Cottage Decorating on a Budget

Winner of the Frugal Living Tip of the Month Contest for May, iVillager mygill.
Tracey McBride, author of Frugal Luxuries and guest expert on Frugal Living, is the creative mind behind this month's Frugal Living Contest. She asked iVillagers to share experiences of decorating deftness and show how their imagination had surpassed their decorating budget.

This month's winner, iVillager mygill shows that a little creative spunk can overcome any decorating funk.

Enter the Frugal Living Tip of the Month Contest.

Here's iVillager mygill's entry:

My rental townhouse had last been decorated in the 1970s. Yikes! It was in a historic district, designed by a woman in the 1920s, and just adorable.

I wanted a cottage look, but I was just barely getting on my financial feet. (I felt proud when I was able to pay the phone and electric bills in the same week!) So I was shocked by the $80 a roll price for plain old yellow and white striped wallpaper. At that rate my dining room would cost about $360. Uh, no.

Watch Video: Decorating on a Budget



This is what my place looks like: The adjacent living room has yellow polished apple balloon shades with pink cabbage roses and small light blue flowers, under blue and white striped swag drapes, which I made. The furniture, a vintage 1940s sofa and club chair, I picked up at a yard sale for $85 and upholstered in navy blue damask. Since the living room was large and less than cozy, I installed floor-to-ceiling shelves that wrapped around an odd corner and filled them with baskets, birdhouses, books, ivy, antique toys and floral prints. It was a very warm, inviting room, with a dull dining room backdrop.

But here's what I had to work with: white walls, a picture window, a stark square opening from the living room, and a harsh 1970s wire light fixture with a big white bulb glaring out. And no budget.

Wallpaper on a budget
Rather than coughing up $360 for the wallpaper, I got out my level and taped off my own stripes, which I then painted with $15 worth of yellow paint.

Window treatments
To deal with the window, I sewed balloon shades identical to those in the living room and fronted them with pink ticking-stripes tab-topped curtains. I wove two yards of pink gingham weaver cloth in and out of the wire frame of that wretched light fixture, softening the whole look and offering a pink glow to the whole room.

Decorating the entrance to the living room
For the sharp opening to the living room, I looked at fretwork, to the tune of $600. I couldn't afford that. Instead, I soaked a four-dollar wreath in hot water, snipped the vine holding it together, unfurled it to fit the opening and nailed it in place. To this I glued $16 worth of silk ivy, leaf by leaf. It looked like ivy was growing right out of the floor, and definitely softened that square opening.

Weaving a rug is easier than it sounds!
Despite looking and looking, I couldn't find an area rug that was the right size and color. Well, jeez, I was a Girl Scout. I made a great big potholder loom,using two-by-twos and hundreds of nails and wove a rug. This was a lot easier than it sounds. I went to a linen outlet and bought $60 worth of discount sheets in navy blue, yellow, rose and periwinkle. I cut the sheets into two-inch strips and wove them into a plaid pattern just like a big ol' potholder. I used a straightened coat hanger to pull the strips through.

Flea-market finds make a dining room adorable
For my dining chairs, $12.50 each at an antique store, I made chair pads in the same yellow and cabbage rose pattern as the balloon shades. (I saw the same chairs in Doris Day's kitchen in the Pajama Game.) As an afterthought, I found a corner cabinet in the trash, painted it white and set my teapots and pink china on the little open shelves. For under $150 I had the most adorable dining room.

Proud of my work!
Neighbors used to knock on my door bringing friends and relatives to see my house. "Look what she did with the ivy," they'd say. Or, "Where'd you get this rug?" And, "I wish I could do this."

I always waffled between telling how cheaply I decorated the house and just keeping my mouth shut. Hmmmmmmm. Now I'm in the midst of making the same magic in this house. Wish me luck.

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