- Design basics are elements that cost nothing more than imagination
- With patience and determination, you can find household items that are free or extremely affordable
- Quality doesn’t have to cost a fortune – high-end essentials are accessible at outlets, discount stores, and thrift shops
Let’s face it – interior design can get expensive fast, even if you don’t hire a professional. The happy news is that decorating on a budget can be fun and easy. There are dozens of DIY interior design hacks that can save you a bundle and still enable you to create a beautiful home. More importantly, though, you’ll create a space that feels spectacular and won’t put you in the poor house.
Whether you’re starting out or starting over on a budget, you’ll need to know a few basics about interior design. Still, other than that, all you need to decorate on a dime is a bit of imagination and determination.
And you may be surprised to hear that decorating on a budget has its benefits:
- Limited funds will compel you to get creative, making decorating so much more fun because it brings out your inner artist while challenging you.
- You’ll be more likely to repurpose or upcycle things that might otherwise end up in a landfill, thereby doing your part to reduce your carbon footprint.
In this guide, you’ll learn some interior design basics that can make it easier to stretch your budget. Also, how you can start from scratch and completely furnish your home with very little money, and some surprising ideas for repurposing “junk” that will turn your home into one worthy of the pages of House Beautiful Magazine.
Decorating on a Budget – Where do I Start?
Essentials of interior design are about style, focal point, and balance. The good news about these three basics is that none of them have to break the bank – style, focal point, and symmetry can cost as little as nothing but a bit of imagination.
There is no right or wrong answer to style – it’s only about what lights you up. Choose pieces that bring you joy because interior design is about so much more than decor; it’s about the experience your surroundings bring you.
Focal point and balance come into play when you start arranging your furnishings, lighting, accessories, and art – sometimes there is a natural focal point in the room, like a fireplace, a window that looks out onto nature, or a built-in shelving unit or alcove. Other times you need to create one with your furnishings or decor.
Balance is a bit trickier – many of us are tempted to match sizes and styles perfectly, which isn’t always the key to creating symmetry. Matchy-matchy can quickly create blandness and sterility rather than vision, harmony, and warmth.
You can use Pinterest for free to garner inspiration and begin creating a design board that pulls together looks, color pallets, and ideas for your own dream home on a budget.
Interior Design Hacks That Look Pro but Aren’t
There are many inexpensive ways to make your home look professionally designed, create a feeling of expansion and depth in smaller spaces, and create vibrations of warmth and welcome – even in an ultra-modern, monochromatic design plan.
The following are some cheap design hacks that can help uplevel your home without draining your pocketbook.
One Person’s Junk Is Another’s Functional Art or Furniture
Scrapyards and recycling centers are great places to find items that you can repurpose into functional art or furniture. Websites like Upcycle That can give you the inspiration and tutorials you need to turn just about anything into something special.
For example, you can repurpose an old washing machine drum into a fire pit for your backyard, end table, coffee table, lamp, or a fabulous plant stand that can hold a larger pot.
Vessels such as old cans, glass jars, teacups, candle jars or tins, pots and pans, bowls, water troughs, antique prams, or wheelbarrows can make unique planter pots for your home and garden. You can create something exciting and beautiful with a couple of drainage holes drilled into the bottom and perhaps some paint.
I once found a partial antique silverware set with a gorgeously delicate rose pattern. I was able to source enough of each piece (ranging from butter knives to teaspoons, with salad forks in between) to create a charming wall clock for a spacious country kitchen in Connecticut. I made the backboard of the piece out of the rich, dark walnut box that previously held the flatware.
You can find eclectic picture frames at yard sales, second-hand shops, or flea markets to create an attractive black and white photo gallery of your loved ones, family members, and happiest memories. Mix and match sizes, colors, materials, and styles to create a collage of sorts. You can use these to decorate your guest bath, office, stairway wall, or vestibule.
Consider creating your own textile art by using vintage scarves, beautifully patterned fabric, or even antique rugs to make a beautiful focal piece for your wall.
Flea markets, yard sales, and thrift stores can be a veritable treasure trove of unique items that can add to your decor or be upcycled to create something unique and exquisite.
Flowers and Candles Create Ambiance and Flair – Even on a Budget
When you don’t have a lot of cash on hand to make your home beautiful, flowers and candles will always lend grace to your space and make any occasion (Taco Tuesdays with the fam or a summer soiree with your besties) feel special.
Fresh flowers in a home always create a sense of elegance and charm, but flowers are expensive, and they don’t last long. Consider a bouquet of eucalyptus leaves instead. Not only are they beautiful, but they also smell divine.
Set on blooms? Why not go for an orchid? Many orchid varietals are reasonably affordable; you can find them at most florists or gardening centers for between $10 and $35. With the proper care, Orchids will stay in flower for six to ten weeks, and classic white goes with any decor.
Get a little creative with your vase or flower pot, and voilà, you’ve got yourself a lovely, long-lasting centerpiece or side table arrangement with either of these options.
Open Your Space With a Mirror, Not An Expensive Remodel
A well-placed mirror can open up a small space and, when strategically placed, can bring the outdoors in. If you live somewhere with plenty of nature around, this can be a terrific way to bring harmony and zen into your home.
Should I Reupholster Old Furniture or Buy New?
It’s always worthwhile to reupholster furniture if the frame is in good shape. If you have a good couch or chair that just needs a bit of TLC, consider re-doing it rather than shelling out big bucks to buy a new one. You’ll be giving work to local artisans and doing the planet a favor by recycling rather than replacing it, which is a more sustainable approach.
And you may find a terrific piece for free or at minimal cost in a garage sale, on the sidewalk, in thrift stores, or in an estate sale.
✅ Note! Safety is essential when taking ownership of furniture that has been thrown out. There may be a hazardous reason someone has tossed the piece. Before bringing it into your home, check that the item is free from bed bugs, mold, insects, or animals.
There are dozens of websites to source free furniture that’s in excellent condition and ready to use or that you can restore.
Here are a few to check out:
- Craigslist – Craigslist is one of the most popular ways to find furniture online. Sometimes, you’ll even find offers for free furniture.
- Freecycle – Freecycle.org is a website designed for people looking to give away their old things to ensure they don’t waste them.
- Facebook Marketplace – If you’re a Facebook user, you have access to a marketplace similar to Craigslist. Users post items they’re selling or giving away, and you can find many offerings of free furniture that folks are letting go of before they move or redecorate.
The cost of reupholstery depends on the size of your piece, the fabric or material you choose, and where you live. The average price of sprucing up a great couch is around $1800 but could be as little as $500 or as much as $4500, depending on your materials.
Refinishing Furniture Can be Fun and Save Money
Going on the hunt for used furniture that you can refinish is so fun because it presents a challenge that becomes an art project, giving each piece of furniture a story. While it won’t be quick and easy, it will leave you with tremendous satisfaction for a job well done and a big pocket full of savings to boot.
Easy and inexpensive upgrades to wood furniture are things like:
- Sanding and re-staining
- A new paint job with a bright glossy finish and perhaps some stenciling
- New hardware – a gorgeous pull can make a world of difference
Decorating on a Budget Isn’t Just About Furnishings and Decor
When creating a new home, you’ll need to think about essentials like cookware, dish, glassware, bedroom linens, window treatments, bathroom basics, etc. After all, you can’t live solely on a beautifully refinished couch and art.
Your kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom essentials create as much of an experience for you as the more decorative aspects of interior design. And all that stuff can add up.
Don’t disregard discount stores – they can be a great source of quality home items at bargain prices. You’ll need to be patient and dig a little, but HomeGoods by TJ Max, the Dollar Store, Ross, and Marshalls can render great finds for your home.
Here are some more great options for budget-conscious home shoppers:
- Habitat For Humanity Restore is run by local Habitat for Humanity organizations. ReStores receive donations and sell a continually revolving inventory of diverse, high-quality items to the public at a fraction of the retail price. The efforts of ReStores keep reusable household items and building materials out of area landfills.
- Tuesday Morning operates in more than 450 no-frills locations around the United States. They buy name-brand closeouts to pass along the savings to customers.
- Overstock is a well-known online retailer for discounted home decor and furniture. Its loyalty program, Club O, is just under $20 a year and offers a 5% discount on every purchase, a price match guarantee, free returns, and more.
- Michaels isn’t just an art supply store. You can get photo frames, accent pillow stuffers (purchase or make inexpensive throw pillow covers), spray paint to upgrade anything you want, wall art, artificial flowers, and many other household items.
If you’re patient, willing to go on the hunt and treat the entire process as a fun challenge, you’re bound to find plenty of high-quality products at bargain prices to outfit your home.
✅ Note! When decorating on a budget, choose essentials that easily color coordinate with the unique finds you uncover in flea markets, art shows, and thrift stores.
Here are a few tips for selecting basics that will go well with your interior design choices moving forward:
- Choose plain, stainless steel flatware because it’s good for any occasion
- Select white ceramic dishes – color splashes can come from linen napkins, centerpieces, and your extraordinary culinary contributions
- Choose white, ivory, or beige bedding – accent with colorful throws, decorative pillows, art, and knickknacks
- Monochromatic colors in your bathroom will leave you plenty of room to decorate with accent pieces that make a statement
- You can pick up simple, clear glassware at the dollar store, and no one will ever know you only paid $1 for that elegant wine stem
Budget Decorating – Your Beautiful Home Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank
There are countless reasons why you may be starting from the beginning to decorate and furnish your home. On top of moving, creating a welcoming home space can get prohibitively expensive.
With patience, the right attitude, and a little bit of imagination you can decorate and furnish your entire home on a budget and have fun while you’re at it.
Lynette Garet is a bilingual freelance writer. A U.S. ex-pat living in Costa Rica with her partner Sil, when not busy with writing projects, she can be found hanging with her favorite “stinky boys” (the Grand-Littles), tending her garden, cooking, reading, enjoying good wine, and dancing in the kitchen to music from a limitless list of genres.