Design on a Budget
Make your first home together something special without breaking the bank.
Keeping to a budget can be a challenge when making your first home. There’s a lot more room in it than that apartment you’ve been crammed into, so you simply need more things—and you may need to do more work. Yet you can still make your new home look great while you furnish and decorate.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from design professionals. It can be affordable. And if you still can’t hire a pro, they’ve offered the following good advice.
“I think the most important thing is to establish a plan for the home,” says Lee Wheeler of Interiors for You in Milton. A plan will help prevent you from making expensive impulse buys you may regret later.
“You can implement your plan as you have it budgeted,” she says. “A first-time buyer can build on a plan more gradually.”
As a basic rule, designers suggest investing in quality over quantity. Wait until you can afford the good stuff, even if that means working on a long-term plan. Start with a single room, says owner Terri Wasdyke of Brandywine Design in Wilmington.
“Who will be using the space—kids, adults, pets, elderly, etc.? This will really affect what type of material should be selected,” Wasdyke says. The room’s purpose can also determine things such as color and the height of shelves or pictures.
“If you are the type of people who like to watch TV and videos, you will want to focus on the family room,” says Kimberlea Hinzman, owner of Interior Elegance Design in Dover. “I would not skimp when you select your furniture for your family room.”
Searching the classified ads can be helpful, she says. Though some furniture for sale may be old, construction is often solid. “I believe it helps to invest in products that will last and wear well,” Wheeler says.
Furniture can be a launching point for your overall decorating plan, Hinzman says. Using pieces from the last place you lived in can help you hold on to until you can afford better furniture, making more money available for additional supplies for the rest of your plans. If you do need new furniture, a midline sofa and loveseat can be bought for about $2,000. “It won’t last for the long haul, but it’s OK to use for a little while,” Hinzman says.
Homeowners often tackle painting on their own. “This is where you can get a lot of design for a little money,” Wasdyke says. “The right paint color can be very dramatic, soothing or invigorating. It can make a space appear lighter or more filled with light, cozier or it can pop artwork.”
To save money, it’s important to make the first painting count instead of having to do it over. Wasdyke suggests trying various finishes. Though she was never trained in brush or rag painting, she found manuals to walk her through the processes.
Preparation is key to painting success. “You don’t need to be specially trained,” Wasdyke says. “You just need to be careful and take your time.” Make sure you repair cracks and fill nail pops. Covering and protecting floors is a must.
If your prep is more extensive, you can save a great deal of money by performing such demolition as stripping wallpaper, scraping off tiles, tearing up floors and carpeting, and removing old cabinets. How-to guides are available in home improvement stores and on the web.
After painting, look for interesting artwork. We’ve all seen it on “Trading Spaces” and DIY home renovation shows. Taking a camera or paintbrush in hand can save you from spending major green in a gallery or a home decor store.
Grouping artwork can display it to great advantage, as well as provide a theme for your room and cohesiveness. Try using your best vacation pictures to show off exotic locales or places that mean a lot to you. Not only will it spruce up the space, it will serve as a conversation starter.
Hinzman also says ready-made window treatments can be affordable at retail stores such as JC Penney, Boscov’s, Pier One and TJ Maxx. “There are all kinds of sources you can use on the Internet as well.”
Check out the web and magazines to get inspiration and find ideas. Seeing examples can give you a feel how color, furniture and accessories work together. Most looks can be imitated at a low cost.
“The trend is very streamlined now,” Hinzman says. “People still do plush, but it’s really, truly about clean lines and lots of colors, earth tones like blues, greens and browns.”
If you know how to sew a little, a visit to a fabric store can reveal any material you need for making tab-top curtains and simple panels. Wasdyke says someone skilled at sewing can also cut down on costs by making accent pillows, table runners and napkins for the dining table.
When shopping for decorating supplies—whether for the small touches or more complicated things like shelves—Wasdyke says to take your time.
“Be wary of salespeople,” she says. “Some will try to sell what they make the most money on, not what will work best for you.” Taking time and shopping carefully will result in better work and fewer regrets.
Though Wasdyke admits her bias, she says hiring a professional for even a general consultation can save in the end. It can save money (on surplus supplies), and time spent painting and repainting, shopping and re-shopping.
If you and your spouse don’t agree about what to do, get professional advice. “Get off on the right foot,” Wasdyke says. Compromises are key if you’re on opposite sides of the decorating spectrum.
“I often think of myself as an interior arbitrator,” she says. “We often have partners who don’t agree on interior selections.”