design on a dime

While my free time is lacking this summer, I have been fostering my love for all things decorative through my own home shopping trips and the occassional HGTV marathon. I’ve always had a passion for interior decorating, but trying to copy a page out of Home & Garden on a college student’s budget is pretty much impossible. Luckily, my shopper-savvy has led me to some great deals. I will be living in a four-bedroom off-campus house with my friends this year and I can’t wait to decorate with everything I’ve found the past few weeks. I’m going to post room-by-room descriptions and photos of the spaces and my finds, but for now here are some helpful hints for anyone else looking to do some decorating on a tight budget:

– Before you grab your reusable shopping bags and hit the mall, come up with a plan. Jot down some notes on what items you’re looking for and how much you want to spend. It’s also a good idea to have a color palette in mind, especially if it is a shared space.
– Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone: I am notorious for loving bright colors, but on a recent trip I discovered two red and black wooden plaques and fell in love. As a result I built the design for my kitchen around dark rich reds, blues, and black.

Plaques for my kitchen that inspired a dark color palette.

– Enlist your friends! With such a wide array of personalities in a college environment, it’s easy to find someone who loves to paint, take pictures, or build things. Is your sorority sister an aspiring photographer? Ask her to make you prints you can hang around your apartment/dorm: you get customized art and she gets samples for her portfolio. Cover the costs of any supplies your friends use and treat them to lunch as a thank-you for their time.
– Go shopping in your attic (or your neighbor’s shed or your grandma’s basement). Check out what you already have to see if you can use it or refurbish it for a low-cost. Neighbors and relatives are also very ready to get rid of any extra items they have in storage, just volunteer to mow their lawn or walk their dog in return. I found an old tangerine-colored lamp in my grandma’s basement which I updated with a bright flowered Liberty of London lampshade (on sale for 50% off at Target) and voila! Instant style.

A brand new lamp like this would have cost $55-$70. I only paid $8!

– Steer clear of “traditional” home stores: Bed Bath & Beyond is not the best place to find items unless they’re on clearance. Stores like Christmas Tree Shops, Michael’s, Target/Walmart are great, cheaper alternatives.
– I also like to head to the clearance sections at Pottery Barn and Pier One: I recently bought a candle dish on clearance for $1.50 (down from $8).
– Spend more on items you’ll continue using after college and less on temporary items. I put more of my budget towards items with utility that won’t wear easily, but I pick the cheaper options when it comes to rugs and linens.
– Edit yourself. Unless you have a great friend/roommate who isn’t afraid to to question every item you put in your cart, you need to do it yourself. I take a break in the middle and end of my shopping to go through every item in my cart: I find a corner of the store and set out everything to see how it goes together. I also take this time to question each object: is a $15 neon green door knob really going to add something to this room? I usually end up putting about 30% of my would-be purchases back and walk out of the store with lighter bags and a heavier wallet.
– Return what you don’t use. So often we find ourselves buying an item we don’t really love “for now” until we come across something better and it gets forgotten in the back of a closet. Keep track of your purchases and store them in a visible area. This is especially helpful if you find a better deal or a better item: save your receipts and return these extra wares.

If you have any great decorating tips, let me know! I’m going up to Ithaca next weekend to begin moving in and decorating, so I will be posting pictures soon!

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