Cost-Saving Decorating Tricks and When to Splurge

Dear Laurel,

I’m wondering if you could do a post and share any cost-saving decorating tricks you’ve used over the years. And, conversely, please share when it makes sense to splurge. I have a tight budget. So, I want to get the biggest bang for my dollar.

Thank you,

Anon Amos




Thank you, Anon. That’s a terrific topic.


Of course, there are levels of cost-saving decorating tricks.


After all, I’ve seen folks do wonderful things with NO MONEY. Depending on where you live, you can sometimes get some cool stuff that people throw out. And, of course, there’s Facebook Marketplace. Many items there, are also free. Folks are only too happy for someone to take something they can’t use, or want, off of their hands.

Or, you might inherit some fantastic furniture. Please read about how to work with inherited furniture that needs some updating.


And, this is also a good post about a younger woman who just inherited her granny’s dated furniture.


For those who can saw and hit a nail, you could do a lot of things. Then, if you can sew and enjoy doing so, you can make curtains out of cheap sheets. And, slipcovers too.


Okay, let’s say you’re a busy working professional, a mom with four children under seven, or you have four thumbs.


Or, have two thumbs but no desire or skill.

Of course, as many of you love to point out, one can get fantastic deals at estate sales, auctions, thrift shops, and the like.

However, this post is for those without the desire, time, or skill for DIY projects. In addition, not everyone enjoys hunting and haggling.

Although, there is another post about how to get gorgeous furniture that’s free or almost free.

So, for those that prefer primarily new items. Or items with a guarantee of some sort, there are numerous ways to save money on home furnishings. Many of these I did when working with clients from 1996-2016.


For this exercise, let’s say you have $50,000+/-. That’s to furnish an entire home from scratch.


For now, we’ll exclude kitchens and bathrooms.

A living room, family room, dining room, kitchen furniture, four bedrooms, and a home office are included. And that includes linens, window treatments, and accessories.


However, we might not get to all of that here. But, I’ll try to link to many other posts that do discuss this list.


cost-saving decorating tricks applied wall moulding


So, let’s dive in with some of my favorite cost-saving decorating tricks throughout the home.


And of course, this means not sacrificing quality or making our place appear cheap.

First of all, anything custom will automatically cost more money than some WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get).

The other thing to remember is that labor costs, while varying will remain relatively constant as long as the job takes the same length of time. So one great way to save money is on materials.

Usually, but not always.


Let’s take wall paint as an example.


Paint A is $60.00/gallon, and paint B is $30.00/gallon.


At first glance, paint B might seem to be the more cost-efficient choice. Yet, if paint A only takes two coats to cover and paint B takes three coats, then Paint B might cost MORE  because of the additional labor and material costs. There’s no sense in saving $300.00 to spend an extra $1,500.00 in labor costs.


Therefore, it’s essential to factor in any additional costs involved in using a cheaper product.


In the case of paint, to know how they differ, get sample quarts of each, in the same or close to the color you wish, and make a good-sized sample board. Let each coat dry completely. Compare after one coat. Then, let the samples dry completely and compare again after two coats. Then, you’ll have your answer.


Generally speaking, the living room is the most expensive room in the home to furnish, so let’s begin there.


Of course, many elements may also appear in other rooms.

Let’s begin at the bottom with your area rugs.

Of course, the cheapest solution is to go without one. And sometimes, particularly with dining rooms, this is not a bad idea.


South African home - Oriental rug

Gorgeous Oriental rug in a South African Home. See the rest of this beauty here.


Spike Lee's townhouse with Oriental rugs and white furniture

Spike Lee’s townhouse with Oriental rugs and white furniture

Sometimes, a gorgeous hand-knotted wool Oriental rug is something that will make the room.


khotan rug from Old New House One of the Best Etsy Shops

Khotan rug from Old New House, One of the Best Etsy Shops

So, depending on your budget and the look you’re going for, you might consider doing one Oriental rug.


These days, there are ways to save here, as well.

I’ve found great deals on Overstock, Wayfair, and Etsy now has dozens of great sources selling reasonably priced Oriental rugs.


Some of my favorite Oriental rugs can be found on the Hot Sales Rug page.


Most of the rugs are hand-knotted, and a few aren’t. I’m not as fond of machine-made Oriental rugs. Usually, the abrash is rather fake looking on a machine-made rug.

However, whenever I really needed to save a client money, we usually did seagrass rugs. Not only are they great looking, but they are also rugged and inherently soil resistant. But, some of the other natural fiber rugs are terrific, too, like jute.


laying-seagrass-rug-interior-design - cost-saving home decor tricks

In a job from a few years ago, the guys were laying down a custom seagrass rug with a fireplace cut-out.


home staging expert Lotte Meister - Rye NY interior designers - living room Pueblo Sisal rug

And after this post came out, we discovered that this sisal pattern is actually quite practical. This rug is more expensive than the seagrass rugs. Still, it’s much less costly than the hand-knotted Oriental rugs.


One of the most expensive pieces of furniture is the sofa, plus other upholstered seating.


Most of the time, I do advocate buying high-quality upholstery. But companies like Wayfair and Joss and Main carry lines of very inexpensive upholstery.

And, most of the reviews are terrific. For some examples of some of my favorite inexpensive upholstered pieces, please check out this recent post where I share 24 cheap sofas and chairs that look high-end.

A while back, I shared this incredible living room belonging to Laura. She proved it’s possible to do a beautiful room on a shoe-string budget of under $1,200.00!


Another place I think is a great place to save money is on the side, end, and occasional tables.


There are tons of end tables under $250/each, which look great. Generally speaking, the focus will be more on what’s ON the table than the table itself. This is especially true if you have an L-shaped configuration of two sofas with a round or square table in between the two sofas. You’ll hardly see it. So, no need to drop a big wad of cash here.


Fabrics are another item with a hugely variable price.


For example, the linens at Rogers and Goffigon are gorgeous. However, with an average retail price of at least $200/yard, the costs for draperies, for example, will start to add up.

And, here’s the thing. Unless you’re right on top of the drapes, you won’t notice a difference between a good $50 linen or a $200+ linen.

And, you can also find linens for less than that. I’m talking retail prices, not designer’s wholesale pricing.

The same holds true of your upholstered pieces.

If money is tight, there are many beautiful upholstery fabrics in the $40-$60 range. High-end upholstery fabrics are going to be at least triple that amount.

My favorite sources for these lower-end designer upholstery fabrics are:


Robert Allen

Actually, they are now one company under the Robert Allen name.

Designers, of course, can get their own account at this trade source. If you’re not in the trade, a great place to get these lines at a good retail price is Decorator’s Best.


And my absolute favorite source that I’m about to reveal because someone must’ve spiked my coffee with sodium pentothal ;] is:


Norbar Fabrics


Yes, I know. Their website is not terribly chic-looking. Yet, this terrific company has been my go-to source since before I began my business. I’ve placed hundreds of orders with them and never had a problem. How rare is that!


This is important.


Norbar has some gorgeous fabrics, and they also have some that I wouldn’t line a birdcage with. So, you need samples. But what you’re looking for are the beautiful linens and cottons, prints, etc. They also have some nice velvets, textures, and wovens. And, that’s what I’m recommending. It really is a designer line, and if you place some orders, they will send you a box of sample books a few times a year. I would call them and find out who your local rep is.

Norbar is in the back of Laurel’s Rolodex as one of the 35 or so sources I can’t live without.

Luckily, I did find one online source that sells Norbar Fabrics at an excellent retail price for the non-design pros. You can access it here at Source 4 Interiors.

My other favorite source for designer fabrics at an excellent retail price online is Decorator’s Best. There is some overlap at the source above.


Okay. This post linked below is a MUST read for everyone.


It highlights some 15 hideous mistakes I made over the years with fabric. As I always say, please learn from my mistakes.


I've made a lot of mistakes; I just try not to make the same ones twice.


Another online source for surprisingly cheap cottons and linens is Big Duck Canvas. I have never ordered from them, but their prices are excellent.


Of course, some of the cheapest but nicest-looking curtains are the ready-made ones. This post talks about some tricks to get them looking their best.


Sometimes, for clients, I would splurge on two of the chairs, say two slipper chairs with more expensive fabric.


Where I ALWAYS splurged is with the throw pillows.


The throw pillows are what you SEE, not the fabric behind them.

Rich looking pillows = rich room

Cheap-looking pillows = cheap room.


But, but, but…PILLOWS. I ALWAYS had them made totally custom.


And, so, so much work! I often went to the workroom to pick them up. Huge bags of pillows that I would schlep home to store in my basement until we were ready. Aside from that, I sometimes spent more time figuring out the throw pillows than I did the furniture they were sitting on! Often, there was also a trim or contrasting welt. And then, I had to order the inserts, as well.

Who knew that the throw pillows took hours to put together? Some of you DO know. :]

Now, there’s ETSY!!!

There are too many to count wonderful vendors on Etsy who make and sell pillow covers. You still have to provide the inserts. But, the prices are so affordable. Please note: This is partly because they frequently only use the expensive fabric on one side. Although, you can order your pillows with the beautiful fabric on both sides for an upcharge.

Here are two posts I think you’ll find helpful regarding the throw pillows and sources.

Everything you always wanted to know about throw pillows

40 of my favorite sources on Etsy.


Please check out my guide featuring over 150 amazing sources on Etsy!


Okay, let’s talk for a sec about where else it’s wise to splurge.


I think a great place to splurge is for anything that’s a focal point– like a fireplace mantel.

Or, one fantastic piece of furniture.


Or, Art


Of course, there are lots of ways to get cheap art. (like painting it yourself) :]

We’ve also discussed all the fantastic sources to get high-quality digital art prints. Either, you get the actual print. Or, you get the file and have it printed for you.

Sometimes, though, a great art piece is the place to splurge. That’s if the piece gives you as much joy as my antique Zuber screen has done for me, for 21 years.


my desk with zuber screen - turquoise ming lamp - cost-saving home decor tricks

Above in my old Bronxville apartment.


William Hodgins Zuber screen dining room

A similar screen in a dining room by William Hodgins


Let’s talk a little about lighting and ways to save money.


I think that a great place to splurge is for beautiful table lamps. And, they are pieces that stand out. They are like the jewelry in the room.


Please check out this recent post for some beautiful vintage lamp ideas and end table pairings.


I loved that post, and many of you did too.


Another post you might enjoy is how to find cheap lamps that look expensive and some easy tricks to upgrade a cheap lamp so that it looks more expensive.

Another place one can save money and not sacrifice the look is with chandeliers. This post is devoted to that.


Laurel, I love these cost-saving home decorating tricks. Please tell us, what is the one thing that gives you the most bang for your buck?


Oh, could you give me something difficult? ;] That one is too easy. But there are two.


Paint is the number one way to transform a space. And, getting the right color is so essential. But it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. That’s what many don’t realize. Paint is a piece of the decorating puzzle completely dependent on everything else in the room and the surrounding areas. And more!


But, in the number two position, and actually, in some ways, it’s an even bigger bang for your buck, IMO are applied wall mouldings.


There are several posts about applied wall mouldings. Everything from the ceiling, crown moulding, panel moulding, chair rails, baseboards, and wainscoting.

This is a post about a boxy, boring home and more ideas.

And another post about a boxy ranch with low ceilings.


Gosh, am I done yet?


No, I’m not done. I’ve saved one of my favorite cost-saving decorating tricks and almost forgot to tell you.


A few years ago, I found a place on Etsy that sells ready-made applied wall mouldings. No nails. Just stick it on the wall. AND, they’re removable. But, if you want to make them permanent, all you need to do is caulk the edges.


Luxe Architectural instant DIY moulding kits - cost-saving home decor tricks

I made this little graphic of some of their mouldings. And, as you can see, it’s called. I’m pretty impressed with this.

But now, they are joined by another company, Birdeco.

They also make mouldings for doors. They can also pre-paint or just prime the mouldings for you. And, they’ll make something custom, too.

Below are a few examples I like of applied wall mouldings.



There are also some fantastic companies on Wayfair. These companies make far more extensive lines of polyurethane mouldings of all kinds, including crown and baseboard mouldings.


orac-decor- photo - Verne Gazeuse


Orac Decor

Ekena Millwork



Below is one of Orac Decor’s instructional videos, complete with you-CAN-do-it music!


YouTube video
Below are only a few ideas for applied wall moulding.


This should be a separate post. The point is for moderately handy people, and if there are two people, you can probably put up these lightweight mouldings without hiring a pro. They get glued on. No nails! Although, you can add some carpenter nails if you like.

Okay, I hope you picked up at least one or two cost-saving decorating tricks you hadn’t thought of.


Do you guys have any favorite cost-saving decorating tricks you’d like to share?


Please let us know in the comments.



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17 Responses

  1. Great Post! Thanks for sharing information.

    A home is the reflection of its owner. It should be an extension of their personality, style, and creativity. Living with white specialize in design and furnishing.

  2. Thanks, Laurel!

    I found the slipcover website and was in heaven! I’ve done slipcovers, but was never very happy with them. Now, I’m itching to slipcover two wing chairs that we love, but the hunter Green gags me. I just ordered samples from Big Duck Canvas, and am hopeful that I can order a denim to cover the green.

    And the prior owner in our house painted all the doors red. Which is ok, but not my color red. So I’m excited to use that mounding you mentioned to redo the doors, and then I’ll paint them! (Shhhh…don’t tell my husband and boys!!! I’ll probably need their “help”)

    Thanks again for a goody-bag of a post!!!

  3. So much good stuff here… love the tip on dressing up plain doors with applied molding. I have a few doors that would improve immeasurably with that feature. Moving from an old house with six panel heavy wooden doors to a house filled with hollow core doors is kind of a bummer. Love Etsy pillow covers and I’ve ordered fabric samples from Big Duck Canvas (easy to do on their website) and impressed with the quality but haven’t ordered fabric as yet.

    Thanks as always for generously sharing your knowledge and expertise!

  4. I also really like and they are very helpful. I just bought a digital print on Etsy and had it printed at This came out great, it’s been fun.
    Robert Allen has lovely fabric at a great price.

  5. I am horribly color challenged and ask your help. In a post dated 04/19/2019 you showed a green sofa with a yellow chair in a color scheme taken from a Chinoiserie Screen. I think the sofa was the same color as the green sofa in your New York apartment. Could you kindly tell me what color you think this is. You stated you didn’t know the source of the picture and I hate to ask but I know your eagle color eye will be far closer than mine. I have enjoyed your blog for the last 10+ years.

  6. My favorite saving-money trick is Rub ‘n Buff. Of course I’ve done frames. But also the stuff works great on refurbishing old lamps where the metallic elements are spotted and dingy. I’ve also done small tables. My favorite and best thing, however, was the backsplash tile in my kitchen. When we bought the house and painted the cabinets white, we liked everything else but the backsplash, which was that oat-meal-colored fake Italian-style 4″ tile. I mixed silver and gold Rub ‘n Buff for a pale gold effect and applied it via finger-tip to the tile, not the grout. It took awhile, but when husband really liked the first sample, I knew it would work. It looks fabulous, kind of swirly, and glows in the light.

  7. I love saving money. I am a DIY’er in a big way (including making some of my own furniture, reuphostering, and even rebuilding my car engine-back when they weren’t all electronic!). I’ve since grown to also appreciate that time is money, so sometimes I weigh the costs of my time when deciding if I want to DIY it. Great post. One fun tip is to paint your upholstery with acrylic paint (watered down layers + light sanding in between) if it’s still good, but is now yuggly in your eyes. Also, some places still sell “oops” paint…where they mixed the color wrong and they sell it for a great price.

  8. Agreed, The Fabric Store is the best source for linen fabric. Great prices, color selection and several weights. Also great source for linen toweling.

  9. I want to thank you for the information re applied molding from your post a while back from Luxe Architectural. I had a boring cheap hollow core door in a 1840’s house that we’ve been poking away at rehabbing. There were a couple of antique doors in the cellar that we had trimmed and rehung, but not enough. The applied moldings were really easy to apply, with detailed instructions from the company. They look great! Will be better once the final coat of paint is on. But first I need to decide on a color lol!

  10. I love seeing reminders (even in my own house!) of successfully pulling off a room with a shoestring budget! Though I’ll admit, it takes a lot of patience to wait around for the right pieces to turn up on facebook marketpalce or massive sale. We’ve been working on a major botox remodel of the kitchen/mudroom/laundry/powder room, plus family room for over a year now (on and off). Limited budget, limited contractors willing to work with you (who themselves can’t find enough labor willing to work), PLUS the new complication of supply chain issues (e.g 10 month back orders on major appliances) takes a whole new level of creativity and resourcefulness to make happen. You really have go into it eyes wide open, understanding that all that waiting does come at a price! Upheavel, stress, disorganization, disfunction for a year+ takes a toll on your marriage and family life and I’ve learned some things are definitely worth shelling out the cash to secure. Happily, we’re nearly there now and I hope to share some of the tricks I used sometime soon!

  11. Superlative post!

    I especially appreciate the glue on moulding information.

    In a not so distant post you commented that you updated your townhouse kitchen by painting and adding moulding. I can’t find that post now. Were you pleased with the result? Do you have more photos?

  12. Fantastic post with sooo much great content. I love the links to your prior posts – sooo well organized! (No surprise there!)

    I’m wrapping up my tornado ravaged home’s repairs, and am trying to fix my 1970’s tract house version of a center hall colonial’s rather boxy appearance on the cheap – downsizing soon. The prior owners added an upstairs extension that makes it look like an apartment building.) There’s only so much landscaping can do. I’m thinking of adding a few window boxes, but I can’t find any info on how wide they should be relative to the size of each window. I can eyeball it, I guess, but I would think that there are “rules” for this?
    How about a post on window box sizes, style, and styling? A gal can dream . . . .

  13. Holy cow! What a fantastic post! Yes, please, will you do a post on applying moulding! Thanks again, Laurel. This is an amazing post. xoxo

  14. My favorite source for linen fabrics is They average about 15.00 per yard! But if you get on their mailing list, you’ll get notifications of sales.

  15. My trick: plagiarism. I see something I really like, build up a folder of examples, and copy the idea in my own way. Examples: cushions, artwork (especially botanical prints, very easy to find in high definition via museums), frames from charity/thrift shops. I’ve advocated doing it yourself here before (curtains, cushions, upholstery, paint, artwork), so won’t go on about it now.
    But here’s an example: I saw some framed prints of blue Chinese vases in various shapes, on a cream ground, matted in white, gold frames. Ballard, 179$ each. Ouch! I spent too long rooting around for prints on the internet, but then saw a newspaper article about a Ming vase that had just sold for 7 million, with a photo. Lovely. Rooted around some more, got a better photo, printed it, cut out the vase, glued to cream paper, added a white mat and framed with a charity shop frame that I painted. Total cost: 8€. It sits above a small desk which has a similar-shaped blue Chinese vase on it, in what the sillier magazines would call a “witty juxtaposition”. But it still makes a nice vignette, and nothing I did was in the least difficult.
    Hot tip for buying upholstery fabric and being sure it’s reasonable quality: check the Martindale test rating! Recommended: Brunei velvet by Froca (but I don’t know about availability in the US), lots of colours, polyester (yes, I know), just under 20€ a metre here.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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