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Home Decor on a Budget

Designing a beautiful house or apartment can be especially challenging when you have a tight budget to work with. Don’t give up your dreams of tossing out your mismatched hand-me-down furniture. We talked to Kristi Linauer, interior decorator and blogger at Addicted2decorating.com, as well as Ellen McDowell, interior designer and Residential Planning instructor for The Art Institute of Pittsburgh Online Division. Take some tips from these designing and decorating experts and make your home stylish without breaking your budget.

Grab a Brush

Without a doubt, painting is the easiest and most inexpensive way to make a huge impact on a room. “If you want to redecorate on a budget, paint is your best friend,” says Linauer. Changing the color of a room from a boring white to a dramatic, saturated hue will immediately change the mood and feeling of the room. Want to make a room feel airier and bigger? Lighten up the walls with a subtle bluish gray or bright sunny yellow. Not sure if you can trust your color instincts? Look through a shelter magazine and find a room that inspires you. Find a sophisticated color combination that makes a room look professionally designed. You don’t just have to choose one color either. “Creating a focal wall with a favorite color can add a big impact,” says McDowell.

Get Inspired

It takes a creative mind to make a low-budget room look like high-end design. If you’re stuck for ideas, there’s help. “Magazines are great—I told my clients to start pulling pictures out of magazines of rooms they liked. After a month or two, when they look through the files they will see their style develop,” says McDowell. These days, you can find inspiration well beyond the newsstand. A little web surfing can give you a wealth of ideas. “There are so many talented home DIY bloggers out there, and I’m continually amazed and inspired by what these bloggers do with their own rooms,” says Linauer. Sites like Pinterest are also making it easier for creative-minded designers and regular homeowners to share ideas and styles.

Where to Shop

Looking for great decorating pieces on the cheap can feel like a modern day treasure hunt. Think outside of your regular big box and discount stores for the chance to score a truly unique and beautiful item. Linauer admits to being somewhat of a garage sale addict, getting giddy at the thought of discarded items lining a driveway on a Saturday morning. “For me there’s nothing like pulling up at a garage sale or yard sale, and spying that one piece of furniture with years of wear and tear that everyone else has passed over, and knowing that I can turn it into something amazing,” she says. She also frequents locally owned thrift stores and even chains like Goodwill. The key is to look at something and imagine the possibilities of how it can be changed and renewed to become a stylish part of your home. Craft stores are also a great resource for supplies to help you transform everyday objects into coffee table-worthy treasures.

When to Splurge

Yes, you can find tons of great stuff at discount stores, estate sales, and thrift shops, but sometimes it pays to splurge on one aspect of your design. “I would recommend splurging on the one item that gets the most use, which is generally a sofa. If you start with a good, quality sofa, then you can add lower cost items to the room, such as secondhand end tables, a garage sale coffee table, etc., without sacrificing comfort,” says Linauer. McDowell agrees that good furniture is a worthwhile investment. She recommends being picky when it comes to the bones of the piece. “Ask for the construction methods. Are corners braced and are those braces held with more than one method of attachment? Look for solid plank wood—some companies get away with calling particle board wood furniture since it’s 95% wood,” she warns.

Doing it Right

Sometimes when you try to do something cheaply it ends up looking, well, cheap. Making inexpensive objects come together in a way that makes a room look cohesive and tasteful can be tricky, and there is no surefire way to accomplish this. McDowell advises that you take your time and do things slowly. “Look at the details. If one piece looks cheap it can bring down the entire surroundings. Spend a little more on the larger pieces and the smaller pieces that you fill in will just be part of the background,” she says. The best advice is practice, practice, practice. “If you want to become skilled at do-it-yourself projects, you have to start somewhere, and that generally means making mistakes,” says Linauer. Her own experience is a testament to that. As a blogger, she can check back in the archives and look at how her style has progressed and improved. “People who can do this right from the start are just born with a natural gift. The rest of us have to practice, learn from our mistakes, and train our decorating eye.”


Kristi Linauer, interior decorator and blogger at Addicted2decorating.com

Ellen McDowell, interior designer and Residential Planning instructor for The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Online Division