Reality: A newly married couple is having trouble furnishing their first apartment with limited funds.
Fantasy: This couple wins an offer to help by the New York Times, as detailed by Julie Scelfo in last week’s Times article, “Newly Married, in Search of a Style.”
The solution: Normal people can still create a beautiful home, even if they don’t score a free designer or have $5,175 to update their living room. Here are some frugal tips we can learn from their experience.
First Stop: Hand-Me-Downs
The couple amassed their starter furniture by asking for castoffs from family members. One can always hope to be handed down some antiques, which will add enough depth that it won’t matter if the rest of your collection is by IKEA.
If there are no heirlooms in your future, you can still find affordable worn-in furniture at consignment shops, flea markets, or thrift shops like Goodwill.
Mix Modern and Traditional
If grandma’s castoffs don’t seem “you,” try mixing them with some contemporary pieces. The designer felt that the dark wood and clutter of the couple’s current arrangement would be helped by lighter items — a tall modern lamp with a white shade, a mirror-encrusted throw pillow, and a white lacquered desk (from West Elm). Of course, IKEA is full of modern lines, and its affordability can offset other costs.
Craigslist: Someone Else’s Trash
West Elm (Pottery Barn’s hipper brother) is relatively cheap, but Craigslist is cheaper. The couple found a desk that the designer had suggested for almost $200 less than it would have been at retail. Don’t forget to sell your stuff there too. You’ll be amazed at what people are willing to buy.
eBay: The Virtual Flea Market
The couple’s designer was psyched to find a pair of Lucite lamps for $165 — whose value she estimated in the thousands – by searching eBay for “midcentury table lamps.” (Photo: a pair of 1970s-era suede and lucite lamps found recently on eBay.)
Cover Instead of Replace
The designer figured that a custom slipcover for the TV table would cost less than buying a new one. Their made-to-order cover, which cost $275 and needed flaps for accessing the DVD player and cable box, is still more expensive than IKEA. Consider painting as another inexpensive way to update furniture.
Changing the fabric on chair cushions can help change the look of a room. To save on labor costs, try doing it yourself. You’ll need fabric and a staple gun (which you might be able to borrow or rent from Home Depot). I can attest to the fact that recovering a seat cushion takes about 15 minutes per chair. Here is a 5-minute video that explains how to do it.
Low-Commitment Wall Decor
To avoid the cost and the mess of wallpaper or paint, consider removable decals: the decorator used these chocolate brown stripes to set off a dining nook, for a cost of $100, from wallsneedlove.com.
YouTube has all sorts of videos under “how to apply wall decals.”
Invest in One or Two High-Quality Pieces
If Mom and Dad are not forking over any fabulous furniture, sometimes it’s worth it to invest in something classy and durable. In the long run, this can be kinder to your wallet and the environment.
Even though the designer found a sofa bed at a showroom marked down from $5,800, it was still a large purchase at $1,950. She convinced the couple that — being elegant and versatile — it was a good investment that would stay with them over the years.
Designers on a Dime
It’s one thing to be able to bargain shop and paint your own walls. But how do you pull it all together into a look you’re happy with?
The decorator paid for by the New York Times would have charged $10,000 for this job. If you appreciate good design, hiring a designer can be totally worth it, but not always possible.
Perhaps you know someone — an artist, an architect, or just a friend with decor you admire — who would be willing to help you place furniture and make decorating decisions.
More low-cost alternatives to interior designers
Interior “refiners” and interior “redesigners” work with what you have to improve the look and functionality of a room in a short amount of time and for a minimal amount of money.
Members of Interior Refiners Network (IRN) charge a flat fee ranging from $250 to $350 per room (less than 19 ft. long). You can read more about their process in this Washington Post article or at Redecorate.com (the site of IRN founder Lauri Ward), where you can also post decorating questions on a message board.
Before and after pictures from redesigner Lauri Ward at Redecorate.com.
Members of Interior Redesign Industry Specialists charge $50 to $150 an hour; others may charge by the room, or by the half-day or full-day. Some offer home staging, shopping and accessorizing services, and color consultations. To find out more, see this Washington Post article or visit WeRedesignandStage.com to find a redesigner in your area.
This post was inspired by Julie Scelfo’s New York Times article from December 3, 2009, “Newly Married, in Search of a Style.”
Any budget decorating tips you can share with the rest of us? We’d love to hear them in the comments section below.