Economical Decorating Ideas – The Ultimate Guide

freaking-out-over-your-paint-colors

 

Greetings from Boston on this super wet Memorial Day Weekend. Below is an actual Dear Laurel letter from a kind reader. She’s fallen on some hard times and needs help with some economical decorating ideas.

Here’s what she said:

 

Dear Laurel,

Throwing this out there in case you might be looking for inspiration for a blog post.

 

I Need Economical Decorating Ideas. I Mean, Decorating Advice For REALLY Broke Girls.

 

As in really NO money.

It happens.

My situation is that my spouse of 16 years came home from work one day. No warning whatsoever; and announced that he was leaving me and our two girls, ages 12 and 9.

Yes. Pig. No, wait. Pigs are sweet creatures. This one is… well, never mind, I’m sure that you understand.

I’m 48 and have been a stay-at-home mom since our eldest was born.

So, we sold the house, but right now, without a job, I need to be super careful.

I’ve been in the process of furnishing a condo on next to nothing.

 

The living room, which is nearly finished, has cost me a whopping $755.

 

Please don’t ask, but a friend of a friend knows an older couple who needed to unload their good quality Sherrill sofa and two chairs. And now, they’re mine; however, the fabric is not my taste at all.

The sofa is a pink-ish floral tapestry, and the chairs are just plain pink. And it’s all pretty faded. It isn’t what I would have chosen, but I’m working with it because I have no other choice.

Plus, the walls are a pinkish taupe, and the landlord had just painted them and won’t re-paint them. So actually, it all sort of works in a dusty but dated way.

 

I know what you’re thinking, Laurel.

 

You think I should’ve had a plan, but can I just say that I’m not thinking too clearly these days?

However, before I go any further, please let us know what to prioritize and cost-cutting ideas.

 

Plus, are there any great resources that we might not know about?

 

And are there any other tips for getting an expensive look on a shoestring budget?

For instance, should I do plain, boring curtains or a print of some kind?

If I get a print to pull paint color from, which one? a chair, bed set, curtains, rug?

Can I even find multiple print-type items that will work together?

Do I need to stick with one print and then do everything else plain? I’m trying to keep it bright and cheerful because I need all of the good cheer I can scrape up.

Katie

***

Oh, Katie,

I feel for you and can relate to all of it. However, if you need some support, I very much recommend the blog, Chump Lady.

 

Aside from that, getting decent home furnishings for nothing or next-to-nothing takes time.

 

But here is a terrific article that shares some great sources for free or nearly free furniture.

There are a ton of great ideas and resources I’m not going to list.

There’s also Facebook Marketplace which I didn’t see included in that article. I think most of us know that one by now.

However, I also wrote a post about little-known ways to score free or nearly free furniture.

 

My favorite budget-conscious trick for upholstered furniture is custom slip-covers.

 

This old post has gobs of great slipcover ideas.

Please read this post about cost-saving home decor tricks.

One of my favorite sources for slipcovers is the Slipcover Maker. I’m sure that her prices are reasonable. However, I’m not sure if she can make a slipcover long-distance unless you can give her a pattern. It might depend on the piece.

 

economical decorating ideas - Custom slipcovers ComfortWorks Etsy - best decorating advice

 

DIYSlipcovers say that they can do custom slipcovers from photos and measurements. They’re on Etsy and have great reviews, so I guess it’s worth a try.

 

Another terrific one of my favorite economical decorating ideas is to take cheap, ready-made drapes and add trim to them. And in so doing, make them look custom and expensive.

 

Actually, I did an entire post on the topic of how to make budget curtains look expensive.

(all of the information and ideas are different from what you’re about to see.)

 

economical decorating ideas-via Ballard Design adding trim to drapes with Stitch Witchery - great decorating advice

Tutorial via Ballard Designs

STITCH-Witchery-TapeNo-Sew-Hem-Tape-BLACK-OR-WHITE - great decorating advice for no-sew creatinsYou can do this, even if you don’t sew with stitch witchery. It’s an iron-on adhesive. I’ve seen tutorials out there that explain how to create all sorts of things without sewing.

 

However, there are also other products on the market for no-sew curtains and other soft furnishings.

 

Please check reviews and other information. Also, if anyone has had great success using no-sew adhesives or tapes, please let us know what works and what doesn’t work as well.

Please click on any image for more information.

 

 

Unless you’re knowledgeable and talented, I wouldn’t attempt to do this because the tutorials for slipcovers and curtains are usually dreadful.

 

But, here are some terrific sources for trim on Etsy!

 

There’s also this darling idea where a woman took a plain roller shade and embellished it with iron-on tape to make a Greek Key design. I love this idea.

 

via What the Vita Blog - economical decorating ideas - adding tape to make a Greek Key design on a Roman Shade

What The Vita

 

I would’ve made the corner key a little smaller, is all. But I love this idea. The tutorial is in the link above.

 

A few years ago, I was considering this design (below) for my old bedroom.

 

roman shade with center greek key - great decorating adviceThe design is with ribbon trim.

And then…

roman shade diamond greek key border great decorating advice

In this case, the top is actually a little valance so that the shade can go down or up.

Virtual Kitchen Design - Benjamin Moore - Simply White - custom Roman Shades - By Harrington

A couple of years ago, I showed a similar image to a client I was helping with her kitchen, and she found a source to have them made!

 

At this point, let’s touch on some of Katie’s questions regarding decorating advice and my best tips.

 

Anyone who’s read my blog for more than a few weeks probably has figured out that an overriding theme is the room itself. The architecture. The proverbial “bones.” We were just discussing that in last Wednesday’s post.

But, what if it’s a rental and we can’t change the bones?

And what if all we can afford is a plain boring box painted a color that looks very much like the color of – never mind.

In other words, if you have a paint color that you can’t stand, use other colors closely related to it; or ones that complement it.

However, if you really can’t stand the color and can’t make it work. Perhaps try asking again if you can paint the walls a lovely, soft white.

 

This is my take regarding using a print for the curtains.

Please be careful.

Cheap drapes with a cheap print are not that easy to find. However, there are some stylish designs on Overstock.

Plus, this is another favorite post that discusses how to mix and match fabrics successfully.

One of my favorite tricks is the use of throw pillows to get a rich look without spending a fortune.

 

Frequently, that is where I would splurge with my clients and myself. And, it is very much worth it.

Please check out this post about throw pillows.

We’ve talked a few times about great sources on Etsy to get designer fabric pillow covers for relatively little money.

That splurge is worth eating beans and rice for a while. I love my beautiful pillows. It’s what I SEE, not the 18 yards of fabric on the sofa. And they make me very happy.

And despite being able to get bargains with used furniture, these days there’s a lot of furniture that’s DIRT CHEAP, and it’s not bad-looking. Some of it is gorgeous!

 

My favorite sources for cheap-but-great-looking besides Overstock are:

 

Wayfair – They have home furnishings at all price points.

One Kings Lane – I guess we all know that by now. And yes, some things on OKL are very pricey, but they also have a lot of affordable furniture. For example, they have great prices on some of their accent tables.

World Market – Has an interesting selection of some interesting imported pieces.

Bed Bath and Beyond

AND a company that has taken off in the last few years in the home furnishings realm is

my beloved Tarzhay, aka Target

Pottery Barn has some great sales too!

 

Please also check out the following posts that also have some excellent economical decorating ideas.

 

Affordable Home Decorating Ideas You’re Gonna Love

And also this post: Cost Saving Home Decor Tricks

Free Art Wall Templates and Free Art, too!

 

Oh my, there are a ton of Memorial Day Weekend Sales.

More info on the HOT SALES PAGES.

Or, go directly to ONE KINGS LANE HERE.

 

***Please check out the HOT SALES page for more info about all of the terrific Memorial Day Weekend Sales.***

 

And below, I made a widget with some affordable furniture that I think looks much more expensive than it is.

 

 

Again, there’s a lot more to see on the HOT SALES pages which you can access here.

xo,

 

7th edition rolodex-post-graphic - November 2020 - A unique shopping guide with hundreds of sources created by Laurel Bern

  • Michelle Winter - June 6, 2021 - 2:39 PM

    I love all these comments!

    1. Freecycle.com is available in many cities. I’ve gotten and given lots of free but still usable stuff. We got a NICE queen sized bed that had only been used twice in someone’s guest room once.

    2. If you can’t paint the walls, you can find a cheap 100% cotton fabric you like and dip it in NON-scented fabric softener and apply it to walls as a fabric “wall paper.” It peels right off years later without harming the walls! Yes, I’ve done this and it works.

    3. You can paint your ugly fabric furniture if you don’t want to cover it. Yes! It’s true. Google “how to paint fabric furniture” for instructions. It feels kinda like soft leather and YES! I have done this one too. You can sometimes find “oops” paint at your local hardware store (they made the wrong color accidentally and sell it by the gallon for just a couple of dollars). If you don’t see an “oops” paint you like, you may try mixing another color in to make a new color out of it. (It’s helpful if you understand color theory.) Alternatively, contact a painting contractor and see if they ever have any leftovers they can share.

    Laurel, my favorite tip you shared was the inexpensive one-colored ribbon on the curtains applied as a pattern…great idea!ReplyCancel

  • Carol Miller - June 3, 2021 - 9:50 AM

    Perhaps it’s already been suggested but when i was younger, i bought a really inexpensive rattan room divider at Pier One. i used to throw shawls over it, cover it’s panels in fabric attached to cardboard that i placed in the panels, i did all kinds of fun with that divider. i could have sprayed it, but there was nothing wrong with the bamboo “poles” or whatever they’re called. i hope you send us before and after shots…also, when you have $$, you don’t use baskets and plants very much, but when you don’t…HAVE FUN DOING THIS. as i said earlier, your ex is a dick.ReplyCancel

  • Amy P. - June 3, 2021 - 9:34 AM

    One other comment – someone in my town started a “Pay it Forward” Facebook group (not Marketplace) for people to give away things they don’t need anymore, or for people to ask if anyone has XYZ item and is willing to part with it for free. The only rule is that no money is involved, and the giver must offer free local delivery if the taker needs it. I got a dorm fridge and toaster oven within a day of posting, and have given away tons of things. It’s really a great resource and proof that people are just itching to give stuff away for free.ReplyCancel

  • Mary A - June 3, 2021 - 3:17 AM

    Thank you! After researching the brand Paulato by Gaico), I was able to find products at QVC as well in a color that wasn’t offered by Mamma Mia. They’re made in Italy.ReplyCancel

  • Mary A - June 2, 2021 - 10:44 PM

    The line for The Slipcover Maker is dead.ReplyCancel

  • Amy P. - June 1, 2021 - 11:07 AM

    The silver lining of having to decorate on the cheap is discovering how much FREE or incredibly inexpensive but NICE stuff you can buy. I got a mint-condition $10,000 sofa upholstered all in Scalamandre fabric with 8 inch Scalamandre fringe for $300 on facebook marketplace. There’s this gorgeous white-slipcovered high-end sofa on marketplace near me that has been listed for months and is now down to $400. (It’s located in the Madison, WI area). The idea of spending even $1,000 on a sofa now just seems like laziness. Friends/relatives/co-workers/neighbors have all sorts of treasures sitting in their basements that they’d be glad to get rid of. Mention that you’re looking for decor items, even things like bed/bath linens and drapes and dish/cookware and see what they come up with. You’ll be astounded and they’ll be so glad that someone took their leather chair or painting or collection of coffee table books off their hands.ReplyCancel

  • Lori - June 1, 2021 - 5:56 AM

    I am a firm believer that “where there is a will there is a way”. If I don’t know how to do something I will learn it. Many years ago as a single woman I purchased a 1914 home that was basically a disaster area. I earned a decent living but still had a hard time making ends meet with all of the expenses so I learned how to plaster, paint, wallpaper, refinish wood floors and sew. I purchased the cheapest sewing machine in the showroom for a whopping $167 and a book entitled “Fabric Magic” by a fantastic individual by the name of Melanie Paine and set about the process of sewing draperies. My sewing skills were virtually non-existent but I figured it out. In time, I started sewing my own slipcovers, pillows, and upholstering. I found online stores that sold good fabrics at cheap prices online (Fabric Guru is one of them). 30 or so years later here I am at age 60 and I’m still at it — using that same sewing machine. I recently scored some seriously fantastic furniture deals on Craigslist — a Kindel sofa that retails for $11,000 I bought for $300. I stripped it down and reupholstered the whole thing and then made a white linen slipcover and a charcoal velvet slipcover for it. I picked up two Ralph Lauren Devonshire wingback chairs that retail for upwards of $6,000 each for $200 for the pair and made linen and velvet slipcovers for them as well. I bought an entire dining room set for $150 — painted it, recovered the seats and it looks fabulous. I purchased a suede Ralph Lauren writer’s chair that retails for $10,000+ for $600. When people come into my home they always say how beautiful it is. One of the pieces visitors to my home have admired most is something I garbage picked off the curb. I have come to realize that a beautiful home doesn’t always depend on wads of cash. Yes, there are slipcover makers out there and retailers with sales galore but the fact remains that even if their prices are reasonable if you have limited funds even the reasonable prices may still out of reach. I made the decision a long time ago that I would achieve what I wanted to achieve and would not give up on my dream simply because I didn’t know how. or didn’t have the cash. My journey taught me self-reliance and I learned that ingenuity and good taste matter more than money. You would be surprised at some of the downright beautiful sofas, chairs, and other furnishings folks give away for free on Craigslist. Yes, you have to be careful. So take precautions and never go to a location unless you have someone with you. Having said that, I have personally never had an unpleasant experience purchasing furnishings off of folks who have listed on that site. Laurel Bern has been a huge source of inspiration for me. Her keen eye guides and educates. There is a wealth of information available here. Never give up and always remember that we are limited only by our fears. I hope that my story inspires you to find the creative genius inside of you. Godspeed.ReplyCancel

  • gaye - May 31, 2021 - 8:03 PM

    First, remember this: you don’t have to do it all today or this month. I’d suggest painting the walls white first and reading Laurel’s blog’s and Internet-looking and getting a really good idea of what makes you comfortable. The idea of a glass of wine (or Bourbon?) and a long sit on that sofa strikes me as a good idea. But know this: the day will come when you will view the departure of your husband as a great blessing. It will. You will come to know yourself and like being with yourself as never before. As you are creating your new home, you are also creating a new life. Remember what makes you feel good and use the basic design principles Laurel teaches better than anyone I’ve encountered. Those principles apply at any price point. Bless you and your children.ReplyCancel

  • Sharon - May 31, 2021 - 7:13 PM

    I am a Realtor in No CA. In the past six mo. I have had to literally empty two entire 5000 Sf homes in a very short time on one and a little longer on the other. The contents included everything down to the towels and sheets on the beds, and everything in the kitchen. I could not get most of the charities to help either and these were luxury homes with high end furnishings. If you know agents let them
    Know you are in the market for furnishings. They would rather help you out than trying to arrange for charity pickups that are so time consuming. I ended up giving a lot to my landscaper and was thrilled he took it away!ReplyCancel

  • The Slipcover Maker - May 31, 2021 - 3:21 PM

    Laurel — It’s always fun to check out your budget-friendly recommendations for home products and services. Super inspiring! Thanks for including me!ReplyCancel

  • Margaret - May 31, 2021 - 3:04 PM

    My son and DIL have two cats and an expensive white sofa. I just sent them a stretchy velvet slipcover that tucks in easily and well, and the fabric doesn’t allow those claws to catch in it. The brand I used is MammaMia, but if you google stretchy velvet slipcovers, a lot comes up. Good luck!ReplyCancel

  • bbstx - May 31, 2021 - 8:50 AM

    I see that you have Liquid Stitch among the non-stitch ways to apply trim to curtains. I am a long time user of Liquid Stitch, but my latest effort was a disaster. I used it to hem a linen table skirt. The Liquid Stitch left a stain. Wherever I used it, it left the fabric looking wet. I hoped that it was truly just wet, but after two months, it still looks wet. No more Liquid Stitch for me!ReplyCancel

  • Lisa - May 30, 2021 - 8:18 PM

    About the pink stuff…. I know a very thrifty woman with a strong sense of style who styled her house sort of piece meal. She only bought or brought into her home things she loved. I was surprised to walk into her house, with walls painted a dark, maybe hazelnut, brown. She had two recliners that were pink, and slightly worn, from her grandparents. On their own, they would’ve seemed so Edith Bunker. But with the dark walls, white rock fireplace, and a super large framed print of a peacock, they looked fabulous! Who knew!

    Maybe you could just go all in instead of fighting your decorating predicament. You didn’t get to choose this situation, and I hate that you and your girls are in it. But maybe have fun trying to reimagine your home and who you are. Maximalist????ReplyCancel

  • Debra C - May 30, 2021 - 7:39 PM

    For lighting, try searching for “open box” items at online retailers. I recently scored a Visual Comfort lamp for half price that way.
    Almost everything in my home is a floor model, customer return or Craigslist/ FB Marketplace find. I have some really nice pieces from Henredon, Kindel, etc. that I could never afford at full price. You do to be super patient–the perfect item will show up eventually! Cheers!ReplyCancel

  • marci - May 30, 2021 - 7:21 PM

    Check the internet site AuctionZip and see what is going on in your area. Auctions are the best way to get a good deal. I have purchased many authentic oriental rugs for less than $50. Boxes of dishes for 50 cents and a dollar, a complete set of Lenox dishes for $75. But, you have to search and go and learn. Good luck.

    ReplyCancel

  • Roberta King - May 30, 2021 - 7:02 PM

    Amanda, I’m with you on the estate sale thing. I scout the more affluent neighborhoods near my home, focusing on high-end waterfront homes. I would encourage anyone to sign up for notification from estatesales.net. You’ll get emails with photos from sales in your area. You will be able to tell within a few photos if the person’s taste is similar to your own. I have been able to get furniture from Baker and Bernhardt, very good hand knotted rugs, fine accessories, linens and kitchen items. One of my friends scored a Vitamix blender for $50. I see no reason to pay full price when there is so much to choose from that’s been gently loved, and maybe just needs a dusting and cleaning.ReplyCancel

  • denise lauria - May 30, 2021 - 5:12 PM

    I hav found sheets make good curtains and shower curtains as well! You can add trim etc to them, and good in a pinch for temporary things.ReplyCancel

  • Peggy Beavers - May 30, 2021 - 4:41 PM

    Laurel,
    Your blog is enjoyable and helpful beyond measure. Thank you. I’ve poured over it and have a home that receives compliments from all who enter, due to your blog and Rolodex. At our 44th anniversary together, I had to separate from my husband. Retired, with very small pension, savings halved and attorney fees to pay, I allowed my ex to take what he wanted to hasten separation. He took a great deal — far more than he could possibly use. I was left with empty rooms and others with only 1 or 2 pieces, such as only an occasional chair. It took a great deal of puzzling and energy to furnish and stock my 2,700 sq. foot home within the very modest budget of $37,000. That’s the whole house, not for just a room. He even took the spices, canned goods and first aid supplies. I put all items that could possibly be used to furnish the house in a small bedroom. Ex: shawls, picture frames, plates, that chair, et al. From this I determined the home’s color ways and look I’d aim to accomplish. Only a sofa (scouted from your Rolodex) 5-lamps (one from your Hot Sales widgets) two tables, beds, flatware and such, dining room chairs and pillows (from your Hot Sales) and 2-cow hides were bought new. All else was bought from on-line auctions, consignment stores, Home Goods, floor model scratch and dent, remnants, garage sales, a flea market or I repurposed an item. If I knew how to attach pictures to your site, I’d love to show you the results. I used your Rolodex to target paint for one room. I paid a paint store $100 for a consultant to visit the home to coordinate paint for the remainder of the house. The $100 was applied to paint bought from the store. Splurges were hiring a painter for room too tall or complex for me, the two new side tables an upholsterer, a seamstress to restyle old drapery and a framer to make “paintings” from wall paper remnants and a mirror from a picture frame. Most furnishings were made in the 1940s through 1960s. Items are from around the world. Nut, the lions share are Asian. I’d thought of the resulting style as hodgepodge. But, from reading your blog, it may be Hollywood-Chinoiserie. Maybe it’s considered Global. A few things remain to be done. Your tasteful and skilled eye will find more than mine in need of doing. But, no one would guess 2,700 sq ft was accomplished with $37,000. I feel and others have volunteered the home has a high end look.ReplyCancel

  • Anna - May 30, 2021 - 4:24 PM

    Thrift stores, especially ones connected to a charity, often have great finds for few dollars. Also Habitat for Humanity.
    For curtains I’d like to share an idea from an incredibly thrifty and artistic friend of mine. (I haven’t tried this myself, but I intend to!) Buy canvas painters drop cloths at Lowe’s, Home Depot, or any paint store. There are videos on YouTube on making them soft with bleach and hanging them with curtain hooks. My friend did this in her dining room, and they really look like high end linen curtains! The drop cloths are less than 10 dollars each (much less), and wide and long, so they can look really lush. Worth a try! Good luck, you are not the only woman to survive this, and come out stronger and better on the other end!ReplyCancel

  • Judy - May 30, 2021 - 3:45 PM

    Kathleen, I totally agree about using the NextDoor site. The nice thing is, you can limit your search to the people in your area. You can also post what you are looking for and people will respond.
    Another GREAT store for budget minded shoppers is HomeGoods and the sister store in some Eastern states..HomeSense.ReplyCancel

  • Patti - May 30, 2021 - 1:52 PM

    I will add to the discussion by saying “Ask the Universe” meaning – let it be known what you are looking for and see if anyone has it or knows someone who does. It works! People have stuff they don’t want just taking up room and will often gladly give it to someone who wants it. I once asked for an ottoman to use for a coffee table and found eight!!! I chose one from a neighbor 3 houses away and we are still using it 20 years later. I have put the word out and received a beach umbrella and a swing set. You may have to buy it but stick to your budget and see what happens!ReplyCancel

  • Alice - May 30, 2021 - 1:14 PM

    I’d recommend ReStore shops for furniture, and Craigslist of course. Also the book Use What You Have Decorating by Lauri Ward.ReplyCancel

  • Martha B. - May 30, 2021 - 11:57 AM

    For local auctions, I ask people who own antique shops, see ads in local newspapers, then ask the people who attend those auctions what other auctions they like. Word of mouth, basically.
    There are a few online auctions that I have used, too. Vintage Auctions (online), a part of Thomaston Place Auctions in Maine, William Bunch Auctions in Pennsylvania, Mission Gallery in California have all proved to be honest, reputable, and consumer friendly auction houses.ReplyCancel

  • Cris S. - May 30, 2021 - 11:30 AM

    Martha – can you share how you find the auctions you go to? I do internet searches but haven’t had much luck.

    Etsy has good trim tape for curtains or pillows for about $10 a yard (just check the width etc).

    When you find something on FBMP etc, we often rent a truck from our local Home Depot, etc for cheap to move larger things. Or use Dolly to have things moved for not much if you can’t find a second or third person to help lift.

    I wish the letter writer all the best.ReplyCancel

  • Kathleen - May 30, 2021 - 10:56 AM

    I have two ideas for you –
    1) IKEA velvet pillow covers and feather inserts. The trick is to fill the pillow cover with 2 inserts so they are nice and full. You’ll be surprised at how good they look.
    2) Do you have NEXTDOOR in your area? Around here, people are giving away good stuff everyday. Just saw a RH dining table offered for free.
    Best of Luck, Katie!ReplyCancel

  • Kate - May 30, 2021 - 10:22 AM

    My son’s wife recently pulled the same stunt. Son was busy single-parenting & working full time – he was just a little overwhelmed! – so I offered to take on the task of furnishing the condo. Here’s what I advise:

    1. Crunch your numbers. How much money can you set aside to furnish your condo? Know your budget and keep your budget. Many women fall into financial distress because they bought one-too-many things.

    2. Pour yourself a glass of wine or cup of tea or whatever floats your boat, and sit on your Sherrill sofa and mentally remove everything in the room – especially the sofa you’re sitting on and the color of the walls.

    3. Imagine what would be *perfect* for you in that space. Measure the walls & windows, make a sketch, and write down each item that would make the room liveable and beautiful as you define it.

    4. Start looking in all the places Laurel mentioned, and more. You’ll find everything you want.

    America is such an affluent country, and we have developed a penchant for updating our homes. We donate a tsunami of lightly used furniture every year.

    Once you know your budget, and what you truly want & need, then you’ll be able to prioritize expenditures.

    Do you want to trim the edges of cheap curtains? The cheap trim at Decorator’s Best is $25 per yard. If you have 1 window and 8 foot ceilings, you will need 6 yards of trim. Is $150 for curtain trim in your budget? Maybe it is. And maybe that trim will really make your condo *perfect*. But you won’t know until you sit on that sofa and paint a picture of your future nest.

    I decided to go navy blue & maple wood in my son’s small condo. I wanted a blue leather loveseat and a round maple coffee table & end tables – easier to navigate in a small space and safer with toddlers. I also wanted a maple dining set and a small maple sideboard because the kitchen was tiny & the condo had very few closets. Oh, and a pair of lamps that were “just perfect”. I started shopping Craigslist, FB Marketplace, Goodwill, etc – and suddenly, there they were. I just had to go and pick them up. It isn’t magical – it’s just our fact of life. There’s free or almost-free furniture & decor all around you.

    Be picky, let go of donations that don’t quite work, and have fun creating a new home for yourself and your girls!ReplyCancel

  • Jen - May 30, 2021 - 10:21 AM

    Buy a $10 used copy of the vintage but still very relevant book “Affordable Splendor” by Diana Phipps. As long as you can apply elbow grease, it is full of inspiration aimed at ordinary skills and budgets of “a few bucks”, not “a few HUNDRED bucks”.

    People sell amazing stuff online, as mentioned. Not just FB Marketplace and Etsy, but Poshmark and Mercari, too. Many sellers use “chinoiserie” or “grandmillennial” or “boho” or “mid century” in their item descriptions. It’s very possible to find great stuff there by searching those terms!

    You can search for all kinds of household/decor items on Mercari, then *save your search* so you can be alerted when those items are listed for sale by other users. If an item is above your price range, offer the seller a reasonable lower price. Negotiation is normal on Mercari and Poshmark. Why buy new when older, higher quality items are sold for 1/10 the new price?

    You can get high quality fabric at $5-10/yard on those sites. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of not half bad! My Ralph Lauren bathroom curtains are not my fave pattern ever, but they are high quality fabric and the colors are just right. I got that fabric on Mercari for $3/yard. But I also “splurged” on 4 yards of Schumacher Chiang Mai Dragon at $42/yard–what a deal!

    As Laurel has explained many times, how you hang the curtains makes a HUGE difference. After learning this from her blog, I discovered how freaking expensive nice drapery rings (with eyelets not hooks!!) are. $7/ring++? LOL…sorry no, I’m not paying that. I get beautiful, 2nd hand wood or brass rings on the sites I mentioned and at estate sales. Same goes for beautiful tie backs and finials. I pay $1/ring or less; that’s my threshold. Go to large, older home estate sales and look in the kitchen drawers or basement workroom etc. Nobody goes after this stuff; it’s dirt cheap (e.g., 10-cents/ring x 50 rings). If you really can’t deal with making your curtains, get IKEA panels because they all come with pleating tape already on them, and you can buy IKEA drapery hooks for a couple bucks a pack and hang them nicely. But if you can sew your curtains, IKEA pleating tape is cheap and works great.

    Laurel mentioned throw pillows in this post. Nice consignment shops are an amazing source of down/feather pillows under $10. The best deals ($5) are outdated-looking pillows; I use the outdated pillows cover as the pattern for my new cover! But sometimes I find pillows whose covers I actually like!

    Finally, follow the Instagram accounts that Laurel recommends and look at the images she shares on her blog. Follow Laurel’s advice to copy and imitate! Go on those 2nd-hand sites and just search for the same type of stuff you see in those vignettes. Foo dogs, lovely coffee table books, beautiful baskets, brass objects, porcelain urns, ginger jars, Staffordshire dogs…honestly, you can find it all and recreate those looks!ReplyCancel

  • Maggie S - May 30, 2021 - 10:11 AM

    As a home stager I always recommend SireFit sofa covers –they are in the $250 range and look pretty good. Also pillows (Home Goods is a great place for pillows.
    https://www.surefit.com/collections/sofa
    if you are planning to stay for a good while in your rental, I would paint the walls -without asking (naughty me!). I think this is a case of “better to ask for forgiveness”. I would never do anything permanent (like work on the kitchen cabinets) without permission but paint is very temporary. Be sure to make large sample boards of the paint you are thinking of -most white paint has an undertone and you don’t want to end up with walls that look pink. Even better try a soft greige like Edgecomb Gray.
    I wish you the best of luck…and know that better days are ahead.ReplyCancel

  • JENNIFER J GETMAN - May 30, 2021 - 9:40 AM

    I would need to see the furniture but almost anything can look sooooo much better with lots of white added in! White pillows, white drapes, white rug or hide, white lamps, etc…

    Layer shades of white and cream everywhere and add white throws on back of sofa, chairs

    Add some frames here and there.

    Agree that new paint would be great if possible.

    I am sorry for your loss and wish you peace:)ReplyCancel

  • Carole - May 30, 2021 - 9:33 AM

    Over the years I’ve found many decorating solutions to achieve a high end look at a low price…
    Recently I bought two lovely 60 x 84 Jacobean linen look tablecloths at Home Goods and paired them with a substantial Target curtain rod. I bought curtain clips at Walmart to clip every 7 inches on the end of the tablecloths. I hung the tablecloths on the rod and arranged the fabric folds. I’m thrilled with how my dining room window looks. You can also hang sheets- great idea for bedrooms.
    I inherited two Ethan Allen wing chairs from my mother. They were in great shape but the fabric was old and dated. I couldn’t justify spending $1,000 a chair to reupholster them. I read a local blog about our NH state prison’s excellent upholstery shop. After perusing fabric shops in three states I found the perfect fabric nearby at my local JoAnn Fabric store on a 40% sale. The Berlin State Prison Upholstery Shop charged $320 per chair-including new cushions and refinishing the legs! The process took a bit longer than most shops, but to me that timeframe vs the cost was well worth while.The chairs look amazing!
    I find when I don’t rush into decisions and I continue to research I find amazing solutions. Good luck!ReplyCancel

  • Martha B. - May 30, 2021 - 9:16 AM

    Annie Sloan chalk paint works quite well on fabric. I have a chair that’s done with their cream color and it looks great. It’s a bit stiff but softens with use. Good luck!ReplyCancel

  • Amanda - May 30, 2021 - 9:10 AM

    I know estate sales aren’t Laurel’s thing, but that’s where I find the bulk of my decor. On the last day of the sale, everything is often 50% off, or more. Thrift stores can be good as well, but some are very overpriced. Yard sales often have the best prices, but that’s a super time-consuming way to do it. IKEA has great solid curtains in long lengths, if you have an Ikea close. Many times they are cheaper that what I could buy the fabric for to sew them myself. Some have grommets, so I buy them extra long and cut those off and hem it, and hang with clips. Also, there should be a Buy Nothing group on Facebook for your area – you can just browse what people are offering, or even post looking for a specific item if you need something. Everything in that group will be free. Good luck!ReplyCancel

  • Maria - May 30, 2021 - 9:00 AM

    Personally, I would ask the landlord if he/she would be ok with having it painted at your expense and then paint it a creamy white. Painting is not that difficult and you could enlist the help of a high school or college kid for little money. Next I’d try to find a rug that someone was either giving away or selling for cheap or find a nice sisal area rug. If the rug is patterned, I’d work the rest of the colors off of that. I’m not familiar with the type of sofas mentioned but it might possible to paint the fabric with chalk paint. The Annie Sloan Chalk Paint Facebook page has lots of posts of painted fabric. Definitely splurge on some nice pillows. Etsy has sellers that will make inexpensive pillow covers with gorgeous fabrics and pillow forms are cheap from Amazon. As other commenters mentioned, you can make drapes from inexpensive fabric– even canvas dropcloth.ReplyCancel

  • Valerie - May 30, 2021 - 8:56 AM

    Katie, I am so sorry about your situation. I went through something similar, but not as bad, about 25 years ago, and came out fine in the long run. My sons and I lived in an empty living room except for beanbag chairs for several months; as long as there was a tv and their games, they were happy! Perhaps your girls can imagine it as their own Barbie pink living room! Lol! You can buy drop cloths to make drapes and slipcovers; less expensive than fabric by the yard! There are lots of online tutorials, some are no-sew (especially for drapes)and even recommend which drop cloths to buy. Believe it or not, Ikea has some beautiful drapes (including velvet ones!) and other window coverings. They also have washable pillow covers, including plain off-white velvet ones, for less than $10! If you have throw pillows that don’t match the couch, you could zip them into these new covers. Their pillow inserts are very affordable, too. Add some off-white throws and you’ll have gone a long way in hiding the sofa &/or chair colors. Make a lovely display of books, plants, and a few decorative items on a coffee table to pull the eye there. Reframe the dusty rose as “millennial pink” and pick up a color from the pattern to repeat wherever you can. Both green (think lots of houseplants) and navy go well with pink. Two places that I don’t think Laurel mentioned are Home Goods and Pier One (online only now). They have some inexpensive pillows, throws, some furniture pieces, & other decor items. Always hit the back of the store first for the markdowns. My best scores have always been from Craigslist, FB marketplace, and consignment shops. Best of luck!ReplyCancel

  • Doreen Sargente - May 30, 2021 - 8:48 AM

    Like the first commenter, I’m wondering if this letter was real and if so, why did the author get nothing? I know it’s a moot point but one worth asking nonetheless.

    For slipcovers, uglysofa.com has the best quality vs cost around (they’re name brand but don’t tell you exactly which brand on their site, but the one I got was from pottery barn). I actually only paid $45 for my sofa slipcover but that was a few years ago and like everything else I’m sure their prices have gone up.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - May 30, 2021 - 10:22 AM

      Hi Doreen,

      The letter is real, in that I received it from a reader. Consistently, with reader’s letters, I edit for legibility, grammar, and punctuation (courtesy of Grammarly, lol) but not for content. Katie said that she needs to be careful after they sold the house. I take that she’s inferring that she got proceeds from the house sale. Perhaps that included selling the furniture. Or else it was his.ReplyCancel

  • Carol Miller - May 30, 2021 - 8:41 AM

    Buy gorgeous fabric or an Hermes scarf and have it mounted and framed or do it yourself. I can’t do silk myself. If you still want another wall color, buy fabric that color and stretch and mount it 5’x5′ or something. i have a mid-century house and am about to do that with some great African fabric. If you’re going to slip-cover, and I do because I love white denim, use WHITE DENIM. Washes and dries and is gorgeous forever. Your ex is a dick.ReplyCancel

  • Gail Kelleher - May 30, 2021 - 8:22 AM

    Suggest signing up for the Buy Nothing Project – items are GIFTED all the time (no money ever exchanged), and you can ASK for what you want. You sign up for your particular area; it is a great way to get rid of things you don’t want, and to get things you can’t afford. It’s generally first come first serve, but the Gifters will sometimes split up large lots, or pull names if there is alot of interest in a certain item. http://www.buynothingproject.orgReplyCancel

  • Nanci - May 30, 2021 - 7:52 AM

    If this is indeed a real letter….My question is why the husband got all the furniture in the first place? Since he left her…she should have gotten it all. I hope she’s getting alimony and child support so she can train for a career or find a job.
    Having said that, there is lots of stuff for free on Facebook marketplace. Goodwill or Salvation Army has lots of things that people give away. Don’t forget garage remote sales.ReplyCancel

  • Kate - May 30, 2021 - 7:34 AM

    Sure Fit slipcovers are inexpensive and stretch to fit quite nicely. I bought 20-inch linen napkins in a pretty print and easily stitched them together to make throw pillow coverings. Art.com has the inexpensive option of stretched canvas instead of a frame and mat, and offers several sizes to fit your room.ReplyCancel

  • Carol - May 30, 2021 - 7:27 AM

    I should add to my comment that Ribbonlands on Etsy sells nice fabric tape trims for far less than most trim prices, which can be eye-watering. For example, Ribbonlands offer a Greek key design, 68 mm wide that is less than $5 a yard. I ordered some samples, and thought that that the quality was very nice. In the end, I opted not to add trim to my drapes, but I may use it for a future pillow project.ReplyCancel

  • Carol - May 30, 2021 - 7:14 AM

    I hear you, The pandemic left my family in a financial free fall for most of 2020, trashing my plans to have drapes made to replace the ancient ragged drapes on my living room windows. My solution was to buy low, low cost white cotton duck at fabric.com for about $10 a yard for 110 inch wide fabric and sew them myself by hand. Homedecgal.com has a great tutorial on how to sew by hand and how to make Euro pleats. I used cotton sheets from BBB to line them. The cost for each 60 inch wide panel was about $25, including buckram heading. I found sewing them by hand rather soothing and meditative. I used a sewing machine to make the Euro pleat heading, but this could be accomplished by hand tacking the pleats.ReplyCancel

  • Kim Doyle - May 30, 2021 - 6:19 AM

    I would just paint the walls a soft white. If you have no painting experience, do you have a handy friend or two that will come help you? I wouldn’t worry about permission but that is just me. Regarding the LR furniture, is there any color in the couch fabric that you like? if so, a nice throw in that color can change the whole look. I had an empty wall at a 2nd home, and bought 2 very inexpensive art pieces from Target, and recently a designer friend asked me where i got them – they were meant to be temporary but have been there for 10 years and look good. And speaking of friends, if you share your situation, my guess is that they will pitch in either with labor or with things they don’t need or have ideas for you. I had a friend that lost her husband (5 kids) and it gave me great joy to sew curtains for her, bring over an old dresser and paint it with her etc. And flea market/junk stores are good for finding solid end tables, picture frames etc – anything with “good bones” can be painted or refinished over time. Best of luck to you!ReplyCancel

  • GL - May 30, 2021 - 3:46 AM

    I can’t offer suggestions for local bargains, being in France. But indeed, auctions, charity shops, second-hand places, flea markets, are all good sources for furniture and accessories. But the best way of saving lots of money is the DIY route. Although there will be an initial investment, a sewing machine (it doesn’t have to be sophisticated) and a power sander will work wonders. Make your own curtains and cushion covers; re-finish furniture yourself. It’s not difficult, it’s simply a matter of taking time and being meticulous. Artwork is practically free off the internet, and printing and framing is cheap. Start a collection of bargain frames whenever you see a good one, made of wood, doesn’t matter what the finish is. You can change that in about 15 minutes with paint and liquid gilding if that’s what you like.
    You don’t like your walls. See if you can re-paint them in a neutral colour yourself — if the paint’s recent, there won’t be any prep work! If not, how about a big, striking screen somewhere to take the focus away? Once again, DIY: freeform stencilling can create almost anything. Oh, and make your own stencils, the prices for larger ones (which you don’t need anyway) are horrendous. All you need is a few sheets of Mylar, a cutting mat and a good sharp knife. Look at the book by Sandra Buckingham, Stencilling on a Grand Scale, Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 1997 for tuition — this isn’t outdated folksy stuff; some of her suggestions are nasty, but you can see how to do some beautiful work. And finally: enjoy the process — the satisfaction of doing a good job yourself is inestimable.ReplyCancel

  • Martha B. Higgins - May 30, 2021 - 2:45 AM

    One of the bet and cheapest place to find good quality furnishings and accessories is at auctions. Not Skinner’s or Sotheby’s or one of the very high end places, but local auctions. I got a gorgeous high-end sofa with a child’s storybook fabric slipcover, that underneath had a lovely upholstery at a local auction for $1.00! No one wants a sofa, I was told. I’ve also bought chairs, sideboards, dressers, tables, and accessories for bargain basement prices. At one auction I bought an entire table of glassware for $10.00 because in the middle of the table I spotted two beautiful champagne flutes by Baccarat. The rest of the table of glassware went to Goodwill.
    You’d be amazed at the bargains you can get at auctions!ReplyCancel