Updated: Feb 8, 2019
Accommodating Dom Perignon taste on a Rainier budget is also known as the fabulous look of being nearly penniless. Let's talk about creating high style with low dollars, particularly for first-time home buyers.
I have the perfect case study: my own house. Last summer, I purchased a perfectly charmless, beige 1995 townhouse on a cul-de-sac in beautiful Silverdale, Washington. As my sweetheart would say, "No architects were harmed in the making of this building." Exactly. It was as bleak as Washington winter days are dark.
As a single, working mother of four, I had not considered the possibility of home ownership, but rentals were scarce ya’ll! My landlords wanted their house back, and I couldn't find a dang thing to rent. Enter my favorite and amazing realtor and BFF: Terri Kaminski. She convinced me to give a mortgage broker a call to see what I qualified for. I was astounded to discover that I could purchase my very own home. We walked through this dog and made an offer that night. I had zero inspiration for this place, but the mortgage would be equal to any rent I was finding, and I have always known that real estate is a fantastic long-term financial investment.
Cue the before and after pics:
Out of sheer necessity in the early days of being young and poor, I became a hunter and gatherer of beautiful things everywhere I could find them. Saint Vincent’s, vintage markets, garage sales, hand-me-downs, Grandma's stuff, and of course, Target and IKEA. Paint is cheap and makes a huge difference. Lighting completely changes the atmosphere of any room. Pieces collected over time create stories, mystery, and whimsy in your spaces. Old with new. Vintage with modern. High with low.
While waiting for the arrival of my POD filled with all my worldly goods, I first ripped down the ridiculous bank of cabinets that were blocking the oxygen and sight lines between the kitchen and dining room. Then, I removed that little shelf-y countertop that effectively prohibited the use of a dining room table in the already small and narrow space. Plus, it was tacky. Sometimes, you can radically alter a space by taking something away, which doesn't cost a dime.
Point being: creating a fabulous space does not require a fabulous bank account. In the dining room "after" pic above, you will see a chandelier made from ashtrays and a hub cap, and a table that my sweetie made with reclaimed wood whose first life was concrete forms (there are still small chunks of concrete on the wood, holes from nails, and discoloration — I love it!).
You will also see an art wall of original pieces drawn by my Grandpa and framed at Jo-Ann (60% off with the app), and others purchased at the Rotary Auction & Rummage Sale for $5 each. Find the Mid-Century sideboard from St. Vincent de Paul, and chairs purchased at a vintage market and spray painted yellow. Look at the new fridge that I got for 40% off at a Home Depot sale. Spot the fantastic peel-y paint cabinet that we ripped out of a house that we were remodeling, and kept after I started stripping the paint and decided that I loved the layers of history instead.
If you are open to creative collecting, either on your own or with the expert guidance and trained eye of a design pro (that's me — I know, a little heavy-handed with the sales pitch), I promise you: your house can be breathtaking. Every house should have a tree in it. That beauty in the left corner was a thank you gift from a happy client. The gray sofa on the left was from St. Vincent’s, re-upholstered (splurge), but has lasted ten years so far, and the sofa on the right, from the Rotary Auction, was $5. The amazing coffee table is an Indonesian import belonging to my love. If we ever break up, I get the table, and he keeps my kids. Ha.
In the above before-and-after photos, I want to point out that this is all lipstick on a pig. The kitchen counter, sink, and cabinets are all original. Note the gorgeous curtains: Ikea fabric, $5.99/yard. Grand total for all the curtains: $180. Big teal lamp, St. Vincent’s: $23; Crow lamp, Target: $39; Pink French press, Goodwill: $6; Letter mugs, Anthropologie: gift from a sister. Other stuff: vintage market.
Here, we did some wall removal. The existing closet/pantry was a real eyesore and wasn’t very efficient storage. Besides that, the fridge was so wide that it had to be pulled out into the room to open the doors. I also had this cool cabinet that I have used as a dining hutch in other houses (I put it on wheels to move it around on a whim). We delivered a great punch when we painted all the interior (hollow-core plastic) doors a mustard yellow color.
Being in a 1995 cut-de-sac townhouse, we do not have things like built-ins to showcase my trinkets, art, and books. I searched for six months for the perfect cabinet to fit between the windows. I wanted to emphasize the height of the room. I found this one at Sugar Flower Market, and it was perfect! I snatched it up, even though one of the doors didn’t really open, the bottom was falling off, and vintage dirt was smeared on the ancient, wavy glass. In order to get the right height, we turned an old pie safe from my garage on its side and used it as a pedestal. The flower art is Carrie Goller giclee. Original oil paintings above fireplace and in cabinet: $100/each, bought second-hand. Candles, throw pillows, and sheepskin: Ikea. Planter head: Target: $29. All other tchotchkes, vintage or hand-me-down: from Grandma.
One thing to note here: this is a very compact space. What it lacks in square footage, it makes up for in height. You may find that the quirky elements of your not-so-perfect new home can be played up to a major advantage. Also, note what did NOT get changed: the nasty, stained, white original to 1995 carpet that I swore to replace immediately — still there. It's been cleaned and covered with all manner of area rug, but it is still on the to-do list.
More to note on what did not change: the paint color. When I moved in, I couldn't put my finger on the wall color. Was it yellow? Beige? Baby-butt flesh color? Coupled with celery-sage green trim and the palest of pale mint green doors,… what do I even say about that? I set about painting some dramatically dark ceilings in the spaces that I could reach (hall, kitchen, and dining room) and repainted the accompanying walls in those rooms a gray with very slight purplish undertone. The double-height living room and staircase was too much to tackle, so it is here for now. I will hire that out. The trim was painted white, the doors mustard, and all of a sudden, the wall color just didn't seem like that big of a deal.
Items in living room stair after pic: Huge Idaho geological map, Re-Store: $1. Pink frame, Jo-Ann: $160. Paintings: my grandpa, my daughter Josie, and vintage paint by numbers ($4 at St. Vincent’s). Taxidermy: gift from my dad's second cousin down in bayou country. Fox lamp, Target: $39. Chair in foreground: family heirloom. Incredible speaker lab 7 Speakers: vintage.
By now, you get the point. Your Rainier-in-a-Solo-cup budget can achieve your Dom-Perignon-in-cut-crystal-flute dreams. This, my friends, is the fabulous look of being nearly penniless.
If you need help elevating your style or getting this look, you can connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on facebook, instagram or Pinterest. I am happily designing my life away at Christine Werlin Design & Decor and invite you to check out our website.