When I moved into my first post-college apartment, it also happened to be my first unfurnished apartment. Of course, I didn’t have a lot of time to hunt for furniture. I also didn’t have a lot of money. (And as YDR business reporter Ashley Wislock will tell you, moving and starting out on your own ain’t cheap.)
So if you’re furnishing or decorating your own place for the first time (or just looking for some inspiration to spruce up your home), here’s what worked for me — and what didn’t work at all.
- Shop tag sales. And flea markets. And friends. Most of my furniture came secondhand. My couch, chair, coffee table and side table in the family room are all via tag sales ($80, $20, $40 and free, respectively.) My kitchen table is from the Williams Grove flea market ($90), and my dresser is a freebie from a college friend. If you’re flexible about what you want (and not set on recreating a Pottery Barn catalog), buying secondhand is the easiest way to save money. Spend a few Saturday mornings perusing, and be patient.
- But know when to walk away. That couch I bought for $80 is in great shape (and I love to take naps on it). But its pattern is not my style, and I knew from the start I’d need a slipcover. What I didn’t consider is how expensive a slipcover can be — even at Walmart, I paid $70 — and how poorly it might fit my couch. I am forever adjusting it: Tucking it back in, pulling it up or down or sideways. It drives me nuts, and I go back and forth on whether I should just get it reupholstered (goodbye, savings). At this point, I might’ve been better off plunking down the cash for a sofa in a color I could handle.
- Don’t be afraid to haggle. I am the world’s worst bargainer. I get awkward and shy and retreat from conflict, not to mention I have a terrible poker face. But you’ll never get a better deal if you don’t ask for it. When I bought area rugs for my apartment (required by the lease to cover my hardwood floors), I looked for remnants at a local carpet store in Carlisle. The carpets were still absurdly expensive, so I asked for a discount if I paid cash. And guess what — I got it.
- But don’t buy something just because it’s cheap. You’re not doing yourself any favors if you buy something (a desk, a couch, art for your wall… really, anything) that you hate. A low price or big savings won’t change the fact you hate it — and if you never use it or hang it up, you might as well have spent the money elsewhere.
- Make friends with a sewing machine. (Or someone who knows how to use one.) If you’re looking to update an older piece of furniture or a drab space, fabric is often the answer. Knowing how to thread a machine and sew a straight (or relatively straight) seam is really all you need — nothing fancy. But you can sew curtains, re-cover throw pillows, even create a covering for an open wire shelf.
- But don’t be afraid to wing it. When I sewed covers for my couch’s throw pillows, I had the fabric flip-flopped. Instead of a bright-orange floral pattern, I had the underside — a more muted, pink and red floral pattern. I ended up liking it better anyway, so I never went back to re-do it. And that wire shelf cover? I hastily sewed the seams and then stapled them to reinforce it. I’m not an interior decorator — and it’s OK to embrace your mistakes or shortcomings.
- Take inspiration from friends, family and the Internet. Pinterest is just about my new best friend (there is a specific home decor tab!) Home-decorating catalogs, furniture warehouses, friends’ homes and various websites can all offer ideas for how to make your space work. I used a series of empty photo frames and spray-painted half of them gray, half dark red — and then arranged them on the main wall in my family room. I don’t know where the area came from, but I didn’t come up with it myself, that’s for sure!
- And then adapt it. When I moved to York this year, the sticky tabs I’d used for my frames didn’t work on my new walls — and nails were a no-no. So I kept the frames packed away and used sheets of scrapbook paper to create a similar effect. The decorations you see in other homes (or photos) may not work for you verbatim: Cost, space or something else might prevent an exact replica. But a little creativity can go a long way, so don’t get discouraged.
What have you done in your apartment or house to decorate on the cheap? Any tried and true tips to pass along? What did you try that didn’t work out? Share your story in a comment.