House Beautiful (And Cheap-ish!)

Photo courtesy of BigStock/Scovad
Photo courtesy of BigStock/Scovad

Interior Design Hacks for Budget-Conscious First-Time Buyers

Upon the initial walk-through of the first home I’d buy, my head was consumed with designing that space, top to bottom, exactly how I wanted. I was so eager to hit the ground running that furniture and fixtures arrived in a succession of FedEx trucks before the real estate agents sealed the deal. No longer culled creatively by a landlord, I had big plans for the bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, and outdoor areas. Only one hurdle: I had a conservative budget that curtailed my ostentatious ideas. Ever resourceful, however, I was able to bring my vision to life without going broke. Here are a few ways I did it (that you can too).

Freshen up the place with paint and accent wallpaper

A simple coat of paint on drab walls is transformational. Anything but white is fair game in my homes, and I choose colors that will not only complement my existing wares but also inspire my mood on a daily basis. In the past I’ve been partial to a bright-and-cheery sky blue that runs through the main room in all three of my properties, but I’ve also turned walls red, pink, yellow, green, gray and tan.

I also have a passion for wallpaper, but not full-on four-wall coverage. I choose one wall to drape with pattern, like behind the living room couch—and I make it count. I select ultra-premium paper from high-end producers. That sometimes costs a pretty penny, but the expense is justified in that I’m only dressing one accent wall and that one accent wall will become the focal point of that room. 

These days you can find quality prints on removable paper that costs a fraction of the real deal on the front and back ends of the project (traditional wallpaper is notoriously hard to hang and remove). Just peel and stick and peel again when you fancy a switch-up. The price difference between the two variations is in the thousands of dollars.

Photo courtesy of BigStock/Mirror-Images

Change fixtures instead of committing to complete overhauls

When I had a contractor estimate the cost of a bathroom remodel, I was left mouth agape by the total. He quoted $10k, which was beyond my reasonable expectation and my budget. And that bathroom was small. So I did the next best thing. Instead of a complete revamp, I replaced the vanity, mirrors, faucets, shelving and lighting. I’ve also upgraded the toilet in the past. Elbow grease on the tile brought it back to its original luster, and for less than a grand I had a new bathroom that I also outfitted with a cloth shower curtain, stylish curtain rings, complementary floor mat, color-coordinating towels, candles and art. The reveal was a spa-quality oasis that left me satisfied mentally, physically and financially.

Buy floor models when possible

I have a few go-to home retailers I shop when designing my spaces, most of which are accessible to modest budgets. My personal aesthetic leans more toward the styles of West Elm and CB2, but there are plenty of other outlets that will accommodate your design preferences. 

I never look at full price items either. If it’s not on sale, I don’t buy it. Most often, I head straight for the clearance sections or search for deeply discounted floor models. 

Large area rugs, for example, can extract hundreds from your budget, but lightly tread floor models (that can be washed professionally and inexpensively) are discounted up to 70 percent in some cases. 

My prized find was a gorgeous six-person glass-top dining table that retailed for $750 reduced to $250 because of a small scratch on the glass. A few months later, West Elm contacted me to receive a new glass top because of a recall on the original for the way it shattered if broken. It was delivered scratch-free and free of charge just because I was willing to take the L in the first place. Bona fide W in the end.

Photo courtesy of BigStock/scaliger

Make or print your own art

Have I spent hundreds—even thousands—on artwork? Yes. Certainly not thrifty, but I saved up over time for the pieces I wanted. To offset those major expenses, I also make my own art using various resources and materials. I’ve turned postcards and periodical clippings into masterpiece collages; driftwood into conversation-piece jewelry organizers; and I’ve repurposed garage and flea finds into functional items like eye-catching reupholstered chairs. 

To save even more dough, I keep a file on my computer that includes printable projects, like links for rasterizing favorite photos into frameable, large-format wall hangings (, and the free Charley Harper flora-fauna poster series available via the National Park Service website. There are tons of other search-specific options out there for whatever tickles your decorating pickle.

Invest in plants

Plants make a house a home. They’re relatively cheap, space-up otherwise empty areas, and, well, they make everybody feel frickin’ fantastic. I mix real and fake plants all over my spaces to create comfortable, welcoming environments. Keeping them alive, of course, is half the battle, but we’re adulting now and plants are our babies—babies that don’t scream, cry or spit up on you. Let the straights keep those; I’ll take another terrarium, please.

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels

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