University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County Home and Community Resources


Your Home and Community
updated August 1, 2002


Stretch Your Decorating Dollars
submitted by Lorene Bartos, Extension Educator

Inflated housing and furnishing costs can place budget constraints on renters or first-time home buyers, as well as on established families. In many cases, most of the housing portion of the budget goes toward rent or mortgage payments and very little remains for furnishings.

Through new materials and designs, decorators and manufacturers have made furnishings more affordable. Plastic, fiberboard and laminates are inexpensive materials used in place of solid woods. Multi-use pieces cut down on the number of pieces needed and make attractive and functional furnishings available at a reasonable cost. Consumers can further reduce home-furnishing costs by finding creative uses for old items and by developing the skills necessary to refurbish their present furnishings.

A Home-Decorating Plan

When you set up housekeeping for the first time, it is important to make a home-decorating plan. Spending an entire budget on one nice piece of furniture makes it impossible to afford anything else. It leaves the decorating plan incomplete and the living space sparsely furnished. If you are on a limited budget, select inexpensive, low-quality furnishings for starter pieces. These temporary pieces probably will be replaced eventually with better, more lasting choices. Low-quality pieces are easier to discard when the time comes. Also, tastes change. The design and color you choose at first may not be what you want in five years. Purchase better pieces later and you'll get the type of furnishings that you'll enjoy for many years.

The decorating plan for a new household does not need to include all the furnishings contained in a well-established household. Many pieces are not essential and can be purchased later as more money becomes available.

Basic Guidelines

Decorating within a budget involves planning, creativity, do-it-yourself skills, and a spirit of adventure. Follow these guidelines to create an attractively furnished home at minimum cost:

* Develop your sense of creativity and imagination by becoming more aware of your surroundings. Train your eye to see creative uses for ordinary objects.

* Collect ideas. Jot down things you see. Clip ideas from magazines and other sources. The ideas you find may spark inspiration. You may decide that a foyer treatment is a good idea for a den. An idea copied exactly is rarely successful. Instead, adapt it to your own situation.

* Express your own taste. Make your home reflect your personality and the way you like to live.

* Try to visualize how the design or treatment will look in your home. Working with large samples of colors and fabrics can help.

* Be courageous. Break away from tradition and try something new.

* Develop do-it-yourself skills. The more decorating tasks you can do yourself, the less expensive your projects will be.

* Learn to recognize bargains. Be on the lookout for sale items, and follow your decorating plan so you don't buy things you don't need.

* Make the useful decorative and the decorative useful. By combining function and aesthetics, fewer items are necessary.

Where to Start

Decide what overall feeling or atmosphere you want for a room. Traditional or modern? Cozy or light and airy? Bright and flashy or calm and subdued? The atmosphere you create affects how people feel and function.

Before you dive into projects, review a few basic design principles. Rules for decorating are not as strict today as they once were. People combine old and new, mix styles together, and don't follow strict color schemes. But no matter how imaginative your idea is or how much money you spend on it, the end result will be disappointing if you don't follow basic principles.

Backgrounds (walls, ceilings, floors). Background colors become dull and lifeless from dirt and age. Brighten walls with a good cleaning or coat of paint. Dark colors hinder light reflection. Too much pattern in the background makes special accessories go unnoticed.

Color. Choose a color scheme. Use different colors in different proportions and vary from dark to light. Repeat colors. Tie colors together with a pattern, and repeat the pattern around the room. Use subdued colors in large areas and bright colors in small areas. Accent neutral background colors with small areas of bright color.

Focal point. A focal point is whatever draws your eye when you first enter a room. Emphasize only one area rather than making many areas compete for attention.

Lines. Lines should provide variety without confusion. Lines can provide direction or movement of the eye throughout a room.

Shape and size. Use a variety of shapes for interest. Make sure your furnishings are in pleasing proportion to one another and to the room.

Texture. Different textures lend different feelings to a room.

Pattern. Use patterns to add interest. Start with a pattern and use its colors throughout the room, or choose a pattern that coordinates with the room's existing colors. Repeat patterns in the room and don't be afraid to mix patterns.

Lighting. Keep light bulbs clean for maximum light. Replace lampshades when they become dark and yellowed. Provide adequate light, especially for reading, sewing, etc.

Surface Treatments

Often a new surface treatment is all an old piece may need. When deciding on a surface treatment, consider how the item will be used. If it will be replaced soon, you can be more extreme with your choice and less concerned with wear. A heavily used item, though, needs a surface that is durable and easy to maintain.

Paint is one of the easiest surface finishes to apply and can be attractive and durable. Spray or brush it on large surfaces. Antiquing, like most paint finishes, does a good job of covering surface colors and marks on old furniture. Use stencils to paint designs on floors, walls, furniture, lampshades, etc. Cover the design with a clear coating for protection.

Fabric as a surface treatment can be applied in many ways. When using both fabric and paint to decorate a room, always buy the fabric first and then find or mix a paint to match. Bed sheets work well in home projects that require large pieces of fabric.

Wallpaper and adhesive-backed papers are popular covers for home-furnishing items as well as for walls. To make a poorly designed or awkward piece of furniture blend into the background, cover it and the wall behind it with the same pattern. Cover small items like waste baskets, coffee cans and notebooks to make them coordinate with the rest of the room.


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