into when Real Housewives isn’t on, or a window seat that adds additional seating and holds the Halloween decorations.

What’s on the outside sometimes does matter.
HGTV doesn’t have a whole show called Curb Appeal for nothing. “We all know first impressions matter, so what better way to put your home’s best foot forward than investing in your curb appeal,” says Crystal. “Not only does a ‘wow’ factor exterior help resale value, but it also sets the tone for how visitors (and you!) feel each time you pull up to your house.” So, liven up your landscaping with fresh flowers, give your exterior a fresh coat of paint and swap outdated outdoor lighting.

“It seems obvious, but don’t discount the importance of a couple of large pots at your front entry steps or door,” adds Anne. “Fill them seasonally and remember to use tall items for some vertical interest – a cool branch during the winter or taller tropical plant during the summer. Go big.”

“Not only does a ‘wow’ factor exterior help resale value, but it also sets the tone for how visitors (and you!) feel each time you pull up to your house.” – Crystal Palecek

Add architectural details.
“Whether that be millwork or crown molding or a dream fireplace surround, these things will not only bring so much character and value to your home, but will fill you with so much joy when you look at them,” says Bianca.

“I put a mantle and crown molding in my living room apartment and if I squint, I basically have a Parisian flat.” (She’s not exaggerating. See it for yourself.) The materials may be an investment, Bianca says, but you can install them yourself to save a few bucks.

Mother Nature, what a wonderful woman.
“Nothing breathes life into a space like indoor greenery,” says Anne. From larger indoor plants, to smaller ones sitting on window ledges, hanging in front of picture windows and always around the kitchen sink, scatter greenery around your home to bring life to it.  

“It’s so important, especially for those of us living in the north.”

Bonus tip: none of this has to cost an arm nor a leg.
Anne suggests heading straight to Etsy for uncommon finds. “Etsy is a paradise for people looking for inexpensive, but awesome stuff. You can find handmade beautiful velvet pillows for $50. Or vintage Persian rugs for a couple hundred dollars.”

“There’s so much people can do on a tight budget,” assured Anne. “Of course you have to be realistic and know that labor is expensive and rugs can set you back $10,000. But you don’t need a house full of custom furnishings to make your home magical. The high/low movement is proof of that.”

So there you have it. Spend where it matters and go cheap where it doesn’t. But ultimately, invest in where it counts most: in what makes you happy.


Shop the Story

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Google Home Mini • $49
RENWIL Antonio Ceiling Light Fixture • Ren Wil • $218
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Cb2 Ixtapa Grey Loveseat • CB2 • $359
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Inspire Q Tisha 24″ Mid – Century Modern Swivel Wood Counter Stool (Set of 2) • Inspire Q • $161.49
Project 62 Menlo Multi-Head Cluster Ceiling Light • $79.99
Nest Learning Third Generation Thermostat in Silver • Nest • $249.99
Ryland Modular Banquette Set • Pottery Barn • $299–1,421
10” Green Air Plant • $9.99
Smith & Hawken Outdoor Rug Hickory Basketweave • Smith & Hawken • $40–120

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Megan McCarty is a writer, editor, etc.-er who has written about life, travel and – shh, don’t tell her mother – s-e-x for Garance Doré, Apartment 34, Rue and more. She’s a firm believer in the zipper merge. Follow along with her adventures (and, well, misadventures) on Instagram