First-Time Decorating: When to Splurge & When to Save

by Kevin O'Gara

Mixing high and low in your home is one of the easiest ways to create a sophisticated space. Although balancing this mix and blending in the lower end pieces can be challenging, that balance is often the key to a beautiful space. Knowing when to splurge and when to save is different for everyone, but I’ve put together some tips and suggestions from my own experience that will help when planning and budgeting for new furniture and decor. It’s a big undertaking to decorate a home, and when you’re just starting out it’s hard to know when to stay in budget and when to go over. With more options than ever for shopping both new and secondhand furniture online, it can be overwhelming to hone in on the right pieces for first-time decorators. So here are a few guidelines to consider when buying for your home, keeping the long-term in mind. –Kevin

Invest in comfortable seating for the long-term. When shopping for a sofa, choose a simple, classic shape and a neutral color that will stay in style. If you invest in a well-made piece, you can always reupholster it later on, but a neutral color will work in any room. If you can, order fabric samples and try finding the piece in a store or showroom so you can see and feel it firsthand. (Photo via A London Flat Filled With Light)
When it comes to the dining room, think about investing in a sizable dining table – possibly one with drop-leaves or extensions to make it versatile for entertaining small or large groups. Save on dining chairs and consider benches for seating more people. Try a mix of vintage chairs (but keep the color or finish similar). For extra seating, sneak your dining chairs into the rest of the house (as desk chairs or accent seating) to make it easy to pull up more to the table. (Photo via Before & After Dining Room)
While large seating (the backbone of your home's furniture collection) is worth the splurge, trendier accent pieces, like side tables and throw pillows, are great places to save. Buying more (but less expensive) throws and pillows allow you to add comfort, color, and texture- and these textiles can easily be switched out. Accent tables, mirrors, and lighting can also bring color and texture, but most importantly, you can branch out with sculptural pieces or follow the latest trends without as much impact to your budget. (Photo via Eclectic Home in Washington, D.C.)
Filling your walls with art you love is key to creating a personal and inviting home, but building a formal collection takes time and money, and isn't necessary to have full, interesting walls. Simplicity is best when buying low-end frames, and I've always been a fan of IKEA's RIBBA frames. Print your favorite photographs at home and organize your prints into color stories and themes to create cohesive gallery walls, and mix in vintage prints and different styles of frames for a more eclectic look. When you're ready to invest in original pieces, consider a service like Uprise Art, which allows you to purchase with monthly installments. (Photo via 1920's-Era Bungalow)
One of the most impactful quick changes you can make in your home is the wall color, but to paint every room of your home takes a lot of paint and labor. When it comes to making your home yours, a custom paint job is worth the splurge. For smaller homes the investment may not be as large, so if your budget allows, buy from higher quality paints like Farrow & Ball for better finishes and color selection. (Photo via Bungalow Before & After)
Area rugs can be either a splurge or a save depending on your style and preference. Save on neutral natural fiber rugs (like jute or sisal) for the dining room, or use one as a base layer for a large living room, then layer a smaller rug on top. For wool and synthetic material area rugs, you can find steep discounts on sites like RugsUSA. When investing in a handmade rug, make sure you're buying from a company that is supporting small artisanal rug makers fairly and transparenty. I love Bellwether Rugs, because they donate a sheep through Oxfam with every purchase. (Photo via Semikah Textiles Studio Tour)
A commonly overlooked (but easily noticed) aspect of a well-designed home is the window treatments. Splurge on curtains, because they will hugely impact your space and provide practical benefits as well. Installing high-quality (lined velvet, silk, or linen) curtains that start at the ceiling and touch the floor will elevate your ceiling height and your room's design level. Thick curtains will block light, sound, and cold air better, and also create a luxurious, intimate setting. For a high-design look, pick curtains close to your wall color (or in a neutral color), and stick with a solid color. (Photo via Richmond's Quirk Hotel)

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  • Really good tips! I am all about splurging on the bigger items, the ones that we use every day (dining table, couch, etc.). And then saving on the little things like photos and decor.

  • I really enjoyed reading through these save and splurge tips. I couldn’t agree more that a little paint can go such a long way. In fact, when my boyfriend and I moved into our current home (a condo we rent) I decided to paint one wall in the dining room to make it a focal point and spruce it up. It really did change the whole design of the room and give it some character.