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Make Over

High Style, Low Budget

Courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens®

Preparing your home for remodeling is a big undertaking, but you can make many changes without breaking your budget. Instead of focusing on how much money you spend, think about how wisely you can spend it.

Invest in quality workmanship, pay attention to the small details, and roll up your sleeves to do some work yourself. These 10 tips can help save you money while still sprucing up your home.

1. The Price Is Right

Genuine satisfaction in decorating comes not from writing checks but from devising affordable solutions to vexing problems. Resolve from the outset to be resourceful and you can achieve high style on a shoestring budget.


Put on your decorating thinking
cap to save money and add style.


Let's face it, few of us have the luxury of a sky's-the-limit budget for home decorating. As appealing as it sounds, "money is no object" is just a phrase we fantasize about using right after the lottery pays off or the Prize Patrol comes calling. Even for top interior designers, an unlimited budget is a rarity. Many confess they actually do their best work when they have to rely on creativity instead of cash. So whether you're frugal by nature or necessity, consider these four guiding principles for getting the most out of your decorating dollars.


  • Use inexpensive materials lavishly and expensive materials judiciously. Rely on cotton sailcloth for slipcovers, table skirts, and draperies, and save the pricey textiles for throw pillows and trims.
  • If you have to decide between costly materials and costly labor, choose the labor. An artisan can make your dollar-a-yard fabric look like a million bucks. Elegance is found in details, whether it's sewing trims, borders, and appliques or painting color washes and stries (thin lines or bands) -- touches of finery many of us can't craft for ourselves. Skimping on cheap labor can result in low quality work that may cost you more later down the road.
  • Remember that the objective is not just to see how inexpensively you can get by but to make every money-saving method count. If you do your own painting and paperhanging, you'll have more funds left for furnishings, frills, and labor.
  • Make the most of what you have, then fill in the blanks. Some of the best design ideas are free. Simply rearranging the furniture -- floating it away from the walls, or turning it on the diagonal -- can transform a tired room. Moving a piece of furniture from one room to another can improve the look of both. Experiment with what's on hand before you go shopping for replacements. 

2. It's in the Details

In a featureless room, architectural details can make a big difference for a little price. Wood moldings from the lumberyard or home center are the equivalents of architectural applique. They come in a wide range of sizes and styles, and they can be painted or stained. Use them to frame windows, doors, or panels of wallpaper, or to create a chair or plate rail. Similarly, a wallpaper border is architecture by the roll. It can add ornamental detail to plain rooms and alter the perceived shape and dimension of spaces.

3. Make Your Space Work for You


Even if you can't afford a masterpiece, you don't have to settle for bare walls.

  • Cut out, mat, and frame 20 pages of a book featuring botanical illustrations or architectural sketches. Mount them on a single wall to achieve the collective impact of one large work of art.
  • Turn an ordinary print or poster into an extraordinary piece of art by splurging on professional matting and framing. Elaborate mats and frames can make an inexpensive print look far more sophisticated.

4. Hanging Around

With just a hammer and nail, you're on your way to turning framed treasures into dramatic groupings. But before getting too hammer-happy, make templates of your artwork by tracing the perimeters on kraft paper. Cut out the shapes and tape them to your wall, rearranging until you're happy with the look. Nail through the paper, adjusting nail position according to the frame hangers. Remove paper and hang artwork.

5. Save with Sheets

Because they come in coordinated solids and patterns, sheets take the guesswork out of mixing and matching. Plus, they tend to be less expensive than the same yardage of fabric. Use them to make curtains, craft table skirts, or upholster a salvaged headboard. Turn sheets into a shower curtain or a skirt for a wall-mount sink. Or apply strips of sheet fabric to inexpensive towels for a high-end coordinated look. 

6. Sew It Up to Save Dough

Fabric, like paint, covers a multitude of sins and can make a dramatic difference in an entire room. It also allows you to change the character of your decor seasonally. Use a floral-chintz print for wicker-chair cushions in the summer, and switch to a red-and-black tartan plaid in the winter. Because cushions take so little fabric, you may find what you need on sale in remnant quantities. If you don't sew, have an upholsterer make the covers for you at a reasonable cost. 

  • For old chairs, consider new slipcovers: they can give a brand-new look at a fraction of the price.
  • You don't need expensive fabrics to create a luxe look. The trick to using inexpensive fabric effectively is using lots of it. Instead of just one skirt on a round table, use three: a maxi, a mid, and a mini. Layering conveys luxury.
  • For a monochromatic look, use a solid-color fabric that matches the walls -- perhaps sea-foam green, dove gray, ivory, camel, or creamy yellow -- for slipcovers, table skirts, and window treatments. In lieu of pattern, choose fabrics with texture to increase visual appeal and tactile qualities.
  • Mixing fabric patterns and colors is trickier, of course, but you can improve the odds of doing it successfully by starting with a paisley or floral, adding a stripe or plaid, then introducing a solid color.
  • Study rooms in decorating magazines and books, and you'll find most have three fabric colors in diminishing proportions -- for example, lots of blue, a little less white, and just a smidgen of yellow as an accent. It's a reliable formula that works for any color scheme.
  • Repetition creates continuity. Sew pillows from the curtain fabric; trim curtains and pillows with the same fringe.

7. Size Matters

Looking for abundance? You can stuff a room with furniture and accessories -- an expensive proposition -- or you can buy fewer but bigger items.

Splurge on one worthy focal-point element and you won't have to spend so much on the elements around it. Try an oversize mirror instead of several small ones, for instance. Consider a large armoire you can appreciate every day instead of four tiny tables that never get noticed. Six small throw pillows won't do as much for an ordinary sofa as two 24 x 24-inch ones, which can change the sofa's profile and personality dramatically.

8. Know-How Stretches the Pocketbook

Often, the smartest buy is knowledge. Buying a few hours of an interior designer's time could help you decide where best to spend your limited resources and might keep you from making costly mistakes you'll have to live with for a long time.

Look for ideas that are low-cost or even no-cost. Study furniture vignettes in furniture stores and design centers. Go on house tours, and visit model homes and designer showhouses. Pay attention to the colors and materials you encounter in restaurants, banks, and clothing stores.

In the end, it's not how much money you spend on decorating that matters but how wisely you spend it. Imagination is your most potent ally. To make the most of finite resources, be willing to take an unconventional -- even eccentric -- approach. Make the process of feathering your nest affordably an exercise in creativity, not an exercise in making do. Explore, experiment, and dare to be different, and your home will almost automatically reflect the good sense, good taste, good humor, and good will you put into it.

9. Paint It Pretty!

For as little as $25, you can create a brand-new complexion with paint.

But don't automatically resort to play-it-safe white, even if you're hesitant about stronger hues. White walls produce a gallery effect that almost demands beautiful objects and furnishings. And white intensifies the perception that something is missing if a room is sparsely furnished. Pastels and darker hues have a way of filling up a room's blank spaces.

You don't have to stick with solid colors, either. Bookstores offer volumes on decorative-painting techniques: combing, glazing, ragging, and stenciling. With a little patience and practice, anyone who can hold a brush can turn an ordinary wall into a work of art for pennies a square foot.

10. Beyond Your Walls

Paint has just as much potential on floors and furnishings as it does on walls. Two coats of deck or latex paint topped with three coats of polyurethane will produce a beautiful finish on tile, linoleum, or even old wood floors that are beyond salvage.

Similarly, you can get the look of new furniture without buying new furniture. Paint a hand-me-down dresser crisp white and you've got an instant cottage classic. Collect six different wood dining chairs from secondhand shops and give them a common bond by painting them the same color.


Let your imagination be your guide
when applying colorful paint on
walls and furniture.

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