Each time I move into a new home, there are two things I must do right away. First and foremost, I set up and dress my bed. My theory: if nothing else gets done today, I can at least have a comfy, clean bed ready for my tired body. Secondly, I must put art on the walls. This can be challenging, of course, because furniture is not in its final place. I don’t throw everything up at once, but I place pieces on walls where they “fit.” It can involve a few more holes in the wall than necessary as I think through my collections and move furniture. I am slowly improving my patience with having the walls filled, and have learned that placing furniture may be the wiser first step. But nowhere feels like home to me until fixtures are out, and art is hung.
One of the most important things I do for myself is to make my living space a home, full of familiar items and those which reflect me. I have eclectic taste, and I lean toward a vintage look, with bigger sturdy pieces bought as new (bed, sofa), with many older accent or second-hand refurbished pieces to accompany them. I am by no means a professional decorator, and having moved houses many times in my adult life, I have had both practice and a few disasters (normally with paint color!). And like many of us, I live with financial limitations. Walking into a furniture store is one of my least favorite activities, but for me, I have found that surrounding myself with warmth, color, and unique pieces is a large component of what makes me feel safe and comfortable.
Decorating and setting one’s home can be incredibly expensive. It is easy to get caught up in a trend, be drawn toward a particular piece of art, or feel the need to have a matched set of items in a room. I grew up with furniture that was all handed down from family: nothing matched except the bunk beds my sister and I had. I was used to having several things in a room that did not perfectly suit each other, and I liked living that way.
It would fascinate me to visit a home where everything was the same pattern, or someone had a new living room or bedroom set. I could not get used to that look, and as I moved into college housing, matching patterns and new things were never a priority. We took what we could get or what was available in our already furnished dorm rooms. That was the closest thing I ever had to matching furniture!
My love of décor started after I moved into a fabulous third-floor apartment, the top floor of an old mansion that was now hidden in the middle of an apartment complex. The angles of the windows, the hardwood floors, the big open living/kitchen space, and the idea that I needed to fill it with furniture were a fun and exciting challenge. And I had zero money, was just out of college, and working as a receptionist…so began the quest to decorate with very limited finances. Here are a few of my ideas for home decorating on a budget.
I collected many used items from family, such as the kitchen table I grew up eating at – this has followed me to nearly every apartment since. A used but still comfortable futon and mattress. My old twin bed from my parents’ house, some impressionist art, kitchen items from a thrift store, and box-store framed art. As I moved into new places, I “honed” my craft and learned what I liked and didn’t. I still change tastes to this day, and items that once thrilled me can lose my interest after a few years. Some of these I will donate to thrift stores or give friends. Others I have held onto through the decades and have repainted or redone to update them.
Paint is also an easy way to add brightness to a room. I found certain colors that have been with me for many years now, and have used them in different capacities in each place I have lived. It is handy to know that a color I used years ago can be matched still at the bigger or smaller paint stores, and that now we can buy more environmentally friendly options. I try to wait for sales on my favorite paints before buying them, and tend to stick in the same color families. One budget-friendly option is that stores will have inventories of returned or errors in colors, and those can be purchased for less than full-price. The only trick is that whatever is there is the color you get, and the job has to be done with what is available. And yes, I have had to completely re-paint a room once the color dried. But I did get it right on the 2nd attempt! I have also taken two colors and combined them to make a completely new color (again, you’ve only got the amount of paint in the can to work with!). Painting an accent wall is an easy way to add a new element without changing the color of a whole room. Adding old wood from a barn or floor to a wall can also add texture.
Numerous stores have old inventory or collections of preserved wood from older buildings. Carpet and flooring retail shops will often have remnants that can be purchased at a discount. My parents just bought gorgeous oak flooring for their new kitchen this way, a huge savings on something they otherwise would not be able to afford!
A rule I follow for myself is to never buy anything at full price. I am a big fan of the sale and clearance. One-of-a-kind items, artwork, furniture that is not-quite-perfect, lamps that have small nicks or broken pieces – these are my favorites. My best deal was a lamp from TJ Maxx that was $7.00 because the base had been glued after breaking. My second-favorite? A gorgeous hand-painted dresser from Pier 1, originally $400, but priced at $50 because it had been dropped from the truck to the ground. A few screws to re-align the drawers and supports, and it was like new. I bought my new acacia-wood bed in the “bargain barn” at a fabulous artisan furniture store in Albuquerque, ½ off its full price because there was a tiny gouge in the headboard. It’s not noticeable unless I point it out to someone! Another of my living room chairs was 60% off because there are small rips in the fabric. These are easily hidden with a pillow. My colorful living room rug came with a massive discount from a World Market sale.
Another activity I love is refurbishing older furniture items, bringing them from sad and lonely to bright and changed. I bought a $15 dresser from a thrift store and refinished it, painting it bright white and placing new drawer pulls. I took bedside tables from my folks’ house, repainted them, and bought new pulls for the drawers. Again, a totally different and fun look! Other ways I’ve enjoyed refurbishing include buying or taking old lamp bases, painting them, and purchasing new shades; painting an old workbench and turning it into a gardening station; and looking through old accent pieces or trinkets, which have been buried for long periods of time, and placing them with newer items (this can often add a new area of interest to a shelf or table).
Small changes can make a big difference when the itch to redesign is being felt. I’ve enjoyed sanding down an old bookshelf and turning it into a display case, framing or re-framing old art pieces, even moving a piece of art from one room to another. Sewing pillow covers or pillowcases from fabric on hand or the vintage linens I spoke of earlier! Just this month, I framed a beautiful piece of fabric a friend gave me years ago, from the Maasai people in Africa. I used to hang it as a type of tapestry, but then held onto it for years in a storage trunk. Now it has a new home on my bedroom wall!
My all-time favorite place to shop is a vintage store. Some stores are absolutely outrageous in price, so there is often a bit of a hunt to find the places with the best deals. But if you have the time and enjoy it, these can be treasure-troves! I have numerous kitchen chairs, none matching, and countless pieces of art from these places. I bought an old metal cabinet, and it became my bookshelf. I keep a vintage linen tablecloth on my kitchen table. One-of-a-kind eclectic display pieces are in full supply. Bigger furniture items are often available as well, and depending on the age of the item (i.e., a few hundred years), prices can get steep. I have found beautiful velvet chairs that just needed a good steaming, and a fabulous mid-century sideboard, which I loved.
I have moved substantial distances, and circumstances have forced me to give up some of these amazing pieces. However, I have learned to embrace the change and also relish that in each new city, there are more stores and fun, eclectic outlets to explore. A new space with old favorites and new (to me) treasures yet to be discovered make me excited to fill my space with warmth, creating an environment to welcome me home.