Designing (and Decorating) Your New Home on a Budget

post by Erica Minutella

So you’ve finished unpacking the boxes and now the REAL work begins. Because you’ve just realized you own nothing more than a few dishes and a mattress from your old apartment and now you have a whole HOUSE to fill.

To help you through this stressful time, we talked with Marguerite Rodgers of Marguerite Rodgers Design, who founded an interior design business in 1991 and specializes in high end residential design.

She gave us some tips about how you can begin thinking about designing a new home – especially if you’re on a budget (which, let’s face it, you just bought a new house so you probably are). She even included some helpful advice on how you can design around the holidays!

Erica: How can new homeowners begin to think about the spaces in their home?

Meg: Oftentimes home design begins with people understanding the scale of things. It’s easy to do: measure things when you look at them. Make sure it works. Make sure it’s going to fit through the door or on the elevator.

More tips for those just starting out:

  • Look at books and movie sets and learn about the history of design and design periods so that you are not only influenced by current trends.
  • Take the time to shop. To look at things. Don’t just look at things on the internet. Go to antique dealers and showrooms to be exposed to design, especially places that you might think are unapproachable or unaffordable.  You will see a lot of good design and be a better critic when you look at less expensive options.  Combine new and old.
  • Always decorate your walls.  A home does not feel lived in if there is no art, photographs or objects on the walls. You can find very inexpensive frames at Pottery Barn and hang black and white family photos, so you don’t have to be spending a lot of money on fine art. And some of the consignment shops, like Jinxed, carry affordable art pieces. You can buy a shallow ledge and put your record albums on it – album covers are great art.
  • Find a common thread in what you like.

“ALWAYS sample your paint colors.”

  • ALWAYS sample your paint colors. Maybe there are designers who would help you on an hourly basis to help you think about how colors work if you’re just starting out.
  • Paper is great. There’s millions of designs you can go with. If you really love patterns, you want to be sure about how you’re going to adorn your walls. It comes down to scale. Some patterns are great in the powder room. That’s not a place where you’re going to hang a lot of things.

Erica: How can new homeowners furnish a home strategically (i.e. working with small spaces to leave them feeling open, or mapping out furniture in ways that won’t overwhelm them when they’re finally ready to entertain larger crowds)?

Meg: You have to put in the time the way a professional does, to plan, to think about it. A professional designer will do a lot of the work for you.

“Make sure that you study the scale of things. “

  • I like to work in plan to study how to live in the spaces.  You could get graph paper, a scale and a roll of tracing paper.  Make scale cut outs of the furniture and objects that you are working with. 
  • Make sure that you study the scale of things.  Think about how high the lampshade on a table lamp will be in the room based upon the table height and how it might feel if it is next to a bed or chair. 
  • If working in a small space think about keeping furniture low so that you can feel the full width and depth of the space.
  • If your space is small, furnishings should be multifunctional or collapsible.  A coffee table can be hydraulic so that it lifts up to be a dining table; your bed can be a sleep sofa.
  • If your space is small keep it uncluttered or if you are a collector keep it organized and edited.

Erica: What’s the one item worth splurging on?

Meg: I think upholstered goods are the one thing you should splurge on. Auctions are also a great way to find deals on more expensive items. The other day I bought a dining room table, listed for $6000, and got it at auction for $300. It’s also another way to educate yourself.

Erica: What’s the best advice you have for someone wanting to decorate their home for the holidays in an elegant way? Particularly if they’re stuck on a new homeowner’s budget?

Meg: My tree is littered with ornaments. They mean something. There are so many of them it’s become this amazing collage. A lot of my ornaments are little picture frames. It’s amazing how long people stare at that tree. It’s telling a story. To me the stylized decorations aren’t personal. I like an eclectic collection of stuff that tells a story.

“You can buy old Christmas ornaments for nothing. To me the stylized decorations aren’t personal. I like an eclectic collection of stuff that tells a story.”

  • It sounds cliché but floral arrangements go a long way.  You can get orchids for $5 at Produce Junction. You could go to a wooded area that is not restricted and collect pine cones, pine boughs and sticks and create a wonderful large arrangement. You can put burlap or green ribbon over a container. You can go to Fourth Street and buy some cool fabric and get a bucket that something came in and tie some fabric on it. It feels very festive.
  • Candles go a long way. I do a lot of pine scented candles, since we don’t have a real tree.

Erica: Are there any local shops (furniture, decor, floral, etc.) that you frequently recommend to customers – or use yourself when designing a new home?

Meg: If you’re on a budget:

  • Jinxed
  • Re-Store, 2318 Washington Avenue
  • Beaty American, 1619 N American Street, 19122
  • Ikea, South Philly
  • Material Culture, 4700 Wissahickon Avenue
  • Resource Exchange, 1701 N 2nd Street

If you’re a little more flexible:

Auctions to look out for:

  • Kamelot, 2216 E Allegheny Avenue
  • Rago, 333 N Main Street, Lambertville
  • Freeman’s, 1808 Chestnut Street
  • Live Auctioneers – register with them and they will send you info on auctions coming up

Erica: What about for anyone ready to take the step to consult an interior designer? What are some things they should be thinking about?

Meg: It’s important to be realistic about your budget, but also understand where you can stretch a little. Also being clear about what your real time-frame is. Are you responsive as a client? You can’t meet a deadline if you can’t get a response. In terms of the style of the designer, ask them to bring an example of how they present their work. How do they communicate: over email or a lot of meetings? They both have to be honest about who they are and be clear about how they work.

If you’ve yet to make the leap into a new home because you just don’t know where to start, reach out to Christina Briglia, Realtor anytime at 267-231-5484 | phc.christina@gmail.com.