Isn’t it fun to flip through the pages of decorating magazines and books and dream about how you would decorate your home if money were no object? I’ve got great news: Good design doesn’t have to be expensive. You can transform your home into a sanctuary that makes your heart skip a beat even if you have a limited budget. The secret? Knowing where to splurge and where to cheat to get the most from every dollar.
Three Places to Make an Investment
1. The Room’s Focal Point
I’ve learned that when the focal point of a room is arresting, the rest of the room looks better just by association. So this is the spot where you want to invest your decorating dollars. If you’re not quite sure where the room’s focal point is, think about where your eyes go, and rest, when you walk into the space. That’s your focal point.
If you’re decorating a bedroom, for example, most often the focal point will be the bed. If so, invest in a bed frame that makes a statement. Then dress it in a bedding ensemble that sets the color palette and style for the rest of the room.
With the budget dollars you have left, finish off the room with less expensive pieces that complement your bed. Do you have any furniture languishing in out-of-the-way places that you could move to your bedroom, like a little writing desk to use as a bed stand? Is artwork gathering dust in your storage room or hung in a low-visibility spot? Try hanging it in your bedroom to give it a new lease on life. Sometimes just moving your furnishings about your home, re-imagining their placement and usage, will allow you to transform a space without spending a dime.
2. Items that Bring You Bliss
A good friend is absolutely crazy about fine art and would love to fill her home with original paintings from all the artists she admires. However, there’s that sticky detail of budget: she can’t afford to. So, she has come up with a great plan to pursue her passion for paintings while also staying true to her budget. As she has slowly redecorated each room in her older home, she’s picked a piece of artwork to serve as the new room’s highlight. Then, she’s been thrifty with all her other design decisions in the space.
When you’re dreaming of how to decorate your space, what kinds of pieces get you going? An antique armoire? A super-stylish sofa? A prized piece of antique Asian pottery? Make your investment there.
3. Pieces that Don’t Have a Good Low-Cost Substitute
I’ve found that when it comes to some furnishings, there are no cheap substitutes. For example, I firmly believe that you get what you pay for when it comes to upholstered furniture. When you invest in a sofa or chair with a well-made frame and cushions, covered with a high-quality fabric, it will look great for years. But if you get a piece that is badly made with low-quality materials and substandard textiles, it may look OK for a bit, but it won’t be long before the seats look squished, the frame sags and the fabric wears.
Something amazing about high-quality upholstered furniture is that it sets the tone for everything else in the room. You can pair an exquisite sofa with a ho-hum side table, and the table ends up looking marvelous just by its association with the sofa.
Another piece of furniture that I think is well worth the investment is a large wooden chest, like a bookcase or hutch. These big, bold beauties make average rooms arresting because they are so dramatic.
Three ways you can cheat
1. Get creative with artwork
I’ve learned two important things about artwork. First, it is the most effective way to give a redecorated room that finished feel. I just don’t think rooms are “done” unless they feature art that tells the visitor a bit about the home’s inhabitants. Second, you can cover your walls with great artwork without spending hardly anything. In fact, I have lots of things hung on my walls that cost very little, such as plates or prints.
There are so many ways you can infuse your home with interesting art without spending much. For example, a friend and her husband attend lots of formal dinners for work, and she always admires the lovely menu cards placed at their tables. So she collected her favorites and slipped them into inexpensive frames from the hobby store. They look amazing perched on a shelf above her stove, a great conversation starter when she has guests.
I bet you have a treasure trove of photos you could use in decorating. A friend spiced up her sofa table with framed photos of her ancestors. And I love how she tossed unframed photos into a silver server, where they are just begging to be looked through. I have framed and hung lots of mementos in my home, and every time I pass by them they remind me of the wonderful people I share my life with. What do you have that you could put on your walls?
2. Repurpose old furniture
I am not crafty, so I’m always amazed by the things friends and customers do to give old furniture new life. Do you have old pieces of furniture you can remake and use in your rooms to add style and character? Maybe a chair that’s covered in an outdated fabric that you can reupholster? An old dresser that you can brighten with a coat of paint, like turquois or coral or emerald? A bookcase you can zip up by lining the back with fun fabric or paper?
If not, scout for interesting pieces at flea markets, tag sales or even by the curb on large-trash day. When a friend decided to decorate her daughters’ rooms, she committed herself to using mostly vintage furnishings that she could buy for a song, then remake into chic pieces of art. She scored big when she found a lovely needlepoint chair and mirror.
3. Accent with inexpensive accessories
When it comes to accessorizing rooms, mix one or two beautiful quality pieces in with fun little inexpensive surprises. Try anchoring a display around a fine accessory, like an antique pitcher or small sculpture. Then, fill in with cheater pieces, like faux ferns in a pot, a decorative plate propped in an easel or a fun bowl filled with moss balls.
Dotting my home with trendy, inexpensive accents is my favorite way to cheat. This spring, you’ll probably find low-cost brightly colored pottery tucked in here and there in my living room, and bargain-priced glass vases at the center of my dining-room table, holding super-inexpensive cash-and-carry flowers.
Treating yourself to low-cost accents allows you to pep up your rooms without a guilty conscience. These aren’t the pieces you’re going to pass down to the grandkids, but they are sure fun for now!
The column has been adapted from Mary Carol Garrity’s blog at www.nellhills.com. She can be reached at [email protected]