Decorate A Room On A Budget

Decorate a room on a budget. All it takes is a bit of creative thinking and some elbow grease to create an inexpensive but lively decorating job.

When I was a poor, starving grad student people were surprised at my apartment. It didn't look like the quarters of a starving grad student. Not because I had more money than my classmates, but because I had learned to use my imagination.

One of the first and most important tricks I learned was to use color to make even the dingiest of apartments look good. Generally apartments have white walls. I would choose two colors - a deep color and a bright one, such as navy blue and lime green and try to use those for furniture and accessories. Coordinating your colors gives your place a decorated look. Limiting your color palette makes it easy on you.

In my first apartment I used those cotton bedspreads from India to set my theme. They were and still are fairly inexpensive, and can be used as tablecloths, curtains, wall hangings (great if your walls are less than perfect) or to toss over shabby furniture. Sheets serve the same purpose. For that matter any inexpensive fabric that is easy care will do.

Put something dramatic on the walls that echoes the colors of your fabric. Back in the early 70s a lot of us were stretching Marimekko fabrics over a wooden frame and hanging them as instant art. A half-yard of salvaged fabric in a bold or even a dreamy design, a few scraps of wood and a staple gun create instant art. If you don't have building skills, but a cheap picture frame at a flea market and staple the fabric to the back of it so that it is stretched taut.

Or collect a group of old picture frames, Hit them with a blast of spray paint and put mirrors in them. Hang them as a grouping that not only looks artistic but adds light to the room.

For a REALLY low budget trick - just hang the frames. Many of them are interesting enough in their own right to be admired - so just clean them up and hang them. It will be a great conversation piece.

Another really low budget trick, which I used in my first dorm room, was to buy a huge roll of wrapping paper in the color and design I liked. We used that and double-sided tape to "wallpaper" one wall of our room. It perked things up instantly.

Wrapping paper, or wallpaper (not vinyl - you need the real paper stuff) can also be used as flooring, believe it or not. Glue it down with wallpaper paste and then coat with at least five coats of polyurethane. You'll be amazed at how well this holds up.

An even less expensive trick is to buy a stencil - ones that resemble quilt blocks work well) and use wood stain to stencil a border at the edges of your wooden flooring. If you squint a bit, the border resembles an elegant parquet floor. You need to be a bit careful when stenciling with stain as it is thinner than most stencil paints and can run if you don't carefully wipe the brush first.

Buy paint in your chosen colors. You would be amazed at what a good coat of paint can do for dingy wooden and metal furniture. One of my grad school friends spray painted her file cabinets in hot pink and used fabric with purple, green and hot pink for curtains and to cover her plywood "desk top" and it looked great!

Speaking of that plywood desk top - that's a trick many of us know - to put a piece of plywood over two file cabinets to create an instant desk with storage. Cover it with contac paper to spiff it up a bit - or with more of that great fabric you've been using to cover unsightly furnishings. And that's just one good example of creative thinking - using something for a purpose other than what it was intended for.

For instance - in our first home my husband and I had no money for kitchen cabinets - but the sink cabinet was in dire need of being replaced. I haunted auctions and resale stores until I found an old mahogany buffet of the right dimensions. We cut a hole in the top for a sink, which made the center drawers somewhat useless- but we had the two side compartment to store cleaners, cleaners and such.

Later we got even luckier. When our office building was remodeled we discovered that workers were smashing the walls of the lavatory stalls in the restrooms. Solid marble walls. We raced down to and rescued one which became the most elegant kitchen countertop imaginable.

We also turned my husband's old, huge stereo speakers into end tables by topping them with plywood circles and them putting some of our chosen fabric over them so that the speakers were entirely hidden. People could never figure out where the music was coming from.

An old step ladder brightly painted makes a good shelf for displaying knick-knacks. Or use two and run wide planks through the steps to make an instant and easy to dismantle bookshelf.

As you can see, the trick to low budget decorating is to think creatively. Look at something not as what it is, but as what it can be. Then paint, stain or cover it to hide any shabbiness and step back to admire your cheerful and eminently affordable new look.

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