Top tips on decorating without a fat wallet.

May 7, 2019

When it comes to décor, money isn’t everything. To create a stylish room, all you really need is imagination and the patience to find the right piece.

When you’re designing a home, it’s easy to get carried away dreaming about expensive sofas, rugs and art. But big-ticket items aren’t as important as they seem, and splurging to buy them is no guarantee you’ll end up with a home you love.

Often it’s the small touches that make a space feel truly inviting and memorable.

Style is in the mix of things. It doesn’t take any imagination, or any level of taste, to go to a high-end store or an Italian design store and buy everything. That just takes deep pockets.

Here’s how to make a big impact on a small budget. No stress, all style. It’ll make you rethink everything.

Use Paint Creatively

We all know that the biggest bargain in the world is a big bucket of paint,” says Jeffrey Bilhuber, an interior designer whose upscale clients include Anna Wintour and Iman, but whose book from Rizzoli, “Everyday Decorating,” offers punchy decorating tips for everyone. With practise you can use paint to make a room look larger or smaller, wider or taller. Buy sample pots in various shades and slap each colour on a couple of metres of butcher’s paper that you can blue-tac up, move around and look at in the morning, afternoon and evening. Choose colours that suit the amount of light, and bear in mind that paint will look much stronger when applied to four walls. Read more, ‘Paint Colours with Cult Followings.’

A fresh coat of paint on walls that have become smudged over the years will immediately renew a room, and a change of colour can transform it. “Colour connotes confidence,”  Bilhuber says, and painting the walls a bold one “means that you’re confident in the place that you live.”

Paint can be used to cover more than drywall. Will Cooper, a partner and the chief creative officer at the New York firm ASH NYC, said that a quick fix for lacklustre wood floors is to paint them. In his own East Village apartment, he said, “The floors were cheap strip oak that I sanded and painted the same colour as the walls and ceiling,” using an oil-based floor paint. It made a huge difference and changed the whole atmosphere,” he said, by making the space seem bigger and brighter. Read more, ‘Paint Mistakes: ‘The 9 Colour Mistakes You Should Never Make.’

We painted a small room with no personality a dark Coco Cola colour, and added blinds from wall to wall, floor to ceiling, in the same colour to striking effect.

In smaller rooms, Cooper recommended painting brick walls after giving them a light skim-coat of plaster to reduce surface irregularities. Although many people prize exposed brick, he said, “it can suck energy and light from a room.” Painting it lightens things up while leaving an appealing texture.

Or try using a contrasting paint colour to play up attractive moulding, or even to create a wainscot effect. Painting a line of colour that’s about one metre and goes to the ground is a really great, interesting way to add visual, depth. Read more, ‘Australia’s Best Paint Colours Are.’

Add Textiles Strategically

Changing a room by changing cushions is a well-worn concept, Bilhuber says, that “if somebody says ‘change your cushions’ one more time, I’m going to change my job.” But, he admitted, that it doesn’t make the strategy any less effective.

Adding cushions and a throw rug in a great colour to a sofa can make a statement in a living room, and you can do the same in a bedroom with minimal expense.

You can change your bedding in a flash by just changing the pillowcases. They could be ochre,  tobacco, periwinkle blue or palest pink  — kapow. Keep everything else straightforward.

Change the Lampshades

Another easy, affordable way to bring colour into space, is with new lampshades. Buy yellow instead of white or choose aubergine, coffee, black, even ticking or checks.

You can get off-the-shelf shades in all different shapes, sizes, and colours, which will change the look of a lamp super easily. For a client in Sydney, Adelaide Bragg, founder of Bragg & Co, used coffee coloured shades which gave the room a whole new point of view and a little glamour. Or try patterned lampshades to make them a striking visual feature. Read more, ‘Permission to Fawn Over This Lamp Brand.’

Adjust the Light

Change your light bulbs — it can be one of the quickest and most affordable things you can do.  We sometimes walk through our city neighbourhood at night and see some of the most awful mistakes when we look into surrounding houses. Read more, ‘The Essential Guide to Lighting.’

Specifically, we see too much bright bluish-white light. You should always use warm light, whether it’s incandescent or LED which typically means installing bulbs with a colour temperature of 3,000 or lower.

Next, bring down the wattage.

You do not need to be cutting diamonds in your apartment.

Low levels of lighting improve the mood. This can be accomplished with lower-wattage bulbs, three-way bulbs or dimmers. If you want to take it a little bit further, add picture lights, either over paintings or behind collections on tables. You’re controlling how you visually navigate your way through the apartment by turning spots of light on certain objects and highlighting their beauty. Read more, ‘Lighting a Room, Simplified’

Add a Vintage Find

Not every piece of furniture and accessory needs to be a showstopper. A single distinctive object can create a focal point and enhance the appearance of a larger space. One special thing can elevate a whole room.

We always try to include something vintage or one of a kind in every room. It’s something that can’t be easily replicated and has a story.

In our country house, we added an old French bateau lit sofa to a corner of the living room. It is as much a sculptural element as a place to sit.

We picked up some dirt-cheap, very old Italian chairs at an auction house with ancient canework and original blue and silver paintwork – which we have dotted them around the house. They have a history and texture that’s great to look at and live with.

These pieces needn’t be expensive, said Mr. Fong, who is known for creating interiors filled with vintage treasures, including a home he designed with Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi that featured a room with a beaten-up wooden ring on one wall and a collection of vintage mirrors on another.

A lot of those mirrors came from flea markets and thrift stores,” Mr. Fong said. “You go to the flea market and find an amazing tray, interesting tabletop items or interesting art, and it can really do a lot for an environment.”

Install Inexpensive Art

In his new book, Mr. Bilhuber writes that “art can animate a room even if it isn’t trophy art.” Expanding on that idea, he explained that you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to put art to work in an interior.

Some of the chicest projects I’ve ever worked on had masterworks next to framed posters,” he said. “Go to MoMA and get a $100 masterwork in poster format, and make no excuses. It’s human, it’s real, it’s humble.”

Or buy pieces by lesser-known or unknown artists simply because they appeal to you.

Better yet, Mr. Bilhuber said, work with what you already have. “You’re always going to have those five pictures you’ve had since your first apartment,” he said. “Take them down and start fresh. Lay them all out on the floor and look at them together. Just rehanging them in a way that is more uniform, or like a collage, can make the difference.” You might like to read – ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Decorating Your Home’.

Remember the Sense of Smell

While the things you see and touch get the most attention when designing a home, scent can also play a role.

Find a room scent you love,” said Mr. Bilhuber, who prefers home-fragrance sprays over scented candles. “There can be a difference between your apartment and everyone else’s. There can be a difference between what’s happening in the hallway and your living room.”

His favourite, he said, is Amber & Smoke from Paddywax’s Apothecary collection. I use it every night before I go to bed,” he said. “Two or three spritzes and you’re transported to a completely different place than where you were two seconds before.” We agree – I love Cire Trudon Ernesto as a treat but am equally happy with a spritz of lavender oil. Read more, ‘Decorating on a Budget: 20 Tips from the Pros’.

You might also like to read: ‘The 50 Best Decorating Tips of All Times’.

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