Quick style steals that don't take much effort at all.

February 13, 2019

If the rising costs of being cosmopolitan have you in a flap, consider these wallet-friendly ways to score affordable luxury at home. Quick style steals to décor deals and easy update, that will instantly raise the bar in your abode. Yes, copy the paint colours of the rich and famous – including Monet’s Luminous Yellow, Vanderbilt’s chocolate brown, Hemingway’s Cooling Blue or Saarinen’s Studio Beige.

Score a Pair of Pearl Earrings for Peanuts. And other designer tricks to beautify your home for $100 or less! Best of all, it doesn’t take much effort at all. You read that right. We’re talking high-impact décor and wardrobe moves that cost almost nothing…

Here are simple, economically responsible ways to raise the bar in your abode.

Copy the best white paints with a cult following used among leading designers and architects used to working with huge budgets. Image via Elle Decoration UK


You may not have a massive house like George Vanderbilt’s 35-bedroom Biltmore Estate, in North Carolina, but you can match the sumptuous colour of this wealthy aesthete’s bedroom walls. Or the colours used by top designers and architects for the world’s most beautiful houses.

Generally affordable, paint is the Chanel lipstick of interiors.

In 18th-century England, for example, the affluent tended to choose hues such as an academic deep green, which cost 30 pence per pound compared with 4p per pound for more common colours such as cream and grey. “Peach blossom,” a sedate pink, also swept the ruling classes, at 12p per pound. “When I’m looking in the microscope at paint layers,” said Patrick Baty, historical paint consultant and author of “The Anatomy of Colour” (Thames & Hudson), “I can see people’s tastes and aspirations and snobbery and poverty and wealth.”

Monet’s Luminous Yellow

The indefatigably sunny colour that coats the walls, mouldings and furnishings of Claude Monet’s dining room in Giverny, France, amplified sunshine (notice the dearth of electric lights) “Claude Monet wanted to bring light and colour into his house,” said Ombeline Lemaitre, of Fondation Claude Monet. During the 43 years he lived here, until his 1926 death, Monet hosted midday meals with prime ministers, art dealers and artists including Renoir. Bring sunshine into your home with the same hue: Pineapple Grove 333, Regal Select, $55 a gallon, – which Dulux can match.

Seek out unknown artisans on your travels – sometimes it’s the simple luxury of seeing something you love in your home and remembering your adventure of a local market.  Image via Elle Decoration UK.

Vanderbilt’s Broody Brown

Art collector and philanthropist George Washington Vanderbilt—grandson of industrialist “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt—painted his private bedroom with chocolate brown. The mud-toned upper walls and ceiling create unlikely intimacy in the nearly 18-foot-tall room, one of 250 in Biltmore, the 1890s mansion he built in North Carolina. The colour also acts as a matte foil to the 23K gold-coated burlap that clad the walls. Copy the shade with Sherwin-Williams Nuthatch SW-6088, $31 a gallon, which Dulux can colour match.

Hemingway’s Cooling Blue

Papa Hemingway deferred to his second wife, Pauline, in the renovation of the Key West, Florida home they bought in 1931 and lived in for ten years. Pauline, a fashion editor for Vogue in Paris, selected cool interior colours, observed Dave Gonzales, executive director of the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum. “I would imagine here in the subtropics she was trying to visually cool down the weather,” he said. Mr. Baty noted that, in sky blue, “the walls seem to vanish, and one is left with the impression of a loggia. Sweet Innocence 2125-50, Regal Select, $55 a gallon,

Saarinen’s Studio Beige 

Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen (1873-1950) concocted this complex putty hue himself. It appears in the north-facing working studio of his faculty home at Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy of Art (pictured above), where the family (including son Eero) lived from 1930 to 1950. “White was not part of Eliel’s colour vocabulary,’” said Gregory M. Wittkopp, director of the Cranbrook Centre for Collections and Research. Mr. Wittkopp posits that Saarinen nonetheless wanted “a colour that was going to be pretty reflective and keep the room as bright as possible” and so conjured this tawny shade, which maximizes the light but adheres to an overall earthy palette of greys, greens and brown.

Though self-effacing, the beige adds atmosphere.

“One senses that nothing would have been allowed to compromise the clean lines and order seen here,” said Mr. Baty. Twisted Oak Path 226, Regal Select, $55 a gallon,

Go-to Paints With Cult Followings 

Great whites that wrap around you without being overbearing that you will see in some of the best Australia houses include ANTIQUE WHITE USA: which is the white chosen more often than any other according to Dulux. It’s an ochre-based, versatile, universally flattering white, that is the perfect wall colour. NATURAL WHITE: is “one of the best warm whites around,” according to designer Charlotte Coote. Or LEXICON: a go-to white, loved by leading Australian design names such as Thomas Hamel, Iain Halliday, Greg Natale, Anna Spiro and Parterre owner, Richard Haigh. Also, VIVID WHITE: One of the best, bright cool whites around, with a cult following in the paint world. Big names such as Thomas Hamel, Iain Halliday, Anna Spiro,  Charlotte Coote, (Coote & Co) and Pamela Makin, (Les Interieurs), all swear by it.

Go-to websites like Ebay, Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree can be great places to seek bargain versions of the same  kind of copper pans, special vases and collectibles you see in the world’s best interiors. Image via Elle Decoration UK



American architect, Jeffrey Dungan suggests using monumental plants or a sizable vase filled with branches indoors. “I have an arrangement of prunings from my hornbeam trees that have the most wonderful colour,” he says. “The large scale is terrific, makes a big impact on any room and allows for a personal touch rather than something you just purchase.”


Anyone can purchase vintage bottles on eBay, Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree and quickly amass 15 to 20 of them for $100. Look for various heights and generally stick to clear, aqua and green glass. Then you can place a single floral stem in each one to replace those boring typical dining-table floral centerpieces. It’s a great way of creating a mini garden by mixing flowers on entry tables, console, or side tables.

Inexpensive, utilitarian things shine when displayed well. Beer bottles, copper jelly moulds, even a collection of one favorite object like Converse All Stars sneakers in every colour instantly becomes a form of installation art on a table or in a closet.

Can’t afford a Picasso? Don’t worry. Think of a wall covered with LP covers from the Sevenites. Very little money, but lots of style nostalgia value – and a great conversation starter.

Love your collection for itself, not its dollar value. Collections begun to make money are rarely as interesting as those started out of love.

Anyone can purchase vintage bottles on eBay, Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree to quickly amass a large collection for almost nothing, then display them well. Image via Elle Decoration UK.


Add a vintage or antique looking mirror in the kitchen as an unexpected, glamorous idea. A French gilded or giltwood style can be found in thrift and vintage stores for a song. And a can of gold spray paint can work wonders.


Replace your current light bulbs with smart bulbs that you can control on your phone. You can dim them or set them to turn on and off at different times of the day. You instantly get a high-end lighting system.


Try adding throw rugs for the perfect finishing touch –  they work in almost every room of the house. Even bathrooms. You can find ones that look like expensive designer ones within budget at chain stores such as Ikea, West Elm and H&M Home.


Seek out local unknown artists or artisans when travelling –  their work is likely to be a good value. Sometime’s the simple luxury of seeing something you love in your home and remembering your adventure of a local market or street.

Seek out local unknown artists or artisans when travelling –  their work is likely to be a good value. Image via Elle Decoration UK


Objects you use every day can become beautiful massed together with an eye to aesthetics. Case in point: the pepper mill or salt cellar. With their curvaceous shapes, a collection of different mills, or tiny affordable glass salt cellars, lined up on a shelf, or in trays on benchtops, feels more like a cool gallery installation, rather than mere table seasoning.


For women who love well-designed jewellery but can’t afford the expensive stuff – check out New York-based jeweller Mary MacGill’s pieces that combine 14-karat gold with freshwater, or “baroque” pearls. The mollusks that produce these, lay dozens at a time, making them less rare, and more affordable than their Tahitian siblings. Bonus: Their organic shapes mean each piece is one-of-a-kind. Another brand we love is Adry Vincenzi. 

related stories

Living By Design


Don’t miss the style set’s fave newsletter

Get Melissa's weekly rundown of where top interior designers source their things and find inspiration - that will instantly transform your pad.

Close and please don't show again