Star-Bulletin Features

Decor on a dime

Garage sale treasures: The velour throw on couch, $5; distressed
metal pot, $3; bowl used to hold sea shells, $3; pillows, $3 to $5;
glass tabletop, about $30; encyclopedias, free.

You don't have to sacrifice style
when on a shoestring budget; here are
tips for cheap chic

By Malia Rulon
Photos by Craig T. Kojima and Ken Sakamoto

Moving into a new apartment can be quite a daunting experience. You finally say aloha to the moving van only to enter your new abode and find yourself standing in the midst of a jumble of boxes and crates with a forest of white walls looming around you.

Somehow, you must pull your random collection of furniture and knickknacks into a comfortable apartment you can call home.

"When you go into a new place, you want to warm it up and give it your own personal touch, but you also want to give it a new look, a new flair," said Troy Oliver, owner of Interior Flavors, a store that sells interior decorating accessories.

Unique drawer pulls -- star-shaped
and "t-shirt"knobs, here and below --
give old dressers a new look.

But just because you used up the last of your savings on the security deposit doesn't mean you have to settle for less-than-fab apartment decor. You just have to get creative.

Decorating doesn't have to be expensive. Scour garage and estate sales, swap meets, and thrift, consignment, hardware and craft stores.

"You can go up and down the aisles of hardware stores and find things that people wouldn't even think of using to decorate," Oliver said.

But don't forget those great freebies you can discover in a relative's attic or pick up off the street corner.

"It takes a creative mind," Oliver said. "You see someone's old dresser and you start thinking for 15 bucks, you can buy that dresser, strip it down, paint it, put new knobs on it and it'll have your own personal flavor."

Be patient. You may have to go to 10 garage sales before you see one thing that you like. But it will be a collection of unique items that define your style and personality.

"A good piece of furniture that has interesting features can be thought of as a piece of art," said Jack Adams of Adams Design. "It goes with anything."

In "The New Apartment Book," author Michele Michael assures readers that mixing, not matching is more interesting.

"Don't worry about buying things that 'go together,'" she writes. "If you like it, most likely it will work in your apartment."

Fabric hung with colored clothespins forms an eclectic-style curtain.

"It really comes down to personal preferences," Oliver said. "I strongly believe in mixing what you have. It gives your apartment a warm comfortable feeling."

A limited budget may mean making do with that old yellow-and-brown-plaid couch that's missing an arm and has wobbling legs, and using four mismatched chairs -- one with a puka in the seat -- at the dining room table that's really a card table.

But there are many ways to transform that junk.

The funky sofa

First, the furniture. There are three ways to deal with relics from the '70s: appreciate them, alter them or get rid of them.

Slipcovers or throws are a good way to transform an ugly but oh-so-comfortable couch into a beautiful living room centerpiece. They can, in an instant, dramatically alter the look with colors, textures and patterns.

Slipcovers, which provide a form-fitting "pillow case" for your cushions and furniture, can be sewn yourself, bought ready- or custom-made. If you plan to make them yourself, measure the dimensions of each cushion or piece of furniture, adding a couple extra inches to accommodate for shrinkage.

The easiest way to cover an easy chair or sofa is to use a large piece of material or a soft blanket or sheet and throw it over the furniture. You can leave it as is for a soft drapey look, or tuck it in around the cushions and along the sides and back for a more tailored effect.

A few discreet safety pins keep the fabric or sheet secured.

Candles of different shapes and colors are an
inexpensive way to spice up a room.

Another way to deal with unmatching or unattractive furniture is to paint them.

"A whole bunch of mismatched furniture can be painted alike," said Jean Wall ASID of Innerspaces. "Or, a real fun idea is to paint each of the dining room chairs a different color."

Stamping is another fun alternative. Use a halved potato or a rubber eraser and trace a simple design onto the surface. Cut out your design, making sure that the stamp is at least 1/8 of an inch deep. Pour paint and stamp away.

Faux finishes with sponges, rags or brushes are another way to get creative with paint. And if you prefer the antique look but can't afford it, use candle wax and steel wool to age your furniture or give it a weathered look.

The floor

Rugs for the living room or bedroom add warmth and texture to your home.

"You can use rugs to coordinate colorwise and stylewise with what you are doing," Wall said. To cut costs, she suggests renters look into carpet remnants. These are available at carpet stores and sell for below wholesale prices. The carpet dealer will bind the edges for about $1 to $1.50 a foot.

The four walls

For the walls, you have several options: paint, wallpaper, wallpaper trim and accents. If you only plan to live in the apartment for a short time, consider using an accent wall, wallpaper trim or large framed pieces of art instead of a full paint or wallpaper job.

Paint will find that it works wonders for a dull apartment, camouflaging flaws in the walls and giving the room a focus.

"You can leave the walls white or paint one wall a different color just to give it a different dimension and a new feel," Oliver said.

Bold colors like royal blue or bright red can add instant drama to a room, while soft colors like peach or light green can soften and warm your decor.

Paint can also be used on floors, baseboards, doors and ceilings.

Small touches

Small touches, like replacing the drawer pulls on your dresser, can update the piece's look with minimal expense by searching garage sales and swap meets.

If your budget allows for a little extra, Interior Flavors has metal pulls labeled "your socks," "underwear" or "T-shirt" for $8 each and an assortment of colorful acrylic drawer pulls that sell for $11 each. Hardware stores also have wide assortments for the more frugal.

Sometimes all it takes is a new frame, fresh flowers in a colorful vase or a collection of candles or glass bottles to spice up a new apartment.

"You can take what you have and put it in a new place and completely change the look by giving it different accessories," Oliver said. "Even the small things can add a lot."

Accent your apartment with fresh-smelling potpourri, dried flowers, bright scarves, colorful feather boas (available at Ben Franklin for $4.59 and $7.83) or one-of-a-kind art work from your high school pottery class.

Use paintings, photographs or colorful prints to add style and personality. But if you can't afford framed art, buy an art book and place your favorite pages in inexpensive frames from Longs or Kmart. You can also frame your favorite ads or pictures from magazines, playbills or concert programs,and record album covers.

Another easy way to give your apartment a new look is to collect glass bottles of all kinds and soak the labels off. Fill them with sand and small shells or colorful lentils, rice or pasta.

Mirrors are another easy way brighten up a new apartment. They are a great way to add depth and make a tiny apartment appear deceptively larger.

Light is an important part of any living space. Candles placed in empty wine bottles, colorful clay dishes, worn glass from the beach, driftwood or even sea shells can make fabulous accents.

Another important accent for your new apartment is fresh flowers, fruit and plants.

But go for the big plants, not the "skimpy little ones," Wall said, because big plants add drama and vivid color. Place them on glass blocks or pedestals.

In fact, glass blocks are a great way to liven up your apartment and add style at an inexpensive price. You can stack them in your living room and put books on top of them or use them as a pedestal for art.

"They add a little bit of height and a little bit of depth," Oliver said. "They just give your apartment a new look."

Imagination's all you need

Part of decorating a new apartment is putting your imagination to work on what you already own to create a fun and innovative decor.

These are suggestions that blend practicality and creativity. Use them to get your ideas flowing, but remember, it's up to you to turn them into your own creations.

A very easy and inexpensive way to make a stylish living room coffee table is to top a stack of books or old encyclopedias from a thrift store or garage sale with a 1/4-inch or 3/8-inch-thick piece of glass. By adding or subtracting books, you can alter the height of your table.

You can also stack a piece of glass on top of an old vase or antique trunk for an interesting side table.

Bay Glass & Steel, 91-2102 Ft. Weaver Road sells a 2- by 30-foot, 1/4-inch thick piece of glass with polished edges for $30. A 3/8-inch thick piece the same size is $65. Call 681-5594 for a free estimate.

Trunks can also be used as side tables, and since they can provide hidden storage space, they are a good bet for a small apartment. Old suitcases or hat boxes can be stacked to make a hall table or bedside stand. For added storage, you can use inexpensive wire baskets and a thin piece of wood to make a table. Cover it with a long tablecloth and you have a nice living room counter with out-of-sight storage space.

Bulletin boards are a convenient way to tack up favorite recipes and take-out menus in your kitchen or phone numbers and business cards in your office. An inexpensive way to make one is to tack a sturdy piece of canvas over a thin sheet of cork and decorate it with bold splashes of paint. You can also cover your bulletin board with a colorful Hawaiian fabric.

June Fabrics Inc., 2161 N. School St., sells canvas and tapa prints for $6 a yard and assorted Hawaiian and other prints for $3 to $3.50 a yard with a 2-yard minimum. Call 848-4825 for information.

Architectural Surfaces Inc., 560 N. Nimitz Hwy., Suite 217E, sells 1/4-inch thick cork for $2 a square foot with a minimum width of 4 feet. You can cut the cork to the size you want. Call 523-7866.

Window treatment is an easy way to spice up an old apartment or add warmth to a new place. "If you go into a place with basic mini blinds, you can just hang a piece of fabric over the window to give it a whole new look," Oliver said.

But several factors such as how much light you want to let in, how much privacy you need, or the amount of noise outside your window should be considered as you select your window dressing.

Troy Oliver sits among the home decorating finds in
Interior Flavors at Ward Warehouse.

The simplest way to make curtains is to run a tension rod through the hem of twin-sized sheets. It's cheap, easy and there is no sewing required -- not even if the sheets are too long. Let the sheets puddle gently on the floor for a stylish effect that will make your windows appear bigger than they really are.

Another easy way to make curtains is to choose a piece of fabric and affix eyelets across the top, then string it across your window.

Check fabric and home finishing stores regularly for discounts on discontinued patterns or the last few yards of expensive materials. Accessories like curtain rods, rings, hooks or tiebacks are sold inexpensively at most hardware stores.

A clever idea for kitchen or bathroom windows is to use stencils or transparent glass paints to create a colorful array of light or patterns.

Other ideas:

Lava Lava Curtain

(Adapted from "Window Dressing," by Stewart and Sally Walton.)

Materials: 2 cup hooks or eyelets; a colorful plastic-coated clothes line; multicolored plastic clothespins; a brightly colored lava lava to match.

Start by screwing the two hooks into the wall, one slightly above each end of the window. Run the clothes line through the hooks and across the top of the window, tying it securely to each of the hooks.

Hang the lava lava on the line with the clothespins, gathering it up near the ends to add weight to the edges. Use a spare clothespin to hold a corner of the cloth back to let the sunshine in. Bundle up the leftover clothesline and let it hang down one side of the window.

Beach Mat Blinds

Adapted from "Window Dressing," by Stewart and Sally Walton.)

Materials: 2 cup hooks; 1 straw beach mat (the $1.99 kind from Longs); paper fasteners; rope; scissors and an awl.

Use the awl to make two holes in the wall just above the window or in the window recess, one on each side.

Make a tube on the top of the mat for the rope to pass through by folding it over 1 1/2 an inch and securing it with a row of paper fasteners, pushed through and folded back.

Run the rope through the tube and knot it on each end to the hooks. Use a longer piece of rope and knot it in the middle to either the right or left hook.

Now just roll up the blind to your desired height and tie the hanging pieces of rope to hold it at that height.

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