How to decorate your home on a budget, according to interior designers

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Last year I moved into a one bedroom apartment in Manhattan. When I was 28, I lived alone for the first time. It was incredibly exciting, but I also had a problem: I didn’t have any furniture. For weeks I slept on an air mattress that was mostly deflated when I woke up.

After living with roommates for almost a decade when everything felt shared and temporary, I longed for the new space to feel like my own. I wanted every item, even my wine glasses, to say something about me.

But soon the high costs for loungers and tables intimidated me and I considered going into debt. Instead, I spent a lot of time wistfully scrolling online through all the nice things I couldn’t afford.

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With inflation affecting furniture prices lately, many other people are probably finding it harder to decorate at a reasonable cost as well. According to the Consumer Price Index, home furnishings and necessities are up 10.6% this summer compared to last year.

Still, there are ways to get creative with your budget, says Athena Calderone, author of the design book Live Beautiful.

“While decorating on a budget can be very stressful, the good news is that limitations are far from limiting,” Calderone told me. “In fact, they are often the source of true creativity.”

Here are some money-saving tips on furniture, homeware, and decorating.

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1. Knowing when to spend money and when to save

Elizabeth Herrera, a designer at Decorist, an online interior design company, advises people to switch off the trend cycles and follow their heart when shopping for furniture.

“That way, they won’t want to redecorate every few years,” Herrera said.

People should also know which items are worth spending big bucks on, she added: “It’s okay to buy cheaper, on-trend accessories to freshen up your space, but keep the larger pieces classic.”

Experts say it’s easier to tell when essential items like the couch and dining table have been bought cheaply.

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This is also the furniture you want to last a long time.

“Think long-term,” says Becki Owens, an interior designer in California. “If you are patient with the process and invest in quality pieces whenever possible, you will have items to build on.”

“I have pieces that are 20 years old in my house.”

Additionally, if the goal is longevity, Owens recommends purchasing your most important pieces of furniture in durable materials and neutral colors.

“You can always change up decorative layers like textiles as trends change,” Owens said.

2. Buy used pieces

The trick to finding bargains on these sites, according to Calderone, is to type in the right keywords. (She recently wrote an entire article on the phrases to plug into when searching for vintage vases online, including “old urn” and “large antique clay vase.”)

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“Play around, type in lots of different variations and have fun,” she said.

“And don’t be afraid to negotiate the price either,” she added. “Take a chance and bid lower on auction sites and see what happens.”

“I’ve been known to offer up to 50% off items and they’ve been accepted.”

3. Look for emerging artists

The handcrafted nature of artworks often means they’re more expensive, Calderone said.

Still, she says she’s found some incredible artwork from up-and-coming artists, particularly on Instagram. Two of her favorites are Art by Lana and Aliyah Sadaf. Other works by newer artists, who tend to charge less because they’re just starting out, are available on sites like Tappan and Saatchi, Calderone said.

You can also search for original art in your price range on sites like Art Finder.

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John Sillings, a former equity researcher, helped found Art in Res in 2017 after realizing how difficult people were struggling to make a large one-off purchase of artwork.

The art on the company’s website can be paid off over time with no interest. The typical painting on the site costs around $900, which equates to $150 per month on a 6-month payment plan.

“The mission is to make visual arts more accessible,” said Sillings.

The thrill of the hunt

Now that I’ve been in my apartment for more than a year, the apartment is full of furniture and I can hardly remember when it was empty. Not surprisingly, for a tenant in Manhattan, I’m already running out of rooms.

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But it reminds me of advice my mom gave me when I moved in. I complained that it would take me time to decorate the apartment and she said that was a good thing, have fun in the process.

When it was over, she said, I wish I could go back and do it again. She was right, although I have a little more room to fill.

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