Save thousands of dollars on home furnishings with simple tricks from home designers

CNBC Finance 2 weeks ago

Friends don't let friends buy $3,000 coffee tables.

If you're stuck on a pricey piece of furniture, consider that your money may be better spent elsewhere, like on a solid sofa or a great mattress.

Furniture is one of the largest purchases most people make, says Rebecca Hawkins, the head buyer for home design firm Celadon Home in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

Just like any other consumer decision, though, you have a broad spectrum of costs to choose from to get the job done.

Your first stop: a budget. Whether you're spending millions renovating your mansion or just redesigning your living room, everyone needs a spending plan, says Laurie Blumenfeld, owner of Laurie Blumenfeld Design in New York.

Blumenfeld helps determine two things for her clients: lifestyle and goals. What someone is trying to achieve will be dependent on their life priorities, she says. The household members will likely play a part in furnishings and fabrics.

"You might want beautifully made pieces, but you have small dogs," Blumenfeld said. "I might recommend leather as opposed to fabric."

Learn which things are best to go high-end, and which you can penny-pinch on. For instance, art on your walls, throw pillows, rugs, dining room chairs all offer options for cost-cutting without sacrificing style.

Buy things over time. "Your house doesn't have to be all created at once," Hawkins said.

Spend a bit more

"I'd spend the money on the sofa," Blumenfeld said. "It's the place you spend a lot of time, whether watching Netflix or entertaining, and it's the cornerstone of your design scheme."

Hawkins suggests shopping at an actual brick-and-mortar store. You want to sit on your sofa and touch it, and it's good to have a relationship with an actual store or salesperson in case of any needed repairs. "If you order online, you could be stuck," she said.

You want your sofa to be comfortable, and you want it to be sturdy. A good sofa will likely cost more than some other pieces, but there are ways to cut costs. Try a reputable secondhand shop or auction house.

Ask area reupholstery shops if they have unclaimed pieces. They may set the price at just the cost of their work, so if you can live with someone else's fabric choice, you may find a solid sofa for far less than retail.

The virtue of the mismatch

A set of matching, high-end dining room chairs could cost several thousand dollars.

Instead, do what Hawkins does: go for fun and funky, with random, mismatched chairs from vintage shops or flea markets. To tie them together visually, paint them the same color, or have seat cushions in matching fabric. Try monochromatic neutrals or mix your patterns.

"You can have fun with chairs," Hawkins said. "Find really cool old ones, and set captain's chairs at each end of the table, with the same type of chairs at the sides."

Paired with a solid wood table, this can look quite expensive, Hawkins says.

Rest for less

Prepare to spend tons anytime you walk into a furniture showroom. One place you can DIY and save big: the bedroom.

Instead of a bedside table, Hawkins suggests a chair with a short stack of books and a tray on top. If you want tables on either side of the bed, no need to make them match.

But don't necessarily penny-pinch on one important item. "I wouldn't go inexpensive on the mattress," Hawkins said.

On the other hand, many people choose fun fabric to make a headboard. "You get a lot of style there," she said. "I love a dramatic, beautiful bed."

Rug life

Blumenfeld recommends all-wool rugs for the best value, but they can be expensive.

A great cost-cutting trick: "Buy a less-expensive, natural fiber rug to cover the space, and layer it with a smaller, more expensive rug so you get the look," Hawkins said.

That way, you can layer a 5-by-8-foot Turkish rug on top of jute or sea-grass matting. "Natural fibers feel dynamic without spending a lot of money," Hawkins said.

Dollars and accents

"If you go low-end on furniture, go high-end on the accessories," Blumenfeld said. Mix styles and price points for a sophisticated look.

Save money on things you don't use day in and day out, Blumenfeld says: accent tables, decorative pillows, mirrors, a beautiful pot for a plant.

Plants are an easy way to warm up a space and make everything look more expensive. "They are good for you and make you happy," Hawkins said. She recommends bird of paradise plants over the popular but fussy fiddle fig trees.

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