Ten Tips For Decorating on A Budget

You all know, I've just finished 'refreshing' my home, giving it a little face lift for  spring and summer.  What you might not know is that I've been doing this exact same thing for years upon years.  My home is always evolving.  I do this on a strict budget.  There are no $100 room makeovers or big renovation projects or even new furniture purchases for us except once in a great while.  More of the pieces in my home were bought or given to me as second hand pieces than were ever bought new. 

In the early days after moving here, John and I bought three sofas.  Within two years, each of them was trashed.  Not because we were careless but they were so poor quality and inexpensive.  The only other pieces of furniture we've bought are our dining table (the chairs fell to pieces within 3 years but the table holds up), two chairs that are still in current use in our living room and an entertainment center that we bought on sale at Kmart 20 years ago that we altered and only recently moved out of the house.  We've bought mattresses for our bed.  All of those items were purchased new.  I don't think our spending in the new furnishings area really comes up to much more than one set of mattresses cost us!

I am not grousing over what we haven't spent.  The truth is that when you live on a single lower income there are myriad needs that arise that are far more important.  We live 30 miles from John's work and 35 miles from our grocery shopping and church area.  Cars are necessities.  Maintaining them is a necessity.  When the kids were at home, coats and shoes and clothing and medical care were a necessity.  Furnishings and decorating falls way down onto the "It would be nice, but we can do without" list.

Well obviously I have a house full of furniture so it must have come from somewhere.  Indeed it did.  My top tips for decorating on a budget follow:

#1 Gratefully accept gently used cast offs.  Over the years we've been given several pieces that served us well for a few seasons.  Everything from pots and pans to pictures to curtains and spreads.  No it wasn't always my taste, but I accepted it anyway.  Free is free!  And if something filled a need or purpose in our home, then I said "Thank you," and put it to use. 

I have an old chiffarobe that a family friend gave me during my first marriage to put in Amie's nursery that has moved with me from home to home.  It's heavy and solid wood and has good lines.  I expect when I die, it will move into another home and last through another lifetime, that's how solidly it's made.  It has served many incarnations in my home, from the wardrobe it was meant to be, to a coat closet to a china cabinet, to it's present role as craft supply storage. 

#2  Buy it used.  As time went on, I found some good bargains.  Our current dining room chairs were picked up at a yard sale by a friend we commissioned to look for something acceptable.  We'd given her permission to go as high as $100, an amount that we set aside from our tax refund.  What she found were four metal chairs that cost $7.  Even when we tipped her generously for taking the trouble to look for us, we came out far under that $100 budget.

I discovered that often, I could buy used items that were far better made than I could afford new.  I purchased two wing back chairs for $5 each.  One is still in my home.  One went with Katie and saw her through four years before it was retired.   

My chair has not only been in this household for nearly 10 years, it served three families before mine!  And it's still going strong.  In fact, I'm sitting in it as I type this post.  I've recovered it and then removed that and bought a slipcover for it a few years ago.

Our buffet in the dining area was a steal at the height of the French style buffet craze.  I got it at a flea market and paid $60 for it.  It's solid wood.  I could never have purchased that same style and quality anywhere else.  I'd priced similar pieces at Goodwill and other thrift stores for nearly $250.  When I asked the price on this piece I knew it was a bargain. It took a whole month of allowance to pay for it but I bought it!

I bought an old cedar lined wood trunk with 1920's details for $25 and a wooden dressing table with a lovely curved mirror for $30 at a yard sale.  I gave the vanity to my daughter-in-law to use in my granddaughter's room after I'd used it as a desk for years.  Both pieces were solid wood. Both pieces looked rough but the vanity was absolutely lovely when my son and daughter-in-law refinished it.  The old trunk has responded well to cleaning and polishing with Liquid Gold.

#3  Paint, dye, recover, re-purpose.  You can do a lot with a little when you choose to look past how something looks at the moment and you allow your imagination to look at it.  If you're not the sort to find inspiration on your own, then you're in luck.  There are plenty of others who do have vision for how something might look instead. 

I'm no expert at painting or upholstery but I figure if I'm out little or no money anyway for an item I can most certainly attempt to make it better.  One of those $5 chairs got reupholstered.  I didn't have a staple gun so I used nails and a hammer.  I didn't have upholstery fabric but I had two curtain panels that cost me $7.  I covered that chair and you know what?  The cover lasted well over five years before I tired of it, stripped it off and found a bargain priced slipcover that I'm still using on it today. 

I made a cover for an old desk chair.

Paint transforms many things.  The old chiffarobe was a nice piece but over the years I was bored with it.  It was an ivory color.  We'd painted it cream.  Blah.  At one point I painted it black and a soft gold.  It became a standout piece in our home.  I plan to repaint it this year.  I'm thinking blue.  I have one sample paint pot and I think two will just do it.    

A lamp John and I bought in the early days of our lives together was relegated to the shed, until we found we had need of a new lamp.  There was a lamp which could serve our purpose.  I just didn't care for the 1990's spray of flowers in gold and white on it. Well paint solved that problem.  John painted it Oil Rubbed Bronze.  I repainted it this year with a silver.    I've been asked several times, "Where did you get that new lamp?"  Everyone is shocked that it's the very same lamp.  I spent less than $3 for the small can of paint and had enough to paint two mirror frames and two picture frames, as well.

Paint and decoupage transformed a table that John bought before we met  which had seen hard use in our family.

I don't think people even talk about using dye anymore but I've done my share of dyeing over the years.  Not only to freshen the color of faded clothing but to transform towels, or sheets or curtains.  You can even use it on baskets and wooden pieces! 

And finally don't assume that just because something has always served just one purpose that's all it can be used for.  Katie used a dresser in her apartment as a bar top and a pantry.  That old chiffarobe of ours has been used in children's bedrooms as clothing storage, in an entry way as a coat closet, as linen and china storage in our breakfast area.  Now it's in the craft room and it's filled with fabric and craft supplies. 

 Katie re-purposed her old bar/pantry dresser as a coffee bar in her new home. 

A dresser from my childhood which has served me and my children for many years was re-purposed as storage for record albums and Cd's. (Hmmmm...I haven't taken a picture of it with the pretty blue bins I bought.)

#4  If you like it and it's not expensive, buy it.  You'll find a use for it.  Picture frames come to mind with this one.  Ornate frames are often less than $5 at thrift stores and at yard sales can be had for even less.  It's funny how an ornate frame painted in a fresh color can bring an old picture to life.

I also can't help but think of two shelves I bought at Ross stores.  I paid $3 for one and $5 for the other one.  They've been repainted several times.  They've hung in the living room and in a bedroom and in the kitchen (where they are now).

I bought two lanterns at another store that were on clearance.  Those lanterns have been used indoors and out.

#5  Think out of the box.  Remember my upholstery job on the old wing back chair?  I used curtains that I'd purchased from a warehouse clearance sale.    I'd priced upholstery fabric and couldn't afford anything I'd liked. 

For years now I've used flat sheets as curtains, as material to make dust ruffles or valances or tablecloths and napkins.  You know what else makes nice curtains?  Cloth shower curtains.  Often these go on clearance at Target for under $5 each and with their extra width you can just about make do with one at a standard window.  Just split it down the middle and hem the sides.  Done.

I have used pretty place mats to make pillow covers for throw pillows. 

I re-purposed an old window frame to use as photo display after it had spent many years on the front porch.

The bed springs from Mama's baby bed, hangs on the back porch as display for our house numbers.

#6  Use what you have.  It's nice to be able to buy something new to use in my home.  Sometimes, I just don't have the funds to buy new.  Sometimes what I have is a whole lot of nothing but a deep desire to transform a space. 

After we'd had our back porch for a few years it felt like it was past time to make it looked finished.  What it needed was a flower bed.  I had bags of mulch given to me as a Mother's Day gift (I tend to request things like that).  I had three old ladder back chairs that I bought at a dollar store 25 years ago.  I had three wire baskets, an old burlap coffee bean sack and two cans of half used paint.   I have a habit of collecting bricks and bigger rocks when I see them on the side of the road.  These were stacked on the front patio... Just see what I did with all those odds and ends!

7.  Reconsider how you've always placed an item.  I've had my tall bookcases for 26 years.  I've had them in this house for 22.  I have always had them placed on the wall as a single unit.  I never even considered placing them differently.  But John did.  Now the bookcases seem to make a bigger impression.  Who'd have thought it?!

Those chairs have always been faced in a straight line facing the wall with the mantel.  I like them far better angled...And now that I have a round table instead of the Queen Anne style one there, they look really cozy and conversational.

8.  Anything can become artwork.  I've framed an old lock plate and a variety of keys.  I've used an old window frame to display family photos.  I've framed greeting cards, magazine photos, children's art projects.  I've printed off things to frame.  I've even framed small booklets with pretty covers. 

I've seen lovely framed doilies and old pieces of jewelry and baby clothes.  Even old quilt squares, vintage patterns, game boards.  The world is just full of things you can hang on the wall and call artwork.

9.  Don't throw things away.   No I'm not promoting hoarding.  I am saying that if you've liked something but are tired of seeing it right now, keep it if you have the space.  John has generously provided me with a small shed to use as my own storage space for gardening items, furniture pieces I've found but haven't decided what to do with just yet, and a plethora of pictures, frames and decorative items.   If you can only afford space for one shelving unit then make that your designated place to store items. 

I say this, because what I don't use today, might well be exactly what I want in six months.  I've recycled more items in and out of this house!  When I know I'm truly done with something I give it away or donate it.

10.  Don't be afraid to pick things from roadsides or trash dumps.

As I said, I collect bricks and rocks.  We've picked up squares of sod that have blown off some of the trucks transporting sod to new builds in distant cities.  One of my favorite finds to date is this little bench that was sitting roadside next to some one's trash can.  I rescued it and have recovered it twice.

I've picked up several things over the years and had a few items get away that I simply couldn't load and haul away because they didn't fit in my car!  Like an antique walnut bed.  Gosh I still cringe that got away from me!

So if you ever wonder if you can decorate a home on a budget, you can.  It might take a little more effort and time than spending, but you can certainly make an attractive home on a low budget. 


Anonymous said...

Our bedroom set is the one we purchased almost 55 years ago when we got married. I still love my bookcase headboard and never want a new one. It tells the story of our whole life together. My cedar chest was a wedding gift from Gramps. My bookcase was made by my father for my 10th birthday. My dining room set is a second hand one from a friends aunt. It is often covered with a crocheted tablecloth my mother in law made while waiting for Gramps to be born, other times by a pretty embroidered one, the very last "fancy work" my mom made. My living room furniture is probably 15 years old, but comfortable, Our guest bed was a gift from a dear friend when she moved. On my living room wall is a chalk drawing of my great grandfather. My desk belonged to my daughter that she got as part of a bedroom set for her 8th birthday and she is going to take to her house "someday". A lamp was in my childhood home. A beautiful all handsewn quilt made by Grandma for a wedding gift hangs on a quilt rack in my family room. Small display shelves made by my sweet father in law as well as a sewing cabinet he made for my birthday are used everyday. I love my old sentimental stuff! (including Gramps). Lots of other old stuff in my museum that i call home and wouldn't trade for anything new. Believe it or not my house really doesn't look too shabby. LOL, Gramma D

Anonymous said...

Grandma D's house sounds like ours! Also when things are well made but cheap you don't worry so much about them. We had a round coffee table when the kids were very small. It cost $2 at an auction. It was a regular size round table someone had cut the legs off to make a coffee table. The kids used it to pull themselves up to try to walk and walked round and round it! Cute! They colored on it, did puzzles on it..you name it. It took any punishment. We enjoyed it and never had to worry they were ruining an expensive piece. :)Then later when they were learning to write they pushed on the pencils so hard it left words in the wood! Treasures ! It was real wood and if ever we wanted to we could sand and redo it. We had it for 30+ years and redid it.. Then gave it to another couple starting off as we then needed a much smaller coffee table. We got our $2 worth for sure! :-) Like you both our home's furnishings tell our story.
Another thing to use biggish cloth napkins for is to recover throw pillows. Some even have frindge ! I have used many used place mats for accents on little tables or the back of the toilet etc..or as mats behind pictures. Runners or even little rugs for accents on our coffee table. As you have said you can use sheets for curtains even for your patio. I think having to make do leads to having to be extra creative and more fun!! :-) Also there is no way your home is the cookie cutter house so many are...your house is totally you when YOU Redo ! Thanks Terri! Sarah

Little Penpen said...

Love this post! So many great ideas! I really like your ladderback chairs in the flower bed.

Lana said...

Exactly how we roll here too! Our entertainment center is a re-purposed 70's triple dresser. My grand piano was purchased for only $300. It had been ignored for 20 years and we brought it slowly back to life. A good friend received it for her 12th birthday and never earned to play. I have a large rooster lamp that my grandmother made 67 years ago and it even has the original shade. End tables and a curio cabinet were my great grandparent's. The curio is filled with little houses that my MIL collected on their many trips to Europe. A beautiful old clock has come down from through my husband's family since around 1810. A large painting over the piano was inherited from an elderly friend. We were thrilled to bring it home after her death. A pair of chairs came from my late MIL's childhood home. Our kitchen table was made by my husband 35 years ago. Our dining room furniture came from my parents. I have my grandmother's doll house that was made in Germany in 1910. My grandfather made the furniture inside. We made a low bar in our kitchen for the grandchildren from a 2 legged table bought for $5 at a thrift store. The chairs are the old heavy wood ones that schools used to have all bought at thrift stores and painted. Our maple pineapple post bedroom set came from a classified ad and we paid only $300 for it. The elderly lady we bought it from said it was her parents and was from the 1930's. I have the full size iron bed that my Mom and her sister slept in growing up and a youth bed made by my grandfather that four generations have slept in. There is also a little 2 door cabinet that matches that bed. The table between the chairs in our bedroom was $2 at a yard sale. It got a coat of paint. The chairs in our guest rooms came from thrift stores. One was an armed dining room chair with an awful green velvet seat that we painted and reupholstered. The other one is a funky old orange vinyl chair that says Clemson University on the bottom. Two of our boys got engineering degrees from Clemson and their wives are alum, too so they love that chair. Our daughter has an art degree and we have quite a lot of her work on our walls. She often gives me new pieces for birthdays. We have only owned two living room furniture sets in 38 years. Both were bought new at an outlet so we got very good quality for less. They were saved up for and cash was paid. I would not trade all my old nostalgia for new and trendy. All these cast off things give me connections and comfort.

jomorro said...

Love your creativity. These are the things that make a house a home. Thank-you for sharing. Cheers Jo

Sew Blessed Maw [Judy] said...

Terri, I really enjoyed this post.. Lovely ideas.. thanks for sharing.
We too.. buy used items, or receive items that are no longer needed/wanted from family/friends. Love seeing what a little paint or fabric will do.. so fun.
Have a blessed day.

Kathy said...

You have a beautiful home! I love seeing how you have decorated and painted and repurposed items to furnish your home. You are very talented.

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