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

11. Wonderful Windows
Good news for the penny pincher: The best-decorated window is usually the least-decorated window! After all, the main function of a window is to let in light and air, so the less fussy the treatment, the better.

If you’re lucky enough to have a great view, use the window treatment to frame it, not hide it. A simple drape on either side of the window can function when you need privacy but won’t detract from the view.

Bonus Tip: Artistic Groupings
Don’t feel you have to have a matching set of chairs. Look for chairs you like at thrift stores or garage sales, preferably all wood unless you’re going for a funky ’50s dinette look. In fact, a disparate group of wooden chairs can make for a much more interesting dining set. If you want to tie them together somehow, paint or stain them the same color. Or make seat pads of the same fabric.

Kitchen Face-Lifts for Less
You may want a new kitchen, but do you really need new appliances or a new floor plan? If not, a kitchen face-lift might save you hundreds of dollars.

12. Cabinet refacing.Even if you have this done professionally, you will pay much less than it would cost to have new cabinets installed. You can save even more, by doing the refacing yourself. This usually involves gluing new veneer over the old finish on all the vertical surfaces. You can get the veneer and instructions at home centers. You can also get new cabinet doors and drawer fronts to replace your old ones, refinishing the cabinet frame before installing the new doors and drawer fronts.

If you don’t want to go through the effort of a full refacing, take off all the cabinet doors and drawers and paint yourself a brand-new look. You can match the doors and the frames or, if you want some drama, paint them different colors. Paint the frames white and the doors and drawer fronts bright red, then look for a vintage ’50s dinette set with a red tabletop and red-cushioned chairs. Or stencil a design of herbs on the doors and drawer fronts and paint the framework a pale green.

13. Don’t forget hardware! Knobs, handles, and drawer pulls come in an infinite variety these days; there’s something for everyone’s taste. If you’ve saved big money redoing your own cabinets, you can splurge a bit on hardware.

Putting in your own tile backsplash can really change the look of the room. Like hardware, the variety of tiles available is staggering. You can go French country blue, Spanish-style bright, Southwestern saltillo, floral, or just about any other route you can think of.

If you have a window that lets oodles of light into your kitchen, remove all curtains or coverings and install glass shelves to make a window herb garden. You’ll always have fresh seasonings for your cooking as well as a gorgeous window, especially if you use interesting containers.

14. Mirror Tricks
Mirrors, mirrors everywhere are a tremendous help in decorating for dimes. You can use them framed or unframed, as tiles, or as pieces of furniture.

Add height to a small, low-ceilinged room (such as a powder room) by covering the ceiling with inexpensive, easy-to-install mirror tiles. Use the recommended adhesive.

Place a large framed mirror in a small entryway to reflect light, increase the sense of space, and allow you to give yourself the once-over before going out.

Do you have a darkish room with only one window? Set a mirror on the wall opposite the window to give the illusion of another window and to increase the light.

A series of small framed mirrors in varied shapes can be arranged down a darkish hallway or on the wall next to a staircase to catch light and add a bit of sparkle.

For a recessed window, line the sides of the window recess with mirror tiles to reflect more light into the room.

Look for attractive antique frames at flea markets, garage sales, and thrift stores. You may have to look beyond the so-called art in the frame. When you find a winner, remove the art and replace it with a mirror. Hang it above a dresser, a mantelpiece, or a powder room sink.

Bonus Tip: Slip Into Something Comfortable
A quick and easy way to make a worn sofa look like new again (or to change the look of a room for a new season) is to buy or make a slipcover. If you’ve picked up a well-made but worn-looking sofa at a garage sale or thrift store for little money, it might be a good investment to have a slipcover made professionally, which is still cheaper than reupholstering and is easily removed for cleaning.