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Broke and Fabulous: Show off Your Exquisite Taste on Any Budget

Updated on December 17, 2012

Get Inspired!

Whether you’ve just graduated from college, working in real estate or just a connoisseur of all things bright and beautiful, you know that creating a fabulous home takes time and money. Those two resources are often in short supply, but that doesn’t mean that you need to resort to bean bag furniture or plastic storage units. If you’re willing to buy used décor like table linen and other furnishings, you’ll be amazed at just how gorgeous you can make your, or your client’s, home. While everyone will have a different process regarding home décor, the following steps should help you to get inspired, get organized, and above all get fabulous.

There are artistic people out there who can see, for example, a piece of ugly, gray driftwood and turn it into a visually arresting sculpture. You don’t need to be that creative (though more power to you if you are!) when it comes to furnishing your home, but you can still draw inspiration from the things that you see and the things that you love, and use this inspiration to create a distinctive, affordable look in your home.

Because the focus in this case is on putting together various elements of home décor, rather than honing your own artistic skill, you can start by looking at homes that you admire. Do you have a friend whose damask table linens evoke a sense of Old English luxury? If you like this look, then by all means find a similar tablecloth, but accessorize it your way. Buy table linen of the same theme, but make sure it fits your furniture and doesn’t make you look like you’re copying your friend’s aesthetic. Instead of finding rosy, painted porcelain, for example, find cut crystal vases and accessories at a consignment store, or from online vendors, to call back to that Old World charm, but still present a unique look.

Similarly, if you have a relative whose kitchen is composed of stunning black granite, you can evoke that look without shelling out thousands for a kitchen renovation. Instead, look for stoneware serving trays, sparkly black table linen, and maybe a dark, glass centerpiece or vase. Decorating a home entails creating a distinctive look, and while you should look to others to see what works and what doesn’t, you’ll have to rely on your own judgment to construct a look that is as fabulous as you can afford.

Don’t limit your search for inspiration to others’ homes. Visit a museum, explore the great outdoors, or just go shopping to figure out what contemporary and classic styles would fit with your (or your client’s) home. Do you want a beachy vibe? Focus on sandy tones and accessorize with aquarium glass, shells and coral. You may even be able to find tablecloths decorated with starfish or dyed in hues of green and blue. Do you like Art Deco? Then look for decorative antique loveseat (which is shockingly affordable at auctions and antiques vendors), embroidered curtains, and detailed, sparkly tablecloths. Table linens in general are a great way to set the tone for a room, as they are immediately visible and, in general, quite inexpensive.

Don’t hesitate to look closely at new items of inspiration. Even something as banal as a lichen-covered rock can inspire you to look for decorative pillows, throws, table linen, and rugs. And who knows, maybe searching for inspiration will help you to see the world in a more positive light so that you become one of those people who turn trash into treasures.

Get Organized!

Of course, just because you’re inspired doesn’t mean that you should go crazy with your shopping. Doing so can result in the accumulation of items that have absolutely no business in your home. Instead of going on shopping spree, write a list of what you need and keep it on your Smartphone. Take measurements of your room and its present furnishings. This will help you to determine which sizes you are looking for in terms of linens, table accessories, and area rugs. You may also want to keep a few pictures of the work-in-progress on file so you can judge what a particular item will look like and where you want it to go.

As far as what to buy, your needs can be broken down into several categories. While décor is all about form, it is probably best to consider functional items first, for three main reasons. First, functional items like furniture are likely to cost more, so they should be foremost in your budgetary planning. Second, functional items take up more room and will determine how much space may be devoted to decorative or semi-functional items—for example, you can’t buy linens without measuring your table. Finally, once you have the basics down, you’ll have a better idea of which accessories will look best. The finished product is unlikely to match your inspiration precisely, but by acquiring items in a certain order, you’ll be able to construct your vision one step at a time, adapting along the way.

The biggest consideration here is, of course, the furniture. Do you want to rearrange it or replace it? Draw a floor plan (use graphic paper or a painting program on your tablet) of the room to toy with new positions and to decide where to place new items. If the home is presently unfurnished, you’ll need to buy a great deal of new furniture. If this is the case, know that used furniture is more affordable . . . but it can also be more dangerous. It can sometimes contain dust mites or, worse, bed bugs. Items that contain no cloth, such as tables and entertainment centers, are usually safe, though you’ll want to clean them off thoroughly before bringing them inside.

Upholstered furniture poses more risks. A good rule of thumb when purchasing used sofas and other porous furniture is to go through reliable vendors, rather than private citizens on Craigslist. Whether they sell online or offline, vendors have a reputation to uphold and are unlikely to risk angering customers by selling infested furniture. High end sources will sometimes clean upholstery beforehand to eliminate dust particles and insects. Also look for furniture stores that are liquidating their inventory to find brand-new furniture at a bargain.

After your furniture, consider your lighting. If you or your client owns the home, you can install light fixtures without worrying about putting holes in the ceiling. If you don’t, a combination of small and full-size lamps will create visual interest and, depending on the lampshades you select, infuse the light with unique properties. Some are multipurpose as well—new, Japanese-inspired rectangular lamps provide shelving in addition to light and provide a great way to display collections and other objects d’art. Lamps are often quite inexpensive, and you can usually find one you love for less than one hundred dollars. If you’re on a tighter budget than that, you can purchase new lampshades that tie in with your theme.

Next, consider semi-functional accessories like curtains, pot holders, dish cloths, table linens, and rugs. You and your guests (or potential buyers) interact with these elements, so you are likely to notice them more. Whether you are drawing the blinds to avoid the mid-afternoon sunlight or switching to round table linen to accommodate a new table, you will always notice these items, so only buy them if you absolutely love them and they satisfy look you are hoping to create. Shopping for items like knife racks and table linen online will yield a greater selection and, in many cases, lower prices. Just make sure you are aware of the measurements of the home in question.

The final item to consider is your electronics and appliances. You probably have a decent amount of these items already, so you may not need to go shopping. You will, however, need to figure out how to display these items tastefully. Remember that wiring, no matter how perfectly arranged, always looks messy. Keep all HDMI cables behind your television and keep all video game accessories and chargers hidden or on discreet shelving units. For your kitchen, commonly used appliances like toaster ovens, microwaves, and coffee makers can be left out, but keep specialized equipment like mixers and ice

Get Fabulous

Assuming you’ve budgeted effectively, the time has come to buy and displays the things you really want to make your home as distinctive you are. The first step here is, of course, posting pictures of yourself and your loved ones (or your clients and their loved ones). Try to keep all photos and paintings on the living room and hallway walls if possible. This makes for easy, unobtrusive viewing, assuming you arrange them in an attractive manner. If you have no choice but to use standing frames, limit photographs to three per item of furniture—anything more can look cluttered. If you wish to display diplomas and awards, don’t place them in a centralized location—doing so can make you appear a bit self-obsessed. Instead, keep them in your office, bedroom, or hallway.

Once you’ve placed your existing décor, it’s time to go shopping with the remainder of your budget. Look for new paintings, decorative items like vases, new linens, table décor, area rugs, and items to augment new or existing collections. If you enjoy collecting shells, look for truly distinctive ones online and offline. If you’d like to showcase something you’ve made, like your college art portfolio or a blown glass sculpture, feel free to show it off with finesse. Unlike awards and diplomas, artwork is always a pleasure to see (assuming it isn’t completely esoteric or, worse, Dadaistic), so you needn’t worry about what your guests will think.

Do a final assessment of your work. Does it suggest a sense of unity? If not, do you need to add or remove an element to generate a sense of calm? There are a number of inexpensive ways to further customize a room. You could paint the walls or add decals. Hiring a crew would be faster, of course, but doing the work yourself might feel more rewarding. If you’re the crafty sort, you can add details to items—a border on your curtains, dish cloths, or table linen.

Above all, add elements that make you and your guests smile. Even if you are working for a client, you should rely on your own judgment and sense of beauty. Doing so will not only help you to create a fabulous home on a budget, but will help you to gain confidence in your ability to make the right decision, stay within your budget, and create a home that is completely, exquisitely fabulous.

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