Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Peggy's Rules for Decorating - Starting from Scratch

Dear readers, I'm addicted to decorating blogs and magazines. Like anyone, I love looking at expensively decorated, luxurious rooms. But it's not rocket science decorating a room when you have plenty of money. It's the rooms of real people that fascinate me. Especially those with who must come up with resourceful solutions because they lack money or space. Sometimes I have to chuckle when I see an article in a magazine and they refer to a "small" budget. Apparently, I am the cheapest person in America. I don't think $20,000 or even $2,000 is a small budget.
The truth is there are many Americans who have little money. In America we believe that poverty is a reason for shame. But this is not a post about poverty, this is a post about creativity. God did not bless me with money, but fortunately he did bless me with creativity. And I am not alone. I believe everyone is creative! No matter how humble your abode - maybe it's just a college dorm room or a small studio apartment - there are a few simple things you can do to make it your own.
How do you decorate a room with no budget? With accessories. Accessories give a room character. I'd like to share an example of starting a room from scratch. For this example we will start with the living room, let's assume you are getting your first place. Since you are just starting out, maybe you don't know what your style is yet. So don't go crazy buying stuff. It's better to start slowly. An empty room is so full of potential. Let it be empty for a while. Learn to enjoy space. Believe me, one day you will wake up and wonder where all the stuff came from, so enjoy your unencumbered space for now. However, no matter where you live, it should be where you feel at home. It should be beautiful and have character. It should make you happy. Here's where to begin.
First, start with something comfy to sit on. Go to the Goodwill, Salvation Army or second hand stores. Buy a cheap sofa, loveseat or recliner. Vintage stores are a great place to get cute, quality furniture. Here is my sofa, purchased at a vintage store several years ago for about $200. I am so happy with it, and the quality is better than most new sofas.

If you don't have the money for a sofa, get an air mattress. Next, get some cute sheets in a pretty color. These can be bought cheap at Target, or even the dollar store. While you are deciding which colors make you the happiest, you can change them on a whim. And you don't need to worry if your friends spill food or drinks, they are machine washable. It's best not to invest in expensive furniture when you are young, your job may transfer you to another city. You may decide to travel to Europe. It's best to travel light and be free. And over time your style will change.

Now that you've got a comfy place to plop down after a hard day's work, what's next? Just remember this easy equation:

3P + L

This is everything you need to know about creating a beautiful room from scratch, for very little money. The equation translates as follows. Remember go slow. Start with one of each:

Pottery, Paintings, Pillows, Lamps

Pottery. Explore the thrift stores. Have fun with the hunt. Nothing is better than scoring a beautiful piece on the cheap. It's also satisfying to love an orphan piece that someone decided to let go. Overlook imperfections if a piece is beautiful to you. Cracks or scratches are signs of previous life, and are romantic. If you get tired of the piece, you can donate it back. This is how objects are supposed to be, in constant motion (this is where the notion of Indian giver comes from - but this is a topic for another post).

Here's a good example, Anna from Door Sixteen scored this totally fabulous vase at the Goodwill for $2.99. It just takes an eye and persistence to find your own treasure. I prefer ceramic, but glass vases are lovely too.

Paintings. Peruse the internet for affordable paintings. Many artists have blogs and are struggling to support themselves with their art. Second hand stores often carry original work as well (see my post regarding a thrift store in Toledo, below). Or call your local art school to see when they are having a sale. It feels great to support local artists. Remember to go large. A large painting can be used to anchor each area of your apartment. Lots of little pictures grouped together looks cluttered.

A quick word about clutter. It's a no-no. If you keep your place uncluttered you will be admired by all your friends. The only drawback is you may have to turn away some of your friends - they will constantly want to hang out at your place because it will feel so peaceful. After a hectic day at the office, returning to a simple, clutter free place feels like heaven. And if you are anticipating a romantic rendezvous, nothing impresses like an uncluttered place.

I have a bias regarding framed posters. An original work is so much more sophisticated. Just because you don't have much money, doesn't mean you aren't interesting. If you cannot afford a painting, go to your local craft store and buy a large canvas. Paint it in a solid color, or several colors. If you can't decide what color to paint it, think of your favorite outfit. You know - the one that makes you feel your best and gets you the most compliments. Or throw paint on the canvas graffiti style. Don't worry if you are not an artist. Have fun, don't get caught up in perfection. This is a great way to experiment with color, this can help you discover what colors make you happiest. This is also a great solution if you are in a rental and not allowed to paint the walls. If you like photography, use the Rasterbator to blow up your favorite image. (Caution: Rasterbator is free, but I understand the required amount of toner ink can get very costly.)

Pillows. Etsy has lots of affordable pillows (see post below). Target also has a nice selection of pillows. I never buy pillows in second hand stores, it doesn't seem hygienic. Textiles add a luxurious feel to your place, but don't be lured into spending a lot of money. I have bought beautiful silk pillow covers from Thailand on Ebay, at extremely reasonable prices. The pillow insert can be bought at the craft store for a couple of dollars.

Lamps. Add an unexpected lamp. I suggest a standing lamp to start with until you decide what sort of tables you want. Also, standing lamps give a much more pleasing glow than overhead lighting. Second hand stores often carry cute lamps, but beware the lamp without a shade. It can end up being very costly. You can find a cute lamp for cheap, and rewiring is cheap. But lamp shades are hard to find in the correct size, and can be extremely expensive. One time I bought a lamp at a flea market for $2.00, the rewiring was $9.00 (total $11.00). I could not find the shade I wanted. I finally found one at a lamp shop for $55.00. I bought it because I was desperate and tired of the search. It was a gorgeous shade. But how silly. The shade was five times the cost of the lamp! Target has some nice lamps, as does CB2. CB2's lamps can get a little pricey, but they do go on sale.
There you've got it! A cute room that you can call your own. With this handy equation, you have a strategy for those days when you need retail therapy. When you are shopping, you know that you are looking for pottery or pillows. This will cut down on impulse buys, you won't blow your money on unnecessary knick-knacks. That pink elephant bank at Urban Outfitters is darling, but you will grow tired of it quickly. This equation can be used in any room. Start with your large function piece (sofa, table or bed) and then add 3P + L. Here's a mood board from my inspiration files:

You get the idea. A quick word about coffee tables. Forget traditional coffee tables. They are boring. Get creative. Use an ottoman, a trunk, a rolling cart, a tray, an outdoor table. I once saw a room with crappy wood crates, painted beautifully used as coffee tables.

Over time you will accumulate more things, but if you keep this simple formula in mind, your home will not look cluttered. It also helps to vigilantly edit and purge. Make room for something new by getting rid of something old first. Here is another picture from my inspiration file. These homeowners have a lovely collection of pottery, some unusual lamps, a large painting and non-traditional coffee tables. I think they need a few more pillows (in a beautiful shade of gray), but that's just me. They've managed to create a space that is simple, uncluttered, warm and inviting. Image Metropolitan Home, Jan/Feb 2008.

I hope this has been helpful. Please contact me if you would like a consultation. I am available to consult on: where to start with your decorating strategy, using color, buying art, organizing and decluttering. Over the next several days I will explore how I use this formula in my own decorating and how I use color.


Budget Wise Home said...

Amen to the no no on clutter! I love the black and white pottery vase you have pictured. It's gorgeous!

Jessie said...

I think pieces of art / prints are one of the easiest ways to have a focal point! You can start from there and have a whole theme or idea just grow!! My house is a perfect example of that. Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein was all it took to make my house blossom! :) I also painted the art over my couch!

(I guess you don't like my Keep Calm & Carry on Print in my kitchen! lol) Hey, its perfect in my decor and I do love it. hehehehe ;) Great post Peggy!

graffiti artist for hire said...

"throw paint on the canvas graffiti style"
Yes, or u can actually hire some graffiti artists to spray directly in the wall with amazing results at graffiti4hire

Peggy said...

Hi Jessie - you know I adore your home! It's perfect. I suppose I don't really dislike that poster - it just seems so common to me.

Thanks for the comment!

Peggy said...

graffiti artist four hire - Thanks for your comment. That's a great idea! I am going to check out your site, perhaps I'll do a post about your work.

I should have also said sometimes you can find art in the garbage. On a recent walk, I found a screen that had graffiti-style art on it. I rushed home to get my car, but by the time I returned it was gone! Should have just dragged the sucker home.

Also, I did not mean to imply that graffiti art is easy. Some of it is incredible. I think I meant more like writing words on canvases and allowing the paint to drip. Maybe I'll clarify that.


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