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Decorating your house for cheap

Dressing up your digs on a budget doesn't have to mean using a milk crate for a coffee table. If you can't afford to give your home a posh decorating makeover, there are ways to cut corners and still give your place a fresh look.

Fortunately, many of today's design trends are easy on the wallet. In these uncertain times, the focus centers on creating a personal sanctuary where space is functional and comfort is paramount. Home decors are moving away from opulent, over-the-top styles toward simple, natural interiors.

Getting started
Experts recommend keeping a file of eye-catching ideas clipped from magazines. Once you have some ideas, bring in your own personality.

"Don't be afraid to trust your likes and dislikes because that's the key. Don't be afraid to be yourself in both color and accessories," says Melanie Wood, vice president of design for Mannington Mills in Salem, N.J., and a member of the Color Marketing Group, a trade association in Virginia.

And remember that it can be an ongoing project that doesn't have to be tackled all at once. If you let the room develop slowly, you're going to save yourself quite a bit of money. After you've lived in the room you know what you want and need, and you can avoid making a purchase unnecessarily, says Susan Welch Heeney, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers and owner of

"You're never really finished with a room," she says. "It always changes."

Color is key
Use colors that make your dollar go further. When it comes to higher-ticket items that aren't going to be replaced often, choose a neutral color, Heeney says. A muted gray-green may be more versatile than a vivid grass green.

"Color is important. It sets the stage and can limit choices in the future," she says. Reserve the more daring or trendy colors for your accessories, such as rugs, pillows and art, because these can be changed cheaply.

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So what are the hot colors for 2003? Hues that lift our spirits and energize us in this ailing economy, reports the Color Marketing Group. Blues will dominate the 2003 Consumer Color Directions Palette because they "invigorate and enliven while providing steadfast assurance and stability during cloudy economic times." This includes Deep Arctic, a seriously conservative navy blue that anchors your spirit in a safe harbor, and Ocean Cruise, a tropical water blue that energizes with a sporty edge.

Other new colors to burst on CMG's palette include Cheeky, a marriage of pink and peach; Iron Ore-ange, an influence of copper on orange; Exploring Khaki, recalls rain forest moss and buried treasure; and Soda Green.

If you don't know what colors to go with, Heeney suggests going to a fabric store and picking out fabric with colors you like and then carrying it with you when you shop. Or look in your closet and define the colors you feel you look good in, Wood says.

Deck the walls
When it comes to sprucing up a wall, paint is a cheap way to change a room. If you want to try a new color, Heeney suggests buying a pint of paint and brushing two coats on a section of the wall. That way you can buy more if you like the color or just paint over it if you don't.

Faux paint techniques, such as ragging, sponging, marbleizing or stenciling, will give a room an expensive look without a lot of expense, she adds.

Wallpaper costs more than paint, but it's generally inexpensive if it is used as a border in combination with paint, she says. Borders can easily be changed later.

"If someone has a living room with no interesting architectural elements, check out wallpaper," Heeney says. For other wall ideas, she suggests putting up synthetic molding, which can cost less than wood molding. Embossed wall covering is another option that can be painted to look like an expensive tin ceiling.

Inexpensive wall accessories can be a good way to get creative. Wood suggests looking at what you already have in your cupboard and closets. Neat cups, plates and family pictures can add a lot of flavor to a wall.

Taking old frames or old windows and putting mirrors in them is a wall-decorating technique suggested by Mary Anne Young, author of the "Complete Idiot's Guide to Home Decorating."

Also, try making a collage of small inexpensive framed prints or hanging a quilt or old shutters above the head of a bed that doesn't have a headboard.

Making furniture treasures
When buying furniture for your home, you may want to think about versatility.

"Look at items that have more than one purpose," Heeney says. If you don't like the look of your TV, she suggests getting an armoire or entertainment center that can hold the TV and act as a storage area.

Shopping for secondhand items and putting them to new purposes can be a cheap way to put a spin on an ordinary room. Young says you don't always have to have a coffee table in front of the couch. She suggests a trunk, a cobbler's bench or children's furniture, or adding a piece of glass to an interesting base. For a bathroom, consider buying an old dresser and using it as a vanity with the sink installed in the top of it.

Secondhand furniture -- or your existing furniture -- can be updated with painting or a refinishing.

Experts suggest revitalizing an old sofa or chair with fabric slipcovers. They give you the flexibility of mixing and matching colors from time to time, perhaps when the seasons change. A chenille throw over the back of the sofa can make a big difference.

Be creative with the fabrics, color, light and texture of your furniture and accessories for fresh ideas.

Heeney says using do-it-yourself paint crackle kits or lettering foreign graffiti on furniture are trendy ways to dress up things.

Area rugs and plants can also change the feel of a room. Heeney suggests a no-maintenance silk plant placed in a nice pot and lit from beneath so the light can bounce up off the leaves.

If you have a large window, Heeney says it can be expensive to buy enough fabric to create operable drapes. She suggests that you simply frame the window with cloth rather than buying an expanse of sheers and drapes.

But if you're strictly a drapery person, go ahead and spend the money.

"A lot of people have second thoughts. They will order something and second guess themselves and think they're picking the wrong thing," Heeney says. "Try to relax about it. Go with gut feeling."

-- Posted: April 7, 2003


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