I need to come clean and confess that I’m not particularly qualified to write about design because I’m not a decorator. I do, however, know a few things about cheating the status quo and finding a good bargain.
By Annette McLoughlin
I need to come clean and confess that I’m not particularly qualified to write about design because I’m not a decorator. I do, however, know a few things about cheating the status quo and finding a good bargain. They say that everyone has a gift and unfortunately, due to an apparent lack of any others, this cheapskate skill might be mine. Whether nature or nurture, I get it from my mother. She was a raised-in-the-Depression-era, penny-pinching mother of six who had no time, money, nor inclination for frivolity. And it’s thanks to her that I can whip through a garage sale faster than you can say, “How much for that Limoges bunny?”
So, it is with this “talent” as a bottom feeder that I’ve cobbled together a list of things you can do on the cheap and sneaky to glam up your home. Unlike my mom, I love frivolity — just not at full retail.
A Beautiful Piece Gives Everything Else in the Room Credibility
Contrary to my theme, a great way to start or re-do a room is to splurge on one or two knockout pieces first. It can help establish a theme or color scheme and give you the confidence to fill the rest of the room with your bargain finds. (A great piece can elevate everything else around it.) Visit Carpet Trends, one of Rye’s longtime merchants, for a cool rug, such as those vintage persian rugs, or one of the amazing new home decor shops that have opened up recently in town. Buy that loss-leader piece and set off in confidence in search of bargains.
Before You Start Shopping …
Get great bang for your decorating buck and the most immediate gratification with a fresh coat of paint. It’s easy to get the ball rolling by finding a color (or colors) you love and painting a room or even just one wall. Or start really small by painting a piece of furniture in a color that makes you happy. I love orange and didn’t have any in my house, so this winter I painted a wall in my kitchen in Farrow & Ball’s “Charlotte’s Locks”. With the leftover paint, I transformed an ornate, old flea market mirror as well as a hand-me-down table from my mother-in-law and gave them each a whole new life.
In terms of paint colors, I like the Farrow & Ball brand because I personally can’t face the 18,000 color options available from big brands like Benjamin Moore. Farrow & Ball offers only about 40 colors but they’re so gorgeous and saturated that I don’t feel I need to look any further. It’s pricey paint, however, so I take the F & B chart to the paint store and have them mock up the color I want. You can order a color chart online or surreptitiously pick one up at the store on West Putnam in Greenwich. My favorite colors right now are Light Blue (a dreamy grey/blue,) Ground Pink (a beige-pink so soft you can use it anywhere), and Skimming Stone (which is a soft sand-gray that changes to soft shades of tan, depending on the light.)
Garage Sales, Flea Markets, and Consignment Stores, Oh My!
In the spirit of “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” the vulture in me adores a good garage sale, flea market, or consignment store. Our geography offers us access to some seriously high-quality cast-offs.
You don’t need to travel far. Twig Antiques on Smith Street, across from Carpet Trends, has an ever-changing and beautiful landscape of fine antiques and well-cared-for home furnishings. And the proceeds benefit our EMS and Open Door.
Greenwich has great garage sales and a fun local flea market that’s held twice a year in the train parking lot (May and October.) My living room coffee table is from there (which turned out chic once painted a high-gloss black), as is the previously mentioned old mirror.
If you have the time, the flea markets in the city are really fun. The list includes: Brooklyn (the old Williamsburg Savings Bank,) the Upper West Side (77th and Columbus,) Hell’s Kitchen (39th between 9th and 10th,) midtown at The Antiques Garage (112 West 25th between Sixth and Seventh), and SoHo at The Market NYC (268 Mulberry.) I like Hell’s Kitchen the most. They all have websites, so you can figure out which one is worth the trip. If you want a little Asian accent in your home, hit Chinatown while you’re there and grab a Buddha or a pair of colorful Foo Dogs for your built-ins for a lot less than you’d pay in a specialty shop.
Chatsworth Antiques in Mamaroneck is always worth a visit. They have three floors of furniture from every period.
Don’t Turn Your Nose up at the Discount Stores
After you clean off (and paint!) your flea market booty, head on down to a Marshalls, TJ Maxx, or Home Goods to root around their great home sections. They usually have things that are au courant, and often carry excellent decorative pillows and lamps. If you don’t get lucky the first time, keep checking in, the inventory turns pretty fast. They’re also a great source for linens and towels. Since we have both a Marshalls and a Home Goods in Port Chester, you barely have to drive for these bargains. The Port Chester Home Goods is a really good one and my favorite TJ Maxx in the area is in Mt. Kisco but New Canaan is pretty good, too.
Photography as Art
In my opinion, pictures of your kids (or grandkids or dogs…) are the best form of art. And I don’t believe the shots have to be “artsy” or all moody in black and white to qualify. I think they just need to stir a nice memory and make you smile. Some of my own favorites (which are hung shamelessly all over my house) include my kids dancing, covered in mud, swinging on swings. If you group several pictures together, I think it looks best if there’s some cohesiveness to the collection of frames — either similar styles or colors. I have a hallway full of pictures framed consistently in basic black metal frames, which are sold as stock basics at Michaels or A. I. Freidman.
I love the dimension, pattern, and interest wallpaper gives a room. But I’m roller-shy at this point in my life since I have a toddler at home, and because I suffered a traumatic wallpaper incident a few years ago. In one tragically unsupervised moment, one of my kids took a red magic marker to the walls of my foyer and my beautiful Nina Campbell “investment.” I think a great way to get your wallpaper Jones, without spending a lot, is to do a little powder room. Also, covering the back wall of a built-in bookshelf can get you a cheap wallpaper thrill. I’m willing to bet — though have yet to try — that high-quality gift-wrapping would do the trick just fine.
Lastly, the Internet is a great resource for decorating bargains. My most recent favorite is overstock.com from which I bought bamboo shades for a song. They arrived quickly, were pretty easy to install, and the customer service was great. I also love Crate and Barrel’s CB2 for chic acetate tables. (I searched pretty thoroughly online and they offered the best prices.) And look at companies like Ballard Design, IKEA, and West Elm (check out West Elm’s Pinterest board for amazing, inspiring, and innovative ideas.)
See you at the Brooklyn flea market!