From Everyday to Elegant: Decorating on a Budget
An elegant home reflecting good taste and personal style doesn't need to cost a fortune! Discover 8 tips to turn your drab furnishings into fabulous designs.
Think Like a Designer
When embarking on a home decorating project, think of the big picture first, but try not to become overwhelmed. Saturate yourself with free ideas to help you find your inspiration, set your priorities, and then begin with one room at a time.
What’s the best way to begin? Choose an element of the room to highlight as a focal point, hunt down some good-quality (but reasonably priced) furniture to fill the room, and don’t be shy with your wall color or afraid to mix old and new when filling your space with accessories. This is your space so make it reflect your essence! Before long you will have created a room within your budget—one that you can be proud of and enjoy for years to come.
Before beginning your design or redecoration project, try to think of how your house flows from one room to the next. This concept of “Architectural Enfilade,” how one room flows seamlessly into another forming a cohesive whole, is often employed by interior designers.
Lighting can make or break even the best designed rooms. To make the most of your home and its design, consider the following three key lighting points and try to employ each in your new room design:
- Ambient lighting infuses a room and gives an overall glow.
- Task lighting provides light for specific activities and areas, such as under-cabinet kitchen lighting.
- Sparkle or spotlights show-off artwork or reflect light.
Armed with these few tips, you’re ready to think like a designer and tackle renovating or redecorating your home! But, to truly think like a designer, you must also be able to recognize your own limitations. If you are facing major home renovations you should consider hiring a professional interior designer. (In most states designers have completed a degree program and are licensed to practice, so they are prepared to face more complex projects.)
To achieve a polished look in your home without needing to pay an interior designer, look to all of the free or low-cost design resources that abound. Check out the interior design books at the library, peruse design magazines at bookstores, and take home tours to see designs put together in a finished home. If you don’t know of any local house tours or don’t want to spend the money, walk through a real estate open house or two for some inspiration. To help choose color schemes, the local art museum may even point you towards an unexpected color palette. And of course, in this era of reality TV there are plenty of design shows to watch. Some of which will help you envision what direction you may not want to take!
Overcome Old Home Quirks
Some older houses have imperfections that may impair your aesthetic vision, like cracks in the ceiling or other items that need repair. Many of these imperfections can be overcome by learning some simple tricks.
- For a problem ceiling, use a ceiling stucco paint to hide the cracks and bumps.
- When tackling a wall that is not flat, build it outwards with two-by-four planks of wood part way up the wall (enough to cover the bulge) then put sheet rock over the planks. Cover up the sheet rock with bead board and top it off with a nice piece of wood to create a shelf. Or for a cheap short cut, cover imperfect walls with fabric.
- For an uneven floor, purchase very small ceramic tiles that can conform to the bumps without breaking.
Any home handyman (or handywoman!) can tackle many of these problems without spending much time or money.
Choose a Focal Point
Just as many older homes have quirks that you’ll no doubt wish to hide, many homes—new and old—have features you’ll want to showcase. Now that you have become a design expert for free and acquired some color and fabric information—look to the room itself and see what it can tell you. If it is a living room with a fireplace, than the fireplace may be the obvious focal point of the room. Look at the flow of the space and see what naturally jumps out at you, it could be a window or an interestingly angled ceiling. If the room doesn’t have a natural focal point, you can usually find or create one to work with—such as a piece of furniture, artwork, or a beautiful rug. Once you have chosen the focal point of the room, create design and decorations assuring that the focal point is highlighted, not hidden.
Quality Furniture for Less
You can find just about any piece of furniture—from end table to four poster bed frame—at estate sales, moving sales, or multi-family garage sale. The trick with these frugal purchases is knowing how to refinish and reupholster furniture, have a husband who can, or know “a guy” with great prices! If you know what to look for you can find a sturdy and beautiful piece of furniture for less by doing some thrifty shopping—then make it your own by reupholstering or repainting. In the end, you’ll end up with a piece of furniture that is completely unique.
Make sure that the piece is made of solid wood—avoid wood veneer or particle board. If it is painted it may be a little more difficult to tell the quality under the paint, so look inside a drawer or ask the previous owner if they painted the furniture. Also, better-quality furniture reveals itself through good construction. Dresser drawers and hutches with dovetail joints instead of nails shows quality workmanship. When in doubt ask lots of questions including:
- The history of the piece
- The original price
- Where the piece was originally purchased
- The date it was purchased
You might not get all the answers, but it is always worth asking the questions. You may find that you are drawn to furniture made during a certain era or in a consistent style like Shaker or French provincial.
Explore Paint Ideas
Bold color choices can add a lot of drama to your home. When choosing colors, don’t be afraid to look at high-end paint brands for unique ideas. If you choose a color from an expensive brand but want to save a little money, you can ask the paint mixer to create the same color with more reasonably priced brand or a with brand that is on sale.
Colors elicit emotions. Build a calming color palette for your bedroom with cooler blue, green, turquoise, or silver shades. For a bit more excitement in the social areas of your home, such the living room or dining room, choose warm red, orange, yellow, or gold colors.
Neutrals work well with conservative designs (try white, ivory, black, gray, brown, and beige). When using neutrals in a room, add a little pop with one strong color accent in key places. For example, a calm neutral bedroom filled with ivory and gray tones on the walls, quilt, and floor, can be brought to life with some plum in the bed sheets, curtains, and a few accessories.
Remember, paint isn’t permanent! You can always paint over your design if the color on the walls is nothing like you were expecting. (A note of caution: The most difficult color tones to work with are often yellows. They are the most deceiving because they pick up on sunlight—often looking much brighter on the wall than they did on the chip in the store.)
Mix Old and New Styles
Just as there are few rules to break when choosing color, the same is true when mixing and matching accessories and furnishings. Today it is possible to have a couch from the early 1900s in the same room with modern accessories. Choose furniture, art, and accessories that have meaning for you. Problems usually arise when we sway away from our instincts to impress others or appease bossy relatives or friends. Your style will consistently shine through your choices whether they are a 1930s hutch or a bold modern painting.
The Finished Product
If you follow your own style and design sense, shop around for a few choice pieces of furniture and accessories, and choose colors that inspire you, you will make your house into a home for very little money! Trust your instincts and keep your eyes open for ideas. And, most importantly, enjoy the process of decorating your home; there is always a new room to conquer or redesign!
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