Do It Yourself for Budget Friendly Interior Design

Living room with vintage and new; custom slipcovers on old and new furniture, vintage oriental rug, custom pillows from designer fabrics

WE’RE ALL LOOKING for ways to make our budgets go further these days, and decorating is no exception. The most fun way to save on your interior design projects is to become an avid do-it-yourself-er. Tackling new skills can be intimidating, but many projects are easy to learn. As interior designers know, planning and executing design projects is not only fun, but it can be rewarding in many ways.Instead of purchasing a pre-conceived look from a shop, do some research and put some effort into developing your own style. Putting your own stamp on things rejects the theory that there is a right or wrong way to decorate. It quiets that critical voice in our heads that tells us to follow the crowd. You’ll end up with a room that expresses your personality and has a more timeless style. No matter what the trends are, your house will always be primarily a reflection of you. When your home is constantly evolving, it will never need an expensive, top-to-bottom decoration again.

Decorating for yourself is also a lot easier on your design budget. Instead of approaching your interior design as an all-or-nothing project, think of it as an ongoing hobby. Having an unhurried attitude towards your home allows serendipity to come into play. For example, you may see a fabric in a design magazine that you love, and find out that it is very expensive. Six months later, you may be in luck, as one of the larger fabric mills is likely to jump on the trend and produce a less-expensive version with a similar look. Or, you may have your heart set on a custom French sofa covered in a designer fabric. This is an item that could really be expensive. However, with time on your side you may find a vintage sofa in a similar style that could be refurbished. In our upholstery shop, we often work on vintage and antique pieces. The springs can be repaired, stuffing replaced, the wood frame refinished or painted, and replacement cushions in feather and down, just like the original. With bolt pricing on our fabrics, that designer fabric costs half as much. While it may sound like a large expense to fix up an old sofa, if you compare the result to the price of that $2500 sofa in the showroom window, spending less than half as much on a reupholstery project is a bargain.

While this may sound like a new approach to decorating, in reality it is tried and true. Designers have always used antiques and refurbished pieces because they add so much character to a home.

Slipcovered Vintage Armchair

Often our clients will have sofas and chairs that are in perfect shape, but the fabric is tired. It saves them money and time to reupholster. Older furniture is often more sturdy and can last a lifetime. If you don’t have a frame to recover, it is worth it to splurge on the best-built frame you can afford; later, when you need to recover, you can slipcover or reupholster for half of the replacement cost, and you’ll have your choice of thousands of fabrics.

Buying vintage and reusing existing furnishings has the added benefit of being a “green” choice. We all hate to see something go into the landfill that could still have some life left in it. The best way to avoid contributing to the mountain of trash is to buy the best quality furniture you can and keep it as long as you can. If you truly don’t need it, pass it down to the kids, or donate it to a charity shop so it can become another thrifty decorator’s project. In addition, buying vintage usually means buying locally, which cuts down on energy use. If we must buy some new pieces for a client, we encourage them to order American made products. The shipping times are faster, there are fewer problems with quality, and the prices are excellent.

Eclectic Great Room with Antiques

The idea of creating a home as an ongoing project sounds great, but it can have pitfalls too. Proceeding without an sense of your own taste or a list of what you need can be disastrous if you buy things willy-nilly just to save money. We advise our clients to begin with a Saturday afternoon and a pile of decorating magazines and books. Settle in with a cup of coffee and start marking pictures you like. Soon you’ll see that the pictures have a common thread, and you’ll learn what your taste is. Perhaps you like antiques, but want an uncluttered, modern look when it comes to accessories. Or maybe all of the pictures you like have colorful paint on the walls or soft sheers at the windows.

Once you know what you like, walk through each room of the house and make a list of the things you could do to move the room closer to that look. A sample list might say: build bookshelves, paint the walls, add curtains, recover the sofa, rehang art. Some of these things you can do yourself, and some you may need to hire help with. We work with many clients who meet with us every few months for a consultation, and they’ll have a list of questions for projects all over the house. It can be very helpful to run your ideas by a professional. A designer can take your idea pictures and create combinations of fabrics for you to work from. Floor plans, paint colors, and questions of proportion and scale are always important. When you shop for fabrics, work with your designer to choose a fabric that is appropriate for the use you are considering. Designers know what is best for upholstery, or whether or not a fabric will drape well for curtains. This kind of information is crucial for your project to go smoothly.


Buying something that doesn’t work just because it is on sale is wasting your budget, so professional advice can be a real help. After the consultation, you can get a lot accomplished on your own, getting walls painted or stopping in to select fabric for an upholstery job. We often will work out pricing for an entire room or home so the client knows what the project will cost. Then they work towards their goal, having things recovered or adding small furniture pieces one at a time.

When we attend to our decorating projects consistently, things come along as if by magic, and a beautiful home is created in a fun, stress-free way. So for 2009 and beyond, put more of yourself into your home, think green with vintage pieces, and find a professional you really click with to help.

© 2008 Kerry Ann Dame. May not be reproduced without permission.

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One thought on “Do It Yourself for Budget Friendly Interior Design

  1. Dotti Foreman says:

    Kerry, Eileen forwarded this to me and loved your photos and great narrative. The three wonderful pillows you made remain my choice for the sofa and am continually re-arranging my paintings–most of the time only in my brain! Are there some rules for decorating mantles? Someone said you should never have a horizontal painting there. Should kitchen cabinets have hardware or not. Mine are stiff without and nervous about making that next step!

    Love your website. Thanks. Dotti

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