50 Amazing Budget Decorating Tips Everyone Should Know! I especially love #4!
Hey ya’ll. So, this renovation that I’ve been snailing my way through is finally on the home stretch. I’ve been painting and installing trim and doors for nearly 6 weeks now, and I think I might actually be finished by this time next week. I’ll be sharing all of the details about what I’ve been up to very soon, but in the meantime, I wanted to take a minute to recap some of the best budget decorating ideas that I’ve come up with in the past 2 years before we started the renovation.
Let me preface this entire post by speaking some truth:
I’m not the best decorator.
I look back on some of my creations and think ‘No, Virginia. Just no.’.
But, like anything, I’ve improved with time. And one of the most common questions I get from readers is about decorating, and specifically how to do it on a budget.
So, I’ve narrowed the list down to my top 50, and I’ve even thrown in a few projects and ideas that have never made it onto the blog before, just for fun. Consider this one big last hoorah and a friendly little wave to my 1970’s house that existed before the renovation.
I mean, it will always be a 1970’s house…it has a giant rock wall built through the center of it. But, you know what I mean….we’re making progress.
Let’s get started! Here are some of my favorite ideas from the past 2 years.
- I get asked all the time about how I keep clutter to such a minimum. And one of the ways is by using trays to organize small spaces. For example, just this week I found a little silver tray at the thrift store for $1, and I created a little coffee station where I can keep sugar, spoons, etc. It’s not rocket science, but it works and it’s cute.
Use vintage finds in unconventional ways. I found this vintage champagne bucket for under $10 and use it as a planter. I’ve also seen these used for holding wooden utensils on the kitchen counter.
- Have an off-center light fixture that’s driving you crazy? Well, I have several in this house, and rather than paying an electrician to move the entire thing over, I just swagged it over with a chain and ceiling mounted hook. You can find specially made hooks in the lighting section of your hardware store.
Update: For those of you who have been waiting on me to finally finish the dining room (after only a long 8 months), here it is. I’m so sorry I’m such a snail.
Make your own art with a blank white canvas and gold thumbtacks.
Tons of you put your own spin on this project by using silver thumbtacks or making an initial…I love when you take something I’ve done and make it even better.
High five, lady friends.
- Spruce up an old fireplace with a faux stacked log insert.
Or make your own mantle for less than $20 with some scrap wood and white paint.
Buy some thrift store art and re-purpose it by spray painting the frame, painting the mat white, and adding some sequins.
Go look at the before pic, and I promise you’ll never look at thrift store art the same way ever again.
Search Craigslist and thrift stores for a cheap table and use it as an office desk. I found this table for $50, painted it black, and added a polyurethane top coat. It’s served as my blogging headquarters since day one.
I just re-assembled the office this week and it looks a lot different. Different layout, new paint, new rug, new light fixture, different wall art. Basically, the only thing that stayed the same is the desk. I’ll show ya soon.
Build your own headboard. Because those things can be pricey. I made mine with a piece of plywood, upholstery foam, a drop cloth (used as the upholstery material), and some silver nailhead trim. In total, I think it cost me less than $50.
Find some cheap furniture and paint it a bold color. Painted furniture isn’t for everyone, but if you’re on a tight budget, you can can really do a lot with some cheap furniture and a little paint. Whether you’re dealing with handmedowns, a thrift store find, or something you literally scooped up off the side of the road, paint can work miracles.
I know we’ve talked about this dresser approximately 5,000 times, but he’s such an icon that he literally just goes by his first name.
Reupholster an old piano bench and turn it into an upholstered bench for the foot of your bed.
I just used some striped fabric, pillow stuffing, and nailhead trim, and then I painted the legs silver.
Rather than just mashing all of my jewelry in a sack somewhere (because, naturally…), I have a bunch of pretty little bowls that I’ve collected through the years (that I usually pick up for $1 or so while thrifting), and I store my jewelry in them. Vern’s top drawer is devoted just to jewelry…all held in little bowls.
I used to be the sort who would just leave her jewelry out in the open, but then I accepted Cheese and Tootie into my life, and that quickly went down the drain.
- This is kinda similar to #12, but we’re just gonna roll with it. I also use small vases to store my makeup on top of my vanity table.
Here’s a closeup to save you from the squint.
There’s a plant taking up temporary residence on my vanity today. I’m trying to prevent plant murder by giving him some sun. Well, and water. I mostly just forgot to water him.
Keep Herb in your thoughts.
- And that brings us to the vanity. I know you guys love Vern, but the silver leafed vanity is my personal favorite. I sit here every day (because it takes quite a while to brush out my rat’s nest) and although it’s the the project that nearly killed me, it’s one of the few things I’ve created that I’m just totally and utterly in love with. Plus, it was originally a $15 dark brown thrift store desk. So, that helps.
So, I have a pillow obsession, and there were a couple of years early on when I spent way too much money on pillows.
I’ll admit it. I can feel some of you nodding in shame alongside me.
There’s just something about a pillow, man.
When you can’t afford to get a new couch or redo your entire house, a $20 pillow gives you hope. I’m not saying it’s healthy, I’m just being honest.
But those things add up, and before you know it, you have a closet full of pillows that you aren’t even using, and you wish you would have just saved your money and bought the new couch instead.
Or invested in your cat’s college fund.
So, these days, I save my money and I make my own pillows. And the best part is that you don’t have to be able to sew…you can just use fabric glue.
- We’ve already said way too much about pillows, so we’ll keep this one short: You can also make your own pillows by using basic white fabric, and then stenciling on your own pattern with a Sharpie.
Reupholstering thrift store chairs is a great way to save money, and I’ve probably salvaged more than 10 of them since the start of this blog. This green and white chair was one of my favorite redos, mostly because of how terrible it looked when I got it. All it needed was about a yard of fabric and a little paint for the legs.
Paint a thrift store dresser and use it as a TV console.
You guys know how long I searched for this one, and the disaster that ensued when I tried to strip and stain it. But, nonetheless, I’m so happy with the way it finally turned out.
Plus, let’s be honest, the living room used to look like the below situation, so I appreciate the little things like an appropriately sized TV stand.
Although I do really miss being able to have Mathias (currently in the Navy) help me with painting stuff. *Tear
- Mix metallics. I used to be so bad at this, but I’ve slowly worked my way up to being decent. And our house looks a lot better now that I’ve slightly improved my metal mixing skills.
Lately, I use a lot of chrome and satin nickel, and occasionally add little bits of oil rubbed bronze (like the hardware on the dresser) and gold (like the mirrored tray I spray painted).
Shop at thrift stores.
I still thrift a lot, and it’s usually one of the first places I check when I’m looking for something specific. It takes a lot of effort, and you have to really train yourself how to see past what’s there. But, once you get the hang of it, you can really find amazing stuff, and for so much cheaper than you would pay elsewhere. In the past 4 years, probably 50-70% of the stuff in our house has come from a thrift store.
My general rule is to buy new when it matters: sofas, rugs, and bedding. And then the rest, attempt to thrift. If you’ve never read one of my thrift store posts, these two (here and here) will help you get started.
- Our house had so much outdated cabinetry when we first moved in. Since we definitely couldn’t afford to replace it, I decided to make the best of what I already had, and I painted it. I painted our kitchen cabinets and the vanities in both upstairs bathrooms, and it made a bigger impact on our house than almost anything I’ve done.
Since the original tutorial, so many of you have asked me about how I painted the insides of the cabinets. And all I did was just use the same primer and paint, and coated it until you couldn’t see the grossness that was there. It’s held up pretty well through the years, and mostly it just looks so much better and makes me feel better about life.
Progress over perfection.
Update the hardware on your kitchen and bathroom cabinetry (and even on your furniture if it needs it!). I’ve done this simple fix to every room in our house, and it makes such a big difference. I get almost all of my hardware online here and here. The prices are ridiculously cheap and the hardware is amazing.
Customize your kitchen cabinets by using chalkboard paint on the insides of the cabinet doors.
My chalkboard phase has definitely passed, but I refuse to stop loving my little cabinets.
Add architectural detail by adding paneling on half of a wall. With molding you can give the illusion of added depth and dimension to the walls. The molding in our dining room was already there when we moved in (although it could be recreated with inexpensive MDF and just a few simple cuts), but it was a horrible orange wood. So, I caulked in between the seams, primed the wood, and painted it a semi-gloss white. And then last week (while I was in trim mode), I added some quarter-round trim to the bottom of the paneling near the ground.
My eventual plan is to create a huge gallery wall above the paneling, but I want to figure out what the dining room is going to look like before I attempt it. I think I finally found the table, so ya’ll, it’s about to be ON.
Layer it up. When it comes to bedding, I like to layer all sorts of stuff. And since I mostly just do neutrals in our master bedroom, I like to add a bunch of different textures and patterns, like striped white bedding, sweater pillows, linen pillows, and a faux fur throw blanket.
Another budget idea from our master bedroom: Frame a placemat above the bed like I did. One of my crazier ideas, but it worked.
- To save money on end tables in our guest bedroom, I thrifted some tables and then spray painted them high gloss black. (I also spray painted a couple brass lamps high gloss white and added new shades, and also made the pillows.)
And 30. I found a $15 old wooden headboard and $30 bed frame separately on Craigslist. I assembled the bed and painted the headboard off-white. We just recently replaced it last month when I redid the guest bedroom, but it lasted for nearly 4 years and slept quite a few friends and family.
- Give worn out old books a fresh new look with a coat of paint (and you can even add a metallic doily like I did to mine this past Christmas).
If you’re a paint hoarder like me, you probably have at least one junk drawer filled with paint chips. So, make some art.
Those were also some thrifted frames that I spray painted silver and painted the mats white.
For the first version of our guest bedroom, I found antique botanical prints on eBay and framed them on both sides of the bed. You can usually find sets of 6 prints for under $10, and they make for great art.
My photography was really special back in the day when I first started blogging, so feel free to appreciate this wondrous beauty. But, here’s a closeup, nonetheless, in the hopes that it might at least give you a good cheap art idea.
- Paint the inside of your front door. It’s a pretty simple idea, but it makes all the difference. I painted ours with Sherwin Williams Urbane Bronze.
Another cheap art idea that I use all the time is to take pages from books and frame them. Thrift stores tend to have tons of books, and you can usually find at least one with something frame-worthy.
And you can make just about anything look good if you put it in a frame with a mat.
- You can also make some easy gold leaf art by using the gold leaf paint like I used below.
Or by using actual gold leaf like I used on this abstract art.
- This next one requires a little imagination on your part. I made these two panels about two years ago, but they never made it onto the blog. So, although the pictures are slightly terrible, I think there’s a good idea nugget in here somewhere.
Basically, I cut a big piece of wood (that used to be our laundry room shelf, and which I actually eventually turned into this floral art) into two pieces and then spray painted them silver. Then, I used a giant stencil and rolled a little white paint over it.
And it made for some pretty decent wall art, that probably could have been amazing had I styled it up right (rather than photographing it on my old orange hallway floor).
I can’t remember where I used these…maybe in the office for awhile, but I came across these pictures when searching for all my past project stuff, and just thought they might be worth sharing.
Did you guys know that for every one project that makes it onto the blog, about five don’t? Basically, I make a lot of crap that doesn’t turn out very well, and then I hide it in a closet.
So, don’t feel bad if one of your projects turns out awful.
That’s normal and it’s part of the process.
At least for me.
- Did you know that you can buy furniture legs at Home Depot? Probably Lowe’s, too. Anyways, I figured this out earlier last fall when I was trying to salvage Paul, the former TV stand. I threw away his first pair of legs (because they were in bad shape), and then I bought him a new set at Home Depot. Unfortunately, I kinda chose ugly ones, and then never painted them, and it just kinda made an ugly dresser uglier.
BUT, the point is…
You can buy legs!!! And although my first attempt at re-legging a dresser probably doesn’t inspire you, I feel like idea itself just might. I mean, just look at all the little leg options.
You could even paint them gold or make your own ottoman.
- Make your own magnets using old jewelry. This one’s simple, and who doesn’t love simple?
Add a little flair to your ceiling by adding a medallion. I found this one for only $15 at Lowe’s.
Add a wreath to your front door. I made my own with a few simple supplies from the dollar store.
Make your old hangers new again by using gold spray paint, or add some pattern with decoupage and wrapping paper.
- Save money by buying frames at thrift stores and spray painting them whatever color you want.
You can even paint the mats, too.
Although, through my own experience, I’ve learned it’s best to paint the mats with flat white acrylic paint, as spray paint can sometimes stick to the glass when you reassemble your frame.
Make a gallery wall. It’s truly an obsession of mine, and although we just patched a million holes and repainted the walls, I fear that this house is in imminent danger of me unleashing another round of gallery walls upon it.
It can’t be helped.
If you need some tips and ideas on how to make your own, these two posts (here and here) will get you started. Tell your walls I’m sorry.
Change the color and look of almost any decorative object with spray paint. It’s my favorite trick.
A few of my favorites are Rustoleum Bright Coat Gold and Chrome (pictured above). I used gold spray paint on the little wooden deer on the mantle that I found for $1.
I also love Krylon Champagne Nouveau, and have used it on several mirror frames, like the one below.
You can also use high gloss white spray paint on glass items to make them look like ceramic. I’ve done this so many times, and it works really well. Just don’t wash it in the dishwasher, or the paint will come off.
- Speaking of spray paint, a great way to save money is to buy lamps at thrift stores and spray paint them. I used silver spray paint on the lamp below, and then customized the shade by adding a ribbon trim.
The ugly tile that was on this little bar countertop drove me crazy for almost a year before I finally got the guts to paint it with some specialty tile paint. Although we knocked down this entire wall a few months back during the renovation, it’s still one of my favorite projects because painting the tile made me so much happier with our house in the meantime.
Plus, you get to dress up like Walter White when you do it. Bonus.
I’ve gotten more questions about this project than almost any other, usually about how well it held up. And the answer is…
The tile paint stayed intact until the day we knocked down the wall. I mean, Jesse literally took a hammer to it, and the tile paint never chipped.
- I’ll save one of my favorites for last, because it helped to put this little ol’ blog on the map two years ago….painting stripes on the wall.
I remember painting these stripes late one weekend night and feeling like I was crazy to be spending so much time on a house. Two years later, the stripes craze has kinda died down, but this bathroom helped me build a blog that’s truly changed my life. And for that, it deserves to be my fave.