I am obsessed with redecorating at the moment. It all started with the beautiful oak chest coffee table we bought with some of our wedding gift vouchers. Since being delivered, it has suddenly rendered the rest of our furniture somewhat sub-par.
Don’t get me wrong, our home is nice, but we’ve never really invested in any nice furniture before. Like most people setting up home together, we built our nest as we went along with bits from here and there; and trips to Ikea that stretched out into epic journeys and had me wondering if I would ever see the outside world again. But with decorations that we’ve collected on our travels around the world, I thought it looked pretty good overall.
But that coffee table. It changed all that.
So now I am on a redecorating binge. Unfortunately I can’t just go out and buy whatever I want, as I don’t have endless sums of money to throw into my new obsession, so I am having to be very selective and creative in finding ways to transform our home into the beautiful vision in my mind. After hours of salivating over design blogs and home magazines, here are the five top tips I’ve come up with for redecorating on a dime.
1. Refurbish, don’t replace
The most amazing thing about this whole thing so far has been the challenge of taking a piece of furniture that is so-so and making it awesome. I have just finished refurbishing our sideboard, which was just a cheap piece from Ikea. Now it looks amazing (will post some pics later), thanks to a couple coats of paint and a creative application of wallpaper (sounds weird, but it isn’t, I promise). I originally wanted to buy a whole new one, and spent hours looking through websites and stores, only to find that I was looking at spending about £400 to get the sort of thing I wanted. Instead, I took a trip to B&Q and transformed it in just a few short days and £50.
You can re-work almost any piece of furniture: couches, dining tables, chairs, dressers, with a paintbrush, some sandpaper and a staple gun. There are literally thousands of websites dedicated to showing how to do this step-by-step. Or, if you’re not game to try it yourself, look into getting someone do it for you – for instance, getting your couch re-covered will be a cheap way to refresh the look in comparison to buying a new one.
If you do want to buy new things, hit eBay, garage sales, thrift stores, and craiglist for one-offs and orginal pieces before you hit the expensive furniture stores. Try to see the potential in things rather than just seeing what it currently is. I found one of my dining chairs in the street with a sign on it saying ‘please take me’. After a lick of paint and recovering the chair pad, it’s one of my favourite things in the house!
2. Decorate with what you’ve got
When it comes to decorating, the best thing you can do is work with the things you’ve already got, maybe adding one or two new, inexpensive things. Decorating is the cheapest bit of the whole process, and it’s not about how much stuff you have, or how expensive it is, it’s all about how you show it off to the best effect.
Take all your favourite objects, clean them and lay them out on a clean sheet so you can see what’s there and what will work together and what won’t. Remember that you don’t have to display everything at once, half the fun is changing it up and switching them around regularly to give the same space a different look.
Arrange your objects in groups to dress the surfaces in your rooms. Don’t be afraid of mixing contrasting materials, cultures, eras, colours and textures, as this will add quirk and character to your home. When you get bored of it, change it all around!
Wall art is one of the things that can completely change the look of a room without having to spend a fortune. Work with the scale and proportion of the room and frame photographs, art prints, your kid’s fingerpainting, squares of wallpaper, anything, for ready-made art.
And don’t underestimate the power of a bowl of fresh-cut flowers to transform a room. I’m an addict.
3. Go clean, white and let in the light
I would love to have some soft grey walls, or a few areas of beautiful flocked wallpaper. Alas, we rent, so short of spending money to paint walls and then re-paint before we leave, I have to work with what’s already there. Fortunately for us, our entire apartment is painted a plain, fresh white, which provides the perfect backdrop for an experimental decorator like me.
While changing colours can be fun, white walls mean that you can add colour with fabrics and ornaments, and the entire look of a room can be changed quickly without having to paint over that dark green wall you thought was such a good idea last year.
The best feature of any room is a well proportioned window, so make sure you make the best use of yours. Our flat is a Victorian conversion, which means beautiful long windows in the living room that let in the most amazing amounts of light. For some reason the landlord had half covered them up with some hideous red curtains before we moved in; but instead of spending money replacing them I simply took them down, making the most of the light and views. (Sure, it’s not the most economical option during a long UK winter, but I’m a sucker for that light!)
4. Start from scratch
When starting on a new room, take all the furniture out and re-examine the space. Make sure the paintwork and/wallpaper, and the details – like window sills and light switches are clean and neat.
Put your favourite pieces back first, along with your chosen statement pieces and build the room slowly around them.
The key to making a room look great is understanding how to work with the proportions of the room and work to scale. If you have high ceilings and large, dramatic windows, you can afford to put in larger pieces of furniture – fewer, larger pieces will work better than lots of small pieces. Vice-versa, if the room is small, don’t over-clutter it with too much stuff.
If you have one large space that being used for different purposes, such as a large living area that is also a dining room and office, create zones within the rooms to give the clear impression of different areas. Make sure you have a comfortable sitting/talking area by grouping some chairs together near the sofa in an area that other people aren’t going to be continually walking through to get to other places.
5. Spend carefully, not liberally
If, like me, you’d love to have a few designer pieces in your home, don’t be overwhelmed by the thought of the cost. In my opinion, a few great statement pieces look better when mixed with furniture in different styles and from different eras.
For example, I love the simple retro look of Eames chairs, but in amongst an entire retro-themed room they will lose their ‘wow’ factor, and the home will take on a contrived, overdone feel. Mix them with other types of furniture though, experimenting with textures and colours and pieces of different styles (vintage, bo-ho, shabby chic, retro), and you will achieve a more sophisticated look that is still warm and soft.
Try starting with one or two statement pieces, like an amazing piece of artwork, a funky lamp or a fabulous rug to make the room pop, and go from there.
Also, remember that you don’t have to furnish your entire home in one hit. As long as you have somewhere to sit, sleep and eat, there’s no rush. You can afford to go slowly and choose pieces that you love rather than ending up with a home full of things you only half-like, but bought because you thought you needed it all at once.
All images from the beautiful designspongeonline.com