As much as you want everything to feel cozy and put together the minute you move, making a new space feel like home doesn’t happen overnight — especially if you’ve recently upgraded from a tiny apartment to a more spacious house. For one thing, you’ve probably never had so much space for furniture and decor. But there’s another challenge: While establishing roots in a long-term home may come with a new zest for decorating, money can be extra tight after a big move.
Luckily, with a bit of strategy, you can make your larger footprint feel homey — without spending money you don’t have. First of all, you’ll need to create a budget. According to HomeArise, the estimated cost of furnishing a 2,000-square-foot house is $16,200: that’s $4,200 for the living room, $3,000 for the dining room, and $9,000 for the three bedrooms. Not everyone has that kind of money lying around, so it’s important to get creative. Here are seven ways to decorate a bigger space on a small budget, according to interior designers.
1. Invest In Key Pieces First
Your futon and café-style dining set likely felt cramped in your old apartment, but with twice the square footage, they’ll look like dollhouse furniture in your new space. If that’s the case, you’ll definitely need a few new (or new-to-you) pieces to furnish your home.
Georgia Zikas, an interior designer based in West Hartford, CT, suggests allocating your precious funds to pieces that pack the biggest punch. First, identify the rooms you’ll use the most; then, spend on items that’ll make the biggest difference in those rooms. For example, rather than spending hundreds on artwork or kitchen gadgets you can live without, put that money toward a sectional sofa or a room-sized rug.
Tip: You can easily find a sofa for $1,000, but beware of poor quality. For a piece that lasts, plan to invest between $1,000-$3,000 for a sofa, or a bit more for a quality sectional.
2. Repurpose Existing Furniture
While you’ll need new furniture for some areas, you don’t have to get rid of what you brought from your apartment. Kathleen Anderson, an interior designer who works in Austin, TX and Chattanooga, TN, suggests outfitting smaller spaces, like a guest room or a family room, with the smaller pieces of furniture you already have.
Don’t have a place to put another coffee table? Think outside the box when you use an old piece in a new environment. “For example, if you have a small coffee table from your old place, use it as a side table next to a couch instead,” says Becc Burgmann, an interior designer in Sydney.
3. Anchor Spaces With An Area Rug
A large area rug can anchor your furniture and break up large spaces into more manageable sections, says Erin Strasen, an interior designer in Amsterdam. Because rugs can be quite expensive, Strasen suggests opting for a less expensive sisal or jute rug, and layer it beneath a smaller rug you already own.
“Just be sure the color of the sisal or jute rug is not too close to the color of your floor, otherwise the rug won’t have its intended effect of intentionally breaking up the space,” she says.
Tip: Big-box retailers often sell area rugs for $100 or less, but if quality is important to you, you may dish out a few hundred or more. Generally, the larger you go, the more you’ll spend. Check customer reviews to be sure you’ll receive a high-quality piece.
4. Don’t Space Your Furniture Out
Even if you suddenly have more space than ever, avoid spreading your furniture throughout larger rooms. “When your furniture is placed closer together, it feels like a cohesive group, the pieces interact and relate to one another,” Strasen says. “When the furniture is too spaced out or pushed up against the walls, it begins to feel like certain pieces have been sent into exile and the room feels disjointed.”
Think back to how your smaller space was laid out and try to replicate that arrangement in your new, more spacious surroundings. Over time, as your budget allows you can upgrade to pieces that fit the scale of your new space — but until then, try not to overcompensate with awkward spacing.
5. Paint Your Doors
Feel lost in a sea of white? Anderson recommends creating a sense of scale in the home by painting doors an black, beige, or an accent color you like to add interest and create definition in otherwise big, open spaces.
Burgmann adds a super-smart tip for anyone who wants to paint a small area, like a door, accent wall, or rehabbed dresser: “Purchase only a sample pot of the color you’re after, as more often than not, this is enough if you’re only painting one wall or piece, and for a fraction of the price!”
Tip: For accent walls, choose a latex- or water-based paint in a satin, egg-shell, or semi-gloss finish. For painting furniture, it’s best to use a satin or semi-gloss finish. Latex-based paints come in a lot of colors, but it’s not durable, so avoid it on furniture that could be vulnerable to wear. Chalk paints lend a vintage look to furniture, but they can be pricier can come in fewer colors.
6. Don’t Buy Everything New
Buying all-new furniture is a pretty fast way to exceed your budget. Fortunately, there are a few ways around that. If you’re crafty, Burgmann suggests scouting second-hand or antique shops for solid pieces you can easily update with paint and new drawer pulls. If DIYing isn’t your thing, Anderson says she commonly finds gently-used furniture for half the original price on Facebook Marketplace or your areas local Buy Nothing group. (For discounted high-end pieces, she recommends the app LetGo.)
Furniture rental is one way people outfit their spaces on a budget, it may not be the best investment if you’re planning to stay in your new place. “If cost is a concern, I would recommend you decorate slowly and in phases, rather than pay for furniture you can’t keep,” says Nikki Levy, an interior designer in Delray Beach, FL.
7. Add Smaller, Cozy Nooks
Another way to use your apartment furniture, Anderson says, is to create “conversation spaces” around larger areas of your home. That’s especially helpful in larger homes with open-concept floor plans, which may not feel as cozy as your 800-square-foot apartment. “Adding a couple chairs and a small table next to a bookcase, for example, create smaller, cozier spaces in larger ones,” says Anderson.
Tip: When looking for new furniture, look out for brands who have committed to the 15% pledge, meaning that proportion of their shelf space is dedicated to Black owned businesses. Examples of retailers who have taken the pledge include West Elm, CB2, and Crate+Kids. You can also find a directory of Black-owned home brands here.
Just like it took time to save up for a new home, it may take time to decorate it just how you want it. But that’s the beauty of creating roots. Since you’ll be around for a while, you’ll have the time you need to tweak what doesn’t work and figure out what does.