10 DIY Home Decorating Ideas on a Budget – Tips & Techniques
If you want to make your home look amazing without spending a fortune, the first thing to do is forget everything you’ve seen on TV and in magazines. When the decorators on TV make over a space, they almost always do it in the most expensive way possible.
I think there’s a new syndrome that psychiatrists need to start treating. It’s called a “home inferiority complex.”
You’re at risk for this condition if you spend a lot of time reading decorating magazines or watching HGTV. The first sign is that you find yourself drooling over images of beautifully redecorated rooms, outfitted with thousands of dollars’ worth of new furniture and accessories. Then, as you realize you could never afford this kind of makeover on your modest personal budget, feelings of inadequacy set in. You become depressed at the idea that you’re going to be stuck staring at your bare walls and dated furniture forever.
Fortunately, that isn’t true. There are actually plenty of ways to transform a room from top to bottom spending merely hundreds instead of thousands of dollars. In fact, with a bit of time and creativity, you can sometimes give a room a whole new look for less than $100.
The best cure for a home inferiority complex is to learn more about how to redecorate on a budget. Once you see some of the great rooms other people have put together on shoestring budgets, you’ll realize that you can do the same.
Low-Budget Decorating Techniques
If you want to make your home look amazing without spending a fortune, the first thing to do is forget everything you’ve seen on TV and in magazines. When the decorators on TV make over a space, they almost always do it in the most expensive way possible. They throw out everything in the room, invest in high-end replacements, and hire contractors to install them.
To redo a room for as little money as possible, you need to approach it differently. Instead of changing everything, your goal should be to keep as much as you can, while finding ways to make your old stuff look new. Instead of buying brand-new items, you should try to use things you already have or can pick up secondhand for a song. And instead of bringing in pros, you should do the work yourself whenever possible.
1. Do It Yourself
Nearly any kind of remodeling or redecorating job is cheaper when you do it yourself instead of hiring a pro. Investopedia offers several examples of how much DIY can save you on common home decorating jobs:
- Installing Vinyl or
- Linoleum Flooring. Cost for professional job: For a 10-by-10-foot room, about $700. Cost to DIY: $350. Potential savings: $350.
- Installing Hardwood Flooring. Cost for professional job: Around $8.50 per square foot, or $1,275 for a 150-square-foot room. Cost to DIY: About $5.50 per square foot, or $825 per room. Potential savings: $450.
- Installing a Kitchen Backsplash. Cost for professional job: About $850. Cost to DIY: About $300. Potential savings: $550.
- Painting Interiors. Cost for professional job: About $1,685 for an entire home (about 1,500 square feet). Cost to DIY: About $400. Potential savings: $1,285.
- Adding a Deck. Cost for professional job: To build a 10-by-12-foot deck, about $2,450. Cost to DIY: About $750. Potential savings: $1,700.
2. Rearrange the Furniture
You can often change the look and feel of a room dramatically just by rearranging the furniture. For instance, if the first thing you see when you walk into your living room is the back of the couch, that big piece of furniture blocks traffic. Simply moving the sofa to the opposite wall can create a new focal point, improve traffic flow, and make the room look more inviting, all at the same time. And best of all, it costs absolutely nothing.
If you can’t find a good way to make a comfortable arrangement of the furniture in the room, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need new furniture. Before you hit the stores, try “shopping your house.” Perhaps the very piece you need is already sitting in a different room, and all you need to do is swap it for one of the pieces you’re using now.
In other cases, the problem isn’t that you need different furniture in the room – it’s that you have too much in there already. Instead of bringing other pieces in, you need to take some out. You can move the unwanted pieces to different rooms in the house, or just give them away to someone who can use them.
Rearranging rooms is the main focus of the Use-What-You-Have school of decorating. Its founder, Lauri Ward, aims to help people create beautiful spaces with the furniture they have instead of buying a lot of new items. You can see several examples in their gallery of rooms transformed just by moving the existing furniture. Room after room goes from drab and cluttered, to elegant and cozy – and in most cases, not a stick of new furniture has been added.
3. Repurpose Furniture and Accessories
If you’ve searched your whole house and can’t find a suitable furniture piece for your room, don’t give up yet. Sometimes you can make what you want by turning an old piece to a new purpose. For instance, you could use a table as a desk, or a nightstand as a TV stand.
Repurposing furniture often includes changing its look. For instance, you can repaint or refinish a wooden table before converting it to a desk – or you can take a whole piece apart and use the different parts in new ways.
Here are a handful of examples of old pieces put to new uses:
- A Bookcase From Dresser Drawers. Apartment Therapy shows how a Chicago couple converted an assortment of free secondhand dressers to a custom-built bookcase. They removed all the drawers from the dressers, painted them white, and mounted them on the wall. Their books are grouped on these “shelves” by color.
- Shelving From a Dresser. If you’ve turned your dresser drawers into bookshelves, the rest of the dresser can still be useful – you can add wooden planks where the drawers used to be to create open shelving. At HGTV, you can see an old dresser converted to a colorful case for storing books and games.
- A Bar From a Bookcase. House Beautiful shows an antique bookcase that a New York couple repurposed to serve as a bar. It still holds a few books on the top shelf, but the lower three house liquor bottles and glassware.
- A Sink Vanity From a Dresser. If you can’t find just the right vanity cabinet for your bathroom sink, you can make one from an old dresser. HGTV shows an example made from an antique dresser to fit a traditional bathroom.
4. Shop Secondhand
5. Use Paint
One of the cheapest ways to transform a room is to use paint. In a matter of hours, it can make faded or dingy walls look fresh again – or change their color for a completely different look. A gallon of high-quality paint costs around $35, and it takes only 2 gallons to cover a medium-sized room. So for just $70 total, you can make a whole room look like new.
You can do a lot more with paint than just roll it onto a wall. By combining different colors, it’s possible to create a wide variety of interesting effects, such as:
- Stripes. By taping off sections of wall and painting between the taped lines, you can create horizontal or vertical stripes. The simplest way to do this is to paint colored stripes on a white wall. You can also paint stripes of one color, let it dry, and then paint the areas in between a contrasting shade.
- Ombre. If you’re more ambitious, you can give your walls an ombre effect, going from light to dark down the length of the wall. First, paint the whole wall a light color and let it dry. Then apply a darker shade of the same paint to just the bottom two-thirds of the wall. Once that’s dry, paint the bottom section in the darkest color.
- Stenciling. To create more complex patterns on a painted wall, use stencils. You can buy ready-made stencils at home stores or make your own from stiff cardboard. Just trace the pattern you want onto the cardboard and cut it out. Then, hold the stencil up against the wall and paint over it. You can use the same stencil over and over to repeat the pattern as desired. In this way, you can make a border running around the room or even cover the entire wall. Using a stencil is a good way to get the look of a patterned wallpaper for less money.
- Color-Washing. This technique gives a basic painted wall a more subtle, textured look. After painting the wall, go over it with a translucent glaze, which can be clear or tinted. Applying the glaze in short, random strokes with a brush makes it look more natural and less uniform.
- Sponging. This technique combines two paint colors with a sea sponge to create a random, mottled pattern. Start by painting the wall a solid color; then, dab a second shade of paint on top with the sponge. This top coat is often mixed with glaze to make it translucent. You can blend the sponged-on paint for a softer look, or leave it sharp for a stippled effect.
- Sponging Off. Sponging off is like sponging in reverse. It starts the same way, by applying a base coat of one color. Then, paint the entire wall with a second color and use the sponge to remove some of the paint while it is still wet. This gives a more saturated hue with just hints of the base coat showing through.
- Ragging. Ragging is similar to sponging, but instead of a sponge, you apply the top coat with a crumpled rag. As you dab the rag across the wall, the wrinkles in the fabric create irregular patterns. You can also use a plastic or paper bag in place of the rag.
- Rag-Rolling. This is a variant on the ragging technique. Instead of crumpling the rag, twist it into a cylinder and roll it down the wall. This creates longer streaks in the paint, much like the natural veins in stone.
- Dragging. This technique gives you long, narrow stripes running down or across the wall. Start by applying a coat of paint, followed by a coat of glaze. Then, take a long-bristled brush and drag the bristles along the glazed surface. If you use a special fine-textured brush called a strié brush, this technique can give the look of raw silk on your walls.
Creating Details With Paint
Decorators often say you should design your room to highlight its architectural details, such as a fireplace or varied ceiling heights. However, if your space doesn’t have any details of this kind, you can create them – or at least the illusion of them – with paint.
For example, you can:
- Create an Accent Wall. If your room lacks a focal feature, you can add one by painting one wall in a contrasting color. If just one wall is deep red or bright green while the rest of the room is white or beige, the vivid color will naturally draw the eye. Place furniture and art in the room to take advantage of this new focal point.
- Make Ceilings Look Higher. In many homes, the ceiling is painted white to make it appear higher. However, if you still feel like your ceilings look too low, you can create the illusion of more height by extending wall color a little way up onto the ceiling. If you have crown moldings, you can paint them to match the wall. If not, you can just add a narrow stripe of the wall color all the way around the edge of the ceiling. That will make the walls look taller while the ceiling appears farther away.
- Make Small Rooms Feel Bigger. In a particularly small room, a high ceiling is not desirable. Making the room look taller just calls attention to how narrow it is. Therefore, to make the room feel more spacious, you can use the same ceiling paint trick in reverse. Paint the ceiling a darker color than the walls, and it will make the ceiling seem lower – which in turn will visually push the walls outward. You can also extend the ceiling color a little way down onto the walls.
- Make Spaces Feel Separate. Sometimes a big, open room can feel too spacious. When one giant room serves as the kitchen, living room, and dining room, it’s not clear where one space leaves off and the next begins. Paint is one way to give each area its own identity. By painting two adjoining walls in a contrasting color, you mark off that corner of the room as a separate space.
Painting Other Surfaces
Paint isn’t just for walls either. It’s actually possible to transform nearly anything in a room by giving it a fresh coat of paint.
One particularly common use of paint is to give old wooden furniture or cabinets a fresh look. For example, if you find an old dresser at a flea market, but it’s covered in faded, dull-green paint, the color doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. With just a few dollars’ worth of paint, you can have a crisp white dresser that looks brand-new.
You can also can do just the opposite: make new, cheap pieces look like antiques by giving them a “crackle” finish. To do this, you need two contrasting colors of paint and a can of crackle medium. You paint on the base coat first, then the crackle medium, and then the contrasting top coat. As it cures, the crackle finish causes the top coat to crack in places, allowing the base coat to show through.
But repainting furniture is only the beginning. You can also use paint on:
- Floors. You can conceal a battered wood or concrete floor with a sturdy porch and floor paint. This costs about the same as wall paint, but it’s strong enough to stand up to foot traffic. Painting a floor is a cheap, easy way to get the look of patterned linoleum or vinyl. You can paint squares in a checkerboard pattern, or use a stencil to create a more elaborate design. In high-traffic areas such as a mudroom or a garage, you can use tough epoxy floor paints, which cost around $50 a gallon.
- Counters. If you love the look of granite counters but can’t afford the cost, paint can give you the look you want for less. Special coating kits make laminate counters look like stone for less than $100. These kits include primer, several shades of paint, tools to apply them, and a coating that can stand up to heavy use. Applying all those coats takes time, but when you’re done, you’ll have the look of stone for less than the cost of new laminate.
- Appliances. If your kitchen appliances are scratched or dinged, or have a really dated color (like avocado), you can change their look with appliance paint. This specialty paint sticks to metal and can stand up to heat and wear. You can get appliance paint in a spray can for around $10, a large can for around $30, or a small touch-up bottle for around $5.
- Message Centers. Another interesting way to remake an appliance with paint is to paint your refrigerator door with chalkboard paint. This turns the door into a surface you can write on just like a blackboard. You can use it to write notes to family members or reminders about items to pick up at the store. You can also use chalkboard paint on walls and furniture. A quart of chalkboard paint costs $10 to $20.
- Metal Surfaces. With a $10 can of spray paint, you can change the look of anything metallic – light fixtures, metal furniture, even cabinet knobs and handles. You can make a damaged finish look like new or remake a dated brass fixture in a trendy finish, such as brushed nickel or oil-rubbed bronze.
Transforming a Room With Paint
Numerous design blogs show how you can use paint to change the look of any room in the house. Examples include:
- A Stenciled Floor. The Petersik family of Young House Love had a large walk-in closet and sink nook in their bedroom with dingy beige carpet on the floors. They wanted to replace the flooring, but they couldn’t afford to do it right away. So as an interim measure, they ripped out the carpet and painted a stenciled pattern on the wooden subfloor. They sanded down the wood, added a coat of primer and one coat of semi-gloss paint, and applied the stencil over top in a different shade. The whole process took five hours and used only $24 worth of materials. They later finished the floors with a sealant so they would stand up better to constant foot traffic.
- A Top-to-Bottom Kitchen Redo. Elizabeth Maxson of St. Louis writes in The Adventures of Elizabeth about how she moved into a new house with a hideous, damaged, dated kitchen. Since she couldn’t afford a full remodel, she used paint – on pretty much every surface in the room. She did a decorative finish on the walls, repainted the cabinets in black and white, added a pattern to the vinyl floor, and redid the counters using a technique she made up on the spot. The entire makeover cost less than $500.
- A Kitchen on a Shoestring. An article in Sunset shows a kitchen redone on an even more bare-bones budget: just $30. The homeowner transformed the dark and dated 1950s kitchen by repainting everything in bright, cheery colors. She made the cabinets yellow with blue handles and the appliances bright blue with orange knobs and dials.
- A Cheery Laundry Room. DIY blogger Kelly of View Along the Way redid her laundry room on a budget of $157, making most of the changes with paint. She created a stenciled accent wall and painted bold stripes on her vinyl floor. She also repainted a yard-sale cabinet, including the knobs, and several picture frames.