Insider Hints for Design on a Budget

Home Maintenance and Design
Contact: Anna Briseno
Senior Director, External Communications
(202) 266-8132

Spend lazy Saturday afternoons browsing the pages of Architectural Digest or Dwell, wishing you had the budget to hire an interior designer to replicate their artistic interiors? Well-designed rooms don’t always have to come with a huge price tag; in fact, designing on a budget may be easier than you think. Many times, by changing small elements, you can give a room an entirely new personality. Sometimes adding a few colorful pillows or picking up a paintbrush is all you need to do to make your room look like something out of the pages of a magazine.

One of the most common fixes for a boring room is color. “Color is easy to do and inexpensive,” says Kathy Browning, owner of Design Consultants, a design firm in Virginia Beach, Va.

Updating the color of just one wall in any room will give it an entirely new feel. Painting, when approached correctly, can be an enjoyable experience with instant rewards. Lauren Warnock, vice president director of design at Mary Cook Associates, an interior design firm based in Chicago, reminds home owners that warmer colors can make a room feel cozier and more inviting. Cooler colors like grey or “stark white,” on the other hand, may give a room a more industrial feeling. “Light airy colors open up a space, while deep, darker colors can make a room appear smaller,” Warnock says.

For the style-conscious, earthy tones such as ambers, browns, and rust are currently popular. “Using modern glamour hues such as white and black with a punch of a teal, coral or chartreuse color is very hot as well,” says Warnock.

Connie Edwards, director of design for Shenandoah Cabinetry, has her own advice when it comes to color, particularly if you are looking at the kitchen. “You can never go wrong with neutrals, but color is hot now,” Edwards says. “Not necessarily vibrant colors — although for the right space, they can be fabulous — but think along the lines of buttery yellows, soft sage greens and nearly neutral blues.”

Adding accents to pieces you already own can also make a large difference. For instance, if your couch is not as exciting as it once was, try throwing a few fun accent pillows on it. Remember, throws and cushions, when selected as accents, can really bring new life to a tired piece of furniture. “The use of pillows, throws and draperies in living spaces enhances a room in many ways,” Warnock says. Fabrics also can add beautiful softness to a room and allow additional patterns and textures to be brought into a room.

Another budget-friendly change is to rotate the artwork in a room. Using the same frames but changing the images can easily create a new theme or mood, and combining several different frames in different finishes and sizes can achieve different looks.

Often overlooked but strikingly effective, updated lighting can work wonders. “Lighting will dramatically change the mood of a room,” Warnock says. Try installing a new fixture or simply swapping out the shades on current fixtures. Installing dimmer switches can also make for an interesting change.

Kate Brennan, vice president of new business development at Mary Cook, offers some advice for ready do-it-yourselfers. “Get excited about the transformation that will occur — usually people become more inspired to continue updating their homes.” Brennan says. “Take your project one step at a time and follow your gut.”