25 Designer Short-Cuts With the Biggest Impact

Experts share must-try living room ideas on a budget.

Photo By: Lennar Atlanta

Photo By: Terracotta Design Build

Photo By: Terracotta Design Build

Photo By: SNAP Real Estate Photography, LLC

Photo By: SNAP Real Estate Photography, LLC

Photo By: Wake + Loom Design

Photo By: Wake + Loom Design

Photo By: Wake + Loom Design

Photo By: Wake + Loom Design

Photo By: Wake + Loom Design

Photo By: Alice Cramer

Photo By: Michael Habachy

Photo By: Michael Habachy

Photo By: Alice Cramer

Photo By: Alice Cramer

Photo By: Julie Montgomery Interiors/Christina Wedge

Photo By: Julie Montgomery Interiors/Christina Wedge

Photo By: Kelsey E. Green

Photo By: Terracotta Design Build

Photo By: Cantoni

Photo By: Athens Building Co.

Photo By: Cantoni

Photo By: Kelsey E. Green

Photo By: Christopher Oquendo

©Christopher Oquendo

Pillow Hack

Cindi MacPherson, co-owner of The Interior Partners in Atlanta, offers this way to save on pillows in a chic living room. Use patterned fabric, which may be more expensive, on the front of the pillow. Then buy cheaper fabric in a solid color for the back of the pillow, which is often hidden on a couch.

High-Impact Bookshelf

Terracotta Design Build often adds wallpaper to the backs of bookshelves. "It’s a way to give depth and really set off any collection," says interior designer Ili Hidalgo-Nilsson. With wallpaper behind it, even a collection of inexpensive white vases can look amazingly expensive, she says. 

Fireplace Redo

When redoing a fireplace, you can get a sophisticated look at a lower cost. For the hearth, Terracotta Design Build used 12-by-12 porcelain tile in a dark color that looks like slate, but was more affordable. They cut it into 3- by-12 tiles and installed it in a herringbone pattern. "That’s a great way to get what really is a high-end look and finish for hardly any cost," says architect and interior designer Ili Hidalgo-Nilsson. 

Tile Tip

This model home’s fireplace is wrapped floor to ceiling in expensive marble. The same clean look can easily be achieved with an inexpensive plank-sized porcelain tile, says Atlanta interior designer Michael C. Morris with Monte Hewett Homes.

Creating Contrast

If you don’t have a large budget, you want to make sure your purchases are noticed. To do so, Atlanta interior designer Michael C. Morris suggests contrasting your floors and furniture. In a model home in metro Atlanta's Avalon community, he uses light paint and furniture to stand out against medium brown red oak floors.

Chalk It Up

Gabriela Eisenhart and Holly Conlan with WAKE + LOOM Design found an affordable solution for clients who did not have the budget to rip out their outdated fireplace tile from the 1980s. They chalk painted it instead, using Farmhouse Paint. "It gave it a great modern feel for very little money spent," Eisenhart says.

Book Cheat

For an unexpected and free update, simply flip around your books to show the pages instead of the spine. Then Gabriela Eisenhart and Holly Conlan with WAKE + LOOM Design accessorized with vintage and new vases and baskets in muted colors and white, which gave the built-in bookcase a minimal, modern feel, Eisenhart says.

Big Impact

Buying smaller accessories for a space like the hearth can add up. Designers Gabriela Eisenhart and Holly Conlan with WAKE + LOOM Design advise being careful with little accessories because they can end up feeling cluttered. Eisenhart adds that round objects, such as the wood and pearl sculpture, always add an architectural element.

Save with Succulents

For an indoor hanging garden, Gabriela Eisenhart and Holly Conlan with WAKE + LOOM Design used succulents because they don't require a lot of water and are long-lasting. An extra touch is a mirror that reflects the sculptural plants in the living room. 

Plucked from the Garden

Greenery, such as foilage from the yard is a cheap -- and possibly free -- way to add an organic vibe to a room. "The other perk is the greenery we chose will last because you can dry it out," says designer Gabriela Eisenhart with WAKE + LOOM Design in Atlanta and Los Angeles. 

Narrow It Down

Changing the paint may seem like a no-brainer, but to save even more money while bringing new impact to a room, repaint only a feature wall or a ceiling, suggests Atlanta designer Alice Cramer.

Illuminate It

Although this cabinet and its accessories are a splurge item in an Atlanta condo, designer Michael Habachy says people on any budget should use low lighting, such as lamps, to illuminate treasures, cheap or expensive. “It adds ambience and doesn’t have to cost a lot,” he says.

Use the Windowsills

In small areas, especially with a view, designers like Michael Habachy maximize built-in spaces like windowsills to display accessories that don’t detract from the view. You may not need to buy a console table or side table as a result.

Reuse and Restyle

Don’t blow the budget on furniture such as a chest, console or end table of your dreams. Instead, style existing furniture with objects that have an interesting shape and texture, and take cues from the style of the room. Scale is always important, says Atlanta designer Alice Cramer. Ensure your lamp and accessories don’t overpower, but complement, the piece of furniture.

Art for Everyone

You may be tempted to create a gallery wall of art, but sometimes the best way to feature an item is to stick with simplicity. “And, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Great-looking art can always wow a space,” says designer Alice Cramer. Shop at flea markets and consignment stores, or befriend an emerging artist or sculptor.

Create a Collection

Group a trio of mirrors with an interesting finish, such as an antique patina, on a wall for instant artwork. If you find mirrors and frames at a yard sale or thrift store, patina them to achieve this look. “Grouping affordable mirrors is a great way to add charm and interest to a wall,” says Julie Montgomery, owner of Julie Montgomery Interiors in Atlanta.

Paint Trick

Painting the walls, bookshelves and built-in bars the same color is an easy way to create a cohesive look and visually expand a space that is small or has odd angles. Atlanta designer Julie Montgomery painted this room gray, which created a rich color palette without feeling dark.

Small Doses of Color

When budget is a factor, select furniture in a netural palette and let smaller items like flowers, plants and pillows bring in color, says Atlanta interior designer Ili Hidalgo-Nilsson with Terracotta Design Build. Potted plants add a softness and organic touch. With a bit of care, they can last for a long time.

Fresh Look

Musical instruments don't have to be relegated to a practice space or bedroom. Atlanta-based Terracotta Design Build made the bongos part of the decor for a musician's living room. Think of ways to integrate objects associated with hobbies and favorite pastimes into your decor.

Smart Accessorizing

Instead of placing a group of decorative balls in a bowl—a common move in decorating—save money by buying only two or three objects instead of an entire set. Then place them on the same table, but in different areas. 

Rustic Redo

Reuse and recycle. Athens Building Co. transformed an old cable spool it found on a farm for a bar height table in a rustic guest cottage in rural Georgia.

Reflect the Surroundings

Designers use mirrored tables to make rooms seem larger and to add points of interest due to their reflective qualities. Mirrored elements make such an impact that you can buy smaller pieces to save money.

Lower-Cost Lighting

Lamps are a necessary item, but are also an area where Atlanta designer Devon Garner believes you can save money. Her client liked a pair of unique-shaped lamps that cost $800 each and would need to be special ordered, but Garner found these new at a home discount store for less than $60 each. 

Quick Cover-Up

Even when you have a piece of furniture in a style that may not work with the rest of the room, you don't have to buy a new piece. Instead, if the wood is similar to other furniture, designer Devon Garner uses a long table runner and decorates with accessories that draw attention to the top. The copper pieces were new, but she used a runner and sculpture that belonged to the homeowner.

Touch Up Your Table

Designers Lance Jackson and David Ecton with Parker Kennedy Living used the homeowner's existing coffee table, but to get this look, you can take a coffee table that you own or find a rectangle-shaped table at a yard sale or consignment shop, then repaint the outer edge in gold.