One-day Home Makeover

The entertaining season is upon us, which means it’s a little too late to start a major home-makeover project. But a few small changes can make a dramatic difference in the way your living space looks -- and how you feel about having people over. In just a few hours, these simple ideas will help you make what’s old new again … before the doorbell rings.

Dress Your Drapes
Depending on how many windows you have -- and how big they are -- your drapery can account for nearly as much wall space as … well, your walls. Changing or enhancing what’s already there can make as big an impact as putting up a new paint color.

· Switch it up. If you’ve got the time and money to shop for new drapes, try a totally different look than the one you have -- new color, pattern, texture, etc. Change the hardware too.

· Add swag. For an even quicker fix, buy long hemmed scarves and create swag valances to go over your existing drapes. Don’t worry too much about being matchy-matchy; the bolder you go, the bigger the difference.

· Double down. For short drapes, add some interest, color and drama by sewing on a bottom tier of contrasting fabric to make them floor-length.

Pick up Your Couch
You don’t need to re-upholster to completely change the look and feel of your sofa. Just go pillow crazy. Remove the originals that matched so perfectly, and replace with a contrasting potpourri of sizes, textures, colors and prints. Choose a wide assortment and start playing. Pink next to red and yellow? Try it. Silk alongside chenille and chintz? Could be great. Get creative and whatever you don’t use, return. Be sure to toss a few onto the love seat and armchairs too.

Change the Focus
When you walk into your living room or dining room, what do you see first? Give your guests something to look at other than a plain tablecloth or empty coffee table.

· Veg out. A huge vase of fresh flowers can infuse a room with color.
Scatter smaller vases around the room to create an indoor garden.

· Light up. Hang a new eye-grabbing lighting fixture over the dining room table.

· Spruce up. Set an indoor tropical tree in an empty corner.

· Go big. Replace a small framed print with a statement-making large one.

Play With Patterns
Solid colors -- on carpeting, tablecloths and upholstery -- tend to disappear and make the room look flat. Patterned surfaces add depth, especially when you layer them. For an instant makeover, put a bright Turkish area rug under the coffee table and a muted jacquard runner on top of it. Then drape a multi-stripe silk throw on the couch. You don’t have to pay a fortune either. Check out Craigslist and eBay, and hunt online for sample and warehouse sales.

In less time than it takes to make stuffing, bake pie and roast the turkey, you’ll have completed a one-day home makeover.

Cut a Three-Hour Clean to 30 Minutes

If you had two or three hours to spare, you could easily spend it cleaning your kitchen, bathroom and family room. They are the most heavily used rooms in your home, and they get dirty fast. Or you could spend 10 minutes cleaning each one and use the rest of the time for something a lot more fun.

The trick to speedy cleanups is to reduce the amount of products you use and to clean only what needs to be cleaned. Unless you’re fanatical about removing dust bunnies from under the couch, make that a monthly chore. Mop the kitchen floor twice a month instead of every week, and allot an extra 10 minutes for that task. Meanwhile, you can do a quick and effective cleanup -- either all at once or a little each day -- in no time at all.

Kitchen: Get Gleaming
The secret to a speedy kitchen cleanup is one of the cheapest products around: plain old vinegar. Either white or cider vinegar on a paper towel can clean and shine the sink, counter and appliances -- including stainless steel. (Don’t use on marble, however. It can damage the surface.) Before you start, clear off countertop clutter, and load dirty dishes into the dishwasher.

Dirty floor? You should have time for a quick sweep. But if you want to mop up too, cleaning expert Donna Smallin, author of Cleaning Plain and Simple and the One-Minute Cleaner (Storey Publishing), suggests checking out the new Bissell Steam and Sweep: “It leaves the floor clean and dry in a few minutes.”

Bathroom: Spray, Wipe and Go

Step 1: Pour 1/2 cup of bleach into the toilet, and let it sit.

Step 2: Spray the shower walls and door with daily shower cleaner.

Step 3: In the meantime, focus on the countertop, sink and mirror. You’ll only need one product for all three, according to Smallin: glass cleaner. For the mirror, use a rag, not paper towel, to avoid scratches.

Step 4: Return to the toilet. Scrub the bowl and under the rim with a toilet brush, and flush.

Step 5: Use disinfectant wipes for the outside and the seat.

You’re done!

Family/Living Room: Swipe and Sweep
Quickly vacuum the floor and sofa cushions wherever you see crumbs or pet hair. (If you can’t see it, don’t sweat it. You can do a proper sweep-up later on).

Clear off the coffee table, but don’t bother with furniture polish or oil soap. Just dampen a microfiber cloth with water and swipe it over tables, lamps and any other surfaces.

And for easy clutter reduction, Smallin suggests tossing items that belong elsewhere into a laundry basket -- and taking it somewhere else to put away!

The Stress-free, Low-cost Party Planner

The weather outside may be frightful, but hosting a great holiday party shouldn’t be. If you’re game to entertain friends and family, you can make it festive and simple. How? Don’t do it all. Instead, choose one or two things and do them well -- en masse. Skip the complicated and pricey array of hors d’oeuvres, mixers and decorations, and stick to what you know and love.

Work Ahead
The best parties include good music (make a special playlist), tasty drinks, and above all, your company. Everything else is gravy. Choose simple recipes you can prepare ahead of time in batches. This way, you can spend time with your guests -- not your oven mittens.

Serve up an Activity
Think of small gifts you’d like to whip up for family, teachers and friends -- and invite guests to come and make their own. If you’re a cook, try homemade granola or herb-infused vinegar. Are crafts your forte? Whip up some no-sew felt coasters or rolled beeswax candles. You can find many simple, low-cost recipes and project ideas online. As the host, you assemble the ingredients, instructions and a platter of treats. Ask friends to bring a bottle of wine, and enjoy an afternoon or eve of DIY holiday cheer.

Ditch Tradition
Instead of your usual holiday fest, celebrate the season with a Winter Solstice party. This ancient pagan fire festival marks the moment when the sun is farthest from us, bringing the shortest day of the year, to be followed by gradually longer days.

Embrace the darkness by lighting your front path with brown paper bag luminaries. Fold the top of each lunch-sized bag about 2 inches down, toss in a few good handfuls of sand and nestle votive candles in glass holders inside. Inside, dim the lights and light candles and a roaring fire -- complete with a few fragrant cinnamon sticks. Feed folks warm comfort food that’s easy and inexpensive to make, such as stew or shepherd’s pie. Make a batch of hot cider for kids.

Hit the Road
If you have no room at the inn, take your party a-caroling. Print the lyrics to the handful of songs that everyone knows. Make toasty rosemary-roasted almonds (toss almonds with chopped rosemary, olive oil, a pinch of cayenne and salt, then toast in the oven) and pack them in paper bags. Fill thermoses with extra-toasty hot chocolate and flavored liqueur, then take these goodies and your good cheer to the streets.

Stick to Sweets
You can feed a crowd easily if you don’t have to feed them everything. Lay out a few sweet treats and ask friends who bake to bring their favorite holiday cookies for the table. Limit your bar to prosecco and liqueurs that guests can add to coffee or hot cocoa waiting in carafes. (Don’t forget the marshmallows and whipped cream!) Keep decorations simple: Pour fresh cranberries into glass cylinders, vases or bowls and fix white or cream candles on top.

Brunch After Dark
Most families find themselves more than a bit done -- with shopping, cooking, decorating and preparing -- by December 24. Host a casual Christmas Eve brunch, complete with mimosas, bagels and cream cheese, fruit salad, and quiche you can make or buy ahead. Friends itching to pitch in can bring muffins and other baked goods. Now all that’s left is enjoying the people you love most.