You Ask, Vern Answers

Celebrity designer Vern Yip answers your decorating questions.

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The best and cheapest way to instantly add light to a room is to hang a large mirror on the wall opposite a natural light source. Designer: Vern Yip

Q: Our kitchen has no windows, and receives minimal lighting from the bedroom and living room. We hate to have to switch lights on every time we are in the kitchen. Is there a way to get sunlight reflected into the kitchen so that it looks more natural?
— Valerie and Freddy, Boston, Mass.

A: The best and cheapest way to instantly add light to a room is to hang a large mirror on the wall opposite a natural light source. If you have windows in your living room and bedroom that add light to your kitchen, put a mirror on your kitchen wall that receives most of this light. By doing this, you bounce all of the light coming into the room back into the dark space. Additionally, stick with a polished metal color for knobs and light fixtures. Polished surfaces also do a great job of reflecting both natural and artificial light. Semi-gloss or high-gloss paint on your walls will also help add a little more light into the space.

Q: My home was completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. I will finally be moving into a new home. I have a decorating budget of $45,000. Could you give me some tips on getting the most for my budget while making my home stylish and comfortable for a multi-generational household?
— Sherrie, Slidell, La.

A: The best tip for making limited resources go a long way is to create space plans for the rooms in your home that you are going to furnish before you ever make a single purchase. It's critical that you utilize your financial resources smartly, and the best way to do that is to ensure that your purchases are right for the rooms' dimensions and fulfill the function that you need them to. After doing that, create budgets for each room and begin investigating where you can access quality items at good prices. Remember that just because something is inexpensive doesn't mean that it is a good deal — you want to make quality purchases that will last to get the most for your money. Many national showrooms change out their floor samples twice a year, so go in to the stores, make friends with the sales associates and managers and ask when the floors will be changing out. This can be an excellent way of getting well-crafted furniture at a fraction of the normal price. Closeout and outlet stores can also be an excellent source if you're on a budget, but be sure you know the quality of items you are purchasing at all times.

Q: I am updating my 1973 home and will be installing new kitchen countertops. There is a pre-made, molded laminate that resembles stone and is really inexpensive (10 percent the cost of laminate or solid surface — $500 vs. $5000 is a huge difference). Will I be hurting myself when I go to sell by opting for the "quick fix" now?
— Janie, Longwood, Fla.

A: Countertops are often considered the "work horse" of the kitchen and many homebuyers look for quality countertops when they are shopping for a home. While granite and other solid-surface countertops have been considered the gold standard for quite some time now, other materials like laminate can offer a good look for a lower price. It is important to remember that consumers in the housing market are more educated now than ever before and will likely be informed on what your house is worth material-wise — which does not necessarily mean that a pre-made, molded laminate is a bad choice. It's always important to know what homes in your area, and specifically on your street, would sell for and to access comparables. If the norm for your area is granite countertops, it may not be a smart idea to put in laminate. If the norm is laminate, putting in granite countertops may end up being an investment that you wouldn't necessarily recuperate. The key is to understand your area and to make a decision that will make you competitive in what is turning out to be a difficult housing market.

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