Home Decorating: 5 ways to avoid costly mistakes

There’s no doubt about it. Decorating your home can be an expensive undertaking. Of course, costs really depend on how extensive your project is, how large the space is, the items you purchase to decorate, and the labour (if any) you hire to assist you with the all the fun. I’m not talking about major renovations here.  I’m talking about a cosmetic overhaul that would include painting and adding decorative items such as drapery and mirrors. After updating a few of my own homes and making some pricey blunders, here are five tips to help you save a few dollars in the decorating process.


Always sample the paint first

blue paint beside blue paint roller

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Paint is one of the least expensive ways to refresh a room, but with the wrong colour, it can become expensive. Paint colours are very tricky.  I’m sure this has happened to you before: you’ve gone to the paint store and grabbed a pile of paint chips, you’ve chosen the colour you want, ordered up a gallon and brought it home. You start painting, only to find that the colour on the walls does not look like you thought it would. There’s a number of reasons for this fail, and the main reason is light – both natural and artificial light.  But you cannot return that gallon of paint so here’s a tip to avoid buying and regretting: most reputable paint retailers offer sample sizes for about $5.00.  Ask the store to mix the colour or colours you want in a tester pot, then apply it to a few different sections of the wall, especially around the trim. Look at the colour at different times of the day to ensure it works in all lighting conditions and with your furniture. In fact, painting is the last thing you should do if you are buying new furniture and accessories, since you want to pull a colour from these items as your jumping off point for your paint.

Don’t guess – measure, measure, measure

abstract architecture art artistic

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Similar to paint, if you decide you want to wallpaper a room or feature wall, you can often take the wallpaper sample book home with you to review the pattern and colour in your room. DIY stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s offer in-stock rolls of wallpaper and you can ask for a strip as a sample. Otherwise, if you are ordering from a specialty paint and wallpaper store, you must custom order your rolls.  These rolls are non-refundable, so make sure you have the pattern and colour nailed down. Measure the room accurately to avoid purchasing too many rolls – which cannot be returned – or ordering too little and not receiving the same die lot. Different die lots can be slightly different in colour because they are not produced at the same time. Accurately measure the size of the strip so you don’t cut it too long or too short and waste your expensive wallpaper. When purchasing furniture, ensure you measure the space properly and that the pieces are the correct proportion.  The last thing you want is a couch or table that is too small or too big for the area.  One of my favourite resources, Canadian House & Home, has a great feature on the 30 Biggest Decorating Mistakes and outlines 3 tips for buying the right-sized furniture.


Don’t buy cheap stuff

woman sitting on red hanging bench

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I’ve been very guilty of this mistake many times in the past: purchasing numerous items in the past because of the price tag, only to be disappointed with the quality of the pieces and out they go to my favourite reseller charity, Value Village. I’ve shopped at stores offering inexpensive furniture that appears to be cool and contemporary, but alas,  they fall apart within a year (Ikea anybody?) When I moved into my house, I bought a kitchen set with a glass top. The chairs were made of particleboard with a veneer finish (the words particle board and veneer just scream cheap!) As you can guess, I cannot keep that glass top clean, the chairs have not worn well at all, and the cat has clawed the seat fabric. Sometimes it’s best to wait until you’ve done your research and can afford a well-made piece that’s just right for the space. I am holding out for a special marble-top table: it will be expensive, but I consider it an investment in quality. If you don’t have the money for your favourite item, check reseller sites like Kijiji or visit antique stores for well-made articles that you can restore or repaint yourself. I bought some mid-century modern chairs at a garage sale recently for $5.00 each that I will reupholster in a sturdy fabric to go with my dream table.  That way, I don’t have to blow the budget for both table and chairs.


Avoid purchasing now to use later

various containers in store

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Guilty again. I’ll be in a store, see something shiny on sale, buy it and store it for later use, “just because”.  I truly have the best of intentions. But inevitably, this collection of items will gather dust in the garage until my frustrated husband reaches a boiling point, waits until I am away, and then sneakily carts them off to Value Village. Typically, when furniture and accessories are on sale, they cannot be refunded. Conversely, I’ll buy an item at full price and lose the receipt so it becomes almost impossible to return. These actions result in being out of pocket hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars over time, and may lead to the desire to ensure you display all these items. Because I don’t want all my purchases to end up at the local charity, the result: my rooms are brimming with stuff and feel very disorganized.  In an article on how to prevent clutter in Architectural Digest,  the designers at Laurel and Wolf suggest letting your pieces breath. Adding too many accessories can make a space feel smaller and cluttered, and sometimes the items really don’t work well together. It takes a very savvy decorator who can group different pieces, and make a make a room look like everything belongs and the room appears orderly. Which brings me to my next tip.


When in doubt, ask an expert

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Although you may feel hiring an interior decorator will be expensive, a professional may save you money in the long-run. An expert can help you choose the right pieces, make the right decisions, direct you to the right retailers and might even be able to pass on their trade discount. Sometimes you can hire students or recent graduates who are not as costly as an experienced decorator. Another alternative is to just have the professional provide a consultation to assist with colour choices, furniture placement and wall décor options. When I was stuck with a decorating dilemma, I had a friend come by who had just started her own home renovation business. Something was just not right with my living room and upon entering, she immediately pointed to the red silk drapes. My friend directed me to a store for inexpensive drapery, helped me choose fabric for my cushions and had them custom-made by her upholsterer for a reasonable price. I paid her for her time and the cushions – a grand total of $200, which was well worth the investment and saved me both time and money.  In her Smart Cookies blog in the The Globe & Mail, Amanda Self described How spending on an interior designer could save you money and claimed “the long-term value of professional guidance far outweighs the initial costs.”

Of course, there are many resources on decorating tips to help you avoid costly mistakes, but as a DIYer, these five I list above are definitely the big ones for me: sample, measure, don’t cheap out, don’t buy “just because”, and when in doubt, consult with a professional.  Follow these basic rules and your décor project will not only provide a great deal of satisfaction, but can save you a few bucks along the way.



4 thoughts on “Home Decorating: 5 ways to avoid costly mistakes

  1. These are such fabulous tips! My husband and I have just dipped our toes into really doing any bigger renovations, and I can attest to the truth behind all of these. I am so, so guilty of buying now to use later, and this has really made me see how much I need to stop that before I become truly over run with things.

  2. Thanks Michelle! It’s so hard not to buy these things you think you’ll use but I have just done some purging and I realized how much stuff I have that have had little to no use. Not just me, but my entire family! Even with clothes I am now trying not to buy items I think I might use because they are on sale. I’m just purchasing things I really, really love and will work with my closet or my space. I’m trying to get my kids to buy into this as well – of course, that’s a whole other story (or blog)!

  3. I definitely have learned my lesson(s) from buying inexpensive furniture. The only trouble with investing in great quality items is that my place has been so naked for months on end – hard to host the get-togethers. The newest addition is a beautiful king size bed, only I forgot to account for the side tables and now, currently have a spare one in the corner of my bedroom feeling super left out. What’s your favourite room in the house to decorate?

  4. Hi Jessica

    You’re right, waiting for that perfect investment piece does pose the problem of an empty room for a long period of time which I would find hard as well, especially if you are just starting out. I continue to use the old cheap pieces until I can replace them. My favourite room to decorate was my living room. I did a feature wall in wallpaper, a cream couch with jewel tone pillows and some antique chairs I found that are actually quite modern. The only problem is I have to keep the doors closed to that room because of the dog and cat, so in some ways, the room is not that functional. When we downsize, we will ensure all rooms are used to their maximum ability so have no wasted space – another thing I’ve learned through the years!

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