Even on a budget, you can create a home that looks straight out of a luxury magazine.
Treat each room as a blank slate
Take note of the preexisting features in your home you can highlight. Architectural details such as crown molding, wooden beams, hardwood floors, built-in bookshelves, and mosaic-tile backsplashes are all worth focusing on. These details don’t just look expensive; they are expensive. Make them as prominent as possible—keep them clean, clutter free, and the focal point of the room. For example, don’t splurge on an expensive painting just to have it compete with a showstopping fireplace.
Add a pop of color
“Paint is extremely inexpensive and makes a big difference,” says Keysha Jillian, lead interior designer and owner of K. Jillian Designs, based in Tampa, Florida. “Whether you need to tone down a color or add a bold color to liven up your space, color is great for changing the overall feel of a room.” A nice wash of color might only cost around $31.99 for a gallon.
Pick towels you’re actually excited to use
It’s time to get rid of those dingy old bath towels—discolored whites and bleach-stained colors make your space look dirty and cheap. “Proudly display crisp white, fluffy towels like the kind you would find in a fancy hotel or spa,” says Drew Henry, founder of design firm Design Dudes. “This will immediately trigger a feeling for your guests, and they will have a more luxurious feeling towards the space.”
Swap out your throw pillows
Throw pillows are an easy way to accessorize and brighten a room, whether you buy them or make your own. Jillian says homeowners should throw out their older throw pillows and replace them with bright, fuller pillows—or just buy crisp new pillow covers. “Mix and match colors and textures, and blend different groupings,” she says. But more is not better. “There can be too many pillows, so make sure you don’t go overboard.”
If your walls are bare besides the occasional artwork, consider adding molding to the baseboard, chair rail, or ceiling. “It doesn’t even have to be a gaudy, Victorian-style molding—a simple and single-shape, single-depth piece of molding will do the trick,” says interior designer Erica Leigh Reiner, owner of E. Leigh Designs.
Hang art on the walls
From family photos to DIY art, framed works can make a house feel like a home. Before mounting any work, homeowners should figure out where everything should be placed and the proper way to hang it. “Make sure the art you select is the right size and scale for the wall you’re decorating, and remember you don’t need artwork on every empty wall,” says Jillian. “If you feel creative, a great way to get inexpensive artwork is to create your own. Head to your local craft store and you can find everything you need to create a beautiful canvas or framed custom artwork.”
Accent with accessories
Magazines are a great source of home decorating ideas and inspiration for how to accessorize a room. However, homeowners should expect to shop around for a budget-friendly version of anything they see in a design magazine. “Accessories vary significantly in cost, but if you’re looking for a great deal there are plenty of discount home stores that offer stupendous finds, says Jillian. “My ‘go-to’ store for a lot of home design items (especially for clients on a budget) is HomeGoods.”
Create DIY “built-in” structures
The key to making any piece—from bookshelves to kitchen cabinets look custom is to have them fit into your home perfectly. The easiest way to achieve this look is to have them extend all the way from floor to ceiling. A bookshelf that spans an entire wall will almost always look more expensive than one that stands alone. Luckily, with a bit of forward planning, this project can be tackled in one or two weekends.
Update old fixtures
A quick and easy way to decorate on a dime is to update old fixtures, especially in the kitchen. Knobs, handles, drawer pulls, and light switch plates are small, inexpensive details that give your home a high-end sheen.
Throw a backsplash on it
A DIY backsplash is great for jazzing up a kitchen, bathroom, or laundry room without breaking the bank. This Majestic Ocean Mini Brick backsplash costs less than $10 for a square foot of crystallized glass, which come with mesh backing for an easy installation. If tiling a backsplash is too intimidating, consider creating an accent wall with a bright color paint.
Give the illusion of higher ceilings
If you can’t raise your roof, literally, you might consider raising your window treatments. Jillian suggests raising window panels to create an illusion of height and give it a grander feel. “Window treatment is often underrated and clients commonly overlook the impact it has on a space,” she says. “An inexpensive way to achieve this tip is to simply add fabric to your existing panels. Once you find the perfect complimentary fabric, simply take it to your local seamstress to have him/her add the fabric at the top, middle, or end of the fabric.”
Add visual space with a mirror or two
Your eyes—and potential buyers’ eyes—will be tricked into thinking a space is larger than it actually is with some sneaky mirror placement. Large mirrors will reflect the room back, making it appear more spacious—even twice its actual size.
Get rid of something super old or ugly
If a dated light fixture or piece of furniture constantly makes you groan, get rid of it. The project doesn’t have to break the budget: Drab wall colors can easily be painted, and outdated knobs and hardware can be inexpensively replaced. Even dated kitchen cabinets can be painted white and instantly brought out of the ’80s.
Use bookshelves for more than books
Lines of books don’t have to look like a stuffy library. “Intersperse with a few framed photos and interesting book ends,” says Ana Cummings, design expert on CTV’s Homes & Lifestyles Canada. “Make sure it is neat and tidy—that alone speaks volumes.”
Add an area rug
Area rugs can really transform a space. “Area rugs help ground furniture groupings, define rooms, and add more interest to an area,” Jillian says. “It is recommended that all of your furniture sit on the area rug, but at the very least, make sure the feet of your furniture are touching a portion of the rug.”
Make walls shine
Lustrous wallpaper adds dimension to an otherwise flat area. Go for just a hint of shine with a semi-gloss or luster sheen to keep it classy, not gaudy, says Reiner. “Stick to simple neutral or semi-neutral colors, but look for a paper with a hint of a shine the light can bounce off of,” she says.
Stick to classic neutral walls
When in doubt on paint color, choose a classic neutral. Colors like beige, gray, greige, and yellow will always look fresh and on trend. What’s more, they pair well with everything. Limit bold accent colors to accessories, and you’ll never have to repaint an entire room because a bright color choice got to be too much.
Choose deep colors
If neutral colors aren’t your thing, bold colors can scream “elegant” with a bigger punch, says interior designer Douglas Graneto. “Deep hues with shiny finishes are the way to go,” he says. “For example, a deep navy wall with gold and purple contrast within the decor can exude a glamorous energy that for sure can feel luxurious.”
Don’t match finishes perfectly, coordinate them
Certain stains and finishes play well with others (for example, cherry wood marries well with oak, and hickory blends tend to work well with almost everything), but the vast majority do not. If you’re looking to match your floor to your cabinets, or your faucets to your doorknobs, go for an exact match, or make a real contrast; aim for at least three shades darker or lighter. An almost match has the tendency to look cheap.
Splurge on statement pieces
Dining room tables, stand-out rugs, chandeliers, and sofas all have the ability to upgrade a home’s sense of luxury. Identify a few key pieces that you see and use often (especially if they’re ones that are visible from several other rooms) and decide if it makes sense to budget for a splurge. If you decide it’s a go, choose colors and fabrics that are easily cleaned and not easily stained or destroyed.
Light up the room
Natural lighting and source lighting is very important to a room. “Make sure you don’t block windows, and also be sure to add table and floor lamps throughout your space for a huge statement,” Jillian says. Big box stores sell light fixtures for about $50, but the look of a bigger room is priceless. Any pricey light fixtures might be better suited for your wedding registry.
Personalize your towels
Find plain white towels too ho-hum? Add a simple DIY detailing to basic towels to show off your signature style, suggests luxury interior designer Charmaine Wynter. “Just select a coordinating ribbon color and pull out your sewing machine,” she says.
Mix up your bedroom set
The easiest option won’t always pack the biggest punch. “If you have a dresser in a bedroom with a matching mirror, it makes the room much more interesting if you hang a different mirror over the dresser,” says Myrf Bowry, interior designer and cofounder of Decorum Inc. No need to throw that matching mirror out, she says; just hang it in another room.
Add volumunous accessories
Expensive items tend to have weight and volume to them (that’s why heavier gold bangles appear more luxurious than lighter ones that feel like—and possibly are—made of plastic). Avoid flimsiness at all costs: add an extra panel of curtains to your curtain rod, and search for quality carpets and throw blankets that great to the touch. Additionally, accessorize with weighty accent pieces; vases, picture frames, and ornaments should all feel like they’ve got something to them.
Opt for custom-fitted blinds
“Any badly fitting blind within the recess looks cheap if not sized correctly to the window,” says Nicola Croughan, lead interior designer and stylist at Blinds Direct. Spending just a little more on a made-to-measure style is much more elegant, she says. She recommends picking plush Roman blinds and wide-slat wood blinds, and says to pick a water-resistant roller blind for bathrooms and kitchens to prevent mold.
Create your own statement artwork
If your room lacks a preexisting focal point, create one using artwork. One option is to create a multi-panel piece (one picture blown up and printed onto three panels hung next to each other) or a gallery-type display of frames.
Keep your home clean
Follow the rule of threes (objects look best when organized in odd numbers, especially threes) and leave a generous amount of white space on your walls and surfaces. When it comes to looking luxe, less is always more. File paperwork out of sight, find a home for everything, and clear the clutter.
Up your thread count
No matter what your bedding style, increasing the thread count for your sheets will instantly make your sleep space more luxe, says Wynter. Your home won’t just look expensive—it will feel it.
Add a centerpiece
No need to wait for a dinner party to elevate your usual table setting. Something as simple as fresh-cut flowers can make it seem like you’ve put time and effort into your dinner table, says Henry.
Hunt for real stone
Real granite and limestone countertops look much more luxe than your typical acrylic, but unfortunately their prices usually reflect that. If you’re willing to do a bit of hunting, though, you might be able to slash the price tag, says Bowry. “You can sometimes find a great deal on a real stone top at your local stone yard, in the remnant section,” she says.
Focus on faucets
If you only have room in the budget for one high-end bathroom feature, make it a quality tap. Pairing it with plain, wallet-friendly tiles will actually highlight the money spent, says interior designer René Dekker. “If you look in the window of any high-end jewelry store, you will see that the finely crafted items, the gold and diamonds, are always displayed against plain neutral backgrounds which show them off much better … the same concept will work in your bathroom,” he says.
If you have a dining room table you don’t use unless company is visiting, keep the settings there to fake your way to looking like a master host. “A staged tablescape will make the space feel more elegant,” says Henry.
Don’t put form above function
A gorgeous new couch won’t look chic when kids and pets ruin it. That said, durable doesn’t have to be drab. Kelly Barnett, lead designer for Jillian O’Neill Collective in Chicago, recommends indoor/outdoor Sunbrella fabrics and Restoration Hardware’s Perennials line for attractive pieces that can withstand some wear and tear. “I’ve cleaned red wine off of my West Elm performance velvet swivel chairs with a baby wipe,” she says. “These fabrics are extremely durable and give upholstered pieces a much higher-end look than the old microfibers.”
Pick basic bedding
You might think deep-hued satins would be key to an expensive-looking bedding set, but keeping it simple will make the room seem bigger since the bed takes up so much space. “Keep the duvet covers white and you’ll instantly feel the lightness of the room,” says Isobel McKenzie, editor of interior design site NONAGON.style. Bonus: Whites can handle hotter temperatures, so that deep clean will make sheets look extra-crisp, she says.
Give boring products a worthy home
Even cleaning products deserve luxury treatment. “Ditch your plastic Dawn bottle and pour your favorite dish soap into a glass hand soap dispenser,” says Wynter. “Voila! Instant luxe.”
Up the fluff factor
An inexpensive throw pillow will seem so much more luxurious when you replace the original insides with a feather insert. “They just look and feel so much better than foam,” says Cummings.
Ditch the old toothbrush holder
Upgrading your toothbrush holder and soap dish is a low-cost way to add flair to your bathroom. Pick a sleek, modern set that matches the rest of your décor, suggests interior designer Dayna Hairston, founder of Dayziner.
Pick basic dishes
Shelling out on fine china isn’t the only way to create a stunning table setting. “White dishes … have a low price tag with a high impact,” says Henry. Pair them with gold flatware for a trendy, high-brow look.
Keep toys to a minimum
It’s easy to let toys take over the whole house, so Barnett has a rule that big toys need to stay in bedrooms and the basement. Once those are out of sight, board games and crayons won’t seem so obtrusive—especially if they stay in their homes.
Seek out softness
“Velvet or velour has both a luxurious feel and look,” says Croughan. “In fact, most soft-to-touch fabrics work best.” Go bold with a deep jewel tone or pair a neutral color scheme with pastel “ice cream shades” like mint green or blush, she says.
Shed some light
Quit making lighting a second thought, says McKenzie. “Very often in luxury homes and apartments, you’ll find that the lighting is subtly done but brings your attention to certain areas,” she says. Installing warm LED strip lighting on top of a bookshelf or under a mirror adds interest and dimension.
Hunt around for new options
When you find a bed or couch you love, you might be tempted to buy the whole set to guarantee a good match, but that can look cheap, says Bowry. “All homes are much more interesting if things coordinate but are not all matchy-matchy,” she says.
Hiking up the size of your décor creates a big impression, even if the pieces aren’t too pricy, says Gail Dunnett, CEO of design firm Studio D. “We love to use large-scale art and décor, like a massive canvas that takes up an entire wall or a well-oversized thick-framed mirror that leans against the wall instead of hanging, to create a space that’s impactful, memorable and grand,” she says.
Create a gallery wall
A well composed gallery wall will exude elegance, thoughtfulness and will stand out to visitors,” says interior designer Jillian O’Neill. A gallery wall can pack a big punch and highlight the effort you put into your décor, but they can look like a mish-mosh if they aren’t designed well. To create a cohesive look with minimal effort, choose frames that work together. Picking two or three colors like black and gold or silver and white will help the display look coordinated, even if the pictures inside don’t match as much, says O’Neill.
Don’t go overboard on color
Sprinkling just one or two accent colors throughout the home will add a pop that looks cohesive without going over the top. “Adding too much color will immediately make it feel shabby chic or Boho, which is nice but a very different vibe than luxe,” says Henry.
Brighten up the laundry room
Don’t ignore design in your laundry room just because you don’t love spending time there. “Laundry rooms are a great room to paint a fun color that you may be scared to use other places,” says Bowry. “Rugs and artwork also make the room more inviting.” She recommends parents hang their kids’ artwork there. Your little ones will feel special with their art displayed proudly, but you can keep your pricier pieces in the rooms guests see.
Refresh instead of replacing
A fresh coat of paint isn’t the only DIY you can use to liven up a drab space. Staining your kitchen cabinets will give them a whole new look and won’t set your budget back by much, says interior designer Blima Ehrentreu, CEO of The Designers Group. “We often like to two-tone our kitchen design,” she says. “It adds a unique quality to the cabinetry.”
Add interest to a bathroom
Living rooms aren’t the only rooms that can benefit from a statement wall. Creating one in the bathroom will create a big impact where guests won’t expect it. “By changing up a wall with a different color or tile, it gives the space a subtle and distinctive design element,” says Ehrentreu.
Pay attention to details
Your furniture and appliance choices might be the first things people notice, but giving details special attention makes it seem like you spent even more time and money creating your space. “Switching out small fixtures and hardware in the home for more thoughtful pieces can make the design of the home feel more intentional, which, in turn, makes it feel more expensive,” says designer Justina Blakenly, founder of Jungalow. Replace a dated flush mount light with a modern style, or swap plastic wall plates for metal, she suggests.
Create a vignette
Otherwise “dead space” can be dressed up to make the whole room look more styled. “Areas like coffee tables, consoles, empty corners of a kitchen counter … are all prime real estate for a well dressed vignette,” says Cummings.
Harmonize with color
Creating the perfect color palette is more complicated than grabbing three of your favorite colors, but taking the time to perfect your color scheme will make your home look worthy of a catalogue. “I advise my clients to focus on a color family, or to pick hues that complement each other—not contrast,” says designer Gil Walsh, author of Gil Walsh Interiors: A Case for Color. “Too many bold colors or a soft palette that lacks depth tends to fall flat.”
Show off wood floors
Replace carpeting with hardwood floors to make your space feel bigger, suggests Hairston. “Carpet tends to trap in dust and particulates and absorbs moisture which can leave an odor,” she says. “Hard surface flooring is easier to clean, is allergy-friendly, and can provide a more updated and modern look to your home.” Layered area rugs will add more visual interest than floor-to-floor carpeting.