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Décor: Decorating on a dime

Atlantic Canadian homeowners and designers share their best DIY decorating projects. See how you can energize your décor without spending a lot of money.

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Vintage furniture, handmade accessories and online deals can help you stretch your decorating dollars.

Summer is the perfect season for decorating your home on a budget. The days are longer, providing more time for viewing your interior and deciding what needs refreshing in your space. Flea markets and garage sales are popping up everywhere, offering deals on unique vintage items for the home. And the warmer temperatures are ideal for creating do-it-yourself projects outside.

Rather than getting bogged down with endless accessory options, Avril Brown prefers updating a living room space with a neutral sofa. “If you start with that as a base and build on it—pick up pieces here and there—you can do a lot without having to change the whole room,” says the owner of Prep Staging in Halifax. And this doesn’t mean you have to buy a new sofa. Slipcovers are a great way to modernize your existing piece without spending a lot of money.

Decorating on a dime

Old is new again. St. John’s-based DIY maven Sarah Jones chose a fun striped material when she reupholstered this chair, a $3 thrift-shop find. The cushion simply screwed off the chair, making it a relatively easy job for her first reupholstery project. She painted the base a bold raspberry tone.

Don’t get hung up on having a set of furniture in your space—it’s more visually interesting when things don’t match. Your budget will go further if you buy items separately and hunt for standout pieces later on that will complement them. Repainting or refinishing can give new life to solid wood furniture. “I probably wouldn’t buy anything that’s MDF [medium density fibreboard] because it’s going to fall apart eventually,” Brown says.

Visit a hardware store and ask staff for advice on do-it-yourself jobs. Some large stores offer classes on small projects you can do without needing a lot of special equipment. It’s also where you can find new knobs and handles to freshen up older pieces.

Moving accessories from one room to another can be another way of changing the look of a space without costing a dime. For wall accessories such as prints and canvasses, Brown suggests buying blank canvasses and creating your own art from scratch using simple supplies—stamps, stencils or even your own freehand designs.

When she was ready to redo her padded headboard, Brown went to HomeSense. “I got an extra-long tablecloth that was in their sale bin for eight dollars,” she recalls. “I just had to staple it on—eight dollars for a new look.”

Sarah Jones loves buying old and ugly items and making them beautiful again. “I definitely think, ‘what can I find in a thrift store and spray paint?’” says the art director/designer at a marketing company in St. John’s, Newfoundland. has featured some of her do-it-yourself projects. “I find lamps at second-hand thrift shops and redo those completely with spray paint and then I redo the shade with just bargain fabrics,” she says.

Jones recommends searching for interesting shapes and looking beyond the current condition of the lamp. Satin and gloss finish paint are some of her favourite tools. “It’s really just your five dollar Kent or Home Depot can of paint and there’s so many colour options,” she says. She always spray paints in well-ventilated areas or outside and first primes the surface with a spray-paint primer.

She also loves revamping old picture frames and enjoys buying gaudy frames at thrift stores. “I think ‘what would that look like white?’” she says. “Nowadays, there seems to be that trend of almost over-the-top but if you paint it white, it’s really clean, cool looking and ornate. Any kind of frame would work.”

You can create your own frames by purchasing large rolls of cork and making inspiration boards or even chalk boards for a kitchen or office.  “You can get spray chalk and it’s really easy to use,” Jones says.

Riding on the popularity of television shows like Mad Men, retro pieces are huge this year. Online classified websites such as or are great places to peruse for retro furniture and accessories, along with antique shops, flea markets and thrift stores. “I like the mid-century modern look,” says Jones. “I actually found an old Mad Men-era record player/ radio credenza on Kijiji. It’s now a gorgeous TV stand.”

De-cluttering is the most cost-effective way to refresh any space.

Sometimes the smallest changes will go the furthest. “Reestablishing your artwork or family photos is a super simple way to refresh a room,” says Billie-Jane Buell, a Charlottetown-based interior designer and set designer for the Food Network. Pick frames that complement each other in shape, texture, colour or size. Make mats the same colour for a more unifying look when grouping photos together.

“Another way to display your pictures and artwork in a more 2011-style is to simply lean them on a shelf, ledge or mantel,” Buell says. You can also freshen up your walls by printing photos in black and white or sepia tones.

Paint, compared to replacing furniture, is a relatively inexpensive way to brighten up a room. You can create flow in your home by picking a wall colour palette of similar shades of one colour. “Select a colour that reflects your personality,” says Buell.

Buell has one final tip on how to make a space look better and even bigger for free: “De-cluttering is the most cost-effective way to refresh any space,” she says, noting that furniture placement in a room is also important.  “Many of us are guilty of overcrowding furniture in a room…Less is always more when it comes to furniture.”

Getting rid of unnecessary furniture and doing some rearranging helps highlight the clean lines of your room and creates focal points of your best pieces. Plus, the items you place curbside can become someone else’s new treasure.

Decorating on a dime

Avril Brown of Prep Staging in Halifax recovered this padded headboard with a brown tablecloth from HomeSense for $8. She bought the floral pillow for $15 and the brown coverlet for $38, also from HomeSense. She found the nightstand at Value Village for $35, though she paid $150 to refinish it.

Decorating on a dime

With its unique weather-worn patina, disused poplar fencing transforms into a whimsical, standing shelving unit for a cottage bathroom (




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