I am a very
attentive obsessive reader of your posts. Not only do I love the education received, I love the many people you’ve featured that I now follow.
But here’s my problem.
And, I remember this post where you talk about cheap decorating advice when plumb broke.
Well, one man’s “cheap” is another man’s no-can-do. And I guess broke is a relative term? What I mean is–
We need FREE furniture or else super-duper cheap. Like a $50 dollar sofa that looks nice.
Laurel, look. We’re phenomenally house poor. Spare me the lecture. I know. I know!
Not that you would give me a lecture. We’ve had some unexpected expenses. But, I love our new home and believe me, the house is nothing ostentatious. It’s a modest 3-bedroom Cape Cod style home built in the 60s and only 1575 sq feet.
In addition, I’m six months pregnant with twins! The doctor says that I might need to go on bed rest, but I need to take it easy, so I’m not working right now.
To add to the problem. I do have Mark D Sikes tastes and seriously, maybe $3,000 to furnish the entire place.
How does one incorporate pieces that we have and cannot afford to replace or even cover?
We’ve managed to get the house painted. There’s a decent rug that works in the living room, but it is not a long-term piece for me.
One thing I have done is a DIY drop-cloth drape in the living room. I am quite satisfied– for now.
So perhaps a post on ways get dirt cheap or free furniture that’s of good quality and looks great. And also, how to use what you have and make it work for what you want.
For some of us, even custom slipcovers are too expensive.
Thank you again for your hard work and sage advice.
Thanks for that Carolyn.
Okay, let’s jump into today’s topic which is how to decorate beautifully with not just a meager budget, but no money at all.
Is it possible?
Yes, it’s possible.
For some people.
Just so you know, this is based on a real “Dear Laurel” email a while back.
I can relate so well to Carolyn’s difficulty.
And definitely, free furniture was out budget. In fact, we did take this sideboard that I swore I was only going to keep a few years. Nope. It sat in our den for 22 years.
Back in 1991 when we bought our townhouse in Northern Westchester, I guess we didn’t realize how much things were going to cost.
Okay. I dug up one image taken in September 1995. That’s after we had been in our home for 4+ years. I’m holding baby Aaron, 8 months; the wild child, Cale at 5. And me, of course, pushing 40. If you look closely, you can see a tiny sliver of shrimp-pink carpet and an ugly beige electric radiator.
It wasn’t until I began my business in 1996, nearly a year after this image was taken, did we take out an equity source loan, so that we could get rid of the carpet and put in a hardwood floor.
Oh, what a difference all of that made!
And, then things started to improve for several years. And in that period, I acquired several pieces that we needed and fixed up others. The point being, I understand what it means to be broke.
However, these days there are numerous ways to get FREE FURNITURE or at least super cheap furniture.
BTW, my favorite word in the English language is “free.”
My second favorite word is “scholarship.” :]
So, let’s look at the ways to score great free or almost free furniture.
1. You find it
This usually requires living in a large urban area. New York City, is one of the most free shopping sites if you’re patient. Anyone who’s lived there knows that you can find some terrific furniture on the street.
Over the years when I lived in the city, I couldn’t believe what people would leave on the street. In fact, when my husband moved me out of my UWS apartment, we left a few pieces of crap on the street. It really was. But, within an hour, it was gone!
2. Ask Around
I guess that’s kind of obvious, but maybe you haven’t thought of it. The best place to start is with family and friends; particularly elderly family and friends who have not yet down-sized. They may be thrilled that you want to take some of their furniture off of their hands. Less for them to do.
If there are any dementia issues, however, I would check in with children first if it’s an aunt or uncle because they may have laid claim on something. And, of course, if you have siblings, you’ll need to consider them.
What if the free furniture is in great condition, but not really your taste?
We’ll get to that in a sec.
3. Then, of course, are estate, yard and tag sales. Sometimes you can get some fabulous deals. You already know that.
4. Local thrift shops. You know that one too. :]
I found my wonderful night tables at a thrift shop in Katonah, NY 21 years ago. 50 bucks each. I just wish that they were a little smaller and had a drawer. Otherwise, they are perfect. lol
5. Flea Markets
More of my old bedroom. But I am sharing it again because there’s a great photo of my pretty little white wing chair. I picked this up at a flea market about 8 years ago. It had this horribly ratty-ripped-to-shreads fabric and there was an exposed wood frame on the back and part of the arm.
I took it to my upholsterer and told him that I wanted the wood to go away. No problem. He understood exactly what I wanted, agreed and seemed very excited about this project.
A couple of weeks later, he proudly delivered the chair.
And yes, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t take before pics.
6. But, if you want to be able to see a lot of free and/or super cheap furniture without killing yourself, (meaning online) my favorite internet sources are:
However, if the photo looks a little too slick, it might not be a used piece. So, please be careful!
It’s on sale for $799 which sounds pretty good. However, I found it the Tiarella Ash Sofa for $618.75 on another site.
Whenever you are comparison shopping on the internet, first put the piece or pieces in your cart and everything but your payment info. Take it as far as you can go to see ALL of the charges and surcharges that might not be obvious upfront.
And, there are these lovely Louis XVI style dining side chairs for $150/each. Ten chairs! The owner claims they have been used only one time. However, they are selling them for only $30 less than they paid for them. They say that they will not take $100 for them.
Let’s see if they have a [chair] leg to stand on.
Okay, this might be difficult for some of you to track down.
However, that’s relatively easy for me at this point. I found this chair at Home Depot for only $8.44 more per chair– $158.44. So, why would I pay only $85 less for ten used chairs? Plus, HD will deliver them to you for free in 8 days.
In addition there’s also:
Craigslist (which also has a free section)
Nextdoor which is a neighborhood social networking site.
Before you go all hog-wild acquiring all of this stuff for free or close to free, you still need to have a plan.
That link above is to one of my favorite posts which lays out a blue-print for HOW to decorate a room. However, if you need a far more comprehensive guide for living rooms, dining rooms and bed rooms, please consider purchasing my 333 Hard To Find Rules & Tips You Need To Know – guide.
Otherwise, you may find yourself needing to dump pieces that don’t work. Of course, it won’t sting as much if it never cost you anything in the first place. But still.
I know that you already realize this, but just a friendly reminder. :]
7. You could also try putting up notices in community bulletin boards, social clubs and houses of worship. Like, “looking for a Louis XVI set of dining chairs, but Gustavian will work too.”
8. Many communities also have a local Pennysaver where people post items for sale. Some of them are free too. They usually have a listing of local estate and moving sales.
What if I find some fabulous free furniture, say a sofa or chair and the fabric sucks? Remember, I can’t afford custom slip-covers.
Hmmm… but Carolyn did say that she reupholstered a chair. If you can sew, there are a zillion tutorials on both upholstery and slipcover making. You can find them on Pinterest or Youtube.
Personally, I think that slipcovers even if you have to clean toilets five days a week to pay for them are the way to go.
And here’s a great source for cheap white (and other colors) cotton duck (canvas). And they also have video tutorials on slipcover making. ( please click the link for that)
One word about used upholstered furniture, in particular. Please make sure that it is free of bed-bugs and other undesirable issues that could cause health problems.
IMO, Miss Mustardseed is the queen of tasteful furniture make-overs. She also has a lot of great tutorials. I really don’t know how these people do it.
But fine. You’re going to stand firm and say no to slip-covers.
9. Well… there is another option which I’ve touched on a few times. And this might be a great option for Carolyn who goofed on the color of her sofa.
Yes, that’s right. I said paint the fabric.
Let’s explore this option because there’s paint and there’s paint. And it could be wonderful, or you could make a big bloody mess and that would not be so great.
Many of you may recall, oh my over five years ago, I received these wonderful chairs in some expensive Kravet fabric. I loved the fabric. In fact, I had just done the exact same chair for a client. (you can see it in the link)
And I have a confession to make related to this.
I didn’t make it then. Back then, I wanted people to think I was perfect. Now I don’t care. (as much) lol
I really goofed. I had gotten two chairs that ended up being too big. Here’s what happened. They were supposed to go where the green settee is. I tried to sell it even though I still love it. But it’s really not very comfortable to sit on.
Wait, here’s a photo I took a few years ago where the chairs were supposed to go, originally.
Nobody wanted it; not so much as a nibble. I considered putting it in my bedroom. No can do.
Well, let me try it in front of the radiator.
It looks fantastic there; like that was the plan all along.
Great! Well, then I’ll just put the new chairs across from the sofa; in front of the cabinet. There’s plenty of room. Dodged a bullet there.
The chairs came and at first I thought it was a matter of me getting used to them. That happens sometimes.
I woke up the next day. No change in my perception. After a week of hating them more and more in that location, I decided to cut my losses and I put them on Craig’s List and a nice young man came and picked them up for about half of what I paid at wholesale. Great find for him!
I knew that the CR Laine chair would look great. And the fabric would be wonderful too!
After 10 weeks, the chairs arrived. They did look great. But the fabric seemed too summery to me. I probably said all of that in the original post. And I knew that if I could tone down the white, they would be absolutely perfect!
Let’s look at more painted upholstery and techniques
Homemade By Carmona has some excellent tutorials using Annie Sloan Chalk paint.
Here, she uses a dry-brush method, but she used a wet-method with another chair, also with great results which you can find in the link. It seems that chalk paint is the way to go for the best, softest results. However, it works best on fabrics that can be brushed like velvet.
Please check out the after of this chair on Taryn Whiteaker. You won’t believe the transformation!
Kristi from Addicted To Decorating painted an entire sofa. And it looks pretty good in the photos. But she confesses that it’s best for a temporary solution.
And on A Beautiful Mess they transformed this vintage settee into a striking piece.I love the color, but, think it looks a little like plastic.
We’ll stay away from that one!
Here is my over-all view on painting upholstery.
Unless you’re me, ;] if it’s a piece of free or almost free furniture, there isn’t much to lose. If possible, try to test in an inconspicuous spot. An ideal situation would be if you have a sofa or chair and are planning on taking the skirt off. You can use that. But, you have to be patient and go through all of the steps. That’s the hard part.
- Some techniques will take a fair amount of time.
- Over-all, I probably wouldn’t do it unless necessary on a piece that will be used a lot.
- DO make sure that your technique is one that the paint won’t come off on people’s clothing.
- It’s best for small chairs, benches and ottomans.
In fact, if there’s one thing that can breathe new life into some dated furniture, it’s paint.
And the master of paint both in paintings and his dwellings is William McLure.
In addition to the sources listed above, you might be interested in these other internet sites.
Please note that I am not endorsing any of them; just letting you know about them if you don’t already.
While it’s possible to decorate on the cheap with free furniture or nearly free, I think that it does take a lot of patience and time. If you enjoy thrifting, then of course, I think it makes a lot of sense for many people. And some people have no choice, if they want to have something to sit on– AND they want it to look nice.
Well, that’s all for now. I’m working on a special post for Sunday.
please pin to your pinterest boards for reference
In the meantime, please check out the newly updated hot sales.