For some, decorating is an exciting and creative process. To others, it’s a daunting task. Even those who enjoy all things design, from sourcing great pieces to curating spaces, can get tripped up by a blank canvas or extensive renovation. There’s also the matter of cost. No matter what type of budget you’re working with, it’s often an obstacle at one point or another, even for the pros. But here’s a secret: Interior designers frequently use affordable items to make the decorating experience a little less stressful and a lot more imaginative, even in the most luxurious spaces.
“Expensive does not equate to style,” says New Jersey-based interior designer and HomeGoods style expert Beth Diana Smith. “Depending on the client, I often mix higher-priced items with more affordable ones. It’s all strategy!” Smith’s biggest tip when shopping for affordable items: “Look for pieces that are crafted using high-quality materials,” she shares. “Think, a hand-carved wooden end table, a brushed gold standing lamp, a vase made in Portugal, or a cashmere throw.”
Echoing Smith, Toronto-based designer Tiffany Leigh Piotrowski suggests inexpensive pieces made from natural materials and textiles. “A lot of affordable items are made from the same great materials like linen, glass, and stone, but come without the designer price tag,” she reveals. Adding, “Spaces look more elevated when they appear pieced together over time, and this look lends itself well to mixing in a variety of affordable pieces, be they second-hand finds, vintage pieces, or new pieces from an affordable retailer like IKEA.”
Brooklyn-based interior designer Colin King believes that good design should be attainable for everyone. “Part of my job is to work with a wide range of furniture and accessories at various price points and make it all feel equally inspirational. When styled right and paired with the proper counterparts, anything is possible.”
King gravitates toward classic, simple forms and materials for elevated style when shopping for affordable pieces, which he says helps create a timeless aesthetic. “I try to stay away from anything that feels trendy or an imitation of classics,” he explains. Adding, “I look for matte finishes and nothing that has been treated to look as if it were aged.”
If you are after an antique look without shelling out on rare collectibles, you can find plenty of affordable vintage furniture and decor pieces sans a hefty price tag. It’s a go-to tactic of Melissa Lee, founder and creative director of the multidisciplinary design firm, Bespoke Only. “Some of our most interesting and unique pieces have been found at less-expected vintage sources like estate sales and salvage yards,” Lee tells TZR. “If you’re willing to do the digging yourself, you can achieve the same luxurious look at a fraction of the cost.” The NYC-based designer points out that most vintage items and antiques feature superior craftsmanship and quality materials, which is how they can last and be functional years or decades after being made.
Another one of Lee’s go-to hacks: reusing and repurposing pieces whenever possible — an incredibly savvy tip when refreshing a space on a limited budget. “We suggest looking around your home with fresh eyes and thinking of new and interesting ways to use existing objects,” she says.
The pros all advocate for investing in the frequently used pieces in your homes like couches and beds, anything you’re going to want for the long-haul such as lighting or dining sets, and items that show wear more easily like upholstery, rugs, and hardware. Still, they agree that you can achieve elevated style with affordable pieces in most other areas of your home. “I understand this thought process for certain items and investment pieces,” interior design, Maureen Stevens tells TZR. “However, I do believe that most of your home decor items can be inexpensive, and you can sprinkle in a few expensive items here and there.”
Ahead, keep reading to discover 12 affordable pieces interior designers use and shop the edit for items that catch your eye.
Affordable Home Items Interior Designers Swear By: Paint
Whether you’re working with a big or small budget, Penny D. Francis, owner and principal designer of Eclectic Home in New Orleans, says there are many affordable and impactful design approaches, like paint. “Painting is the smallest investment with the greatest amount of return and can totally transform the look and feel of a room,” she explains. A high-impact tip that doesn’t cost a lot? “Paint the ceiling a contrasting color for high drama,” the designer suggests.
Affordable Home Items Interior Designers Swear By: Decorative Accessories
It’s often the little things that bring a lot of joy in life, and the same goes for your home. Decorative accessories define spaces and are one of the easiest ways to dress up or add personality to a room without spending much at all. “Even with a minimal look, many accessories are needed to bring a space to life,” Tina Ramchandani, principal interior designer of Tina Ramchandani Creative, tells TZR. “I like to save on many accessories, especially in ancillary areas. Places like CB2, West Elm, and Etsy have gorgeous accessories that can bring a look together at a low cost. Pairing them with one 'wow' splurge piece can create a unique look.”
Smith says vases, boxes, and books are some of her go-tos that anyone can source inexpensively, as well as eye-catching tabletop accessories. “I focus on these items because they can still be high-quality and show high-impact style in a space but can be found at a lower cost,” she says. King also recommends books, telling TZR: “They’re a great way to personalize your decor, and they make perfect side tables and pedestals.” For a cleaner, streamlined look, try styling books backward with the pages facing outward.
Affordable Home Items Interior Designers Swear By: Accent Chairs, Benches, & Side Tables
Smith tells TZR, “Accent chairs and benches are usually used as additional seating that can easily be moved from room to room. When styling an entryway, for example, no one can tell that I’ve mixed an $8,000 chandelier with a $149 wooden upholstered bench that I scored at HomeGoods.”
Ramchandani relies on affordable side tables when designing spaces. “Side tables are a place I like to save, especially if everything else in the space is particular,” she says. “The right side table will help your sofas and chairs shine without being too bold. It’s like a supporting artist, helping the main actor shine.” Pro tip: Unexpected objects like wood or stone pillars and storage vessels flipped upside down can serve as a side table and found very inexpensively, especially at thrift stores.
Affordable Home Items Interior Designers Swear By: Drapery
While Leigh often uses custom draperies in her design projects, she suggests Pottery Barn’s ready-made panels when a budget doesn’t allow for custom. “They look extremely high-end at a fraction of the price,” she tells TZR. Pro tip: Opt for neutral-colored drapes with substantial weight in a natural fiber like linen for elevated and versatile style.
Affordable Home Items Interior Designers Swear By: Slipcovers
Slipcovers on highly used indoor upholstered pieces are a longtime design trick of King’s, which he says is perfect for families with young kids and pets. “I’m going to let you in on a huge secret — there is a company called Bemz that makes slipcovers exclusively for IKEA sofas and armchairs....game changer,” he reveals to TZR. “It’s similar to how Semi-Handmade makes doors for IKEA cabinets. My friend Emily Weiss said it best, ‘It’s like putting rims on a Camry.’”
Affordable Home Items Interior Designers Swear By: Artwork
Artwork innately feels expensive to many, but it doesn’t have to be. Sheryl McLean, president, and creative director of the Maryland-based design firm, McLean and Tircuit, tells TZR, “If there is not enough in the budget for original or investment art, I may ask my clients for photos or, better yet, a postcard of their favorite travel destinations.” She suggests matting and mounting postcards in beautiful frames or hand-painting frames, so they coordinate with décor. “Not only do they become statement pieces, but they are also very personal and special to the client,” she says.
Lee tells TZR, “Not every piece of art has to be serious in a space. We like framing simple watercolors, unique prints, and even whimsical doodles to create an array of various mediums. This makes the space feel layered and brings a personal touch that is synonymous with luxury— at an affordable price.”
Francis makes the point that wall art does not have to be all original one-of-a-kind pieces. “Mixing in large scale black and white photography from your own collection of photos, or framing unexpected finds or keepsakes adds a bit of custom details unique to you and your home,” the designer tells TZR.
Affordable Home Items Interior Designers Swear By: House Plants, Flowers, & Branches
A beautiful way to affordably fill your home with color and life? Plants, branches, and flowers! “House plants and fresh flowers are a beautiful, inexpensive touch of luxury,” says Francis. For a designer touch, the Electic Home founder suggests unique vessels for greenery and blooms. “Use a bowl, water pitcher, or unique vase to create your floral arrangements. Go for large tall branches you can get from your local grocery for a statement piece.”
Pro tip: Branches, plants, and dried flowers are the most budget-friendly as they won’t die as quickly as fresh flowers, requiring little to no maintenance. “I visit my local greenmarket once a week and pick up in-season specialties at an amazing cost,” Francis shares. “A bundle of flowers could be $3! I pick up a few bundles and mix and match on my own to create different looks.”
King also recommends branches telling TZR, “Nothing beats nature’s artistry.” Whether you snip your own from outside and bring them indoors or procure them from a store, there are variations to suit every aesthetic — many are a particularly great option in minimal spaces when flowers or tons of plants feel out of place. “I also love a good rock,” King shares. “I’ve been collecting them since I was a kid. When given the proper setting, rocks can look like a rare, ancient artifact or sculpture.”
Affordable Home Items Interior Designers Swear By: Lamps With Linen Or Paper Shades
Designers most often suggest investing in quality lighting. However, Ramchandani has an affordable hack. “I love splurging on lighting like sconces, pendants, and chandeliers, but I like saving on table and floor lamps,” the designer explains. “There are so many good-looking and great-quality table and floor lamps out there with linen or paper shades that you can find something that works with your space at a great price!”
Affordable Home Items Interior Designers Swear By: White Bedding
White bedding is always stylish and timeless and a favorite of Stevens’ when designing on any budget. “To me, white bedding always looks expensive. However, it doesn’t have to be. You can find it anywhere, including IKEA,” she tells TZR. To elevate affordable bedding, the designer suggests splurge-worthy throw pillows or a statement rug.
Affordable Home Items Interior Designers Swear By: Throw Pillows
If luxurious sheets are a must, Lee is in favor of saving on decorative pillows. “Throw pillows are our favorite way to experiment with color, prints, and patterns,” she reveals. “By using affordable options, you don’t have to be fully committed to one color scheme or material.”
When taking the inexpensive route with pillows, Francis suggests using a mix of patterns and textures in various sizes to add dimension and visual interest. “[This approach] can transform a piece,” she says.
Affordable Home Items Interior Designers Swear By: Bed Frame
No matter how you shake it, large furniture pieces are always an investment. The pros advocate for a high-quality mattress, but an area you can save? The bed frame! Leigh has favorites from none other than IKEA (like the Bjöerksnäes pictured above), telling TZR, “We love the high-end look achieved with the linen pillows hanging from leather straps.” Her tip to elevating an affordable frame? “Dress it up with some nice bedding and pillows, and no one would ever guess,” she says.
Affordable Home Items Interior Designers Swear By: Thrifted & Vintage Decor
From small accents to large pieces, Lee and Francis both advocate for vintage as a way to save on well-made pieces and one-of-a-kind finds. “Accent tables from vintage stores, flea markets, and auctions are the small details that don’t have to match and can add that bit of the unexpected in a space,” Francis tells TZR. “It does not have to be expensive to look great. Buy what you love, and you will find a home for it.”
Decades-old magazines, postcards, and photographs are another super-affordable way to decorate with vintage, too — eBay, local hobby shops and thrift stores, and flea market vendors are treasure troves for these. You can ask family for old photographs and memorabilia to design with, too! Whether framed, collaged, or sitting atop a coffee table, these touches add personality to any space and serve as unique conversation starters.
What’s more, Francis says high-low styling with vintages pieces in the mix has an expensive-looking effect. “You may have an antique sideboard paired with a flea market gold framed mirror. The high contrast between the wood and the gilded frame will look far more expensive than it is. Opposites attract in high design.”
Lee’s tip for shopping vintage? “Keep an open mind and let the find lead you,” she says. “The fun itself is about having no expectations and being totally surprised. We love that a vintage find always has a story behind it, which is something you don’t get when buying from a big box store.”