Decorating on a Dime, or Less

by Katy on August 8, 2009 · 18 comments

Arts and Crafts Bungalow

While recently on staycation, one of the first things I did was to walk over to the public library and pull down an armload of decorating books. I love thumbing through these tomes, poring over the photos, ignoring the text and coming up with great ideas for my own home.

But here’s the thing, I’m not looking for inspiration for things to buy, I’m looking for ideas for what to do with what I already own. New ways to arrange the furniture, hang artwork, arrange tchotchkes and make the most of what already clutters up my home.

I used to get this fix from magazines, but I’m down to a single subscription, (The fabulous Oregon Home, whose art director is friend of mine.) But that’s actually worked out well, since books blessedly lack the advertising that gets in the way of what I’m really after — photos!

I am constantly moving things around in my house, which appears to be a family trait. I have multiple childhood memories of coming home from school to find that my mother had rearranged all the furniture. I naively assumed everyone’s mother spent her days lugging furniture from room to room, but it took a number of years into adulthood to realize that nope, it was just her.

I even took the liberty of arranging my sister’s living room furniture while house sitting for her last summer. My husband was worried she would be offended, but I assured him this was indeed a family thing.

I don’t have cable TV, but I have seen snippets of the HGTV decorating network while at work. And it is certainly fun to watch the makeovers, but the shows always involve buying new stuff, and mostly poor quality crap at that.

My method is to find functional furniture and household necessities, (preferably for free) that I can make do with until I find exactly what I want, (preferably for free or close to it.) By employing a patient mindset, I’ve been able to fill my 1914 arts and crafts bungalow with period appropriate furnishings and goods. I’m not going for a museum look, (as that would be highly dull and would hardly mesh well with the indoor soccer antics of my husband and sons) but an eclectic mix that’s surprisingly not that dissimilar from my mother’s style.

And that’s where a nice thick pile of library decorating books comes in handy. Gorgeous rooms, arranged by stylists, hopefully providing some inspiration for a poor old slob like myself.

I truly believe that beautiful homes are not just for the wealthy. Wonderful antiques and vintage furnishings are not that hard to locate in thrifts stores and garage sales. Not only are you saving money, but you’re buying a much higher quality product than you would be able to afford otherwise. If something has lasted for fifty plus years, it’s likely to last through your usage as well. Will Target and Ikea furniture last fifty years? Yeah. . .  I didn’t think so either.

Have you ever been caught arranging other people’s furniture while they vacation? Do you find yourself arranging other people’s homes in your head? Do you find inspiration in reading decorating books and magazines? Please share your stories in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Jen August 8, 2009 at 8:05 am

Two books I love for “decorating without spending” are “Apartment Therapy” and “Use What You Have Decorating.” The second book is older so the rooms look a little dated, but the principles still apply. These books are great for those of us who have trouble abstracting ideas from pictures because they lay out ideas clearly. I just used them to redo a crowded living room and it looks great.


Louise August 8, 2009 at 10:05 am

My dad was in the Army, and we moved almost every year. So we were constantly re-using the same household items to redecorate. I loved this, and I still do.

After college, my husband and I bought a small house and lived there for five years. I rearranged the furniture all the time, trying to recreate that feeling of newness. Hubby, who grew up in the same house for 20 years, wasn’t so keen on the new arrangements. He wanted things to stay put, forever. (That marriage is long over and he is still in that same house with the furniture exactly as I left it many years ago.)

Now, I live full-time in a motorhome. The furniture is bolted down and can’t be re-arranged. But we travel almost every day, so the scenery out my windows changes. When I throw open the blinds, the “art” on my walls is the new view, and I love this freshness. Because the space is so tiny, small changes have a big impact. I have several different colored towels and switch them around regularly, for instance.

And yes, I amuse myself by mentally re-arranging the furniture in other people’s homes. “If I lived here, I’d make THIS room the dining room, and put the couch where the table used to be over THERE to look out at that big, lovely tree full of birds…”


Mandy - Birmingham, AL August 8, 2009 at 12:56 pm

About 50% of what I check out from the library lately are books on decorating. I don’t have as much stuff at my disposal, but I take advantage of my family’s rat pack ways (grandma’s old china cabinet in storage – totally about to be in my tiny apartment as a wet bar). I really like “Domino: The Book of Decorating”, but I’ve requested a lot of random ones.

I do have a question for you Katy, lets say you find a piece of second hand furniture that you really love. It’s of nice quality and is very sound, BUT – the fabric is really not your taste or is very worn. Do you buy new fabric and foam, or are you patient enough to wait in the hopes of new fabric?

For my compact (which I am trying to strengthen), I feel that the fabric is something on me “What I will buy” list, but was just wondering if you’ve encountered this situation and how you’ve handled it.


Tara Morrison August 8, 2009 at 3:50 pm

We must be distantly related because I too came home to often find our living room rearranged. We would wonder how my petite mother had moved an armoir that took two men to move. I think moving furniture therapeutic and much cheaper than shopping. It freshens up your house and cost nothing and if you don’t like it you can eadliy change it back!


Kristen@The Frugal Girl August 8, 2009 at 4:31 pm

I come from a family that does NOT rearrange furniture, and thus, it doesn’t occur to me to do that very often. Also, most of the houses we’ve lived in have had room that didn’t really lend themselves to rearranging.

Then again, maybe it’s just that I don’t think that way very well!


Julia August 8, 2009 at 6:25 pm

My mom’s thing was a bit different from yours—she was a serial open house visitor. We looked at open houses for about 15 years prior to her actually buying a new house. (Our own house stayed exactly the same for 18 years, no furniture moving.) I LOVE looking at open houses, model homes, etc. but I don’t go looking unless we are actually planning to move (4 times in 7 years, what the heck!?). It’s torture, though, because I have better taste than I can afford (even second hand!) and if I look at magazines and books, I just see a lot of stuff I could never replicate. I have a total HGTV addiction and now even my son watches with me occasionally (I had a foot problem recently and was sitting around on the couch a lot more than usual!) and passes judgment on the decorating. (He’s an eight-year old artist and engineer with very strong opinions.) Our house is too small and our furniture too limited to move it around, so I just do it in my head. We recently sold our house and prior to that, a stager came in. She asked me if we had an extra furniture stored anywhere (just my grandfather’s 1930’s wooden chair in the garage) and actually brought in some knicknacks etc. because she said my house was too bare. That’s what years of giving away stuff did, I guess. I like “bare” a lot better than cluttered.


Karen August 8, 2009 at 6:26 pm

I’ve always been a re-arranger although it wasn’t a family thing. I remember when I was a kid, my mom would walk into my room to find me rearranging, and ask WHY I would go to such trouble–she was okay with her furniture the same way since 1955! I just liked trying out new arrangements, and still do. I also like changing around my framed art and knick-knacks. It just pleases my eye to find new combinations, I guess, and my husband has learned to live with it.

Re HGTV, I agree most of those decorating shows exist just to sell us more crap. BBCAmerica did have one show (the name escapes me) in which a decorator and 2 construction types would come to the house and do over 3 rooms or so, using only what the homeowner had lying around in the garage or whatever: leftover paint, odd pieces of lumber etc. That was very inspiring, to see what could be done buying nothing at all.


Alisa August 9, 2009 at 12:16 pm

I love interior design books and magazines and I’m an organizational nut but not all that organized at times. My office is a wreck! Your blog inspires me to get rid of clutter and get things done.


Lindy August 9, 2009 at 5:25 pm

I would love to see pictures of your home decorating!


Kris-ND August 9, 2009 at 9:55 pm

Your room is lovely Katy.

I spent my entire adult life, until two years ago when my husband retired, as a military wife, moving every few years. You have to re-arrange your furniture every time you move, as you never know what kind of house you will have; small, big, akward, etc. That experience made me unafraid to move everything around, and move it back if necessary 😉

I do look at magazines, home decorating or not, to see how things are set up in the room photographed, even if the room is a background to selling paper towels or mac-n-cheese. If I see something I think looks great, I try and find a way to create it with what I have, and then make a list of things to look for that might complete it.

Most of our furniture was hand made in Turkey, so it is quality… not even any nails used for drawers. All the dresser drawers are held together with dowels fitted into the corners of the drawer, and have lasted 15 years and just about as many moves and are still in perfect condition and I expect will be that way 100 years from now.

I am not afraid of colors to make a re-arranged room pop…colored throws or pillows, color to paint one wall, etc.

I have many Turkish carpets, and they are all different colors, so just moving those from room to room makes the entire room seem different.


paint my furniture August 10, 2009 at 7:57 am

We LOVE your ideas for making use of the furniture you already have. Have you ever thought about repainting furniture? It makes a piece seem practically new instantly. Check out our website to see fabulous renovations we’ve done. The Gallery shows the dramatic changes : )


Tracy Balazy August 10, 2009 at 11:01 am

BEAUTIFUL room! I love that style!


Carla August 10, 2009 at 11:12 am

When we moved into this house I did move the sofa around a couple of times before I found the “sweet spot” it is in now. Actually, we lived with it in a couple of wrong places for the first year or two while I mulled things over. (Quick-minded I apparently am not!) Once I moved it where it is now, this is THE place I will keep it. I can see visitors entering the front door plus I can look out the back to watch the sky. Couldn’t be better.


Lindy August 10, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Thanks for taking the time to share the link!

It looks very pretty and relaxing. I of course would love to see more rooms in the future. 🙂

By the way, I found your site a couple of months ago and really enjoy it!


WilliamB August 13, 2009 at 10:24 pm

I don’t redo others’ decor in my head, I redo their storage. Sometimes I redo their storage for real. Last friends I stayed with, I *asked* to do their fridge, after I saw yogurt with a year-old expiration date. I figured they could use the help.

(FYI: these friends are not careless or lazy or certifiable. Everything else in their house was clean and bright. But they’re not foodies and both traveled far more than usual this past year.)


WilliamB August 13, 2009 at 10:26 pm

PS – “caught rearranging other people’s furniture…”

Um, yes. After I cleaned out these friends’ fridge, I moved on to their closet pantry. I didn’t throw anything out, mind, just rationalized containers (how many half-full boxes of fuselli does anyone need?) and put like with like.


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