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Monday, June 13, 2016

Creative Decor on a Budget

Apartment living room decorating on a budget
If you're reading this there's a very good chance you're an artist, or at least consider yourself a creative type individual. If either or neither of those apply you're probably on a tight budget. I'm assuming you have a living space you want to make look "designed" rather than just "inhabited." Whether it's an old house George Washington may have slept in, or a new apartment with more tenant "rules" than the Holy Bible, most of the tips and ideas I'm suggesting apply equally. Some are so universal you've probably heard them many times before, or have instinctively absorbed them before. Some may seem radical, to the point of being "off the wall." That's come to be called "thinking outside the box." Make it a habit, not be reserved only for times when you have a big problem and very little money. It should become a permanent mindset when decorating. Likewise, some other general attitudes apply. You probably have more time than money so make a habit of investing the former in place of the latter. Virtually everyone has friends, seek help with ideas as well as cooperation. That's what friends are for. And don't rush. Haste makes waste, to borrow a trite metaphor. Let your décor "come together" naturally over a few months; don't go off trying to herd a bunch of catlike ideas to meet some self-imposed deadline. With those general thoughts in mind let's get more specific.
Typical small apartment
with furniture arrangement.
PLAN--Make a budget but don't expect to stick to it (expect to go over it by at least ten percent). You've no doubt heard someone say, "Put your money where your mouth is." When decorating, my rule is: "Put your money where your butt is." That is to say, don't scrimp on anything touching your posterior--beds, couches, recliners, com-puter chairs, etc. Virtually all other decorating items are merely to look at. Whether new or used, sacrificing comfort to save money will soon have your associated body parts hating you for it. Prioritize your spending--living rooms, dining areas, and bathrooms come first. Save bedrooms for last. They're not "public" areas. And though you may spend a third of your life in them, most of that time you'll be unconscious. Draw out to scale on graph paper (above, right) an accurate floorplan then cut out from the same paper little beds, chairs, tables, rugs, etc. Then play with them. Nearly all apartments have one best room arrangement. Find it and stick to it. Having said that, I would also advise the first-time decorator to be somewhat flexible...just not scatterbrained.
Color and symmetry, all a standard size.
WALLS--Most rental apartments come with white walls, most of which must stay white--or else. Although it's nearly a universal rule when decorating that "paint is your friend," but that doesn't apply to walls unless you own them. They do, however, make removable wallpaper just for apartment dwellers. Otherwise all you can do is hang a painting, your own, a borrowed one, or one you've scavenged from a yard sale. However, if you're on tight budget, do NOT choose art on paper. That inevitably means matting, a pane of glass (or Lucite), and custom framing, which are all monstrous budget-killers. Often a stretched canvas can look reasonably good without a frame. In any case, if you're painting just for a spot over the couch, make sure it is a standard size, allowing for manufactured, rather than custom made, framing (above).
Hardwood with shag, green primary accent, magenta secondary.
FLOORS--If the floors are tile or hardwood, area rugs are very nearly a "must." As a rule of thumb, buy cheap and replace as needed. Carpet store "end" pieces fit this bill. When possible, stick with neutral colors. Save the color for more interesting spots in the room that you don't walk all over. If the place is carpeted, usually you can leave "well enough alone." If you're forced to replace carpeting (as in an older house), forget "wall-to-wall" carpeting. It's outdated, expensive, and boring. Choose instead vinyl "hardwood" flooring covered with a standard- size carpet rug.

Blinds with curtain recessed into the corner--KISS in action.
WINDOWS--Curtains are fine, "Window treatments" will bust every decorating budget known to man. If you're on a tight budget, it's best to consider curtains just for looks only. They add visual warmth and a "finished" look to a room. If you intend that they be more than just decorative, keep in mind, draperies are usually a third to a half wider than their windows, and any such material heavy enough to appreciatively increase privacy or block sunlight are likely going to be more expensive than blinds. The best route is to learn to "handle" fabric. (Notice I said nothing about sewing.) Now days (at least where curtains are concerned) you can cut and glue edges; then use them to frame blinds.
The furniture need not be fancy...or even match
FURNITURE--Do not try using furniture to recreate some historic era. It's too difficult and too expensive to attempt the consistency of style needed avoid the eclectic "garage sale" look. Garage sales and the like are fine, an excellent place to save some pretty big bucks; but the KISS rule must apply (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Keep your furniture selections from whatever source clean and simple as to style, and functional (above). Don't worry about it appearing blandly modern. Your other decorating choices can mitigate that possibility. Stay out of furniture stores except as a last resort, and then only if they're having a clearance sale. In addition to the aforementioned garage sales, check out used furniture stores or furniture warehouse outlets--scratched and/or dented, that sort of thing. Remember what I said before, "paint is your friend." Also, with that in mind, make an effort to "re-purpose" cast-aside items for use as end tables, coffee tables, and storage units, painting them as needed to make such items blend with the décor rather than becoming a conversation piece.
The style seems to be Postmodern Clutter.
AVOID CLUTTER--Nothing wrecks a room quicker than "stuff" stuffed everywhere. Clutter will make your place of abode seem smaller than it is. Get rid of unnecessary room accessories, magazines you've already read, books you haven't opened in years, and anything that looks "cute" or dusty. Instead, invest in furniture that does double-duty such as storage ottomans, chests, or vintage suitcases stacked to look like a table. Another option is to place certain furniture such as chairs, tables, or cabinets at an angle in the corner of the room to create a built-in spot for hiding extra stuff.
Color--soft, subtle, and consistent
Color--When you paint a picture, you start with white, or some other neutral canvas tone. Then you, in effect, decorate that canvas. Think of a room as a blank canvas. If it's an apartment you probably can't change the wall color and if not, you want to do so with only the utmost care in choosing which of the many thousands of hues to use. For years, as I was growing up, pastel wall colors were in favor--light tans, light blues, light greens, light pinks, light yellows, etc. Such color choices competed with, and influenced, every other color in the room. Today decorators are not afraid to use bold colors (though some should be more often), so long as they're used judiciously, one accent wall perhaps. However, in an apartment and most other cases, color should be reserved for the accent pieces--pillows, art, collectibles, flowers (and other plants). Choose a predominant hue then stroll gently from it to various shades and tints with only the rare departure to a secondary color (above). This allows the people and personal items in the room to come alive, in a sense, distracting for any corners you may have cut elsewhere to save money.

Decorating on a budget is seldom a matter of black and white.
Nothing soft nor subtle here, but consistent.
Repurposing with a sense of humor.


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