This Old Schoolhouse: Inexpensive Holiday Decorating

by Ann Russek


Now that the holidays are approaching, I have this urge to invite people over to my house. However, I am a little fearful that they will look at the sparse furnishings, the unfinished projects, the bare stone walls, and un-draped windows, and say, "How long have you lived here?" I am currently trying to do something, quickly and cheaply, to the worn chairs that I someday plan to have professionally re-upholstered. I need to spruce this place up for a party this weekend!

There are some very inexpensive, easy, and quick projects that anyone can do with fabric to give your home a fresh look. First, let's talk a little about old couches and chairs. Three years ago, I had the good fortune to inherit several fireside chairs and a sofa-bed from my mother-in-law. She had the good fortune to be able to buy new furniture.

I didn't have the money to re-do the chairs or the couch. The couch was upholstered in that dull brown, striped, evil-landlord, cheap apartment fabric that reminded me all too well of my starving artist/student days. So I decided to at least cover the couch. I searched every catalog and store I could find for a month or more for a slip cover, but none could be found. I finally measured the beast and hoofed it over to the fabric store where I spent $104 on fabric and a couple of large heavy duty zippers. It took me another month to figure out how to make a cover for the cushions and drape the fabric so it would stay on the couch. I did complete the project successfully and it still looks good to this day. However, it cost more than I had hoped. The good news is since then slip covers have made a comeback. They are easily found in mail-order catalogs and discount department stores. They are much easier to use and more inexpensive. Plus they are a quick and easy way to make your home look completely different in an afternoon. Also, if you get bored easily, it won't break the bank to purchase different slip covers a year or so down the road.

Another tip for the holiday season is to make some seasonal throws and tablecloths. What I am planning on doing is buying autumn prints at my local fabric store after Thanksgiving. They are currently on sale but the price will fall even further after the holiday. I will sew a hem (something even the less than talented can accomplish) on a rectangle large enough to cover and drape my table. I may even layer a couple of different prints to really give the place a "decorated" look. The pluses of doing something like this with different seasonal prints include the following:

They are much nicer than any seasonal tablecloth you might buy (which tend to be pretty tacky anyway). You can make very nice matching cloth napkins or other coordinating crafts.

Even if it does cost $20-$30 to do a few tables and matching crafts, you now have something you can use for many years to come! It can easily be a one time investment.

By just draping fabrics with pleasing and bright prints over ugly, scratched, or just old tables (or even large stereo speakers) you can make your home look very decorated. Wait until almost Christmas or just after to make your purchases (this goes for cards and giftwrap as well...but we all know that don't we?). Your selection may be limited but your savings will be greatly increased.

If you tire of the tablecloths in the future, you can always use the fabric to make something else. I am eyeing up the floral shower curtain I made four years ago for a jumper for my toddler daughter. I am ready for something new in the bathroom!

I hope this gave you some frugal and time saving decorating tips. As far as progress goes on "this old schoolhouse", my husband is currently in the basement replacing rotting floor joists and chasing away some furry wee-beasties. I am finally making the brave move (after two years) of making drapes for the windows. This old schoolhouse may actually show some improvements by spring! Wish us luck!


Ann Russek lives in rural Pennsylvania with her husband, her 17 month old daughter, and cat. She is a full-time mom, a full-time writer, and a part-time college English instructor. She is also obsessed with making "something out of nothing."

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