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Top 10 Tips For Decorating On The Cheap

If you’ve scrimped and saved and now are finally able to afford to buy a bigger or better place, the last thing you want to do is ramp up your debt on fitting her out. However, having beautiful bare walls and nothing much else may appeal to those with minimalist inclinations but will shortly send any one else into fits of depression. Preferable to that is using your pennies wisely and being price-smart over purchases.


Curtains or Drapes


Windows take up a good deal of wall space. By using sheers, windows can be transformed into ethereal lightscapes. Illuminate a room by capturing and bouncing natural light off sheers or semi-transparent drapes. This type of fabric creates interesting points in any room. Plain sheers will break up and diffuse light while patterned ones make pretty dapples. Adding privacy to your home is inexpensively achieved and when more money can be allocated to the decorating budget, tails, frills, valances and swags may be added over the sheer. To get shine into your home use sheers made from silk, organdy, diaphanous synthetics or plain cotton. Textured sheers in cheesecloth, gauze, voile and muslin bring in some busyness (necessary where you’re trying to dress up a bare room) and are more dramatic with the small shadowing they create. Once a window is dressed in sheers a billowing, gossamer effect is created when the wind moves which adds to the sense of satisfaction that a room now has life in it.


Used Furniture and Throws


More and more popular, throwing a length of fabric over your existing furniture is an instant way to change mood and ambience of a room. When buying used furniture the throw is an inexpensive way to hide faults until they can be dealt with at a later stage.

2nd hand couches and chairs are an economical way to decorate your home for less. If you know your budget will be stretched for a fairly lengthy time into the future, yet you still need furniture then 2nd hand is a way forward. Steer clear of those establishments which are obvious junk shops and concentrate on places whose owners have given a little thought to their wares. Check for quality. Beware of pieces where you can feel the frame through the fabric. If you sit and your legs or arms connect with timber this is a sign of bad manufacture – something you’ll seldom find in well-crafted makes.

What you’re looking for is well made furniture that through years of use has become tatty and torn, the filling has lost its plumpness and it’s ready for a spruce up. When you have the resources you’ll be able to do a proper reupholstering job but for now, a throw covering a grand, though tired old lady, will serve you, and your money, well.


Chair Rails and Moldings


This is one of the cheapest ways to add style and detail to a boring room. A host of dado moldings are available on the market and are quite easily fixed to the wall. The dado rail, usually positioned about a third of the way up the wall, was originally used to show a break between two types of wall fabrics and to keep chair backs from scraping the fabrics and damaging them. From a simple plain design to one filled with flourishes and curlicues, dados, once painted have a remarkably decorative effect. If the room is small it is best to stay with an unfussy rail. Dados will assist in widening a room by directing the eye downwards so that walls seem more apart than they are.

A large baronial-type room can support excess so decorate accordingly. In some houses the walls are tall enough to add extra decoration to the standard cornices. These moldings can then be painted in a contrasting, or complementary color.


Paint and Color

3D Room 01

Versatile, cheap and with selective use paint can fool the eye. Rooms with a low ceiling usually feel claustrophobic. By playing with optical illusions a room can be made more spacious. Using vertical stripes draws the eye up and down and fools us into believing the ceiling is higher than it is. Stick to soft contrasting colors and make the stripes broad or thin depending on the proportions of the room. Bold stripes can be used if you are sure of your color sense but be careful to not end up with a room that looks like the inside of a circus tent. Before painting carefully mark off the stripes and take care around windows and doors.


Using the Color Wheel

Colorwheel Browsersafe

The color wheel is an integral part of coordinating hues, tones and tints. Once you are confident about color you’ll find painting a bathroom in dark green, or a wall of a study in midnight blue, less intimidating. Buttercup yellow is a shamelessly delicious color that uplifts and punches you in the eye the minute you see it. No-one can remain gloomy for long in a buttery yellow room, yet almost no-one dares use it in their home. The average person instantly labels those ‘arty’ or ‘bohemian’ who actually put yellow on the wall.

Strawberry red, toned with complementary or contrasting colors from the color wheel will provide a visually pleasing room in which the strong color will take centre stage. Adding plainer, coordinating furniture can come later as the boldness of the room will carry it through sparse times.




A beautifully decorated room is quickly marred by lack of order and neatness. Storage space is cheap to install and reduces the chaos inherent in a busy household. Most people do not return items to their rightful place, even more so when the item is buried under a heap of mismatched objects. Without a place for each, items soon vanish and endless searches made hunting it down when needed. A place to put things helps keep sanity in the home. Lots of simple shelving, a bookcase or two and chests with lids go a far way in bringing calm to the environment.

From a practical point, if your family has a large collection of ceramic frogs or delicate figurines then consider glass fronted cabinets. It cuts down on the dusting, displays all that is important to you and if you buy ready-to-assemble units you can keep costs down.

If you have a great deal of books then consider building shelves across a wall and incorporating the windows into the design. This way visual pleasure is gained by the mix of different sizes and the attention will be drawn to the wall and views through the glass panes. Painting the shelves the same color as the walls cause them to recede and the decoration of the books emphasized. Shelving can also be built around doors and in awkward spots. Incorporate space for displaying a few treasured possessions. Bulky vases, that enormous hat you bought the last time you went to Lesotho, all can find a home between novels and magazines.


Storage and Side-Tables


In the lounge or living room, storage chests can double as side tables. If the chests are padded, place a large ceramic or cork tile on top to serve as a stable surface for your cup of tea, glass of wine or juice. The wet marks are easily wiped from the tile and the price of a tile is a tenth of purchasing side-tables.



Po508-313 Xl

For a cheap solution buy plain, sturdy wooden chests with lids. Paint to suit the room. Add thick removable cushions. Extra dense foam will cope with the occasional visitor as well as providing them with a comfortable seat. Plan around how you actually live. If you have lots of elderly aunts and cousins to tea then proper chairs will be used for them while you use the chests. If it’s a younger set, lounging around on your living room floor on a throw down pillow will be quite acceptable.


Screens and Room Dividers


Compartmenting off areas in a big room is achieved by using various screens. For the sake of style, and to keep air flow and airiness alive, use lightweight dividers, preferably with a slatted or meshed effect which doesn’t entirely obscure what’s beyond. If the light is good enough, potted indoor palms help the screening effect and soften hard edges.

Screens are under utilized in the modern home and often a long uninteresting room can be made more secret and intriguing by stopping the eye from easily seeing the other end. For very little money you can customize your screen through painting, stenciling or just hanging bits of your favorite memorabilia from it. If you have boisterous children and/or pets choose a screen with a sturdy base that can deal with the odd collision or two.


Indoor Plants

Ex Image012

These can be used everywhere, require minimal outlay, can be layered, stacked or grouped and provide texture and visual appeal until such time as real furniture is affordable.

After buying a new house resist the urge to tear off to the shops and snap up everything your eyes fall upon. The joy of a new home quickly sours when the owners are fraught with money problems. Rather enjoy the spaciousness and emptiness of the home, use cheaper decorating options and save up towards a time when you can install your dream kitchen. There is no need to sacrifice style when there is a restrictive budget but patience is required when you wish to end up with fine things.

Contributor: Annetta Holmes

  • jennnnnn

    Great tips! We just bought our first home and it’s amazing what a difference painting made in here. Looks like a totally different place and really wasn’t too pricey.

  • Fle

    Wonderful advice, especially the bit about plants. Just found the site and I’m loving it, by the way.

  • jennnnnn: I just did too and I plan to do JUST the same thing. I move in 3 weeks – talk about exciting!

    Fle: I’m glad you liked it – and welcome to the site! There are nearly 900 lists in the archives so don’t plan to get away soon :)

  • jhoyce07

    i enjoyed looking at the paintedü

  • jhoyce07

    i like # 7 & my future house..heeehee

  • Copaface


  • Black-Yami-Cat

    I’m going to remember this for Uni next year ^^

  • Yummy-Taquitos

    Ugh. I just moved and now i need shelves. Hand-me-down furniture is great! i got this couch and it is the absolute softest couch I’ve ever sat on!

    Great List! definitely going to use some of these tips =D

  • lily

    When i was in my senior year i decided to redesign my whole room i didnt like any of the ready made curtains in the shops so my mom decided to make them ourselves. We made curtains with tails,frills, beads to outline the frill, and tiny mirrors that we sowed onto the curtains yet it still cost less than plain ready made curtains at the shops. Its simple you just need a good taylor, fabric, hooks, and any decoration pieces of your choice.

  • Jessy

    Wow, don’t think I’ve ever been this close to the top of a comments page before….

    You forgot to mention to check the “reject paints” at paint stores. Once I painted my room (yellow!), and my mother and I bought a coupla gallons of paint. As soon as we’d paid, we noticed that there was a gallon already available in almost the same shade, but that the customer hadn’t wanted for whatever reason.
    That can be true in general. Always check the reject piles!

    I also put stuff on walls that’s not meant for walls- Christmas ornaments, garlands, CDs, halloween masks, whatever I can physically put on my walls goes on them!

  • sashley31

    Adding shears is a great idea, it really does illuminate a room.

  • SoCalJeff

    And to all of those ideas cheaper….Ikea.

  • thirtytwo

    When moving into a new place, ALWAYS check the cupboard under the stairs.. more often than not there are tins of paint lying around, cos no one ever takes them when they move. :-D

  • Nicosia

    If only I didn’t kill every plant I come in contact with…

  • sarah_r

    im re-painting soon. Fortunately I don’t need the color wheel to know the colors i picked will look good but I DID just get drapes, and they make my room look much better!

  • Mom424

    Excellent list! I had no idea I was arty and bohemian. Although not quite buttercup, my walls are more of a harvest gold, I’m pretty sure it would qualify. I am actually proud that the interior colors of my house all line up on the color wheel. And I didn’t even use one. I have applied every single one of these tips in my own home; I almost wanna spam you guys with all the pictures to prove it. I lied, I have no room dividers, but my rooms aren’t of the size where that would be practical.
    Again great list.

  • Tricia

    This list was awesome! I was lucky enough that my walls were painted and they make the house feel like home immediately. It’s so warm and wonderful. I put down a rug in the middle of the room for a splash of color too as well. My walls and furniture are all brown so it was needed.

  • Bob

    Wow, I think this may be the most interesting list I’ve ever seen here. Great job, Annetta! Thanks for all the tips and info.

  • Steph Frederick

    My best home improvement…beadboard. It’s normally used for wainscot, but we had ugly popcorn ceilings in our ’70s home and covering it up with planks of beadboard made such an incredible difference. And it’s so much easier to work with than drywall. Wonderful website, great lists, this place keeps me entertained for hours!!

  • RandomPrecision

    The painting one is definetly true. I’ve been at college while my parent’s have been remodeling our house. I got home and the kitchen was bright yellow and the den bright orange. it looks great. All my family will be over for christmas so we’ll see what they think of it haha.

  • Carlos

    Great List! My wife and I have been struggling for years on how to makeover our home and with 2 kids, money is an object. I think we’ll give some of these ideas a try. Thanks. By the way, I’m new to this site and have been spending way too much time in your archives. Great site!

  • atlantis

    #7 is amazing

  • …enjoy the spaciousness and emptiness of the home, use cheaper decorating options and save up towards a time when you can install your dream kitchen. There is no need to sacrifice style when there is a restrictive budget but patience is required when you wish to end up with fine things.
    This can’t be repeated often enough, congratulations, Annetta Holmes.
    Whenever I have moved into a new, larger home I have resisted the impulse to furnish and decorate it, sometimes for a couple of years. Empty rooms are preferable to badly, rushed, impulse decorated rooms. I’ve used almost every trick on the list over my lifetime, and can attest to their worthiness.
    Sheers are an almost magical addition to any room, and not just as a part-time solution. Color, too, is something that is easy, cheap, and can be changed at whim.
    I like empty rooms, to a point. My workroom is walled with bookshelves, above which hang art. The one free wall is taken up by my antique draftsman table, which is otherwise all windows, ending below the top of the table (the windows are an ell in which the table rests). The balance of the room, 16×16, is empty.
    No room in our home is over decorated, over furnished.
    My mum had the opposite attitude, and had a piece of large or small furniture in every available space. There was no place in her home where one could walk three feet in a straight line!
    I think I’ve over-reacted.

  • izzy

    I have the piece of furniture from #3. that thing was not cheap.

  • smurff

    Nice list – Annetta – we picked up small rocks and stones from river beds on our outings, while traveling and it makes a lovely display at home whether indoors or outdoors – and its free.

  • YogiBarrister

    My decorating style could be described as retro-frat house. Other than my bed, and somne lawn chairs, I haven’t bought a single piece of furniture, new or used. I live in a town with a lot of condos and apartments. At the the end of every month you could fill a warehouse with free stuff.

  • mousetrap

    more!! more!! We’ll be renovating the house this January, more tips on how to decorate cheap will surely help…especially in the kitchen/dining area…

    thanks Y’all

  • guy

    used furniture is awesome

  • robertss

    Now, this tip might only work for the musically-oriented, or those with eclectic tastes, but in my room at university, I use the album covers from my record collection to create a mosaic of coolness. If you already have the collection, it’s pretty easy. If not, perusing second hand shops and junk stores can often be a cheap way to find vinyls. Make sure you take the vinyl out of the cover though; the weight will make it harder to hang.

    If that’s not enough for a music-ophile, vinyl can also be used on the walls. The hole in the middle is the perfect size for a tack. Cool patterns can be made with the slightly reflective black vinyl, and the tack allows easy access if you want to play them. They also don’t collect as much dust as you might think.

    I’ve received many compliments on the designs on my wall made purely from my collection. (Though most are from students, whose taste might be… questionable)

  • rushfan

    I *love* this list! I love decorating, and these are all great ideas. My favorite magazine is Veranda-you should check it out if you like design. I can’t afford anything in it, obviously, but I get great decorating ideas.

    I greatly enjoy the art of placement. Everything in my place is specifically placed. It may look like a stack of books or a notebook on a side table, but I placed it there purposefully. I also like to rearrange furniture and remake a room. Again, great list!

  • Blogball

    Wow, this is really a well done list. I’m not into decorating and it still held my interest.

    I’m going to attempt some crown molding during my time off over the holidays. Most people tell me it’s fairly easy to do but I’m sure I will find a way to screw it up.

  • Iâran

    I agree with Blogball, I’m not into decorating either, but this list was fascinating!

    Seeing how I will (hopefully) buy my first place within a year or so, I’ll be sure to look this list up again when the time comes for furnishing and decorating!

  • Katie

    This is a fantastic list and is very well written. Thanks for the tips! I can’t wait to stop renting so I can paint my walls whatever color I like!

  • 30. rushfan:…It may look like a stack of books or a notebook on a side table, but I placed it there purposefully…
    I do exactly the same thing! Things relate to things, even if in a convoluted way, and they tie the room together in a way one wouldn’t expect.
    29. robertss: Now, this tip might only work for the musically-oriented… I use the album covers from my record collection to create a mosaic of coolness.
    I have mosaics of postcards, both retro and new, hanging as art in my workroom above my bookshelves. They are colorful and crazy, eclectic and weird.
    I got started collecting postcards when that one company began giving away postcards advertising all sorts of things. From there it went postal!

  • Taze

    I love the picture on #7, but I think I’d get really disoriented in a house like that. Optical illusions are cool but confusing…especially when you’re trying to find your way around somewhere! ^_^;

  • evilk8

    lol – hehehe – i know why you did this list!
    I’m typing this on my new imac via my wireless modem. wooowhooo

    who needs a geek husband? ;)

  • 36. evilk8: Isn’t wireless the greatest? Our house is set up wireless, so all four of our ‘puters run wireless, as do those of visitors and guests! We’re so spoiled, if going away, we check with the hotels to make sure they have wi-fi before we’ll book!

  • Vera Lynn

    Steph Frederick (19) What’s beadboard?

  • Vera Lynn

    segue (37) I check with restaurants. If I can’t get on-line I won’t eat there. I’m really spoiled.

  • 39. Vera Lynn : segue (37) I check with restaurants. If I can’t get on-line I won’t eat there. I’m really spoiled.
    LOL! LOL! LOL!
    Very funny! I deserved that!

  • Sugen


  • evilk8

    it’s so much easier for me to have a look at the menu before eating out – otherwise i almost can’t choose!

  • first part thought:

    Art doesn’t configure here for Annetta Holmes, so i say if one is inclined, tack maps and not art — The better for a means of escape.
    And if the view out is droll, than cut off the intruding light with brick.
    And if there is only brick then drill through a hole of air and let just enough light for a camera obscura to happen on the inside of your eye.

    And if time paces a groove into the back&forth floor.
    Fill it with reckless abandonment.
    Sit on top of the refrigerator, screw your chairs to the ceiling, and don those Dr.Caligari specs left behind by some former form of self
    that looney brained professor within
    from some ancient strange land
    before all decorating thoughts ever entered as a vocabulary within any sort of capilary action.

    “tails, frills, valances and swags”
    oh my!

    I dont think we’re in kansas anymore

  • Vera Lynn

    segue (40) I was being serious. When I eat out or just grab a beer I want to be able to get on-line. If I cannot, I will find another restaurant to accomodate my needs. I have a list of my own of fave restaurants with good food, good prices and wi-fi service.

  • 44. Vera Lynn: That makes sense. You can peruse the menu, prices, and check the wait time without leaving home. Then, while there, you can either work or play.
    My husband and I eat out almost never, and the number of restaurants in the Village, while actually quite extensive for the number of people who live here (5,000),because the economy of the Village depends entirely on tourism, is small, so we don’t have a lot of choices to go through. The nearest town is about 20 miles away. The nearest (small) city is 36 miles away.
    Perusing the internet for restaurants is a pretty big waste of time here, but back in L.A. was the only way to go. I’m with you all the way on this Vera Lynn!

  • Vera Lynn

    segue (45)I wont go more than 10 miles to get to a restaurant. I don’t do well in the dark. I love to cook but it’s too much for just one. Glad for the support. Some people think I’m extravagant. But I think it’s peace of mind. And a reprieve from the daily grind. Laura Bush hasn’nt cooked a meal in 14 years. Wow!!

  • Vera Lynn, I think it’s important, when you are alone, to go out to eat or to grab a beer, to be in the company of adults, once a week if your budget can swing it. It’s a matter of mental health!
    Cooking at home, even for one, is relaxing, a zen-like experience. Eating at home, alone, everyday, is the opposite.
    I get it.
    I lived it.
    When I lost my car, and was so sick, and couldn’t trust myself to take buses around L.A. to get out to restaurants, I ate at home, alone, for 8 years. (it’s funny how friends sort of drift away when you get very ill, as if you might be catching, or (worse!) ask them to do something for you).
    I was still working during much of this time, but it was mostly the kind of work I could do from home. Editing manuscripts doesn’t require one to go anywhere. And the times I did have to be places, meetings and such, someone would pick me up.
    Anyway… I seem to have rambled way off topic…I agree with you.

  • midknight

    One great tip I have for cheap art work is to find images online that you really like, save them to your hard drive then print out. Then buy cheap frames, which you can by used or from dollar store, and fame and hang the image you selected.
    If your like me and have a lot of image print of then you can by a cheap binder and page protectors (50 for about $4) and every so often you can put take out one image and relace it with another from your collection.

  • Denzell

    I agree. I play Sims 2, and unfortunately some keys in my keyboard in that computer got broken, so no cheat codes. I had to budget $20,000 and I used your decorating tips to make the house nice yet cheap. It works!

  • Cedestra

    Brava! What a well done list.
    A hint to people experimenting with the color wheel: make sure not to mix muted and vibrant colors. By that, I mean, if you’re decorating with 2 or 3 colors in a room, don’t use 2 vibrants and a muted color. It looks horrible. I used to clean house for a woman who just did NOT get coordination (and also dressed oddly, too). She would have vibrant red and yellow in her bathroom with a muted, slate blue. Looked very bad.

  • trfan

    If I’d have indoor plants, it would probably have to be realistic-looking fake ones. I barely pay attention to plants- flowering or not- and one would quickly die under my hands from lack of watering. I kid you not, I completely forgot there was a flowering plant on the kitchen table in front of me while my parents were on vacation for a week. At least Hobby Lobby and Michaels sell realistic-looking greenery, flowers, and potted plants that could look nice without having to be replaced.

  • trfan, what you need is Sansevieria, a real plant that thrives on mishandling. It has long, spear shaped leaves, green with, usually, a yellow border. You can forget to water it for a month and it’s fine. Forget to feed it for a year, and it’s okay by it…of course, if you take good and proper care, itt does better, but it honestly does well on a starvation diet…and has thee good grace to be a living thing .

  • Don Jusko

    For more information on the color wheel at the top of this page go to

  • natapillar

    this has just made me want to re design my whole house! :P

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  • Whitney

    Great tips! I love these ideas and always love finding a bargain! Want to get some more tips on how to decorate on a budget? See more tips here:

  • Laura

    You can also buy original art directly from the artist to brighten up any room:

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  • All these ideas sound like a great use for this decor! I am not all that creative when it comes to home decor. I wish I had more creativity – and money – to put into my house!