Saturday, November 12, 2011

Small Changes for Big Impact

Just as jewelry is the finishing touch for an outfit, accessories such as light switches, vent covers and doorknobs can be the finishing touches in a room.  Replacing mismatched outlet covers or worn knobs costs little but can make a big impact.

The vent covers, light switches and electrical outlets in my house are beige.  The doorknobs are dull brass.  Beige and dull brass do not work with my color scheme.  Plus, the 35-year-old light switches look cruddy despite my thorough cleaning (thorough as in using a cotton swab to clean in between the "on" and "off" letters) and the doorknobs have beige spots from a previous sloppy paint job.  Overall, very blah.  Some updates are in order!
Doorknobs come in several styles, finishes and price ranges.  I chose a mushroom style knob in brushed nickel for about $9.  Replacing a doorknob is easy, and you only need a screwdriver.  Your knob will have detailed instructions, but the general process to remove the old knob is unscrew two screws, pull the two handles (one on either side of the door) apart, and then remove the center portion.  To install the new knob, follow that process in reverse.  For the strike plate, remove two screws and the old plate, then install the new one with two screws.  You're done!  Allow 20-30 minutes the first time; after that, you can probably finish the job in 10 minutes.
old dull brass knob
new brushed nickel knob in simple mushroom style
 For about $3 each, you can replace the hinges so they match the new knob.  This is super easy as long as your new hinges are the same size and shape as the old.  You might want to take an old hinge to the home improvement store to match it up with new hinges.  Use doorstops or shims to hold the door firmly in place, then remove the bottom hinge to take with you.  The doorstops or shims will also make it easy to replace the hinges if you don't have a helper to hold the door.  With a power screwdriver, you can replace a pair of hinges in five minutes.

Mismatched electrical outlets can be covered with a "decorator" plate.  Sold under the Masque brand for about $2.25, these plates cover the entire outlet.  Take off the old plate, put on the new, and you're done!  Easiest cosmetic fix ever.
white plate on a beige outlet = not pretty
decorator plate looks much better
 Alas, there is no Masque for light switches.  You need to replace the switch itself.  Yes, that means electrical wiring... but it's not as scary or difficult as you might think.  First, shut off the power at the breaker or fuse box.  Back at the switch, flip it to make sure the power is off.  I recommend double-checking with a voltage tester.  You don't want to give new meaning to the word "electrogoth." :P

Remove the wall plate, then remove the two screws holding the switch in place.  Pull the switch out so you can get to the wires.  Before you begin disconnecting anything, you might want to take a photo to ensure you can wire the new switch the same way as the old.
OMG electrical wires!
Replacing the switch is a matter of detaching the wires from the old switch and then attaching them in the same way to the new switch.  For step-by-step photos and/or videos of better quality than I could make, Google "how to replace a light switch."  I replaced my old beige switch with a new "Decora" style white switch for $2.
beige switch looks grubby
new white switch looks much better
For about $22 and one hour of time, the look of the room is freshened.  It's updated, cleaner and sleeker.

For an additional splurge of around $14, I replaced the beige plastic vent cover with a far nicer cover in black steel.
beige plastic looks cheap
black steel is swirly goodness


  1. Very nice attention to detail! One of the first things we did when we bought our house was replace all of the doorknobs. Some were chrome and some were brass. *sigh* Now all are oil-rubbed bronze. We opted for paintable outlet covers in the living room; I just wish you could also paint the outlets themselves.

    The swirly vent cover is so pretty. You are giving me ideas! :)

  2. I love the new heating grate! You have such a great eye for detail, and the after shot looks great. It might be a function of being a long-term renter and not actually being to change that kind of thing, but I tend not to notice those things at all.

  3. Gah, outlets and switches that do not match their covers are a pet peeve of mine. Beige? Really? Why would anyone say "Hmm, I want this new switch, but I want it to look dirty. I think I'll install a beige one." Blah, no no no. Black or white. No beige.

  4. VictorianKitty - Ooh, the oil-rubbed bronze is lovely. I had a hard time deciding between it and brushed nickel. I have paintable Masque outlet covers for my living/dining room. It doesn't have white trim, so I think wall-colored outlets will look better than white. The vent cover was a lucky find that I happened to spot while strolling down an aisle at Home Depot.

    Sabayon - Details are my life, for good and for bad. You'll probably retain your sanity a lot longer not noticing all the little things. ;)

    Tante Fledermaus - I feel the same way about beige. It just looks dirty. And putting a white cover on a beige outlet just makes the outlet look even grubbier by comparison. Apparently "almond" was quite popular when my house was built... but then again, so were dark paneling, orange shag carpet and popcorn ceilings. :P

  5. "Electrogoth," hahaha.
    I never thought I would "love" a vent cover, but I do like that black steel one very much. Love the changes. I have started painting my lightswitch plates and outlet covers.

  6. siouxsie law - Yeah, I never expected to be excited over a vent cover. But I admit to an immediate "gimme gimme" reaction to the black steel one. :)

  7. I came across your blog while looking for my door knobs :). You didn't happen to keep your old knobs and would be willing to sell them? I have been looking for two sets. I love the vent cover you found by the way.

  8. Audra - Yes, I kept the knobs to donate to the local reuse center. I'll be happy to send them to you for the cost of postage. You can email me at baneofgiy at