No Money for a Monet, No Problem: How to Design and Decorate on a Budget

November 18, 2014

Connect Member

Making money make sense since 1993

How long have you been rocking the minimalist look at your place? I’m talking white walls, furniture and appliances. If that’s your thing, great! But if you’ve been holding back on sprucing up your place, because you can’t spring for it, then think again. We caught up with designer Vern Yip, who (if you watch house porn like me) you’ve probably seen on HGTV, or on the shows like Trading Spaces and Home Intervention.

Yip dishes out insider tips for both decorating and buying art on a budget. “Your home should be an extension of you,” he says. “It should be reflective of you and your personality.” Here, some ideas for doing just that on the cheap.

Channel Picasso. Throw on your old jeans and grab a can of paint — color is great tool if you don’t have a lot of money to spare, says Yip. All the colors are the same price — but before you buy — know that there should be an inverse relationship between the quality of your furniture and art, and the saturation and brightness of the color you choose. Scratching your head? “Generally speaking, if you don’t have a lot of things — or if you don’t have high-quality things — then you want brighter, bolder and more saturated colors,” he says. That way, your walls are what people notice. “If you tend to have beautiful things (i.e. jaw-dropping artwork or unique furniture), then you want your walls to recede more with neutral and softer colors.”

Buy old, make new. With furniture, you can find diamonds in the rough that just need polishing. Yip says to visit local garage sales, swap meets and thrift stores to find one-of-a-kind pieces you can paint or update. (Watch Lara Spencer's Flea Market Flip on HGTV for how-tos.) And if your carpentry confidence is high, then consider a little deconstruction and reconstruction: “Depending on the piece and shape, you can easily change out the legs or the top on a dresser. Many marble yards and stone yards have leftover pieces. So when they’re cutting these slabs for their projects, look in the junk piles.” Another insider tip: Make friends with the floor managers at your favorite stores. Crate & Barrel, West Elm, Pottery Barn, all of these furniture stores have to change up their floor displays (3-4 times a year) and get rid of the used furniture. Yip adds, if there’s something you really have your eye on, introduce yourself, and say, “When you’re about to change the floors, I’d love the first crack at that sofa.”

Mix it up. Overall, you want a mix of old and new pieces in your place. Why? Because if you have too many new things in one place, it can read flat, Yip says “Mixing old and new is a good way to layer your space, giving it more soul and more depth.” For example, if you’re looking for a unique (or cost-effective) dining room set, try piecing one together. Get a table you love, and then get all different styles of chairs. For a thread of continuity (which Yip says is important when doing projects like this), you can have the same fabric on all of the chairs. Try this approach with a grouping of photo frames too. Hang a bunch of different styles, but paint them all the same color for continuity.

Think details. If you’re not looking to buy furniture, but are bored with the pieces you have, then consider buying new hardware to update their looks. It’s much cheaper than buying whole pieces. (Think door knobs, drawer handles and sink faucets.) Some current metal trends are soft gold and (very) shiny chrome, says Yip. The same goes for lamps. An old, tired lamp might just need a new lampshade. Do make sure you have the correct measurements. Measurements are important when it comes to updating your rugs too. “Rugs can be very expensive. I’ll go to a carpet store for the remnants and have them cut the remnants into a rug and bind it. This way you can get the exact size you need, unlike pre-purchased rugs.” Plus, you’ll get it for the fraction of the price!

Don’t over-accessorize. Yip says this is a mistake a lot of people make. “They feel this pressure to fill their space and they do it by purchasing smaller things, because they’re often more manageable and inexpensive.” And if you’re not careful, your home could end up looking like a garage sale. Attack your space by buying fewer and bigger things – they’ll help fill the void and give your room character. (Think oversized vases, floor lamps and mirrors.)

Find art online. If you think Basel is a fancy way to say the herb, and that Jeff Koons is some famous balloon-animal artist, don’t worry, you’re not alone. The world of fine art is one that many admire from afar, because the prices are simply, out of reach. That’s why you should head online, Yip says. First, try Tiny Showcase, a place for up and coming artists to sell their work at affordable prices ($10-50). These are all original pieces you won’t see in other people’s homes.

With Kelly Hultgren

Jean Chatzky is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.