Wednesday 26 April 2017

How to choose your DIY projects wisely

DIY needn’t be daunting or difficult: just choose your projects wisely. Our expert on why you shouldn’t fear those three little letters…

Linda Duffy's mountain playroom, Make, Do and DIY blog (
Linda Duffy's mountain playroom, Make, Do and DIY blog (
Corrie Beth Hogg's fabric lamp, tutorial found at
Ikea Billy bookcase with wrapping paper makeover
Pom pom cushion from Homesense (€20)
Alex Carberry's faux marble table (

Emily Westbrooks

I think you'd probably describe me as a fair-weather do-it-yourself-er. I love creating décor schemes for my home, and I love improving items I already have to put a new spin on them that's unique. But I do not enjoy any DIY project that has too many steps, requires too much specialty equipment or takes too long to complete. If I'm going to undertake a DIY project, it's got to give me results quickly without necessitating three trips to different stores for supplies.

Many people believe that all do-it- yourself projects are too difficult or complicated or require too much creativity. And I'd use every DIY project I've ever done as examples of why that categorically isn't the case. So many DIY projects create enormous impact - with very little time, money or skill required. You will need basic tools and a little common sense (or YouTube videos can teach you just about any simple skill!) but the result will be pieces or rooms you customise in a way that no one else ever would - without paying the often exorbitant price for something customised by someone else.

There are projects I certainly wouldn't undertake - such as anything that involves power tools beyond a cordless drill - but there's a whole level of project I believe anyone can take on with just an extra push of inspiration. Read on to find doses of inspiration in four categories of DIY projects.

1 Paint like a pro

Paint scares people: whether it's the mess or the perceived time commitment or the assumed skill level required. But paint is one of the most satisfying ways to transform a piece of furniture or a room.

A few quick tips on types: high-gloss is the shiniest and flat paint is matte. High-gloss paint is best for bathrooms, kitchens, and anywhere kids could draw on it with crayons, as it wipes off best. Matte paint won't wipe well when your children spray baby food across it. And, in between, you have eggshell, satin and semi-gloss in ascending order of gloss level. (Try some sample tins first before you commit to a particular paint.)

Linda Duffy at Make Do and DIY ( has devised the simplest painted mountain mural (above) that is adorable yet impactful. She used three shades of grey paint and strips of painter's tape to create mountains on her playroom wall (check out her easy online tutorial). Give the wall a base coat, use masking tape to make triangles, paint inside the lines and remove the tape before the wall dries for a clean, even line. Et voilà! DIY mountain décor.

I used a similar technique a few years ago to create a cool dual-toned hallway. A coat of white paint, a swathe of masking's tape to divide the wall, and then charcoal paint for the bottom half. Instant transformation!

There are a few basic things you need to know before you walk into the home improvement store and start picking out paint. First, spray paint is most forgiving for small projects if you make sure to use light, constant passes back and forth.

Second, watch out for oil-based paint versus water-based paint. Water-based paint will wash off your hands and paintbrush with water. With oil-based paint, you'll need white spirits to take it off your hands. Oil-based paint also takes longer to dry.

Finally, you'll need to choose how much gloss you want your paint to have. High gloss will be the shiniest, and flat paint will be matte. High gloss paint is best for bathrooms, kitchens, and anywhere kids could draw on it with crayons because it wipes off best. Matte paint won't wipe well when your children spray baby food across it. And in between, you have eggshell, satin and semi-gloss in ascending order of gloss level.

In order to keep brush marks out of small projects, invest in fine grain sandpaper and use it to smooth brush strokes between coats. Using a sponge brush can also help keep paint looking smooth.

Sample paint pots are often more than enough for small projects and allow you to get a sense of whether you like the colour enough to use it in a larger scale.

2 Play with paper


In the spectrum of DIY supplies, paper is the unsung hero. It's simple and usually really inexpensive, and can improve nearly any flat surface. Mention the word 'découpage' and even I can't contain a look of disdain, but break it down into gorgeous paper covered in watered-down glue so it's sealed and that sounds less dated.

You'll want to watch the thickness. Tissue paper is so pretty and comes in an array of prints, but it's so thin, it will likely be transparent. Wrapping paper can be the perfect weight and opacity, plus the perfect price point.

The simplest way to use paper to improve an object is to cover a dull, flat surface, like the back of a flat-pack bookcase. Linda Duffy of Make Do and DIY took a ubiquitous Ikea Billy bookcase and covered the back with colourful wrapping paper for her kids' playroom (above). There are two fast ways to do this: buy a can of spray adhesive for about a fiver, take your object outside or into a well-ventilated area, spray it and stick the paper on. This method is fast but can be smelly. The second option is to get craft paint, a bowl and a brush, and dilute the paper with water till it's the consistency of milk. Paint a coat on your object, adhere the paper, then paint another coat on top.

There are two fast ways to stick paper to surfaces. You could pick up a can of spray adhesive (sold in the office supply section of stores like Tesco) for around a fiver, and take your object outside or into a well ventilated area. Spray a coat of adhesive across your object and allow it to get tacky for thirty seconds. Then lay your paper across the surface, pressing at one side and working the air bubbles out until you get to the other. This method is fast but can be smelly.

The second option is to get some craft paint, a bowl, and a brush, and dilute the craft paper with water until it's the consistency of milk. Paint a coat on your object (like the cardboard backing of a Billy bookcase), adhere the paper, and then paint another coat on top.

You can seal the paper with a spray coat of polyurethane sealer, just make sure to get the kind that says "won't yellow" on the back or you'll end up with aged-looking paper pretty quickly!

3 Get tactile with textiles


Projects with fabric don't necessarily mean you have to break out your mother's sewing machine in order to make something pretty.Even I own a sewing machine but I use it so rarely that it always means relearning how to thread it. Instead, I typically opt for fabric projects that involve minimal sewing, if any. For this origami fabric lamp (far right), made by Corrie Beth Hogg of The Apple of My DIY blog ( for The House that Lars Built (, you'll need fabric stiffener and a few supplies you'd likely find in your junk drawer, along with a simple pendant lamp kit. No sewing involved.

Pom-poms add a little pizzazz to a cushion or throw, but buying items festooned with trendy pom-poms often inflates the price in a shop. Instead, zip over to eBay (, order a few lengths of pom-pom trim and adhere it to a cushion with a product like Liquid Stitch (which you can also find on sites like eBay or Amazon). Or order a few metres and attach it to the inside and bottom edges of simple white curtains with iron-on hem tape that you can pick up in any fabric shop.

4 Make contact


You might associate contact paper with watching your mum line kitchen drawers back in the day. But it has come such a long way since it was made with only check patterns. Now you can find it in all sorts of prints ready to transform otherwise ugly things in your home.

Contact paper is a super tool to have in your arsenal, especially if you're renting, as it peels off and (typically) doesn't leave any residue. I started using it when we lived in an apartment with hideous tiled backsplash with cornucopias of fruit spread across the kitchen. It was the antithesis of my style and made settling in to that rental particularly hard. If I'd owned the place, I might have painted it with oil-based tile paint, but contact paper was my solution for the years we lived there. I bought a roll of plain, white contact paper and cut it to size, then slowly peeled off the backing as I covered over those darn fruit cornucopias. It stuck for years and stains wiped off in a flash.

DIY blogger extraordinaire Alex Carberry of The Interior DIYer ( used marble contact paper to cover over a coffee table (above), creating a durable surface that's much more pleasing to the eye than the years-old rental finish.

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