11 Ideas for Designing on a Budget

Check out these chic-on-the-cheap decorating tips.

Eclectic Daybed for Summer

This home office was made over with furniture already on hand.

Think your design ambitions are bigger than your budget? Think again.

Here are 11 ways to achieve the look you want

1. Paint
Though painting is the cheapest investment you can make, it’s also the one with the most dramatic result. Go ahead and put some color on those walls for a fresh — and inexpensive — new look.

2. Do It Yourself
The biggest budget buster is hiring others to do things you could do. Consider what you'll save by taking on some relatively simple projects: painting, tiling, installing a new floor, sewing curtain panels or throw pillows — whatever you feel up to trying.

3. Call in Family and Friends
You may not have a wad of cash or a lot of home-improvement know-how, but you have other resources that can help get your decorating project off the ground: the people you know. Call on a group of relatives, friends and neighbors who can supply the muscle to rip down wall paneling, roll on paint or assemble a room of flat-packed furniture. Just don’t forget to feed them lunch.

4. Shop Secondhand Stores
Thrift stores, consignment shops, church rummage sales, online auction sites, estate sales and even salvage yards offer a bounty of discount decorating booty. Look for furniture with solid construction and classic lines that new upholstery or paint will bring back to life.

5. Look for Less-Than-Perfect Merchandise
You may be able to snag super deals on slightly damaged items, floor models and seconds (such as towels from a dye lot that was slightly off), so be sure to check stores’ "as is" areas or to ask the manager about fire-sale items. Chances are, no one but you will be any the wiser, and you’ll save big bucks.

6. Save With Stock Items
Custom framing, sewing, upholstering and other skilled labor can add a bundle to the bottom line. Instead, stick with stock items whenever you can: Buy off-the-shelf frames and mats, and trim non-valuable art prints to fit them. Buy standard blinds that are a bit larger than your windows and mount them outside the frames. Snap up stock cabinets and finish them with moldings for a custom look. Order that sofa in a neutral, ready-to-ship fabric and use the money you save to splurge on colorful throw pillows.

7. Wait Patiently for Sales and Discounts
Wait to find what you really love at a price you really love. While you shop, ask if items will be discounted any time soon. Store and department managers are usually the best sources for this insider info and may even offer you the discounted price before it goes into effect.

8. Mix, Don’t Match
Not only is a "matchy-matchy" look boring, but buying entire suites of furniture tends to cost more than putting together a creative, eclectic look. Mix it up by opting for a couch and chairs upholstered in complementary fabrics, flanking a bed with unmatched nightstands and decorating with other diverse items unified by color, form, material and tone. Or try pairing a stately wood table with shiny aluminum or brightly colored plastic chairs. And don’t be afraid to mix high-end and low-end or modern and traditional.

9. Sew Your Own Linens
If you have a sewing machine, you can quickly and easily transform patterned flat sheets into curtain panels, pillow and duvet covers, tablecloths, and even slipcovers — and pay a small fraction of what you’d shell out for fabric yardage. Of course, this assumes you’ve had successful sewing experience or are good friends with a seamstress.

10. Add Unexpected Accessories
Almost anything can serve as an accessory, and that goes for found objects and household items that cost practically nothing. Architectural corbels rescued from a salvage yard make great bookends, while seashells and driftwood collected at the shore create a lovely natural grouping. A bowl filled with crisp green apples lends a bright pop of color to just about any surface, and a stack of vintage hardbacks adds height, dimension and character to an occasional table.

11. Reuse Items You Already Have
You don’t have to buy new pieces to turn your tired domicile into a hip space. Instead, turn a fresh eye to what you already have and think about how it might be camouflaged, repurposed or reimagined. Reinvent a drab dresser in a guest bedroom as a dramatic dining-room sideboard with a few coats of glossy black paint and sparkling new hardware. Make over that old couch with a slipcover in a fabulous fabric. Turn plain pillows into eye-catching accents by stenciling simple designs on them. After all, there’s no better budget stretcher than your imagination.

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