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home : Moving : Setting Up :

Budget Chic

Your new place doesn't have to look like a slightly upscale frat house. Try these low-cost decorating tips and exercise your creativity.


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Take heart: even if home is three rooms rented from a landlord, you can still design an apartment that is cozy, comfortable and uniquely you. It doesn't take a lot of money to be your own interior designer. If you're not planning to be in your place very long, you can use fabric, secondhand furniture, and ingenuity to decorate temporarily and inexpensively. And if you like apartment living, start investing in home furnishings and improvements that personalize your space.

But before you tackle any major projects, make sure to check with your landlord!

  • If there's anything in your apartment you don't like looking at, cover it with fabric! Slipcovers made from sheets or fabric can turn ugly sofas or chairs into matching pieces.
  • Add fringe or fabric trim to throw pillows.
  • For an unusual and elegant dining room table, cover a card table with yards of ruffled canvas. Make sure the fabric has been coated with two coats of polyurethane to guard against stains.
  • Running out of room in your desk? Cover cardboard file boxes with matching fabric for storage space that is both movable and decorative.
  • Make a freestanding screen out of fabric, or buy one at your nearest import store. It can serve as a headboard or a backdrop to a sofa, or use it to cover an ugly air conditioner or view. You can even hang pictures on it.
  • As an alternative to paint or wallpaper, hang fabric on your walls. Using a Velcro or wood tack strip, attach the fabric where the wall meets the ceiling. Hang fabric in loose pleats and staple at the bottom of the wall. Light fabrics like chintz, polished cotton, damask and voile work best. Or, patterned double sheets are 8 feet long - the same height as most walls.

Bathroom Hints

  • If you don't like your bathroom tile, cover the floor with a rubber-backed carpet, cut to fit.
  • Fix up a chipped basin or tub with epoxy paint.
  • Dress up a free-standing sink (and attendant ugly pipes) with a fabric skirt. Attach the fabric to the sink with flexible rods, Velcro or doublestick tape. Hide a plastic chest under the skirt for extra storage.

Cheap Tricks

  • An area rug will cover worn spots in your carpet and add pattern and texture to a room.
  • Wicker baskets can be used as trashcans. Or, place a cushion on top to make a footstool.
  • A Japanese paper lantern will hide a bare lightbulb while adding Eastern mystique. You can buy them at Pier 1 or other import stores for less than $10.
  • Make your own terrarium out of an aquarium. Or paint an old birdcage and fill it with plants.
  • Leather-bound books in different colors add a touch of class - look for them at garage or estate sales.
  • Tablecloths, placemats and cloth napkins bring a touch of color to a drab dining room.
  • Shop discount stores like Marshalls and TJ Maxx to find comforters, bedding and housewares, and check out the clearance tables at larger department stores. Be flexible - you might not get the exact colors you want on a shoestring budget.

Deck the Walls

  • For a deco look, place plaster shells or sconces above door mouldings.
  • Hang your favorite posters in inexpensive plastic frames or mount them on colored matting or Styrofoam backing.
  • Get back all of your security deposit and treat your walls with extra care. Smaller pictures can be hung on adhesive picture hangers that easily come off the wall when you're ready to move. (We like products made with 3M's new Command adhesive).
  • In lieu of artwork, hang a quilt, tapestry or swatch of exotic fabric on the wall.
  • Put up a simple border. If you can't paste it up, tack it to the wall with matching pushpins.
  • Check out a building supply store for more ideas. Mirror tiles or 4-by-8-inch squares of paneling can transform a wall - but ask your landlord first.

Window Treatments

  • The best way to decorate windows is to do them in steps. Take care of your light and privacy needs first - many apartments provide blinds or curtains for you.
  • Buy aluminum, plastic or vinyl blinds. If you know you'll be in your apartment for awhile, invest in some quality wood blinds.
  • Ready-made curtains are the least expensive, followed by made-to-measure and custom drapes. Remember, many apartment complexes require curtains to be backed with white fabric, to give all of the windows in the building a uniform look.
  • Splurge on some custom top treatments. Or, save money by making your own treatments with fabric or sheets. Fitted sheets, tied with ribbon, make great balloon valances.
  • Leave your windows bare and frame them with grapevines, ivy, or draped fabric.
  • Instead of curtains, hang dressing scarves, lace tablecloths or napkins.

Also of interest: Affordable Furniture, The Space Race, How to Pick and ISP, Home Repairs for Hovel Dwellers, Feng Shui for Apartment Dwellers.


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