“Embrace the work-in-progress stage,” says Keira St. Claire, an interior designer with Anthony Wilder Design/Build in Cabin John, Md. “Take your time when designing on a budget. Don’t worry about things not being perfect everywhere.”
To make the most of your budget and create unique spaces with tons of character, mix expensive pieces with inexpensive finds, suggests St. Claire.
Where to splurge or save
Once you establish a budget for your new home, you’ll need to do an inventory of what you own and want to keep and make a list of the essentials.
“If you’re on a limited budget, I would first invest in one of two spots: where you gather and where you dine,” says Allie Mann, a designer and senior interiors specialist, with Case Design/Remodeling in Bethesda, Md. “You want to have a great place to sit or entertain and spending a little more for the perfect eight-way, hand-tied sofa in a fabric you love would be a good splurge. A well-crafted sofa should last at least 10 to 15 years — perhaps longer.”
Less expensive sofas will lose their shape and the fabric wears out quickly, says Lucy Harris, an interior designer and owner of Lucy Harris Studio in New York City.
“Pick neutral upholstery and silhouettes that will give you flexibility in the future to change the room around it and last you a lifetime,” says St. Claire. “Go for a substantial armchair with a comfy cloth seat and back, but a wood or metal frame. Wood or metal-framed furniture tends to come across as more high-end.”
Combine a high-quality sofa with less expensive armchairs for a lower-cost luxury look, St. Claire says.
“Your first place may be on the small size and will require furnishings that fit,” says Gabriela Gargano of Grisoro Designs in New York. “Spend your budget on items you’re most likely to be able to reuse in your next space. For example, an occasional chair, a side table, lamps and art can typically fit into any home.”
Gargano also recommends investing in a quality mattress and good bedding since they’ll get daily use.
You can also “facelift” your existing furniture, recommends St. Claire.
“Start by shopping your own home,” says St. Claire. “Look at your existing furniture pieces and decorative items with new eyes. Paint something a new color or change the hardware. Get creative on ways to repurpose things you already have.”
Maximizing small spaces
While your first home won’t necessarily be small, any home can be designed to be more livable.
“Declutter — this is my mantra,” says Harris. “Reduce the possessions you have and it will be much easier to make your space look beautifully set up and organized. Store as many things away and out of sight as possible. In a closet, in low boxes under the bed, in a dresser or storage credenza. Leave only items that you really love out on display.”
St. Claire suggests selling as many items as you can and then using those funds to buy new things that work better in your new home.
The new items you buy should be the right scale for your space, says Gargano, who warns that too-large items will make the space feel smaller. Wall-mounted sconces instead of lamps can give you more surface space.
“Try to buy multi-functional furniture, such as small dressers that double as nightstands,” says Gargano.
Think about the items you want or already own to see if they can serve more than one purpose, suggests Mann.
“For example, do you work from home at a kitchen island or dining table that you also eat at? Is your sofa a sleeper to host guests? Can a console table or nesting table double as a bar or a place to serve food?” Mann says.
Mann suggests splurging on a flexible dining table with built-in leaves that can be closed when one or two people are dining and opened for a dinner party.
Personalization on a budget
It can be tempting to try to replicate the look of a home you’ve seen on Pinterest or Instagram, but you’ll also want to personalize your home so it’s authentically yours. Art, accessories and books are great to collect over time so that your next house feels like home as soon as you move in, says Gargano.
“To make a place feel like yours it’s important to furnish it with some items or objects that have significance to your story,” says Mann. “If you love a pop of color, a blue hue on the wall will help your personality shine through. If you like to travel, a gallery wall will tell your story, share places where you’ve been is an opportunity to display favorite photos or treasures. Painting or creating a gallery wall doesn’t have to break the bank. You can take on painting yourself and curate a gallery wall inexpensively as well.”
Mann recommends Mixtiles, which can be customized with your own prints and stuck on your wall with removable sticky strips for easy rearranging.
“Hang a smaller piece off center to avoid having to buy larger more expensive pieces,” says Harris. “Use a wooden poster hanger that just frames the top and bottom as an inexpensive way to frame art.”
You can create a focal point on your walls with artwork, furniture, paint or wallpaper, suggests St. Claire.
“Wallpaper can add lots [of] texture and dimension and there are even removable wallpapers that are quite affordable and easy to install,” she says.
Throw pillows are a classic inexpensive way to add a little color and personality to a home.
“Certain materials always add a touch of glamour or luxury to your space and don’t need to be expensive,” says St. Claire. “Velvet, marble and metal finishes can all be added in accessory objects like pillows, trays and barware.”
Layers of texture and pattern bring personality to a home, says St. Claire.
“Soft textures and muted patterns will immediately give a sense of coziness, while bright bold patterns and shiny textures are energizing and uplifting,” she says. “Don’t forget you can mix vibes and personalities throughout the spaces in your house. By artfully mixing different styles you will achieve a space that really reflects you.”
No matter the size of your home or your decorating budget, a careful plan can result in a first place you’ll gladly share with friends and family.