Home Decorating for Beginners


You're all grown up with a real job and an apartment of your very own. You’re starting life’s big journey and suddenly realize it’s time to look and act the part of a responsible adult. You dream of inviting friends and family over for a sophisticated evening of cocktails and dinner, but sadly your place still looks like a college dorm room.

As much as you’d love to completely redecorate, the reality of a limited budget leaves little left for home décor. So, to help you get on your decorating feet, we’re sharing valuable design tips from the pros that will make your place look like the successful person you have become—without cleaning out your bank account.

Don’t skimp on essential pieces. Interior designers will tell anyone decorating their first home to spend as much as you can afford on items such as sofas, dining room furniture and beds. You can always go the budget route with your accessories like throw pillows, bedding, art and lighting to pull it all together. Investment furniture works like your go-to black dress or favorite jacket—they’re the foundation for everything else.

Seek out furniture with character. There’s nothing like a vintage furniture piece to impart quality and character to your home. You don’t want your place to look like a page out of the Pottery Barn catalog. Adding in a few vintage items create a space that is interesting, personal and inviting. Obviously, we’re not talking about Grandpa’s broken down recliner or Aunt Emma’s plastic covered sofa. We’re referring to good deals on solid furniture like a mid century coffee table or an art deco hutch. Scour your local paper for estate and garage sales and sites like Chairish and Craigslist for steals and deals.

Invest in transportable furnishings. When first staring out, you’re more than likely to move several times before settling down in the home of your dreams. A chair or dresser can go along with you, but it will be impossible to take wallpaper, shiplap or specially made window cornices. Instead of custom touches that remain behind, consider investing in paintings to make your home a personal statement. Original art doesn’t have to cost a lot. You can reframe a thrift store find making it part of your curated collection.

Swap out old fixtures for new. Just because you’re renting, doesn’t mean you have to put up with old light fixtures. Changing out a chandelier or pendant is much easier than you might imagine and makes a big impact. Check out thrift stores and big sales at lighting retailers for deals on sconces or outdoor lighting. When you’re ready to move, switch it back and take your lighting to the next place. If you are super handy around the house, you can even swap out plumbing fixtures—it’s just a bit more involved and time consuming than lighting.

Buy budget-friendly accessories. Don’t toss away your hard earned paycheck on things like bedding, towels, area rugs and throw pillows. These are items that get a lot of wear and will need to be replaced regularly. Accessories in general are also trendy in nature, so as tastes and trends evolve, you are more inclined to exchange them for the latest colors and styles. And besides, updating your space with inexpensive accessories is a great way to refresh your space.

Don’t get carried away. Settling into your first place is always an exciting time. The inclination is to go on a major shopping spree to fill every wall, nook and cranny right away. Don’t rush. Go slowly so you can feel it out and see what you really need and determine how you want to decorate the space.

Bring in the basics one at a time. That way you’ll put together a home that functions for you and is a reflection of your personal style. This gradual approach will also give you the chance to save up for better quality furniture. If you are cash strapped at the moment, you can always go to IKEA for your foundation pieces, then in a few years upgrade as needed.

Set up your kitchen on the cheap. Even though you may not have the stylish cooking space you’d hoped for, you can make some simple additions to spice it up. Make a grocery run and grab wonderfully graphic items like brightly labeled canned tomatoes or beautiful tins of cookies from the import market. Display them on open shelves or in glass front cabinets. Create a still life with wine and fruit placed on a wood cutting board to add texture and interest.

When stocking the kitchen for the first time, spend a little extra on three different types of utility knives, one style of drinking glass that can be used for a variety of beverages and several decent pots, pans and baking dishes. Big box discount retailers or restaurant supply stores are good sources to help you save money.

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