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Top 10 Tips For Decorating On The Cheap

by Annetta Holmes
fact checked by dickensgirl

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

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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

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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.



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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

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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.

fact checked by dickensgirl