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How to decorate a new home on a budget

Updated on August 27, 2015

Want a beautiful home on a budget? It can be done!

Decorating on a budget can be frustrating, but rewarding.
Decorating on a budget can be frustrating, but rewarding. | Source

New home and practically skint? Don't worry, you can still make it your own.

Getting a new home is exciting, exhausting, exhilarating and worrying all at the same time. Added to all these, you have probably spent your last penny on the mortgage, fees and moving in. So what can you do to make sure you really don't have to live with that purple and orange colour scheme the last owners inexplicably plastered the living room with?

I have moved many times and I always want to change the look and feel of a house straight away, preferably having it all done by yesterday and for no money at all. Whilst you may not be able to click your fingers and see your home transformed into your own personal palace, and there is no chance of an extra few thousand magically appearing in your bank account, there are definitely ways to personalise and improve your home that don't cost a fortune and can be done relatively simply.

The first thing I would say is: prioritise. If you could pick one room in the house to do first, which would it be? For some it will be the bedroom. A personal sanctuary to retreat to at the end of the day where everything is neat, tidy and finished. However, if you are a keen cook, you might want the kitchen done first. If you love entertaining you might want your living room transformed first so that you can welcome guests without feeling embarrassed by the seventies wallpaper. Whichever room it is, you should concentrate on that first and decide what you can afford to spend and what you would (ideally) like to change. Once you have one room in your home finished to your taste and needing absolutely nothing doing to it, you will feel more motivated to do the rest of the house and you will feel like you are achieving something for all your hard work.

Here's the rest of my top tips!

1) White Paint!

White paint is cheap, you can buy it anywhere, and it will help get rid of all those weird, wonderful and horrible colours the last home owners decided on. Buy large tubs and paint your hall and any others areas that for now, you won't be able to spend much money on doing up.

It will make your home look freshly painted and cared for and is a great, neutral backdrop to any of the home furnishings that you are bringing with you. Whatever your curtain or cushion colour, it will go with white. It will also allow you time to live in the house and decide if you really do want that dark blue, expensive wallpaper for the living room. The white paint will allow you to appreciate which rooms are light or dark, small or spacious and you can plan your décor accordingly.

Accessorise your white paint!

White paint on walls, floors, anywhere and everywhere, can be accessorised with any colour of your choice.
White paint on walls, floors, anywhere and everywhere, can be accessorised with any colour of your choice. | Source

And more white paint!

Try a lick of fresh white paint on your walls an furniture to freshen them up.
Try a lick of fresh white paint on your walls an furniture to freshen them up. | Source

2) Wallpaper!

I have moved into a few homes where the state of the plaster on the walls means I can't slap up a coat of paint. The dints in the plaster would show through and ruin the effect. Plasterers are expansive. The best thing to do with dodgy walls is to find a thick, textured wallpaper with a plain pattern and paper the walls. Then you can paint them white if needs be, or a colour of your choice. You will find that most thick, textured and simply patterned wallpaper is quite cheap in DIY stores. At the moment my bedroom is wallpapered in the stuff. I wanted a light blue paint but the walls need re-plastering and it would have looked awful just painted. I picked a plain textured paper with a subtle stripe-effect pattern, papered the walls and painted that blue instead. It looks great and only I know that the walls underneath are awful.

Wallpaper can hide a lot of faults.

Whether it's patterned or plain, then painted, wallpaper can hide a multitude of sins!
Whether it's patterned or plain, then painted, wallpaper can hide a multitude of sins! | Source

3) Get your furniture free or on the cheap

If this is your first home, or your first home on your own, you may not have all the furniture you need. There are some things you can probably wait for - that dining table and chairs to seat 6, that chaise longue to go in the bay window. However, you will need a bed, wardrobes etc. If family and friends can't help, then look at the 'Buy, Swap and Sell' groups near you on Facebook. You can usually pick up a bargain or two. Charity shops are also a good source for second hand furniture. Most won't have room to stock big items like bed frames, but you may be able to find chests of drawers etc. Don't be put off by the way they look, check if they are well made and durable. You can paint and upcycle most things to your taste. Also, if you do visit charity shops, ask a member of staff if they have a furniture warehouse nearby. Some charities collect larger items and group them all together in a warehouse in the area.

Also, register with websites where people advertise unwanted furniture for free - as long as you can pick it up. Many people downsize and have good furniture they don't need, or their kids grow up and move away etc. Don't fall into the trap of thinking second hand is tatty and smelly - you can often find wonderful, well made or vintage items from kind people who are prepared to give it away, or sell it for a song.

Group your collection of free/charity shop etc furniture together in your home. If it's a collection that doesn't match you can think about painting it all in the same colour (chalk paints are becoming cheaper, or with a little time to spare you can prime furniture and use ordinary paint over the primer coat). I have picked up chests of drawers, coffee tables and wardrobes from charity shops or online. I painted a coffee table I found for £20 in a charity shop. I used about a third of a tin of chalk paint (so about £6 worth) and it then matched the sofas and rug I had in my living room. I also managed to find a lovely walnut veneered wardrobe, of a quality I couldn't afford to buy new, which now takes pride of place in my spare room. Because it was large and unwieldy, it was £40, but I borrowed a van from a friend and got it home.

You can't lose anything by checking these places out and if you are lucky, you will stock your house for virtually nothing!

Upcycle furniture

Find a charity shop gem and upcycle it to your taste
Find a charity shop gem and upcycle it to your taste | Source

Charity shop treasure!

You never know what you could find in a charity shop until you look.
You never know what you could find in a charity shop until you look. | Source

4) Add interest to your walls

Ok, I don't mean hang that Picasso you have spare. By interest, I mean things you can hang on the walls to decorate and personalise your space. With ingenuity and a little cash, you can fill your walls with beautiful, inspiring things. Try one of the following:

  • You can easily get photo canvases online these days. Pick one or two of your favourite photos, send them off online (or take them to your nearest large supermarket with a photo section) and have them printed on a canvas of whatever size you like. If you don't want a photo of a person, take some nice landscape shots of your favourite beauty spot and have these printed.
  • Buy frames from shops like Poundstretcher, B & M Bargains, Ikea or your local charity shop (or ebay). Cover them in material (use glue or a stapler for this) and fill them with photos or pretty postcards. Alternatively paint the frames with whatever bits of paint you have spare or use your favourite photos or frame samples of expensive designer wallpaper. Group smaller frames together on your wall and you will have an interesting feature.
  • Replace outdated light shades. Find an attractive shade in your price range and put it up - you'll be surprised by the difference it makes and the impact it can have.
  • Mirrors - as well as reflecting light back into the room, mirrors make the room look larger. They are fairly cheap and can be picked up everywhere so you can get hold of one in your price range. For most impact, group smaller mirrors together on a wall and they will also form a decorative feature.
  • Wall stickers - gaining in popularity there are now some very pretty, unusual and decorative wall stickers available. You could paint the room itself white and use a wall sticker on one wall to add interest.
  • Use your own artistic talent by painting a design on a wall. Be careful with this one and only attempt it if you are good at art! Or get an arty friend to do it. It will be unique and easy to paint over when/if you need to.
  • Use ornaments on shelves. If you have a lovely collection of glass vases, show them off on a couple of shelves in your living room. Or it could be silverware, vintage teacups - whatever you will enjoy looking at every day. If you have shelves already, this costs you nothing. If you don't you will find cheap shelves at DIY stores, or you could use any leftover planks of wood from other home improvement projects.

Photo Canvas

A photo like this would look fantastic printed on a canvas and hung on your walls.
A photo like this would look fantastic printed on a canvas and hung on your walls. | Source


Here wallstickers in the shape of candlesticks add interest to a plain white wall.
Here wallstickers in the shape of candlesticks add interest to a plain white wall. | Source

5) Floors

In my dream home I have wall to wall carpet that is as soft as velvet and as durable as Teflon. I will never need slippers because my feet will be cosseted and pampered by the carpet. It hasn't happened yet! In my time I have inherited many outdated, dirty and tatty carpets from previous homeowners and had to live with them for a long time because fitted carpets cost money.

To try and get by without spending thousands on carpet, I have a few tricks. The first is, if the carpet is mostly in a decent condition but there's a bit which is stained and worn, I put a rug over it.

If this doesn't work, I check out what is underneath the carpet. If it's floorboards and they are in rescuable condition, I might sand them down and give them a couple of coats of varnish for a lovely, durable finish. If they are pitted, cracked or just plain awful, I paint them.

If there's a concrete floor under the carpet or some other very unattractive alternative, I will hire the most industrial carpet cleaner I possibly can and give the carpet a thorough wash. I am always surprised by the amount of dirt that comes out of carpets! After this thorough washing the carpets have usually improved to the point where I can live with them for a while.

The last option depends on kind friends and family. There are some people who will rip up lovely, barely used carpets because they want to change a colour scheme or they just want new, new, new. If I am out of cash and need a new carpet somewhere, I always ask friends and family if they have any they are planning to get rid of. This works both ways - if I am getting rid of a good carpet that I don't like anytime, I will offer it to them too. Personally I saved an offcut of lovely carpet from my last house, where there was a room that was an odd shape so I had to buy more than I needed - these then carpeted a small spare bedroom in my next house. You might find either you or someone you know has this too - if you don't ask, you'll never know!

Customising floors

Polish, paint or stain your floorboards.
Polish, paint or stain your floorboards. | Source

And finally....

Once you do have a little cash spare, make sure you do your prioritising again. Which of your updates/replacements etc are vital and which can wait? If you are desperate for a new shower and the washer works if you kick it, then you'll want to replace the shower first. If your kitchen units are hideous and falling apart, you'll have to postpone re-tiling the bathroom and buying a new front door because you'll need your money for a new kitchen.

Lastly, never buy anything from a shop until you've looked online first and made sure that a) you can't get it free or second hand, b) you check with friends and family that they don't have one spare and c) you can't get it anywhere else for less money. Once you get into that habit you will save thousands over the years, potentially thousands on one house.

Happy decorating!

Ideas to easily improve each main room

Living room
a new rug
new duvet covers
Buy a coloured roller blind
new lampshades
paint second hand bedside tables to match
Put up shelves and display pretty plates
wall stickers
use old suitcases for storage
replace tired worktops
framed photos
put a collection of mirrors on the wall
Paint cupboard doors
photo canvas
Display a pretty dress on the wall (fix a screw or simple hook to hang it from)
Use pretty tea towels/add vintage cookware (see ebay or visit charity shops)


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