Frugal Decorating Shortcuts

by Renate Hering-Shepherd

Whenever I see gorgeous interiors, I immediately look for frugal decorating shortcuts to create the same look for half the price or less. Want to do the same? Here's a list of frugal home decorating ideas to help you get started.

All the frugal ideas below can be realized with
  • furniture/furnishings you already have (reshuffle, repaint, repurpose), and

  • second-hand or very inexpensive new items.
Let's take a walk through the house and look at frugal decorating shortcuts for every room.

1. Foyer/Hallway

Create a focal point: place an unused kids' desk (or console table) against the wall. If it's a bit shabby,
  • paint the legs and slipcover the top, or
  • top it with floor-length fabric;
  • in lieu of a "real" tablecloth, recycle some floral bedlinen, or
  • an old (but still presentable) quilt (with the 'good' side on display).
In lieu of a table, install
  • a display shelf with a row of hooks underneath, or
  • mount a row of open containers (like wooden boxes or inexpensive baskets) to the wall – for incoming/outgoing mail, messages, gloves, keys.
Top with a potted plant or a simple bouquet from the garden (or the roadside), and 'crown' the table/shelf/row of baskets with a picture on the wall above:
  • a framed poster,
  • a row/cluster of heart-warming photographs, or
  • a large painting (if you happen to have one somewhere - or pick one up at a garage sale).
Most people have more pictures than they know what to do with – and pictures are perfect for frugal decorating. So relocate a forgotten piece of wall art from somewhere else in the house, and you will be greeted daily by a welcoming sight.

2. Kitchen

Soup with a view! Make your chores lighter by having something lovely to look at while preparing dinner. A yummy wall color is an excellent frugal decorating idea, and - particularly if you're into a national or regional type of cuisine - you could also inspire your cooking with
  • a few lavish photographs of typical cooking ingredients or country dinnerware, or
  • a large, view-from-the-window landscape poster, or
  • a batch of colorful postcards, or
  • fun shots from your last trip to this country or region.
  • If you're into great pasta but haven't been to Italy yet, buy a (second-hand, dirt cheap) photo book about the country and (gasp!) cut out the best pictures.
Wall displays made of equal-sized pictures always look good when you use the same (simple, cheap) frames throughout. It won't look like frugal home decorating at all; it will look striking and self-assured.

My last tip is not strictly a frugal decorating shortcut, but it's a low-investment-high-yield tip (so maybe it does count ;-)

Most kitchens have task lighting installed above the worktops.

If yours hasn’t, installing it would be a cheap and very effective investment. Not only will it illuminate your workspace and make your work easier; it will also enhance the entire kitchen by making it look larger.

Inexpensive, battery-driven task lighting (the kind you just mount under the cupboards) is widely available and would save you having to run new wiring through a built-in kitchen.

3. Living Room

Are you happy with the seating arrangement? Is it intimate enough, spacious enough? Is it comfortable?

If you feel like experimenting, rearrange the seating. Play around with the position of the sofa(s) and chairs. You could try a diagonal setup, with the sofa backing onto a corner rather than against a straight wall.

For comfort, borrow some cushions or throws from a bedroom. Slipcover cushions in fabrics that will inject a fresh, new, 'vacation' feel into your living room – if you have a lot of pattern already, keep the cushions plain; otherwise, try a pattern for a change.

Another way to rejuvenate the room with frugal decorating shortcuts is to bare the walls and clear all surfaces of visual clutter. Take everything away from walls, mantel, sideboards and tables. (The walls might need a fresh lick of paint after this exercise.) Next, arrange only a third of these items – your most valued pieces - in carefully composed groups. It's a visual spring clean for your living-room.

4. (Guest) Cloakroom

If you've ever felt like testing an outrageous paint color, this is a great place to do it. You won't need much paint for a room this size (you could just paint one 'accent wall').

If the first coat does not live up to your expectations, well, try another color. A small can of paint couldn't break the bank even if it tried.

4. Home Office

If you're lucky enough to have office space at home, make the most of it by introducing a reading corner, with good lighting and somewhere to put your feet up while you read.

Borrow a comfy chair from somewhere else in the house, add an ottoman (if the two don't match, slipcover the ottoman in a color that matches the chair. If you don't have an ottoman, take a sturdy, smallish side table or a wooden crate in the right size, slipcover it to the floor and top it with a yummy cushion in matching fabric).

Then add a good reading lamp. If you have to buy the lamp, the frugal decorating shortcut could be to buy an inexpensive desk lamp and sit it atop a small side table.

5. Bedroom

Frugal decorating shortcuts in the bedroom could be about setting a new (color) mood, or hiding clutter - or both.

The best color for your bedroom depends on your general style, and on the functions of your bedroom ... click here for a few bedroom color ideas!

If you want to wake up to happy thoughts and feelings, make sure the first thing you see when you open your eyes is something uplifting and inspiring: a picture of your favorite place on earth, or your favorite people on earth, or of something you would very much like to have in your life!

And one of the best clutter-hiding devices for the bedroom (apart from clearing surfaces, de-junking drawers and closets, and keeping everything in order) can be a folding screen.

A screen is a frugal home decorating cheat if ever there was one. You can build it from old shutters, pieces of fencing, simple frames with fabric stretched into them, or thin wooden boards that you connect with hinges and paint in your favorite colors. It's an extremely satisfying, creative frugal decorating shortcut to take.

(If you like the idea but not the work, you could always hunt down the perfect screen at flea markets, vintage shops, or yard sales.)

6. Bathroom

Bathrooms, unless they're pattern free and have lots of built-in storage, are prime victims of visual clutter: lots and lots of little, colorful things. Soaps, lotions, scrunchies, cosmetics, toothpaste, creams, toothbrushes. Before you even start thinking of frugal decorating shortcuts for the bathroom, I suggest you put all your energy into finding a hiding place for most of the clutter – or getting rid of it.

After that, what you do will depend on the colors that are left in the bathroom. If you have colored/patterned tiles, it's best to look for frugal home decorating ideas in solid colors that harmonize with the tiles.

If your family has a specific towel/washcloth color for each member, look for colors that work together, as well as with the tiles.

If your bathroom is white, you have more options to play with. Nice color combinations for a white background are white/gray, aqua/chartreuse, fennel/cherry, sage/pink, or several shades and tints of one color, like lighter and darker blues, or the gamut of red from burnt orange to deep pomegranate.

If you love the occasional relaxing soak at night, have a dimmer switch installed in the bathroom, and distribute a few candles for 'mood lighting'! (Candles are an excellent, versatile frugal decorating item anywhere in the house. They add color, shape, texture, light, and warmth.)

Frugal home decorating brings out the creative genius in all of us.

It forces you to come up with personal, interesting solutions to interior decorating problems, and as a result, you end up creating a home less ordinary, a home that nourishes you and attracts like-minded, creative, fun people. I can't think of many things better than that.

For more on frugal decor, check out the pages on
Frugal decor à la française,
Countrified frugal decor, The rather frugal Top 10 Tips, or
30+ Frugal Home Decorating Ideas.
Or, click here for an overview of all things good & frugal: Cheap Home Decor Ideas!

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