Tips for Decorating Your Living Room on a Budget

With a few key pieces and a little refurbishing, you can give your living room a fresh look

Credit: Amy Mair

Contrasting colours and tone-on-tone shades give this living room a fresh look

A salvaged chair is the inspiration for a DIY living room project

We recently finished our basement in an effort to make space for our growing boys ages 9 and 11. As the drywall was being laid and my husband Geoff’s mind was focused on foosball tables and big screen TVs, I took the opportunity to sneak in a DIY living room redecoration project. We had undertaken a major renovation of our 1929 home five years earlier, but had left the living room undone. I was waiting for the kids to get a bigger, so that we would have more money to spend on furnishings. 

We still weren’t completely ready, but I decided to strike while the walls were down so to speak. During our initial reno, I had hung grey silk curtains and retiled the fireplace surround with simple sea foam blue 4 x 4 tiles. The walls were painted a grey neutral. I used Feather Gray by Pratt & Lambert.

Finding Furnishings

I decided to keep the same colour family when it came to furnishings and look for an accent colour along the way. The first item I picked up was a boxy, low-lying sofa on sale at Once a Tree Furniture in a muted grey/brown.

I then found a blonde wood, mid-century-inspired coffee table from IKEA and muted floral rug from Pottery Barn. My attention turned to pieces of furniture that had been sitting in my basement waiting for a home. I had a turn-of-the-20th-century grandfather clock picked up on Main Street and bought back to working order. I unearthed a pair of fan back, bucket rattan chairs inherited from a friend’s mother. And I refinished a vintage dresser originally used in both my childrens’ rooms in a medium grey. Dressers can add interest to a living room space and are a handy place to stash away extra silverware, napkins and even holiday ornaments.

My favourite find was a mid-century chair I picked up in a back alley years ago and was eager to recover. Cheryl at Luxcious Upholstery on Main Street refurbished the chair and helped me find a fantastic teal blue Chinese floral print with orange accents for approximately $40 a yard. I had coordinated toss cushions made for the rattan chairs.

A recovered old chair becomes a key living room anchor, while a vintage bedroom dresser is both functional and funky. IMAGES: Amy Mair

I completed the space by picking up a load of accessories including a pair of rectangular mercury vases, a coral motif lamp, floor lamp, mirror and orange throw all from West Elm. I love that West Elm delivers some of their things to Canada. One of the vases arrived broken and they immediately replaced it no questions asked.

I estimate that I spent $4,000 redoing the living room. I spent a little more than Geoff would have liked, but maybe he won’t notice now that he can hang out in the basement.

Five Easy Ways to Decorate Your Living Room on a Budget

  1. If you don’t plan to decorate your space every five years, stick to classic styles when it comes to major investment pieces such as a sofa or armchair.
  2. Layer furniture and accessories in tone-on-tone shades. In my case I used silver, grey and a variety of shades of blue. Then, look for one or two contrasting, bolder colours (I used orange) for accessories such as toss cushions or a throw.
  3. Pull in pieces that have sentimental meaning such as a family heirloom or second-hand store find. You will enjoy being surrounded by things with history and it will prevent your space from looking like a showroom.
  4. Whatever your style, have 10 to 30 percent of your furnishing in a contrasting style. It adds interest. When you bring modern lighting or accessories into a classic space, it keeps things from being stuffy.
  5. Mix high and low. One or two expensive items in a room can elevate the entire space.