17 Ways to Decorate on a Dime

With decorating, as with clothing, it's not so much what you have as what you do with it.

from Penny Pincher's Almanac

The biggest secret of a fabulous decorator is imagination — the ability to see the possibilities in almost anything. The key certainly isn’t spending the most money. And you’ll be surprised at what you can do yourself at no cost at all.

1. Assess potential. Look at objects to see what they could become: An old milk can could be transformed into a lamp, the base for a small table, an umbrella stand, or a planter. Be creative as you see each object’s potential.

2. Express yourself. Do you love music? Look for old sheet music with great covers whenever you’re at an antique or junk store, garage sale or thrift store, or at a going-out-of-business sale at a music store. Hang the music on the wall above your piano, framed or unframed. Do you sew? Keep an eye open for antique (or just old) sewing equipment and display it on the walls and shelves of your sewing room.

3. Not just for floors. Small decorative rugs, either antiques or reproductions, can add color and life to a cold or boring wall. And they help muffle sound.

4. Or beds. Quilts or beautiful afghans can be hung on a dowel on a wall or draped over the back of a chair or sofa to add color and warmth — and be handy for snuggling under.

5. Keep a Sense of Scale
If you have really big rooms, don’t use Lilliputian furniture. Conversely, if you have small rooms, don’t furnish them with gargantuan pieces or too many pieces. Look carefully at each room and decide the scale; then select pieces that match the scale of that particular space.

6. Furniture
Whether you’re starting from scratch or redoing a room, begin with an honest appraisal of the area, its strong points (light, high ceilings) and its weaknesses (awkward door placement, no closets). Browse through decorating or architecture magazines and clip photos of looks you like. Just remember: That $8,000 chair in the picture isn’t necessary to create the ambiance you want. You just need imagination, a flair for style, and the patience to wait for the right piece at the right price.

7. Less Is More
Don’t worry if you don’t have loads of furniture. In decorating, less is often more anyway. If you’re using vibrant color on the walls and have an attractive rug picking up some of that color, you’ll need only a few pieces of simple furniture, enlivened with a throw or some pillows, for a charming room. Bulky furniture can become obstacles for traffic flow through a room, it can create a cluttered feeling really fast, and it can detract from your one or two really good pieces.