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10 Affordable Interior Design Upgrades You Can Do Today

When SN and I bought our first home in 2007, we loved that it had an open floor plan, a two car garage, and was on a large corner lot in a desirable part of Albuquerque. We also loved...well, that was about it. Ours was just another plain box in our cookie cutter neighborhood, featuring the same white walls and not much else as all our neighbors. We spent the next few years upgrading our home and, when we sold it last year, the result of our effort was a 4-way bidding war.

We were just poor college kids back then. Here are a few of the affordable improvements we made.


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Budget Interior Design Idea #1
Swap out some of your mirrors.

affordable mirrors
More photos of our Budget Master Bathroom Remodel

See the fancy mirrors above? Everyone thinks they're from Ballard Designs. Ours are actually from Michaels, which marks all of their mirrors down 50% every few weeks. These were about $35 each. We followed this same design rule for the mirrors in our new luxury home, forgoing the expensive mirrors our custom builder usually installed and instead supplying our own. We saved a fortune.

Budget Interior Design Idea #2
Upgrade some of your mirrors with decorative trim and moulding.

how to trim a mirror
You know those enormous wall-to-wall mirrors that come standard in builder-boring homes? I cringe when I see people on HGTV taking a sledgehammer to them. Giant mirrors make your home seem larger and they amplify available lighting, whether from a fixture or through a window. Rather than destroy them, easily upgrade their appearance by gluing decorative trim directly to the glass. Just be sure to paint or stain the front and the back, as you will see some of the back reflected.

Side note: I also cringe when I see an ad for MirrorMate Frames in a decorating magazine. I could've been rich!

Budget Interior Design Idea #3
Fake a tray ceiling.

how to fake a tray ceiling
A faux tray ceiling in your bedroom beats the heck out of a plain one. Simply choose a paint color that is darker than your wall color and separate the two with a piece of trim. In the photo above, we used Valspar Cream in my Coffee on the walls and as the border on the ceiling and Valspar Toffee Crunch for the "recessed" (but not really) portion of the ceiling. We painted the trim to match the baseboard.

Budget Interior Design Idea #4
Use designer wallpaper in small doses.

blue bedroom with wallpaper headboard
Rather than pay for several rolls of wallpaper, which would have been overwhelming in our guest bedroom anyway, I bought only one and used it to create a headboard. We used decorative trim as a border and painted the rest of the room a matching blue. Wallpaper is having a design moment right now and the current options include features like 3-dimensional texture, metallic and glitter finishes, flocking, and water resistance. There are even options that are easy to remove - perfect for apartment dwellers, indecisive folks, and anyone who has ever lost their mind trying to scrape away old wallpaper little by little.

Budget Interior Design Idea #5
Chair rail adds big luxury for a small price.

living room upgrade on a budget
Have you noticed a trend here? Trim and moulding are a budget designers best friend! It costs almost nothing, it can be painted or stained whatever color you need, and it comes in lots of sizes and patterns. Can you imagine the living room above without the chair rail? Our "crown molding" is also a frugal find - it's actually less expensive baseboard, just installed around the ceiling.

Budget Interior Design Idea #6
Don't pay full price for paint.

paint color
Paint is an inexpensive way to infuse personality into your home, especially when you take advantage of sales and mail-in rebates. You can find the best deal of all by periodically checking the mistinted paints available at your local hardware store. These are perfectly good buckets of paint that were mixed but not purchased. The color above was perfect for my husband's office and it was only $5 a gallon at Lowes. You can also find paint at ReStore, which is owned by Habitat for Humanity and is a great resource for a renovation, though their paint is not usually brand-new like the mistints.

Budget Interior Design Idea #7
Create privacy with lattice fencing.

affordable way to add privacy to a yard
When we moved into our home, one of the first things we did was price raising the block wall in our backyard. The estimate was outrageous, especially considering we'd just put all our savings into buying the house. A much less expensive option was to install weather-resistant vinyl lattice on the sides of our covered patio. Unlike raising the wall, this privacy solution didn't even require the approval of our homeowner's association.

Budget Interior Design Idea #8
Decals cost almost nothing.

welcome decal on a red front door
The charming "WELCOME" decal on our front door? It was only a buck at Dollar Tree. I hadn't been sure I would like it, but for the price it seemed worth a try, plus decals can be easily removed without affecting paint. Since moving into our new home last year, I've picked up a few more decals from Dollar Tree, including three colorful cactus that cheerfully surprise anyone who open our white kitchen cabinets.

Budget Interior Design Idea #9
Up the WOW factor of a room with a wallpaper mural.

how to decorate with wallpaper
It's hard to imagine our dining room without the tulips on each side of the fireplace. A single wallpaper mural divided in half, it was only around $100 from Home Depot. Be warned, however, that one affordable addition to your decor can lead to more and more spending - the mural required that we spray paint our chairs to match, which required a new rug under the table, which required a nicer chandelier, which of course required replacing the tile surrounding the fireplace, and so on.

We loved our wallpaper mural so much that installing another was one of the first improvements we made to our new home.

Budget Interior Design Idea #10
Add a small patch of (always) green grass.

faux grass idea
I loved looking out our kitchen window at the green grass in our yard every summer. It was also lovely dappled with snow every January. And it was the most beautiful of all while listening to the neighbors mow their lawn again and again and again. Once you've had AstroTurf, you'll never go back. It's already a budget-friendly option when you factor in all the things you won't have to buy to maintain it, but the upfront investment can be lowered by purchasing remnants from a landscaping store, as we did.

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