Monday, March 21, 2011

Decorating on a Dime

The Topic: Decorating your home without spending all of your hard-earned money by VegNews Associate Editor Jennifer Chen.

The Dish: I recently helped my wonderful yet woefully style-challenged friend decorate her new home. She and her husband are on a tight budget—$200 to redo their living room and bedroom—so she asked me to come over and lend my design skills. Now, I'm not a decorator, but I am known amongst my friends for designing on a dime. If you walk into my house and admire my turquoise blue distressed coffee table, I'll happily share that I got it from a flea market for less than a $100. While the stereotype might exist that vegans live in yurts or hippie communes, I know that our community has some serious style. Here are some ways to decorate your humble abode without distressing your wallet.

1. Score good deals. My favorite websites to hit first? Craigslist and On Craigslist, towards the end of the month (when everyone is moving out and wants to get rid of their furniture ASAP), search through the furniture sections. If there's a catalogue item from Crate & Barrel I'm eyeing, I'll try to find the same exact piece on Craigslist by entering "Crate & Barrel coffee table" as a search term. You can easily score IKEA items the same way. I love shopping this way because not only are you recycling an item, you can also get it for half the price. My tip: If you like an item, ask for pictures so you know what the condition is of the piece you're buying, and have a game plan for how you're going to transport it home. Search for your local Freecycle group and signup for the Yahoo group to join. Everything under the sun is on the list. For both sites, reply quickly if you want something or else some other lucky person will score your deal.

2. Coupons. I am the queen of coupons, and something I learned about the ubiquitous Bed, Bath, & Beyond (BBB) coupons that I get in the mail is that they never expire. Seriously. I found this out at while checking out at a BBB and the cashier asked me if I had my stack of coupons. I did not, but now I do. So save those 20 percent off coupons for your big purchases like new bed spreads, curtains, or kitchenware.

3. Gather three objects you love. I stole this idea from Style Network's show Dress My Nest with Thom Filicia because I think it's genius. What Filicia does for each of his style-challenged couples is ask them to give him three objects that they love. He takes the objects—framed photos, dresses, souvenirs—and creates their style from their own personal objects. So that's what I did with my friend. Her wedding invitations had a nice red Asian theme and a photography book she picked out as one of her objects had beautiful black-and-white portraits. So when I saw a $25 table lamp with a red, white, and black flowered lampshade at Target, I snagged it immediately. It's so much easier to shop when you know what you're looking for instead of just grabbing random furniture pieces you like (and racking up a huge bill). Bonus tip: Target has some amazingly cute designs for cheap. And if you grab items out of season, you'll land some hot deals like red-and-white place mats for $1.33 each.

4. Flea markets. Haggling might not be your thing, but even a gentle, "Can you do better?" will often help lower a price on a piece. Even better, try this tactic just before the flea market closes. Vendors don't want to haul all of their wares back so bargain-bidding is easier. One of my favorite flea markets is the Melrose Trading Post in Los Angeles. When you find a great flea market and your favorite vendors, visit their stalls often. I scored so many deals at the Melrose Trading Post from a furniture guy who makes the most adorable vintage-looking furniture pieces (like my writing desk that was originally a sewing machine table). I visited him so much that every time I did, I got better prices. Vendors want you to keep coming back so tell them how much you love their pieces, bring friends (which is the best word-of-mouth for them), and gently ask what they can do for their best customer (that's you!).

5. Design blogs and magazines. Design magazines like Blueprint and Domino were my go-to mags for design ideas but in the wake of those publications' closure, a whole slew of drool-worthy design blogs have popped up. (Check out these mags for great ideas: ReadyMade, Anthology, and Dwell.) While you don't have to go and buy a suggested $1,000 bed frame, you can collect great ideas and styles (try the free website to store your ideas on the go). Here are some of my favorites, along with some picks from the VN staff (VN Editorial Assistant Anna Peraino was particularly exited to share her fave design blogs.): Apartment Therapy, Craft, Design Sponge, Craft Gawker, and California Home + Design's blog.

The Final Word: It may take extra effort to find the truly great decorating finds out there, but once you do, you can happily brag to your friends just how little you spent. You don't have to redecorate an entire room, but finding key pieces will help bring your whole place together. With a good eye on deals, you too can dress your nest for less!


  1. I love Evernote! For organizing design/style ideas, also try another free site, I hear it can become addictive, but it lets you clip pictures from the internet and it saves them with the pricing information and the online store so that you can keep track of where all the ideas came from (and see how much you saved by following these great tips instead of actually buying the furniture that inspired you!). Thanks for all these tips!

  2. Even if you don’t know what your particular decorating style is, it is important to determine what you like and what you don’t like. Taking the time to do this now will save you a lot of time later when you’re out shopping. My style is eclectic because I love so many different styles and trends and I can’t just settle on one. Like mine, your decorating “taste” will likely evolve over the years as trends go and come.
    Toronto Home Renovations

  3. Design on a Dime has been bringing low-cost, high-style renovations. If you have really big rooms, don’t use Lilliputian furniture. Conversely, if you have small rooms, don’t furnish them with gargantuan pieces or too many pieces. Look carefully at each room and decide the scale; then select pieces that match the scale of that particular space.