Decorating on a Dime

...Or less!
by Maureen Maloney Ehlbeck

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I am officially coming out of the thrifty decorating closet. Yes, I decorate with garage sale finds, curbside trash, hand-me-downs, thrift store treasures, and clearance pile remnants. Should I be ashamed that I don't want to spend all my money on an entire room of furnishings, including accessories, all in one shot? Or should I enjoy the process of letting a room grow from the starting seed of one well-crafted couch to a completed, polished room?
Of course, I favor the latter method and even if I were to strike it rich, I couldn't give up my passion for frugal decorating. So, I say, in a stout, strong voice, "Yes! I got that chair and ottoman at a garage sale for $20!"

For all of my any fellow thrifty decorator types out there, here are some ways you, too, can decorate on a budget:

Step One: Wait for your belongings to come cheaply to you

Take a deep breath and trust that the universe will provide for you as you go about your daily rounds. Much of my furniture and accessories were purchased either at a yard sale; very cheaply at a junk or flea market; given to me; or I saw it on the side of the road and furtively put it in my car!

Step Two: Employ an "evolutionary" decorating style

Be strong! Resist that fast-food room. The secret is to do the best with what you have. Look through your attic, closet, basement and inventory all of your pictures, knickknacks, furniture, etc. Then paint, refinish, or buy some cheap fabric and throw it over the piece. For example, I found a pristine white chenille bedspread that I threw over my good living room couch and placed on it some lovely vintage-looking tasseled pillows that were sewn as a gift by a talented friend.

Step Three: Paint your furniture!

Craft stores sell acrylic paint cheaply and after a couple of projects you'll be able to mix up the colors you already have and invent some new ones. I painted an old chest of drawers that my mother gave me with some white semi-gloss paint stored in the basement after first priming it with my handy dandy huge can of primer. And then I mixed a small jar ($1) of blue paint with the light periwinkle blue of my bedroom wall remainders and painted pretty lines around the edges of the drawers, it looked like a Swedish piece--all for $1.

Step Four: Research, research!

I go to my local bookstore that serves coffee and they let me read books for free while I sip on aromatic brew! I've gotten ideas for rooms, painting and refinishing furniture, etc. I've found this better than the library because their stock is much more up-to-date. Your library's current magazines are great, too.

Step Five: Be creative with your window treatments

My curtains have interesting origins. For example, in my master bedroom I made window treatments from two Battenburg lace tablecloths, stretching them across the top and tying up the ends with white satin ribbon, leaving about five inches of each end draping down. This looks very soft, romantic and great with our periwinkle walls and antique bed. By pure luck this high, four-poster bed was left behind in the garbage by a business next to my husband's office.

Step Six: It's never too late to rearrange

It's a fun, rainy day pursuit. How about swapping chairs from two rooms? Putting you dining or living room caddy corner instead of the old horizontal-with-the-wall way? What if you paint a room and furniture new colors? How about placing some garage sale, funky objects on a pretty shelf over a piece of furniture? Some pretty summer or fall branches stuffed into your elegant-from-an-old-boyfriend-or-hubby-sending-you-roses free vase would look great.

Above all, remember this: Most great interior decorators employ the "eclectic" style, mixing and matching furniture styles, fabrics, eras, etc. It's time for us all to come out of the thrifty decorating closet and stand proud together!


Maureen Maloney Ehlbeck is a freelance writer living in Atlanta with her husband and their two busy little ones. When not doing the Mom thing, she writes about her passions, including decorating, relationships and how to simplify and enjoy life. © 2003-2005 Maureen Maloney Ehlbeck, used with permission.

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