Four Simple and Inexpensive Ways to Decorate Your New Home or Apartment

After a move, you’ve got blank walls and an empty wallet. Here are four updates that don’t cost a lot but will seriously transform your new pad.

3997823059_d75c5bd18f_zCongrats! You finally moved into your new crib. We bet after paying for movers, closing costs, or first month’s rent plus a security deposit, you don’t have a lot of money left over for Jonathan Adler furniture.

But don’t worry. You don’t have to deck out your new digs with leftovers from mom’s house. We asked interior designer Kathryn Cherne, owner of Design Inside, an affordable Chicago interior design firm, for tips on how to make your new place look less like Charlie and Frank’s apartment on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and more like Downton Abbey.

1. Before you hit the stores, organize your closets.

Your first impulse may be to hit up Goodwill or Home Depot, but Cherne suggests spending some time straightening up your closets first. “Get them organized so you can maximize storage and give yourself more living space to decorate,” she says.

Target offers a variety of inexpensive closet organizers and cubes. Handy? Get out your drill. If your closet only has one hanging bar, add a lower one so you can add more clothing to the lower half.

2. Update the light fixtures.

“Most houses and apartments come with builder basic lighting,” says Cherne. “Changing them is easy and can make a place look chic.”

For the best lighting deals, Cherne recommends checking out the following stores and web sites:

  • The Dump: This furniture outlet sells high-end décor at discount prices. Hopefully, one of their 11 locations is located near you. But if not…
  • Wayfair: This online retailer sells “a zillion things for the home.”
  • Consignment stores: A step up from thrift shops like Goodwill, consignment stores generally offer higher-quality goods. You can find furniture consignment stores here.

3. Make your own furniture – it’s easier than you think!

You don’t need to be a HGTV expert to master DIY décor. “Always ask yourself, ‘What do I need a piece to do?’” Cherne suggests. “Then try to think of creative and inexpensive ways to do that. For example, a coffee table is just a flat surface and something that holds it up. You can get a piece of glass and use books as legs.  Paint them all same color and lacquer them.”

Cherne admits that it’s hard to come up with such creative ideas on your own. So she suggests browsing though etsy and houzz for inspiration.

4. Change knobs and handles.

Updating the look of your place and furniture can be as easy as replacing cabinet, door and furniture knobs. “I had a client who was going to throw away an old dresser, but I stopped him. We replaced the wooden knobs with crystal ones, cleaned it up a bit, and the dresser looked new,” she says.

You can get new knobs for under $1 each at Home Depot, bid for vintage knobs on eBay, or scrounge around garage sales.

What budget décor tricks do you recommend?


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About Patty Lamberti

Patty Lamberti is a freelance writer and Professional-in-Residence at Loyola University Chicago, where she teaches journalism and oversees the graduate program in digital media storytelling. If she doesn't know something about money, you can trust she'll track down the right people to find out. You can learn more about her at And if you have any story ideas, or questions about money etiquette that you'd like her or an expert to answer, email her at


  1. These are great tips and ones that can work for anyone interested in updating their place or giving it a new look. You can find some true treasures if you know where to look and you listed some great places, such as the consignment stores. Not to mention all of these tips are great for that tight budget, or the frugal shopper.

  2. My biggest tip aligns with number 3: Avoid the temptation to buy cheap flat package furniture and recycle/refurbish! Particle board bookshelves and coffee tables will often become “one time use” pieces that will either a) stain, chip, and warp in short time or b) break/fall apart during your next move. Craigslist and your relatives will more than likely have quality (and hard wood) furniture that will shine and last with a little TLC!

  3. Second that. Unless it is a $20 emergency bookcase, never buy any particle board/veneered furniture. Walmart or Target are prime offenders of this. The (often substantial) extra expense for true hardwood is worth it as you will keep it for decades.