How to Decorate Your Home on a Budget, According to Interior Designers

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Last year I moved into a one bedroom apartment in Manhattan. At 28, I was living alone for the first time. It was extremely exciting, but I also had a problem: I had no furniture. For weeks I slept on an airbed that was mostly deflated by the time I woke up.

After almost a decade of living with roommates, when everything seemed shared and temporary, I wanted to make the new space feel like me. I wanted every object, even my wine glasses, to say something about me.

But I was soon intimidated by the high cost of sofas and tables and considered going into debt. Instead, I spent a lot of time nostalgically browsing online for all the nice things I couldn’t afford.

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With inflation hitting furniture prices lately, many other people are also probably finding it harder to decorate at a reasonable cost. Home furnishings and supplies rose 10.6% this summer compared to last summer, according to the consumer price index.

Still, there are ways to use your budget creatively, said Athena Calderone, author of the “Live Beautiful” design book.

“While decorating on a shoestring budget can be very stressful, the good news is that the constraints are far from constraining,” Calderone told me. “In fact, they are often the source of true creativity.”

Here are some money-saving tips on furniture, homewares, and decor.

1. Know when to splurge and when to save

Elizabeth Herrera, designer at Decorist, an online interior design company, tells people to disconnect from trend cycles and follow their hearts when buying furniture.

“That way they won’t want to redecorate every few years,” Herrera said.

People should also know which items are worth splurging on, she added: “It’s good to buy trendy accessories cheaply to refresh your space, but keep the rooms larger classics.”

Experts say it’s easier to tell when essentials, like your sofa and dining room table, have been bought on the cheap.

It’s also the piece of furniture you want to last.

“Think long term,” said Becki Owens, an interior designer in California. “If you’re patient with the process and invest in quality parts when you can, you’ll have things to build on.”

“I have pieces that are 20 years old in my house.”

If the goal is longevity, Owens also recommends buying your basic furniture in durable materials and neutral colors.

“You can always change decorative layers like textiles as trends change,” Owens said.

2. Buy used parts

The trick to finding great deals on these sites, Calderone said, is typing in the right keywords. (She recently wrote an entire article on phrases to plug in when searching for vintage vases online, including “old urn” and “large antique clay vase.”)

“Play, type lots of different variations and have fun,” she said.

“And don’t be afraid to negotiate the price either,” she added. “Take a risk and submit lower bids on auction sites and see what happens.”

“I’ve been known to offer up to 50% off items, and they’ve been accepted.”

3. Look for emerging artists

The artisanal nature of artworks often means they are more expensive, Calderone said.

Still, she says she’s found some incredible artwork by up-and-coming artists, especially on Instagram. Two of her favorites are Art by Lana and Aliyah Sadaf. Other works by newer artists, who tend to charge less because they’re just getting started, are available on websites such as Tappan and Saatchi, Calderone said.

You can also search for original artwork in your price range on websites such as Art Finder.

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John Sillings, a former equity researcher, helped found Art in Res in 2017, after realizing how hard it was for people to make a big one-time purchase on artwork.

Art on the company’s website can be repaid over time without interest. The typical painting on the website costs around $900, which works out to $150 per month on a 6 month payment plan.

“The mission is to make fine art more accessible,” Sillings said.

The thrill of the hunt

Now that I’ve been in my apartment for over a year, the place is full of furniture and I barely remember when it was empty. Unsurprisingly for a tenant in Manhattan, I’m already running out of space.

But it reminds me of a piece of advice my mother gave me when I moved in. I was complaining that it would take me time to decorate the place, and she said that was a good thing, that a lot of the fun is in dealing with it.

When it’s over, she said, I wish I could go back and start over. She was right, even if I still have a little space to fill.

About Nereida Nystrom

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