It's my wife's fault.

At some point over the past couple of years, she began watching Trading Spaces, The Learning Channel's successful reality TV show that features neighbors redecorating rooms in each other's houses -- with the help of professional interior designers, carpenters, and a thousand bucks.

I used to just watch "The Reveal," the climactic conclusion of each episode, during which the homeowners are led, eyes closed, into their transformed rooms. Then they're told to open their eyes, which is followed by reactions that range from spasmodic joy to seething anger (because, for example, the walls have been decorated with hay).

But then I began watching more and more of the show. And then we moved -- also my wife's fault -- so now we have several boring, white-walled rooms that are just crying out for, say, rich deep-red fabric with matching paint and soft lighting, as seen in Vern's creation from episode 45 of season two...

[At this point, I feel it is important to note that I do not often talk about fabric. Not that I am uncomfortable with such topics, or feel that a discussion of home décor needs to be accompanied with the casual mentioning that I played linebacker in high school. However, if I'm watching Trading Spaces (or its cousin, While You Were Out) alone, I keep a video of the Super Bowl in the VCR and hit play if someone walks in the room. Even if it's my two-year-old son, because he's already begun publicly repeating naughty words I say in the heat of a traffic jam; I don't need him, in the middle of a family reunion, to tell everyone that his daddy likes what Frank did with the ceiling in episode 10 of season two, but thinks Doug's jungle room -- while interesting for a night or two -- is cheesier than Graceland.]

The average viewer of these types of shows can't help but wonder: Can I create such changes in my own house? More importantly, can I afford to make such modifications -- after all, not everyone has a grand to blow on each room, let alone free access to carpenters, seamstresses, and artists.

So as we close out Buy, Sell, or Home? month at the Fool, I thought I'd do some preliminary research into how the average Joe can decorate like a Hilda, Genevieve, Laurie, or Kia. I've done some reading and asked for advice from some friends, including Dayana Yochim, my stylish colleague and fellow co-author of The Motley Fool Personal Finance Workbook, who has actually done some of this stuff. But before we start, let me make a couple of points:

  • If you have some great tips or know of excellent resources, post them on the Interior Design/Decorating discussion board. And if you have a super-duper home improvement idea, enter our latest contest and you could win $500.

  • If you haven't refinanced your home in the past couple of years, now might be the time to do it. Mortgage rates are at ridiculous lows, and cutting a percentage point or more off your interest rate could provide some extra dough for home improvement. (Visit our Home Center for more information.)

And now, on with the tips.

Tip 1: Don't be afraid
At the risk on infringing on a Nike (NYSE:NKE) copyright, the first piece of advice is to just do it. Try your hand at funky designs with cool colors. Paint can cover many sins. If you're not happy with the outcome, cover it up and start all over. The more you try, the more you'll learn.

Find some old furniture that is sitting in your attic and do something wacky with it. Turn that old dresser into an entertainment center. Paint that unused chair and hot-glue old army men to the sides. Just goof around. If you don't like the final product, throw it away or give it to your arch-nemesis for Christmas. You weren't using the furniture anyhow.

Tip 2: Steal people's ideas
Keep a folder of designs, tips, arrangements, fabrics, art, and furniture that you like. Cut pictures out of magazines and catalogs. Copy pictures from design books you check out of the library. Visit the Before/After galleries of the Trading Places and While You Were Out websites (or those of any other home-improvement program).

You may not be able to re-create their ideas exactly (and, of course, we would never encourage such lawsuit-generating behavior at The Motley Fool), but focus on the details that are most attractive to you. What is it, specifically, that you like? Once you've zeroed in on the most attractive features, use them as a basis for something you could do on your own.

Tip 3: Alternative curtains and pillows
Changing curtains is an easy way to change the look of a room. But standard curtains are expensive, and don't always work with huge windows. So Dayana used twin bedspreads and even long tablecloths for cool drapes. They are cheaper, and you can swap out patterns when you get bored. They are easily attached using curtain ring clips. Or you could use special fabric tape.

New pillows can also enliven a room. Dayana has enough pillows to cushion the falls of a season's worth of Fear Factor contestants, but she hasn't purchased a cushion cover in years. She makes them out of fabric from thrift stores -- and by fabric, I mean blouses, skirts, sheets, felt, costumes, and slow-moving customers.

Tip 4: Know where to find inexpensive materials
Haunt thrift stores, yard sales, dumps, estate sales, farm auctions, and junkyards. Don't evaluate stuff based on how it looks -- think of what you could do to it. If you're looking for a certain piece of furniture, keep the required measurements in your wallet or purse, and look for something that fits the rough outline -- but don't worry if it isn't the right color, has the right features, or even smells good. You can change all that later.

Also, if you want to save time and money, you'll find some surprisingly nice and affordable accent pieces at places like Target (NYSE:TGT), Kohl's (NYSE:KSS), Ross (NASDAQ:ROST), TJ Maxx, or Marshalls. And check out the stores' websites for online-only deals. My wife and I also had luck with and (NASDAQ:OSTK) (a Motley Fool Select stock) from which we purchased good-quality rugs (as my wife says, "It's art for your feet!"). But before you purchase, search the Internet for coupons.

If you will be painting a room, check out the returned and mismixed paint bin at your hardware store. You might find a color that inspires you for well under $5 per gallon -- up to 75% savings!

Tip 5: Use what you have
Look through your attic, basement, garage, drawers, closets, and secret lairs for items that you genuinely appreciate but have yet to find a place for. Perhaps it's your first toy truck, which you've kept in a box all these years. Or maybe a family heirloom that deserves public display. And it could be time to find a decorative use for your marble collection. Whatever it is, find a way to add it to existing furniture for a new look, or find ways to display your knickknacks that will look cool without being kitschy.

One of the easiest ways to re-do your house using existing contents is simple rearranging. But we're not talking about moving the TV to the other side of the room. Try moving furniture to completely different parts of the house. What would it be like to have the sectional in your bedroom? What about moving your bedroom to the basement? And your office to the bathroom (some people get their best ideas in the shower)?

Well, that's all we have time for today, folks. Go hit the craft stores, hardware stores, Goodwill stores, and neighbors' trash. And if you have great ideas of your own, don't forget to post on the Interior Design/Decorating discussion board or enter our home-improvement contest.

Robert Brokamp and his wife, Elizabeth, would like the producers of Trading Spaces to know that they (the Brokamps) are entertaining, personable, photogenic, and longing to have their basement invigorated. Furthermore, the Brokamps' neighbors are also entertaining, personable, photogenic, and longing for a voluptuous zen bedroom. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.