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Cheap & Chic: Decorating on a Budget

I love decorating on a budget. My room style could be called “updated vintage” – imagine Anthropologie-like romantic features without excessive girly-ness. If I gave up my Roth IRA contribution, I could get my whole room from Anthropologie, and maybe add a dash or two of West Elm for balance.

(Pictured above is a bed that I can’t afford that would look absolutely lovely in an apartment with 10-feet ceilings that I don’t have.)

Back to reality… spending loads of money on furniture and decor really isn’t in the cards right now. Still, I want to create a comfortable, enjoyable, and dare I say, stylish space (which, I think I have. With varying levels of success depending on the varying levels of messiness in my room).

So here’s what I did:

1. Compile a “style file” to find out what kind of colors, pictures, and styles I like.

I have a personal journal that I paste clips of magazine pictures or note cards from anywhere and everywhere. A graphic advertisement note card from Merck, clippings from Travel & Leisure magazine, pictures of a Seattle boutique, etc. I also peruse Apartment Therapy.

After while, I noticed a theme: I like neutrals with pops of color. I like comfortable (mid-century Swedish might look amazing, but I just can’t live in it). I like dashes of red or aubergine. I like details. I love a good duvet.

2. Look for cheaper alternatives in a similar style.
I love the iron-wrought beds featured in Anthropologie, Pottery Barn, and Crate & Barrel. I love the scrolls and the nobs. But no money = no C&B.

When I first bought my bed, I found the Halingby headboard & frame (since discontinued) from IKEA for only $80! That’s a quarter of what a frame would’ve cost me at another, more upscale store. The frame is less fancy and I’m sure the quality is reflected in the price, but the style is very similar for the picture I’m trying to create.

3. Keep “foundational” colors basic and make “accent” colors stand out.
My furniture are divided into two camps: white, or black. The black pieces are larger and “anchors” my space (I find the look of an all-white bedroom too colorless for my taste), while the white furniture brightens up the room. It’s also much easier to find these basic colors.

4. Paint!
Paint is often the cheapest way to change the look of a room or a piece of furniture. I really, really wanted a white secretary desk (graceful and feminine, I imagined).

Instead, I found a $10 IKEA desk on Craigslist, lugged it home, and painted it white. Not quite a secretary, but it will do for now. I can’t paint my bedroom because, well, it’s a rental, but at many places you can check with your landlord and they’ll let you paint. Although, I’ve gotten quite fond of my white walls…

5. Check out Craigslist, yard sales, thrift stores, and flea markets.
I got my nightstand at a yard-sale for $10. This is also where the “style file” comes in handy – if you know what you’re looking for, or an idea of what would work in your room, it’d be much easier to walk away from “bargains” that doesn’t fit your style. I got a gorgeous pewter lamp shade for $6 at a local Goodwill.

If you are in the Bay Area, check out Alameda Flea Market. If you are in the LA area, check out the Rose Bowl Flea Market.

6. Picked up cute accent pieces at Ross, Marshalls, or TJ Maxx
These stores are great for discounted desk accessories, French fabric boards, and note cards and stationery. I got three sets of 6 satin padded hangers for $5 a set. I’ve also gotten a black & white memory board that fit perfectly with my color scheme for $6.

7. Declutter!
Too many knickkacks will look messy and haphazard. The key is to keep a small cluster of pieces similar in color (and maybe structure – a group of vases in various shades of blue, for example) or one statement piece (a large, deep, red bowl), and then that’s IT!

I had to resist the urge to add to my knickkacks, but I think my room is better for it.

  • Sense - Great ideas! I’ve often thought of keeping a ‘style diary’ but have yet to actually do it. I’m also a huge fan of used furniture.ReplyCancel

  • Carrie - I LOVE this post!! You have wonderful ideas! I would love if you could post pictures of this awesome room that you described above!

    I am now so motivated to go decorate because my apartment is in DESPERATE need of a (cheap) makeover. :)

    Thanks so much!ReplyCancel

  • Globetrotting Bride - Great post!!! I love to decorate too.

    Ikea always surprises me with their great stuff. You should check out CB2 (part of crate and barrel) for modern, more affordable stuff. Room and Board is another place I like. And its so true about painting totally updating a room!ReplyCancel

  • CentsInTheCity - Two years ago I was obsessed with getting an iron bed frame. They were a bit pricey, so I opted for the Ikea Noresund bed frame. It was under $200 for a queen…you really can’t beat that! I don’t see it on their website anymore, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not still in the store. Here’s a link so you can see what it looks like http://www.eclassifieds4u.com/toronto/ca-wanted-queen-sized-noresund-bed-frame-slats-ad-nlmkp33483. It’s really cute and you can’t tell that it’s not really iron.

    Ikea has some other options that seem like cute iron alternatives as well. A wall mounted headboard http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/30141895. I might have considered this if it had been around! Tingvoll bed http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/S09857804.ReplyCancel

  • Miss M - I used to shop at anthropologie, what was I thinking. I really couldn’t afford it. I’ve kind of given up on a unified style, Mr M often brings home stuff from sets, the style would be best described as hodge podge.ReplyCancel

  • Margo - Apartment Therapy’s site is great, but it’s way too expensive – even their “budget” styles are out of range for a twenty-something saver.

    Digs Magazine hasn’t been updated in a year, since the writer had a baby, but the archives have some awesome stories about really pulling it together, and it actually is a LOT more reasonable about budgets. Plus, I like the youthful voice/tone of the author:

  • Serendipity - Great post! I love decorating but can’t ever seem to figure out my own personal style. Hopefully it will all come together for me eventually. :)ReplyCancel

  • Laura - Can you post a picture? Would LOVE to see!ReplyCancel

  • The New Black - That’s a great frame…I am in dire need, ok want of a new one!ReplyCancel

  • jc - If you are looking for bargains on C & B things, you can try the Crate & Barrel Outlet. They have some great deals and really inexpensive rugs and also some things are not deals. They also occasionally have items from CB2. (I am near 2, one I have luck with, the other I don’t bother with).

    I find I have great luck with thrift & consignment shops and am learning how to reupholster to revive a beautiful sofa I bought years ago that needs some help (but even in it’s sad state receives tons of complements). My new pieces don’t get the same complements as my used finds do.ReplyCancel

  • Marisol - Apartment Therapy is the best site. I get so many decorating ideas. Most of my furniture is very simple (no patterns, modern, clean lines) and I like to kick it up a notch or change things up with accessories. I like West Elm which to me is a store between Pottery Barn & Ikea.ReplyCancel

  • Depression Treatment Info - i use lamp shades with CFL ubls instead of incandescent lamps, they are much cooler and uses less electricity .-” ReplyCancel

  • wellheeled - I would, but I don’t have a digital camera! I know, I know, I’m so behind the times… :)ReplyCancel

  • wellheeled - Thanks Margo! I will check out Digs. Apartment Therapy can get pricey, but I look at it mostly for inspiration as opposed to “this is where to get X, Y, Z.” I especially like their Smallest Coolest Apartment contests.ReplyCancel

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