Get the Pottery Barn Look for Less

by Kimberly Danger


I love the Pottery Barn. All those clean, sophisticated-yet-casual rooms look so refined. When I get the catalogs in the mail, I practically drool on the pages as I lust after the good life represented within. Surely the imaginary mom who lives there has her act together. She gives me hope that one day my life will be as organized and classy as hers.

Then reality strikes. First, real people live in my house. Where the heck in their catalog do you see the underwear on the floor and crayon on the wall? Secondly, while my tastes may be sophisticated, my budget is not. I'm faced with the frugal Pottery Barn lovers' dilemma. Do I get a chair or groceries for a month? Hmm… Let me see. It's not a tough decision to make if you've ever dealt with hungry kids.

While I can't deny that a real family lives in my home, I can do what I can to try and duplicate the look for less. Here are some strategies I have learned:

Big Spaces = Big Impact

To maximize impact, focus on the spaces in your room that cover the most surface area: the floors and walls. Paint can have the biggest impact of all and is often the cheapest way to change the look for your home. Like the wall color in the PB catalog? Take the catalog to your paint store. They can scan it and match the color for you exactly. Remember that it may look different under different lighting situations.

PB is also known for its great Oriental rugs, which add warmth and sophistication to each room (and doesn't everyone want to appear warm and sophisticated?). Their big impact also often carries a hefty price tag, however, and many of these rugs are $700 on up. When redoing our living room, I found a similar rug at Home Depot. While it may not be woven from fine wool, it looks terrific and was under $200.

Don't Overlook the Details

What makes these rooms truly appealing often isn't the furniture, but the funky accent pieces. Let your own individuality shine by adding unique trinkets you or other family members may already have around the house. Turn your own photos into masterpieces using photo editing software to antique them with a sepia or B&W tint. Take the dustjackets off your hardcover books and stack them to create an interesting tablescape. By using your own things, you'll be creating an even more personalized look than the faux-antique pieces peddled by Pottery Barn.

If your basement isn't stocked with Grandma's kitchy castoffs, a steady supply of trinkets is available through eBay, thrift stores, and garage sales. While shopping secondhand is nothing new to an experienced frugalista, knowing what to look for takes some practice and a discerning eye and an open mind. What can you disassemble, paint, or use as a centerpiece? Vases, ceramics, antique postcards, art prints, frames, and other items can often be found on the cheap on eBay, so be sure to take a look.

Where Can I Get It?

If you haven't already, discover Ikea. This Swedish mega-store is the decorating mom's dream. With everything from slipcovered sofas to kitchen gadgets (all with clever Swedish names). This store has it all. You can even get 99 cent kids' meals in their cafeteria and drop off the tykes in their playroom while you shop. Don't overlook their scratch-and-dent section, often located near the checkout. One note of caution: in order to pass on great prices to their customers, most of their furniture requires assembly. As your husband is swearing under his breath while assembling your LACK coffee table or ALVE desk, remind him how much money you saved.

If you don't live near Ikea, don't give up your decorating dreams just yet. Stores like Target also offer great home design on a budget. Designers like Cynthia Rowley, Isaac Mizrahi and Michael Graves make upscale pieces affordable for the masses. Don't forget to comb their endcaps for markdowns bearing orange stickers. Don't be shy. Ask the sales associates when the next round of markdowns will occur. At most Target stores, it's typically Thursday for housewares. Often times, the clearanced items will ring up the sale price before they're ticketed that way, so it pays to scan them yourself to find out.

Other retailers like Crate and Barrel, Pier One, TJ Maxx, and Marshall's are all great places to look. But to a budget decorator, that's obvious. Don't forget to look in out of the way places. Your hardware store may have lower-priced lighting, fixtures, and shelving systems that look eerily similar to those two to three times the price at PB. Baskets, candle accessories, frames, and florals can be found in the home decorating sections of craft stores like Michael's and Joann fabrics. Lower prices combined with the 40-50% off coupons in their flyers can add up to big savings. Your dollar store may have some surprises as well. On a recent trip, I scored a glass vase and decorative rocks for $2.

You're Not Done Yet!

Even with a truckload of PB gear and a million-dollar house to put them in, it's not going to look like it does in the catalog if it's not arranged the right way. Let the catalog be your guide. Study the pages to see how shelves are arranged, what is placed on tables, and how wall displays are hung on the wall. The difference lies in the details, so pay attention to them!

Everyone can take inspiration from PB and make their lives a little more beautiful without spending big bucks. So, go ahead and indulge your decorating fetish. Any mom can be a design star - even with underwear on the floor.


Kimberly Danger is the owner/publisher of Mommysavers.com, an online resource for parents interested in saving time and money. She is the author of 1000 Best Baby Bargains. Ms. Danger lives in Southern Minnesota with her husband and two kids.

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