Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Decorating luxe on a tiny budget

Nate Berkus' apartment in NYC.  I love his style.

I’ve been thinking about how our home can look ultra-luxe on not much money.  I’m not about to go out and spend up large on new items, besides, the types of interiors I admire most are the ones where a lot of creativity, imagination and effort has gone into the design, rather than just oodles of cash.

Here are a few things I thought of that create an aura of luxury and old-world glamour.  Some are my décor preferences so may not suit you and some are more general.

Neutral tones and a muted colour palette - black/charcoal, cream/white, beige, ochre, gilt, oiled wood, maybe a dash of rich red.  Different textures in similar colours.  Mirrored surfaces/glossy paint.

Small amounts of expensive fabrics (otherwise known as remnants and end of rolls) made into cushion covers, foot-stool covers, fabric coasters, and place-mats and cloth napkins for the dinner table

Group together candles and pretty candle holders.  Also group pictures, cushions/pillows, books for an interior designer touch.

Have large scale pieces of furniture – better one big sofa than little bitty bits.

Be clean and tidy. Even a home that’s had a lot of money spent on it can look terrible if it’s messy and dirty.  You will notice that the most luxurious looking homes are clutter-free, that’s why they look so good.  In our own  homes, and I’m definitely guilty of this, things get put into all sorts of spaces.  You stop noticing them after a while but they are still there, looking non-designery.  Take a photo of each room, those items stand out then.

Place a premium on ‘spareness’, don’t take up every single space with something (Nate’s apartment in the picture on this post is a good example).  Don’t overfill rooms, let the items that you do have in there shine.  This is what home stagers do when they want to make a house more appealing for sale.  They literally remove half the items in each room. I love browsing staged homes, they are so inspiring!

Decorate with things you love and that are ‘you’.   If you love, love, love everything in your home, then no matter how disparate the items may seem, they all meld together and create your style.

Have lamps as well as overhead lighting.  They don’t need to be expensive.  I found a one I love at the Salvation Army for less than $20 (see photo below).  And the cabinet it sits on was $35 at a Hospice shop.  It’s solid timber and old, and has pen marks on the shelves inside like it held art or workshop supplies.  It has our DVDs inside now.

Do the classic high-low mix.  Our sofas we saved up and paid a fortune for and they were made for us from French fabric by a local furniture manufacturer.  We will have these for decades if not longer.  And I love having them next to the $35 cabinet!  Now I know ‘a fortune’ is not ‘a tiny budget’ but we saved for over ten years for our sofas and before that we had old sofas that were well past their use-by date but we kept them nice, rotated the cushions, spot-cleaned when necessary and vacuumed with the upholstery attachment regularly.  We do this with our fancy sofas now too.  It will keep them looking newer longer plus it helped us be happy with our old sofas as we saved up.

White feels very luxurious to me.  I have white plates and bowls, white sheets and always buy white toilet paper (just say no to 'fun prints'!).

Have something growing or fresh inside.  Many of you love cut flowers, you can buy or pick them from your garden.  For me I love an orchid plant to look luxe, and I especially love the look and feel of a lush fern inside.  Unfortunately mine don’t last long but maybe it’s time to try again.  Maidenhair ferns are my absolute favourite.  Terrariums are attractive, although expensive to buy.  A bowl of fruit looks great too.  I don’t personally do this but I’ve seen tables in magazines with a bowl or tall glass receptacle filled with lemons or oranges.

So that’s my ‘designer décor on a pauper’s budget’.  Are you as fascinated by this topic as I am?  What are your favourite tips?


  1. Personally, I think your home looks better than Nate's! :)

  2. Aah, you're such a sweetie, Tracy!

  3. Dear Fiona, As you say you definitely don't need to spend a lot of money on decor. Last summer we rented an apartment in Paris and were surprised to find most of the decor was from Ikea. It was all very lovely though, and yes, it was very spare (no clutter), not many prints, and mostly neutral in color. All of the dishes were solid white (like Parisian cafe-ware). I strive for this look in our home and it is very affordable: Good taste has nothing to do with money.

    xoxo, D

  4. You can always use faux fruit. Here in the states you can buy inedible fruit at hobby stores, but I'm sure Amazon.com would have it, too. They look pretty realistic. Just a helpful hint! :)

  5. oh i could write a book on this subject! lol

    i adore your living room because it is so serene. it's so you!
    i agree that it doesn't take a lot of money to live a beautiful life. almost everything in my home is 2nd hand and i wouldn't have it any other way.


  6. Well said Fiona. Can I add to 'white toilet paper', embossed white toilet paper? That's my favourite. And I have seen some very fancy faux flowers that I have thought of for our spare room. They're quite expensive but seriously I am fooled every time I see them at the florist and always hanker after them (but haven't splurged yet). If I put a living plant in the spare, under utilised, room I know it wouldn't last.

  7. As far as flowers go it's worth exploiting narrow vases of a flower or two. At this time of year it can be hard to gather much from the garden but a single flower can do wonders. Check out an example here: http://pleasantviewschoolhouse.blogspot.com.au/2008/04/milk-glass-multiples.html

  8. fiona i came back to add something that i learned from the recent photoshoot of my house. the stylist went out into my garden and snipped lots of fresh branches. she didn't even put them in water, just clear vases and they looked amazing. i've used a branch or 2 before but not like she did. it cost nothing and had tons of impact. x

  9. Fiona, I love your style! Especially your inclination toward "sparseness"...to me having bits of unoccupied space makes a room feel larger, and more free in a way. It creates "breathing room" - does that make sense? Anyway, your ideas are always so good.

  10. D, thanks for the description of your Paris rental. I love it the sound of it.

    Tracy, yes, I've seen faux lemons and I thought how nice they looked.

    Janet, looking at pictures of your home always calms me. You have the look and feel down pat! Thank you for the stylist/branch inside info, such a great idea.

    Catherine, haha, yes I love the embossed stuff too. It's just nicer, for relatively little cost. Go on, shout yourself those faux flowers - it's a one-off cost! If they're from where I think they're from, they're fabulous.

    Rose, I love that post of Anna's, I love her whole blog. She has the loveliest ideas.

    Jennifer, thank you! I agree with everything you've said - having free space around you feels so luxurious. I'll always remember something Peter Walsh (Australian declutterer extraordinaire) saying. He said that, without fail, when I room is emptied out in the decluttering process, if there are young children in the family, they go in there and dance and twirl around with their arms in the air. You can imagine it too! Having space just makes you want to do that.

  11. Ah yes, white china, linens, even toilet paper...love it! That's my style as well. --MJ--

  12. Have you thought of adding pelmets to your curtains? They finish off the curtains and you can buy not-expensive ones on line. Also I would extend your muslim inner curtains to the floor as longer looks better.

    I'm also decorating on a budget and have the same ideas about table runners and cushions in good fabric and I'm also making lampshades. What's available online is amazing. (I'm in Australia and lots of good stuff comes from NZ.)

  13. Have you read Nate's book "The Things that Matter?". It's wonderful.

    I love my collection of family photos I have sitting in my living room, most of them in small decorative frames I've collected from charity shops and home goods stores. It's a cheap cost and brings so many memories into my living area :)

  14. I love white dinnerware also, and we always use cloth napkins (I have damask napkins that are a beautiful green). I like a more modern style than you, but also prefer neutral tones with small pops of bright color (in art, pillows, or maybe a vase). I also like to include natural textures of wood, rattan, stone, linen. I agree that the best way to get a chic look is to "under-decorate," with larger pieces (no bitty bits, as you say), no clutter, everything in its place.


Merci for your comment. Wishing you a chic day!

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