How to Decorate Your Home Without Breaking the Bank

Want a Pinterest-worthy home, but you're on a budget? We talk to local designers about how to get a high-end look for less.

photos by christine mccall


We all want a beautiful home with eye-catching, quality decorations and furnishings. But not everyone can afford the high-end, and high-priced, products that sometimes go into designing a picturesque home — which creates a dilemma. What are homeowners looking to improve their home on a tight budget to do?

Christine McCall, owner of Christine McCall Home, a Peters Township-based residential design and styling business, says many people feel obligated to spend more money on their home décor than they can afford, in part because of having a world of home decor at their fingertips.


“Some owners feel that pressure, thanks to social media, to make Instagram-worthy photos and editorial-worthy spaces,” she says. 

In certain cases, replicating those polished photos can be unattainable because of the custom, high-end pieces filling the room, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get the look for less. McCall and other Pittsburgh-area designers say you can decorate your home without breaking the bank.

Adding mirrors is an easy way to jazz up a room.

Highs and Lows

The key to elegant, and budget-friendly, rooms is bringing together a mix of higher-end and less expensive pieces in a way that makes it impossible to tell which items were investments and those that were not, according to McCall.  

“When I’m working with clients, or if friends and family are asking for advice, I think it’s always good to mix it up … and shop around,” she says. “Now, it’s all about making rooms look more collected and curated over time. If you really spend time looking for pieces that are jumping out at you … those are the pieces you can really build your rooms around.”

For instance, a simple sofa from a box-store retailer can be dressed up with an array of designer pillow fabrics. In the kitchen, splurge on antique brass drawer pulls for budget-friendly cabinetry, such as the ones that can be found at IKEA, for a more high-end, custom look. In the dining room, pair a statement chandelier with a wood table crafted by a local artisan. 

Dress up a simple sofa using throws or add an array of designer pillow fabrics. 

Keep it Copacetic

When purchasing decor at different price points, don’t be afraid to mix styles. This will give your space more of a curated look, according to McCall. At the same time, it’s important not to lose sight of the overall decorating picture. 

“You still have to create a cohesive look with color, scale and balance — all things to keep in mind when you’re shopping for a room,” she says. “It still has to fit. It still has to look cohesive and go together.”
Interior designer Debra Pacoe, whose design for a Mount Washington condo won “Best Renovation” and “Best Renovated Bathroom” in Pittsburgh Magazine’s 2017 Home of the Year contest, agrees.

“It always works best with an initial vision in mind, and then following through with a cohesive look,”  she says. “That's the artistic part and challenging part to designing a room.”

Adding a floral centerpiece, candlesticks, books or other accessories are affordable ways to enhance a room.  

Shop Smart

Carrie Lehmann, owner of Sewickley-based CL Interiors, recommends taking advantage of sales, such as the after-holiday sales happening now, to find quality pieces. 
“Although the holiday season might be over, you can still have fun and stay on budget as spring approaches,” she says.

Don’t rule out buying items from stores such as Target or HomeGoods. They often carry nice, low-cost décor accents that you can disguise in a room with more posh pieces. Good places to scatter objects from discount stores include the coffee table, bookcase or mantle, McCall says.

McCall also suggests exploring vintage or antique shops to discover secondhand decorations or furniture. It’s a great way to find bargains, she says. 
When it comes to the couch, however, Pacoe’s advice is not to skimp out. 

“If we are furnishing a family room that is used frequently, I always recommend putting more money into good quality upholstery,” she says. “Always. It is definitely worth spending more money on this based solely on how the piece looks, how it is constructed and how it holds up over time.

“It's about pulling together a look, but you don't want it to look cheap. And I want it to have some longevity.”

Fun,  low-cost decor items can work in harmony with more posh pieces.

The Perfect Accent 

To warm up a room with hardwood floors or tiles, try adding an area rug. Pacoe likes hand-made, hand-knotted rugs, which are more durable and increase in value through the years. For a lower-priced alternative, look at hand-tufted area rugs. Just be careful about the quality, as some don’t hold up well.

Toss pillows, a new floral centerpiece or throws — the fuzzy ones are nice and cozy right now — also are affordable decorative options, Pacoe says. Candles, candleholders and mirrors also are budget-friendly enhancements and can brighten up a room during winter’s shorter days.

For an inexpensive facelift, try a fresh coat of paint in a dramatic new color; do it yourself to save costs. Or, Pacoe recommends installing wallpaper, although she suggests hiring a professional here if you’re not an expert. “This is not an exorbitant investment, but can make a very dramatic difference in transforming rooms,” she says.  

Categories: HOME + Design