Decorating on a Budget

by Wendy Boulding

When decorating, imagination is always more important than money. It is possible to create a living space that is comfortable, functional, and an outlet for your own innovative style while staying within a budget. All what you need to do is plan ahead and think like an artist.

"Determine what you need first and what you want second," recommends interior designer Sarah Lazechko, who believes the basic rules of decorating are the same no matter what kind of budget you are working with. "Think about what will be best for the room. Then build the room around the most permanent things."

If you've just moved into your first apartment, or are considering revamping the one you've been in for awhile, Lazechko suggests you should figure out what your priorities are based on what you use your home for. Also, ask yourself how long you're going to be living in your current place. Make a list of the essential items you need. If you have the basic necessities - a bed, a couch, a table and chairs - then the main task is to take the focus off the primary pieces of furniture and turn your apartment into an expression of self.

Before you begin shopping for anything, look at what you already have. Award-winning designer Trevor Furmanek encourages people to look at the furniture and accessories they now own and try to see their uses in a different way. "Think about how you can take things and how you can mold or manipulate them into what you want or need them to be. Make the things you already have more interesting," he said. For example, stacks of hardcover books could have a glass cover and be used as a coffee table. Cardboard boxes can be covered with wallpaper and used as storage containers and end tables.

Both designers recommend using paint as a cheap and immediate decorating tool. Paint may seem like a tedious stand-by, but its possibilities are endless. Painting walls can create a dramatic effect. Use chalkboard paint on part of a wall as a spot for impulsive artistic creation. Acrylic paint on windows can be used to make them part of the room rather than just something to hide. If painting the rental property isn't allowed, Furmanek suggests painting your possessions. Pick a color scheme and transform everything from bookshelves to lampshades or even your TV.

You can also use fabric to refurbish a room. Fabric can be used just like wallpaper to create an attractive effect. It can also be draped or tented over a ceiling. Heavier fabric such as burlap can be placed on the floor and used as an area rug. Or, you can buy a piece of canvas at an art supply store, paint it yourself, and use it as a floor covering. Muslin and printed cottons work well as inexpensive window treatments.

"Gone are the days when everything is color-coordinated to death," Trevor Furmanek explained. "Clashing is something that doesn't really happen." Keep that in mind when shopping for things to make your apartment comfortable. Catering to your own tastes is more important than following conventional rules.

If you're decorating on a budget, buying secondhand is inevitable. Try and determine how long you plan on having an item, then look for pieces you can live with. Buy the best you can for the amount you can afford. "You can find the most unique and one of a kind things when you buy secondhand," said Jessie Mursky, a decorator who frequently buys housewares and furnishings dating as far back as the 1930's for herself and her clients. "Because you find things that are so eclectic, you can have things that are functional but are also pieces of art as well. But it always comes down to what your individual needs are."

Try to buy larger pieces that have a dual purpose. A daybed/sofa or a wardrobe/audio-visual centre can both save both space and money.

Detailing your home is where true creativity emerges. The accessories will bind everything in the room together. Examine everything you presently have and use objects you find appealing. Mix and match mirrors, clocks, lights, books, and pillows, with art, plants, and knick knacks. Consider investing in one 'good' item instead of ten cheap ones.

And while you're decorating, don't forget to relax and have fun.

Said Trevor Furmanek, "Don't be impatient. It'll take awhile to get things the way you want them to be. Decorating is an ongoing process."

Additional Sources of Information:
Better Homes And Gardens: New Decorating Book
Mary Gilliantt's Shortcuts To Great Decorating
What DO You Say To A Naked Room? By: Catherine C. Crane

Wendy Boulding has been a full-time writer for the past eight years. She's written about everything from how-to articles on writing for the Web, to country superstar Shania Twain, to alleged unfair labor practices by Nike, and everything in between. She currently publishes MIND-MAGIC, an e-mail newsletter with over two thousand subscribers. She just began an ongoing column called "Invasion" which highlights the people behind the most thought-provoking and engaging web sites she can find.

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