When my boyfriend and I moved into our (now no longer) new place in Los Angeles from a New York studio apartment, we knew it would be a game of balances. Two years out of college, we couldn’t quite afford to replace the IKEA couch I scored from an ex-roommate (I'm fond of saying, "Everything the light touches is IKEA," when people ask where our furniture is from, which is my way of saying everything is from IKEA), but also wanted to create a home we’d be able to grow up with since we're planning on staying in this apartment for upwards of two years. After weeks of visiting (read: inviting myself over to) friends’ apartments, spending more time than I’m willing to admit on Pinterest, and gaining an intimate knowledge of every home store in Los Angeles, I've picked up some simple but often over-looked tips for decorating on a budget—without compromising aesthetic.
Even if you don’t have an outdoor area, it’s worth perusing this section for furniture. It’s less expensive than its indoor counterparts and frequently goes on sale since there’s less demand for it—everyone has indoor space, but not everyone has a yard or patio. For my first apartment, I purchased a glass-and-metal outdoor table (pictured above) that worked perfectly as a nightstand, and it was a fraction of the cost of pieces that were officially categorized as nightstands. We now use it as an indoor side table between two antique chairs I rescued from my parent's basement, and I plan to use the same strategy for sourcing a dining table. At West Elm, for example, this outdoor bistro table is on sale for $129 while a comparable indoor table is nearly three-times the price, at $599. What’s more, because outdoor furniture is built to weather storms, it’s designed to last.
Fresh flowers are a bright and colorful way to transform a room, but purchasing fresh flowers every week adds up. If you buy just one bouquet every week at $7, for example, by the end of the year you’ll have spent nearly $400 on flowers alone. Instead, invest in a plant like the orchid and bright potted flowers (like those pictured on the table above), which may run you $15 initially, but even if you need to buy several or replace a few, you’ll never hit even half of what cut flowers would have cost you. Better yet, if you have a green thumb, grow your own cut flowers—a pack of 20 ranunculus bulbs will only set you back about $4, and they’ll come back every year.
It’s easy to buy smaller items like plates, tabletop decor, or a small art prints on a whim, because the price tag is so tempting and attainable in the moment. But instead of spending money on impulse buys, save it for something that will actually make an impact. The little details can come last—that’s why they’re called “finishing touches.” In the meantime, it’s better to save up for the pieces that functionally and visually fill a space (desk, coffee table, sofa, ottoman, chairs, lamps, etc.). You’ll be a lot happier having chairs to sit on even if it takes longer to save up for them, than a bunch of little trinkets that don't make a dent.
Rugs are some of the most expensive home items, closely following mattresses and sofas, but they go on sale more frequently than the latter category and are widely available at flea markets, second-hand shops, and discount online retailers like Rugs.com The hunt may take a little longer, but you can end up saving hundreds of dollars. For our bedroom, we actually found a beach blanket for $75 that functions as an area rug—it's one of our pieces to receive the most compliments.
Even a shabby chair, couch, or table can look expensive with the right accessories. For example, a faux sheepskin thrown over a forgettable chair as I did in an office nook in our kitchen, or a leather cushion on a rescued wooden bench makes these items more interesting and luxe-looking for less than it would cost to buy the next level up of furniture. This tip can also apply to styling. In my own bedroom, I placed a $4 wooden spice rack below a Guatemalan gilded mirror and added a candle. It's now a makeshift "nightstand" that can hold a glass of water and looks simple and rustic, but a bit more special.