fixer-upper Photo Credit Heath Cajandig

How many of you bought a fixer-upper in Toronto, but it was still so expensive, you couldn’t afford to fix it up? I see a lot of anguished nodding out there.

The implicit trade-off of buying a fixer-upper is that it’s supposed to be cheap. But nothing’s cheap in this market. Therefore, some homeowners are living with outdated kitchens and bathrooms, small windows, scuffed and faded floors, small rooms with no closet space, and—gasp—broadloom carpeting on the second floor.

When You Can't Afford To Fix Your Fixer-Upper

It will be years before you can afford to knock down walls, gut the kitchen and get new windows. Interior designer and decorator Nancy Kurtz from Creating Home says clients often choose to update or refresh their home incrementally, “room by room, or floor by floor.”

“I see a lot of this, especially with the high prices of homes,” she says.

There are, however, some quick wins you can make—without spending a lot—that will gradually bring your home back to beautiful.


Two new coats of paint is worth its weight in gold. Considering the cost of the upgrade—either DIY or hiring painters—its returns are tenfold.

“I would say new paint is like magic in transforming a space,” Kurtz says. “You can completely change the look of a space with a different colour.”

Colour psychology is an interesting and valid concept; as neutral as beige might be, it also doesn’t exactly bring energy, joy or richness into a home.

You could spend months online perusing “before and after” room colour changes, or browsing through endless Pinterest boards. Don’t forget to consider your current furnishings and finishes; your new paint colour should complement their character.

Kurtz says hiring a professional to advise on room colours may be a wise decision, and you should consider it an investment before the cost and effort of painting. A small one-inch swatch of colour can take on an entirely different character when splashed across 400 square feet.


Bright, patterned decorative rugs can help distract from old hardwood floors that are scuffed and stained. In the east end, try Lashar Rugs or Pealac Rugs. West of Yonge, try Mellah and Weaver’s Art.

If you have the energy, gumption and a free weekend, Home Depot offers a handy guide for refinishing your floors yourself.

If you have carpeting, ripping it up and refinishing the floors underneath is more effort, but still doable. Beware, however, as you don’t know what’s underneath that carpet—it might not be the hardwood flooring you’re hoping for. Check out some YouTube tutorials to see if you’re up for it.


If you have an outdated kitchen that’s showing decades of wear, you don’t have to drop $25,000 for an overhaul. Dress up the surfaces and finishes and you can refresh the whole look.

“Here, paint would help again,” says Kurtz. “Painting out the cabinets, or just replacing the door and drawer fronts, and adding new handles and pulls.”

If you need more visual impact, replacing your countertops is another big win. Laminate countertops are most affordable but you’ll need to pay for installation.


If your windows are small and old—and your rooms feel dim as a result—Kurtz says a light window treatment can brighten up the area considerably.

“Adding white window coverings always helps,” she says. “A simple white semi-sheer roller shade will give you some privacy, but lets the light in.”

Lighter paint colours for these rooms also contribute to overall brightness, maximizing every single lumen of sunlight that you do receive.

And don’t underestimate the power of a good cleaning, too—inside and out. Decades of grime can accumulate on your windows; a subtle layer that may not be noticeable until suddenly it’s gone. Remember the last time you cleaned your sunglasses with a microfibre cloth? Yeah, like that.


Older, century homes in Toronto are notorious for poor closet space. Did they not have stuff in the early 1900s?

“Having no closets is a big problem; and even if there is one, there never seems to be enough space,” Kurtz says. “Adding a wardrobe is the best way to deal with that. IKEA has great options for almost any size of space, and I've used them in many homes. You can get an almost custom look and feel with their options at a reasonable price.”

Chests or ottomans with hidden storage are also lovely accents throughout your home, adding character and function.

On the flip side, why not use your lack of storage as an opportunity to hop on the minimalist bandwagon? Sell or donate your excess possessions—it must be cool if the kids are doing it.

Urban Living