Decorating on a Budget: An Expert Reveals Her Best Tips

Pink bedroom
Budget decorating can still have style.

Former HGTV Director of Original Programming Rita Mauceri knows a thing or two about squeezing every last penny out of your decorating dollars. At the network, she was the brains behind budget-friendly hits like 100 Ideas Under $100 and Design on a Dime. Her current mission is to help women everywhere uncover the coolest items on the web, from home decor and beyond, via her website The Fiq. In this exclusive LoveToKnow interview, Mauceri shares some top notch tips for saving money without compromising style.

The Basics of Budget Decorating

LoveToKnow (LTK): When it comes to budget decorating, what do you think is the most basic starting point - regardless of room decor or style?

Rita Mauceri (RM): I think for starters, the bigger ticket items should be classic pieces that are timeless and neutral, more or less. However, neutral doesn't have to be beige. You want to invest in core pieces first. Then add colors and add trends. This allows you to introduce pizzazz through accents that are much more affordable than bigger pieces and that can easily be changed.

Turkish Fabric Pillows

It's important to remember that "big ticket" doesn't have to be really expensive. Don't invest in a bigger ticket item in a way that is super trendy so you are going to have to replace it in five years. You want those pieces to last. As moods change and seasons change, you can swap out pillows and even rugs and lighting, but the bigger pieces should stay.

DIY Ideas for Budget Decorating

LTK: Is it a good idea for budget-minded home decorators to make some of their own home decor pieces?

RM: Yes! Whether it is pillows, lighting, art - you can almost always make it cheaper - much cheaper - and customize it to suit your personality and taste. When you can, make things rather than buying them -- this is an amazing option for people on a budget.

The Internet is a tremendous resource when it comes to this. There are instructions for creating incredible DIY pieces online now, from bloggers and other resources. For example, there are really cool DIY instructions for making a pendant light from wire baskets on Anthropologie now. You can follow these instructions to make them on the cheap.

You can also purchase hand crafted items made by individuals online as an inexpensive option. I use Etsy all the time. The great thing about Etsy is the really great price points you can find at all the shops. And almost any vendor on Etsy will customize her wares.

LTK: What are your thoughts on setting out to recreate high-dollar designer looks for less?

RM: I would say, don't try to do looks for less. When you're on a budget, the best thing to do is chart your own course and create your own style. I think when people try to do looks for less, they get into a situation where they are trying to copy a really expensive look and more often than not, it really doesn't look the same. I think if you are on a budget, do your own thing rather than trying to take a really expensive designer look and then copying it.

High Impact with Art

Stamp wall art

LTK: For people on a tight budget, what is the one thing they can do to make the biggest impact on their decor?

RM: My first answer would be art. Art has such a huge impact in terms of setting the mood for a space. Art creates the immediate reaction you get when you walk into a room - how it feels, what is says about your personality. I think art is the quickest way to make an impact anywhere in your home. In a kid's room, in a dining room or in a bedroom, art brings so much color and personality into a room.

The wonderful thing about art is that if you are on a budget, you can easily make it yourself. Again, there is tons of stuff online about this. Art can be as simple as stretching fabric over wood frame, which has been done a lot. You could also take photos of your friends, family members or still life scenes and have those blown up into an oversize image. There are wonderful apps that can make photographs and snapshots into art.

I think Etsy again is an amazing resource for affordable art. People tend to think that art is something - especially if it is oversized - that it is going to be pricey, and it doesn't have to be.

Lighting Can Be Affordable

LTK: Does lighting also provide an affordable high-impact solution for budget-friendly decorating?

RM: Clearly lighting has an impact in terms of how bright or moody a room is. Lighting can be extraordinarily expensive and usually is. However, do-it-yourself lighting can be affordable. One of the coolest examples I have seen recently is a DIY oversized globe - a kind of pendant light - made from twine. using these instructions from Moss Eclectic, you can make one using a beach ball, a ball of twine and some glue. Literally for less than five bucks you can make a designer pendant light as big as you want or small as you want. You can even paint it.

I think now we are in a great place where we have so many options open to us for really affordable lighting. I think what is great about being on a budget is that it forces you to be more creative, and so, you know, the idea of making your own light fixtures is kind of wonderful and forces people to get more creative. I think being on a budget also forces you to be more creative, and that is a good thing.

Where to Start with Budget Decorating

LTK: What is the easiest room to make over on a budget?

RM: I would say the bedroom is the easiest by far. Other than a bed, there is no mandatory furniture. A bed can literally be a mattress, which is super affordable. You can find many ideas for do it yourself headboard online, if you event want a headboard. I think bedrooms can be cool if they are minimalist, but if you want a headboard, you can upholster your own or make a headboard out of a wood pallet. You can also use decals to create a headboard on your wall, which i think is very cool.

red headboard

LTK: What are your favorite places to shop for inexpensive home decor items?

RM: CB2 is wonderful - they have such a great sense of style. Cost Plus World Market is amazing. I think sometimes people just look at them as an import store, but they have velvet pillows for under $10 and really kind of on trend basket and storage things for a fraction of the price. Right now Cost Plus is tapping into this whole industrial chic thing that Restoration Hardware is doing, so you may be able to get pieces like that on the cheap. Cost Plus World Market is a great place to find glassware, dinnerware and accent pieces.

Budgeting for a Decorating Project

LTK: How do you suggest someone draw up a budget for a home decorating project? How should they prioritize their money? Are there are software programs you recommend for budgeting?

RM: I definitely recommend a budget. I've just gone through this myself and I think it is very easy to have it spiral out of control without a solid budget plan. Without one, we may fall in love with a piece - and it may not be a piece that is essential for the room but you have to have it - and there goes your budget.

multicolor pendant lights

I don't work with any budgeting software. There are a lot of tools online but I think most of it is just common sense. You have to make three lists:

  • A list of essential items for the room
  • A list of items you have in the room or in the house that can be reused
  • A list of wish list items

Many of us focus too much on those wish list items, whether it is a piece of art, some cool lamp or a great rug. I think that is why a budget is so important.

Another thing I think a budget makes you do is to avoid being penny-wise and pound foolish. If you need a sofa, you may want or need to spend a certain amount to get a real quality sofa. Or, maybe you can get an Ikea sofa - I know tons of people who have done that - and then maybe spend some more on overstuffed pillows in nice fabric to make it not look like an Ikea sofa. There is even a website called Ikea Hacker that shows you how to take Ikea furniture, hack it and make it look custom.

Decorating on a Budget Is Doable

Whether your budget is big or little, there is a solution to your decoarting needs. LoveToKnow thanks Rita Mauceri for sharing her expertise. Visit her site, The Fiq, for ideas on home decorating and DIY projects.

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Decorating on a Budget: An Expert Reveals Her Best Tips