How To Make a Small House Look Bigger (and a Big House Look Huge)

Kim J. Clark

It’s all about going big or going home on the “Bargain Block” episode “Minimalist and Dollhouse Completed.”

The show centers on renovation specialists and real-life partners Keith Bynum and Evan Thomas‘ efforts to save Detroit housing one block at a time. They buy mostly crumbling houses for ridiculously low prices, then renovate and sell them—often for under $100,000.

The home improvement specialists usually stick to a tried and true formula when overhauling a property. Yet, in the latest episode, all bets are off.

Instead, the team works to make a small house, which it dubs “The Minimalist,” look bigger. And it tries making an already big house, known as “Doll House,” appear even larger through brilliant color and wild design. The question is: Which home will sell faster—if at all?

They plan to redo The Minimalist with a simple design to create the illusion of space. Though the plain aesthetic sets the artistic Bynum’s teeth on edge, they estimate they can spend about $75,000 to buy the house and complete a renovation. After that, the plan is to sell it for around $99,900, making almost $25,000 in profit.

Their Doll House project was initially intended to be a duplex income property. But then they find out how much it will cost to legally separate each unit’s electricity, plumbing, and HVAC systems. (It’s a lot!) So they decide to turn the duplex into one family home. It’s their biggest Detroit project yet, with five bedrooms and two baths spread over 1,800 square feet. Yet they need to make it feel even larger.

Bynum and Thomas opt to take a risk to make the home stand out by going big with color and design. The result is a mix of zebra prints with florals and colors like green, pink, and yellow!

The “Doll House” before renovation.


As the “Bargain Block” team struggles to jump through extraordinary hoops to make these projects work, it comes up with some fabulous ideas you might want to try in your home.

The longer it’s been on the market, the lower the bid

“The Minimalist” house before renovation


The couple found a petite 1,000-square-foot home in better condition than most homes they’ve renovated (despite appearances). And so the owners were asking $35,000.


Watch: Exclusive: ‘Survivor’ Winner Kim Wolfe on Her New Show, ‘Why the Heck Did I Buy This House?’


But the show’s real estate agent, Shea Hicks-Whitfield, was skeptical about the price since the home had lingered on the market for quite some time. In addition, the front yard has become overgrown.

“You know how I do,” she tells Bynum and Thomas. “I will definitely shoot for $25,000 since it’s been on the market for a while. Who wouldn’t take $25,000 at this point?”

Sure enough, Hicks-Whitfield works her magic and gets the house for $25,000—$10,000 below the list price. The takeaway for homebuyers is to always look at how long a home’s been on the market before making an offer.

Less is more in a small house

Minimalist kitchen
Check out the minimalist kitchen.

The Minimalist House has two bedrooms and one bath. While the team knows most homebuyers want a third bedroom and a second bath, it believes it can make this place work for a single person or a couple.

“The big key on the design for such a small house is to make sure that we keep it minimal, to not overcrowd the spaces,” says Thomas.

“The small rooms in the house call for a minimalist design to make it feel more spacious,” adds Bynum.

They agree to go with plain cabinets and a simple backsplash in the kitchen, an area where they usually prefer elaborate detail. The result? Space!


Soft textures and colors make a home feel cozy yet spacious

Soft, two tone design
Soft, two-tone design

“Light wood, neutral colors, soft textures, and tone-on-tone design elements will be perfect for this space, but a struggle for me,” says Bynum, who loves bright colors and bold patterns.

It’s incredible how comfy and cozy the space looks without feeling cramped.

“I’m trying to keep it very simple, elegant, clean,” he says. And it works! There are no distracting angles or contrasts here to make the area feel cluttered.

‘Broom down’ your walls

Keith Bynum displays the
Keith Bynum displays the “broom down” technique.


Uh-oh, the team notices a problem as it begins to paint the interior walls.

“The Minimalist House has some really bad texture on the walls,” says Bynum. “It’s obvious that, over the years, a lot of people have patch textured, tried to match, and failed miserably, so my idea is to use a technique called ‘broom down.'”

So what is it? “You literally just drag a broom down from ceiling to floor over wet mud to create texture,” Bynum explains.

“The fun thing about broom texture is it kind of reads like rice paper when it’s finished, which is a very high-end finish,” he continues. “It’s extremely expensive and very hard to put up, so we can mimic that same vibe. And we’ll paint it stark white. So it will be very simple, but there will still be just a little hint of texture as you look around.”

Save the bathtub

Refinished claw foot tub
The refinished claw-foot tub


The Doll House comes with a 100-year-old claw-foot tub painted innumerable times and in need of repair. But the team is all about rescuing it.

It uses a chemical remover to strip the tub so the team can reglaze and refinish it in forgiving black. The vintage tub adds authenticity and character to the bathroom and would have cost thousands of dollars to purchase new.

Do the ‘less is more’ and ‘more is more’ concepts work?

The open houses for both homes are full of enthusiastic shoppers overwhelmed by the “Bargain Block” team’s talent and ingenuity. But time will tell if it was all worthwhile.

The Doll House’s outrageous color combos and design dazzled open house visitors, as did the price. An expertly decorated and wholly renovated two-story family house for $159,000? Such a deal!

Doll House, after
The Doll House, after


Doll House living room
Doll House living room


But no one had made an acceptable offer before the episode aired. Still, the “Bargain Block” team is confident. After purchasing it for $25,000 and spending $90,000 on the renovation, the team believes it’ll sell for at least $159,000 and make a $44,000 profit, minimum.

The Minimalist House—listed at $99,900—also had no offers by air time.

Minimalist House, after
The Minimalist House, after

And a little sleuthing on® revealed that the house is still on the market—at $110,000! We’ll let you know when it sells.

The post ‘Bargain Block’ Secrets: How To Make a Small House Look Bigger (and a Big House Look Huge) appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

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