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Ashley’s Tips for Decorating on a Budget

French-girl style, chic, girly, whimsical, apartment mood board

Did you see Allie Provost’s Upper East Side apartment reveal? It is pretty much my dream space. It is colorful and whimsical, but still incredibly chic and elevated, a surprisingly hard balance to strike!

Allie and I have been good friends for years and definitely bonded over a shared design and style aesthetic. Let’s just say you would never catch either one of us with a boring, beige apartment.

Because we share a similar love of color and whimsy, Allie and I’s styles have been compared on occasion.

Savage Tiktok comments here and there have referred to my old apartment as a “budget” or cheaper version of Allie’s décor. Listen, I am not mad about it. It is a compliment in my book. The reality is Allie is a super successful New York photographer… and I am an academic. Let’s just say we are not working with the same apartment design budget.

French-girl style, chic, girly, whimsical, apartment mood board
I recently moved out of my first DC studio and moved into an even smaller (but rent controlled!) DC studio. And for the past month I have been working hard to transform the small space into my dream apartment (follow along on TikTok for all the updates!). So, I thought I would share my tips and tricks for achieving Allie’s style on, let’s say, a more restricted budget.

What to Splurge On

If you aren’t settled in long-term housing, or simply don’t have the funds to invest in pricey furniture, you can elevate the look of budget furniture and your décor with very strategic splurges. Items like lamp shades, pillows, and curtains are small items that make a big impact when it comes to style. And bonus, they can easily move with you if you are a renter. Personally, I think curtains are super important and worth splurging on, since they are the eyebrows of the room. They frame everything and bring the room together. Luxurious velvet or bold pattern curtains will give your decor so much bang for your buck.  

Another great example are throws. Why break your budget on a costly comforter or duvet when you can just add a bold and luxurious throw to your bed? Sure $168 seems like a lot to spend on a throw, but it is better than the $300 plus you would need to spend to get the same look and feel with an entire comforter or duvet. Plus, a white comforter means you can easily update/change your décor without replacing your bedding.  

Lamp shades, throws, pillows, and curtains are also items that tend to look cheap when they are cheap. What do I mean by that? Well, a clearance or thrifted ceramic lamp will look the same whether it costs $15 or $150, but cheap lamp shades almost always look cheap. If your budget for a lamp is $150, I would spend almost all of it on the shade and then thrift/DIY the base!

You can also splurge on furniture finishes, like knobs and legs, to elevate cheaper or basic items. Raising an affordable Amazon sofa will make it look much nicer. And, adding details to IKEA basics can completely transform the look of the piece.

Larger Rugs! Most people attempt to save by purchasing smaller rugs. I promise, you need a bigger rug! For example, in your living room all of the legs of your conversational furniture arrangement should sit on your rug. Properly-sized rugs really elevate a space. Spend the extra to make sure your rug is big enough for your space.

Lastly, I would splurge on an extra large mirror. Mirrors really open up small spaces and reflect light. They are also items that you really cannot find at super low price points. After years of searching for a cheaper option, I finally splurged on the Anthropologie Mila mirror (when it was on sale of course) and I am so happy I did!


What To Save On

I firmly believe there are some items that just are not worth splurging on. White duvets are so versatile and impossible to tell if they cost $150 or $1500. As I mentioned above, ceramic lamp bases are another example of an item that will always look great at almost any price point. I would also never splurge on curtain rods. These sit so far above the eye that any expensive details or finishes are lost. IKEA has great curtain rod options!


Embrace DIY and Ikea Hacks!

Speaking of IKEA, don’t be afraid to take on some small DIYs. There are so many great IKEA hacks online, but even a simple coat of paint can render an IKEA side table unrecognizable! My built in bookcase/room divider, nightstand, and bar cabinet are all IKEA hacks that I DIY-ed (more to come on each of those)!

Focus On Texture, Pattern, And Color

Mix in luxurious and bold textures, patterns, and colors! Adding in bold textures, saturated colors like jewel tones, and fun patterns add interest and elevate a space. And bonus, the more interesting your pieces are, the less items you will need to fill the space. A win, win on a budget.


Save With Digital Art

Art is pricey. Fortunately, there is so much digital art available on sites like Etsy and Creative Market (insert shameless plug for my Etsy shop here). If you like the antique look, you can even download high resolution art from many major museums and from Wikimedia Commons. You can then easily print digital art through a company like Printique. For even more interest, you can paint cheap Amazon frames, decoupage mattes, or add Modge Podge and brush strokes to make paintings look real!


Get Creative!

The reality is that on a budget you will rarely be able to find exactly what you are looking for at your price point. For example, I really wanted a burled wood coffee table. But solid wood tables are pricey, and I could not find any affordable versions that I liked or fit within the odd dimensions I was working with. BUT I did find a burled wood console table at Target. So, I simply cut down the legs with a hand-held circular saw to coffee table height! In the same vein, console tables make really cute desks in small spaces and are often much more affordable.
When shopping on a budget, don’t try to replicate items exactly. Instead, focus on what you love about an expensive piece and look for that detail in something else. Is it the shape, material, or color you love?
Finally, check out the teen or kids’ section at your favorite furniture stores! These days these sections seem to be the only ones not afraid of color and whimsical details. Plus, children’s items are usually cheaper. My tufted bed is from Pottery Barn Teen. I realized it was the exact same bed sold at Pottery Barn but for less in the Teen section.