Decorating on a Budget--Top Tips from a Thrifty Pro

An unlimited decorating budget is a wonderful fantasy, but the reality is that most people don’t have thousands (or even hundreds!) of dollars to spend on home décor.  So if you’re just setting up your first home, or perhaps starting over in a new place without much disposable income, take heart.  Great style can be had at every price point—even on a tight budget.  Here are my top tips for decorating on a shoestring.

Paint:  Painting is by far the most affordable way to achieve dramatic results when it comes to a décor update.  Almost anything can be painted, from a home’s exterior and trim detail to interior walls, floors, ceilings, wood and metal furnishings, and decorative accents such as rugs, lamps and mirrors.  Good-quality paint in any shade you desire is either readily available, or can quickly be custom-mixed for you at home improvement stores.  When you choose to update your décor with paint, remember that the best results are achieved with appropriate surface preparation. 

Birthday/Holiday Gift Registries:   Time your decorating project around your birthday or another gifting holiday, and create gift registries.  Get the word out to friends and family that you have a decorating update in progress, and would love for them to consider your registry options.  This can be a real time-saver for your loved ones, and also gives them the added satisfaction of knowing you’ll appreciate their gift.  When considering your best options for registries, online retailers are great, but don’t overlook local shops.  Lots of people prefer to shop local, and many local businesses are happy to keep a “wish list” on hand for you. 

Tap the Expertise of Friends and Family:  Your friends and family members can be great resources!  Do you have an aunt who sews?  Ask for her help with sewing new throw pillows for your sofa or bed, or with a window treatment update.  How about a close friend who can cut photo mats and frame prints?  Enlist her expertise in choosing frames for a family vignette.  Perhaps your brother-in-law is a landscaper who can lend a hand with your backyard makeover.  Odds are that your friends and family will be flattered to lend a hand.

Handy Hand-me-Downs:  When it comes to stretching your décor budget, you can’t do better than free.  Check in with family members and let them know about your decorating needs.  Often, family members are down-sizing, or may have items in storage they no longer need.  Not only will they be happy to help you, they’ll also have the joy of keeping family pieces within the family.  It’s a win-win.

Thrift and Consignment Stores:  Tallahassee is blessed with a great selection of thrift and consignment stores.  The inventory is constantly changing, so it pays to visit regularly, and develop relationships with the staff.  Greg Clark, manager of the furniture and appliance department at Lighthouse Thrift Store on Mahan Drive, says that great merchandise donations come into the store on a continual basis.  Looking for something specific?  No problem!  “I’m happy to take down a customer’s name and number, and will give them a call when the store gets in exactly what they are looking for,” says Clark.

Consider Non-traditional Art:  Fine art is not the only option when it comes to creating distinctive style in your home.  There are so many ways to use non-traditional elements in artistic displays that are not only creative, but also express your personality and reflect your interests.  A few ideas for affordable wall displays include antique picture frames salvaged from flea markets; textiles such as woven mats and baskets; and mirrors of all shapes and sizes.  If you love to change out your artwork frequently, consider framing sheets of exquisite handmade papers that range in style from elegant to dramatic.  Paper Source offers decorative paper in sheets that are perfect for framing, and perfectly affordable at $5-8 for a 19x27-inch sheet.  Affordable, interesting maps are often found in bookstores, and look great framed.  Also consider downloading and framing free photos from sites like Unsplash, which offers a huge variety of images in a multitude of genres.   

Sentimental elements also make wonderful wall displays.  Consider framing heirloom baby quilts and christening gowns in shadow boxes.  Did you inherit hand-painted china from a great aunt or grandparent?  Showcase several plates in your dining room or kitchen with plate hangers, or in glass-front cabinets.  Bring the whimsy with kid’s art in a child’s bedroom, showcased in inexpensive ready-made frames. 

Bartering:  It’s said that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  We all have things we no longer need.  Utilize bartering options on websites like Craigslist to offer up your unwanted goods in trade for what you want or need.

Enlist an Expert:  While it’s true that some interior designers specialize only in high-end projects, there are many interior decorators who are happy to consult with you for an hourly fee.  A one-hour consultation fee to have a professional visit your home with “fresh eyes” and discuss space planning, paint colors and décor options can be money well spent in the long run.