Form Follows Function and Frugality in Decorating

by Stephanie Ann Welbes

What I have learned from decorating on a budget is that you have a better chance of getting a good deal if you can look at an object within your budget and imagine it in your home serving a purpose it wasn't originally intended for.

For example, when I found a clearance priced set of three nesting tables, I immediately saw their potential. The tables are made of four solid panels each. Think of a rectangular box with the lid and back removed. I knew the nesting tables could easily be stacked and rearranged to suit my mood and my décor. I turned two of the tables on their sides, stacked one on top of the other, and used this as a bedside table. The third table acts as a storage cube that sits on the floor displaying books and decorative items.

When I moved into my apartment, I couldn't find stylish budget-friendly curtains for the two windows in my bedroom so I bought some solid colored shower curtains that were both attractive and cheap. I am not a morning person, so when I noticed the curtains weren't heavy enough to block out the bright morning sunlight, I bought shower curtain linings in gray and hung them behind the shower curtains to help block out the light. I hung the curtains with decorative shower curtain hooks. One disadvantage of buying shower curtains is that they stopped several inches above the floor, which looked unattractive. I disguised this problem by putting furniture in front of the curtains. A chest went in front of one window and a nightstand in front of the other to hide the gap between the bottom of the curtain and the floor.

In order to avoid cramping my budget, a lot of my furniture falls into the low budget "some assembly required" category, but I don't let that cramp my style. In my apartment, I have stacked a couple of faux wood grain storage cubes on top of each other to serve as one end table and a TV stand that serves as another end table, but I have no actual end tables next to the couch. These disparate pieces work together because they are close in color and scale. The TV stand is wonderful for clutter control. The open shelf designed to hold a DVD player instead holds magazines and a serving tray that keeps my remotes and TV guide corralled and out of sight. By seeing potential in these objects, I gave myself more options than if I limited myself to buying actual end tables. I also paid less than I would have for end tables that offered me the same kind of storage I have now.

Narrow CD towers that are about four feet high are great for storage in small spaces. In a well-ventilated bathroom, the tower can hold toiletries, washcloths and rolls of toilet paper. Next to the kitchen or dining area, the tower could be put to use to hold mugs, cocktail napkins, or extra glasses not much taller than a music CD. This frees up some kitchen cabinet space while keeping things you don't use every day but still need easily accessible.

On my bathroom counter, I organize my cosmetics with three acrylic tumblers, short wide glasses. One glass holds lipsticks, the other glass holds eye products like mascara, eyeliner and an eyebrow pencil, and the third glass holds brushes and combs. I don't remember how much I paid for the glasses, but I'm sure that they cost a lot less than the acrylic organizers specifically designed to organize cosmetics.

An attractive bed sheet also works as an attractive tablecloth. Sheets come in such a variety of patterns and colors that there is a style and price to suit every taste and table. For a richer look, layer a solid colored tablecloth under a lace tablecloth. More options for tablecloths include machine washable blankets and quilts to give a warm cozy feeling to the table on a chilly day.

Another way to get good deals is to shop unexpected places. A printer cart with shelves and cabinet doors that I bought at an office supply store acts as space saving table for my sewing machine with sewing supplies neatly hidden behind the cabinet doors.

When decorating with an eye toward function and frugality is done well, it has the potential to create a more interesting and unexpected décor than if you had bought the "right" pieces.

Stephanie Ann is the creator of at

Take the Next Step

  • When looking for a particular decorating piece, keep an eye toward function and frugality. In other words, think outside the box. You just may come up with a more creative, interesting, frugal and functional alternative.

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