How Much Is "The $300 Makeover" Really Worth?


Last week the New York Times Home & Garden section featured a profile on Benjamen Segal, a guy who had relocated to a one-bedroom apartment Williamsburg and was “too busy starting a new job to worry about several heaps of belongings dumped in the living room during the move.” Then he got laid off. Along with having “cut back on weekend trips and visits to restaurants,” Segal suffered from a nasty case of cabin fever.

And it turns out he’s not alone. In fact, this is becoming such an NYC trend, that the Times approached a bunch of fancy New York-area designers with a difficult challenge — makeover an unattractive room in one of five unemployed people’s apartments for $300 or less to cheer them up. Along with Segal’s bachelor pad in the ‘burg, designers tackled rooms in Murray Hill, Downtown Brooklyn, Long Island, and the West Village. After the jump, we’ll rate the results (and ask you to do the same in the comments!).

1. One-Bedroom in Williamsburg, Brooklyn Our take: A duct tape rug?! Only in Williamsburg, kids. Not that we mind it. Also: Color blocks really can do wonders to a wall. Our favorite line: “‘Golden yellow is a motivating color,’ Mr. Coleman said. ‘I think it should help get him going.'” Our final verdict: While we’re not crazy about designer Christopher Coleman’s aesthetic, Segal’s new digs do look a lot more grown up — and fully unpacked — than the previous incarnation.

2. West Village Studio Our take: It looks cleaner, but not necessarily different. Designer Hilary Unger shifted an ottoman, installed some bookshelves and an Ikea chandelier, and swapped out a real desk chair for a chunky vintage one. Big whoop. Our favorite line: “Ms. Unger saw potential in objects that were stylish but in need of cleaning, so she took Ms. Rich’s cotton dhurrie home for a wash and spent half an hour scrubbing a flea market coffee table with Murphy Oil Soap.” Our final verdict: This was worth more like $75. Also: Paint is expensive!

3. Shared Apartment in Murray Hill Our take: This went from Ikea to Pottery Barn thanks to stuff from Ikea that looks very Pottery Barn. Does that make sense? Our favorite line: “‘Jennifer is a high-octane powerhouse with a playful streak of sex kitten in her,’ Ms. Griffin said. ‘The room was about as boring as you could get.'” Our final verdict: Good call by designer Elaine Griffin: smokey blue walls are much less depressing than beige ones. Our only issue is with the $260 chest from Ikea — that’s a lot of coin for a TV stand.

4. Downtown Brooklyn One-Bedroom Our take: Dude! It looks like they just moved stuff around! If we were her, we’d be totally pissed we didn’t get more free loot! Our favorite line: “‘It was as if she was choosing each item for its individual value and not seeing them as a whole,’ Mr. Thiergartner said. ‘She got logjammed. She had no organizational floor plan at all.'” Our final verdict: Designers Benjamin Bradley and David Thiergartner definitely made her apartment more organized — but it’s not as dramatic as we would have liked. It’s like when people wear makeup to look more “natural.” Weird.

5. Two-Story House on Long Island Our take: We had no idea before now, but stencils are pretty! Also, WTF was going on with this place before Fawn Galli arrived? Our favorite line: “‘That night when my husband came home we spent time in that room,’ she said, ‘which we haven’t done in a long time.'” Wah wah. Our final verdict: Stencils are also expensive — at least if you have someone else do them. We’re feeling inspired to DIY our own living room. This space looks 100 percent better, but there was really only one way for this one to go.