How do I know these tricks will change your space? Because I use all of them, all the time.
I’ve always been a big believer in the idea that you don’t have to have a trust fund or a sugar daddy to have style. Determination and creativity go pretty far in making up for lack of a black card. My own personal experimentation with decorating on a budget started when I graduated college and was making the salary of a tenth-grader working retail part time after school.
My job was in fashion and I was living in New York, and I wanted a fab apartment to go with my fab adult life, but I could barely pay rent and afford shampoo. So I made some curtains out of Wal-mart fabric and stitch-witchery, painted a coffee table my mom gave me, used fabric and leather scraps from work as wall decor, found a nightstand on the street, and I made it work. Things have luckily gotten less dire over the last few years, but I still don’t see the need to spend a ton of money on things I can improvise or re-create for less. Instead, I use my “look for less” ideas.
Here are a few of my best.
1. Don’t buy wall art. I almost never buy wall art, but I have a lot of things on my walls. How? Because I frame a lot of random shit. Does the bar down the street have cute cardboard coasters? Shove a few in your purse, and when you get home, hot glue those things to a piece of poster board and put it in a frame. Do you have a printer? Google “motivational quotes,” print out the ones in cute typography, and put them in a frame. Did someone give you a gift in gorgeous wrapping paper? Open it carefully, save that paper when no one is looking, and (all together now!) put it in a frame. Other things I’ve framed: greeting cards, stationery, pages from coffee table books, doodles I’ve drawn, maps, photos I’ve taken that I printed out in black and white … so many possibilities.
2. Don’t buy throw pillow inserts. This is a great trick I learned through a friend. When you go to actually purchase throw pillow inserts at stores like West Elm or Crate & Barrel, they run anywhere from $15 to $50 depending on the size and fill. But instead of shelling out that kind of dough … head to the clearance section of your local Home Goods and look for the ugliest, foulest pillow you can find. It’ll probably have a mallard on it or be covered in hot pink leopard fur, but it’ll cost something like $3-$10. Open the zipper, and chances are there’s a perfectly good, brand new pillow insert in there that you can stick inside a beautiful new cover at home. I always get the urge to explain myself the the person at the checkout, like “Just so you know, I don’t actually like these pillows, I just want them for their insides,” so they don’t think I have bad taste. But other than that, it’s a great way to save a buck.
3. Get friendly with some spray paint. Spray paint makes every hard surface you own incredibly versatile — you can take your outdated decor, old stuff that doesn’t really go with your color scheme, even some ugly patio furniture, and with a few cans of paint and an hour on the weekend, transform it into something you love. One of my other favorite cheap-o spray-paint hacks is to go to places like Goodwill or the Salvation Army and buy old mismatched frames, books, candlesticks, or even kids’ toys (like blocks and animal figurines), and paint them all in one or two matching shades (for books, you can just paint the spines)… you’ll instantly have a collection of accessories to scatter throughout a room that tie in your color scheme.
4. Buy yourself a staple gun. Like spray paint saves hard surfaces, staple guns save upholstered ones. You can turn so many ugly things into pretty things (or just change up pieces you’re sick of) with a staple gun. I covered red and green plaid cushions on dining room chairs, revamped a cushioned bench seat, and made an upholstered headboard with some batting, plywood and a few yards of fabric with a staple gun. And the best part is it’s super easy to use.
5. Use things for reasons other than what they’re intended for. When I’m shopping, I always try to take things out of context and look at them for the essence of what they are. Those dining chairs I recovered? I did it with a $5 tablecloth I found in the clearance section at Home Goods, because essentially, a table cloth is a big rectangle of fabric that’s just like the fabric you buy in yards, except it has a hem. Instead of spending $15 a yard for fabric, I got everything I needed for $5. Look for things without looking at their purpose.
Pretty space + money in the bank = winning, amirite?