An escape to the islands is one way to deal with the winter blahs—and hey, we're not knocking that approach. But if your forecast calls for hours (and hours, and more hours) spent on home turf with the heat cranked high, you don't need to think of it as a jail sentence. Even on the tightest of budgets, it's easy to transform your space into a true refuge from all that's dark, dreary, and digit-numbingly cold. Just try these ideas for hibernation at its finest—you may not even want winter to end.
You add layers to protect against the winter chill outside, so why not take the same approach with your home? A patterned runner—or any pretty piece of fabric you fancy—livens up a tablecloth in the dining room and gives the illusion of warmth, says Lindsay Milner, an interior designer in Sarasota, Florida. Window valances help a space feel less drafty and more colorful. In the bathroom, bring extra towels out of hiding and hang one color atop another for a neat, layered look.
Bare wood floors make a sleek statement all year-round, but winter is the right time to change things up with several throw rugs. They can add texture, color, and pattern for visual interest—not to mention "a warmer walk," says designer Milner.
Speaking of cold toes, a sheepskin rug adds a "warm, soft element" to the look and feel of any space, says design blogger Barbie Steffen of Hoboken, New Jersey. Best place to drop one? Bedside, for a more comfy transition from snug slumber to chilly morning. They're also great thrown over an ottoman where you can tuck your toes in while reading.
Chimney sealed? Even a technically unused hearth can still bring warmth to a room. Group pillar candles of various sizes and heights in a fireplace for a display that's the next best thing to a toasty fire. Place a mirror behind the candles to enhance the luminary effect (check local thrift stores to score a cheap one). Or arrange candle groupings on side tables, buffets, or in a neat line down the center of a dining table or kitchen counter.
A fragrant brew of spices will keep your space smelling as cozy as it feels—and for next to no cost. Just combine orange peels, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom, and water in a saucepan, and let it simmer through the day or during a get-together. Or try an essential-oil diffuser for a similar effect.
It's hard to beat fresh flowers for adding warmth and color to any space, no matter how small the budget. Oriental lilies offer a lot of bloom for your buck. They last for days and are wonderfully fragrant, and you can pluck off spent petals while fresh blooms are still emerging. Disassemble an inexpensive mixed bouquet from the grocery store and place flowers in small vases or tea cups, jelly jars, and other repurposed vessels for petite bursts of color in every corner.
Crowded furniture can make a room feel too busy or smaller than it really is—but on the other hand, unused space can give a room an uninvitingly chilly feel in winter. Try closing up spaces between pieces, snuggling them in toward one another in the center of the room. (And always avoid the "waiting room" look of all your furniture pushed back against the walls.) Result: an arrangement that's "better designed for conversation," says designer Debra Lesinski of Clarence, New York.
There's a very thin line indeed between a cozy night and cabin fever. Tread on the right side by keeping one of your family's favorite board games, a deck of cards, or a puzzle on a coffee table to preempt doldrums and encourage together time. Sub in a new game every couple weeks—before anyone has a chance play the "bored" card. "Add some comfy pillows and you have a place to come together each day that is fun and comfortable," says Amy Hilbrich Davis, a mother of seven in Kansas City, Missouri, and founder of inspiringmoms.com.
When kids or guests come in from the cold, nothing sets a homey, relaxed tone like having a warm beverage of choice at the ready. Your supplies can even do double-duty as a decorative element—just arrange them in a basket or on a pretty tray, says Kelly Porter of Porter House Designs in Baltimore, Maryland. "I display a collection of mugs with cinnamon sticks, hot cocoa mix and mini-marshmallows, and a variety of tea bags," she says. Just the smell of hot chocolate can warm you up!
It might sound counterintuitive, but there's something about the fresh greenery of the (frigid) outdoors that cozies up (duly heated) indoors. "Somehow seeing pine branches in lovely urns and buckets around the house makes chilly days seem warmer," says Candy Weston, a designer and mom of two in West Burlington, Vermont. Weston adds branches or twigs for shape, height, and texture, and wraps birch bark around canning jars filled with pine boughs for woodsy arrangements. "A centerpiece made of these with votive candles on chargers is stunning all winter through," she says.
Clutter may be a stylish home's arch-enemy, but in winter you've got a little more freedom to take a reprieve from fashionable austerity. In other words, take the opportunity to pad your nest with favorite things—like those gorgeous photography tomes you relegated to the shelves awhile back and haven't browsed since. "Books are my personal favorite," says designer Weston. "Having them around the house always adds warmth." A surprising combination of titles and topics, stacked in a common area, might even pique your creative spirit: an art book next to a cookbook next to a beloved collection of poems or short stories.
By default or design, your bedroom is likely the most snuggle-inspiring spot in your home. But who wouldn't want to take it up a notch when the temps drop (and drop, and drop)? Start by trading out those crisp cotton-percale sheets for a flannel set, which can't be beat for warmth under the covers on winter nights. Add an extra blanket across the foot of the bed, either over or under the comforter (your feet will thank you). If you're really cold-blooded, enlist the secret weapon: a heating pad. Preheat before you hit the sack, and then switch off the device before lights out. Your achy-from-shoveling-snow muscles will also thank you.
The first rule of cheap chic = removable pillow covers. They make seasonal decor change a cinch. For a cuddlier look and feel, swap in ones made of deliciously tactile fabrics like velvet, chenille, suede, or—best of all—faux fur. If you're feeling crafty, recycled sweaters from the thrift store can easily be transformed into fetching pillow-wear.
As natural gathering spots (and birthplace of hot-from-the-oven cookies), kitchens tend to have an inherently cozy aura. But if yours needs a little oomph, try a pendant light hung low over a table or bar area, says Susan Serra of Susan Serra Associates Inc. in Northport, New York. "It's done all the time in Scandinavia for that cozy feeling and it looks, and feels, nice," she says. In a breakfast nook, change out seat cushions for ones in darker colors and/or plush fabrics, "perfect to linger on at the table," she says. For a finishing, conversation-piece touch, display a favorite cookbook or two—say, one devoted to soup, comfort foods, or pretty much any title by the Barefoot Contessa.
Keep snow and slush where it belongs—outside—by leaving wet footwear at the door. Place one bin in your entryway for the wet shoes and boots and another one that is stocked with cozy, indoors-only kicks. "I like to supply slippers for everyone in the family, plus a couple of pairs for guests," says Christina Salway of Eleven Two Eleven Design in Brooklyn, New York.
Potted plants add brightness and a welcome reminder of warmer weather to come in any room of the house, says Salway. Small citrus trees, like Meyer lemon or calamondin orange, do especially well in pots (you'll want to move them outside in the summer), and can even bear fruit throughout the winter with the right care. "It's wonderful to come home to a little green when you've seen so much snow and slush all day long," Salway says.
So your budget isn't quite up to installing heated-tile floors? Fret not. Take advantage of January's white-sale blitz and outfit your bathroom with bath sheets (bigger and often plusher than regular towels), a new, thicker bathmat, and any other creature comforts that will help you shake off the winter blahs.
That Arts & Crafts rocker that your aunt handed down to you years ago? Or your grandmother's Art Deco jewelry box? Take them out of hiding. "This might be an odd thing to hear a designer say, but I think some of the coziest things I own are my well-worn, hand-me-down pieces," says Sarah Early of Dodeline Design in Charleston, South Carolina. "I love mixing these in with the newer items and creating a space that is completely unique to me." So feel free to exhume an old, adored furnishing or decorative item and see how it can bring surprising warmth, charm, and eclecticism to any space.
Homemade garland adds a dash of festivity and playfulness to your home in the long, dark days of winter. It's so easy to make, and fun for a group to work on together—and you can fashion it out of stuff you have around the house like mini-cupcake liners, old magazines, construction or origami paper, tissue, felt, and much more. (Search online for design inspiration and how-tos.) String it up to add some colorful whimsy to kids' rooms, mantles or windows, or even a bathroom mirror. No need to wait for a party—but you may become inspired to have one!