Graduate Blog

Instant impact, pocket-money prices: Home décor on a budget


Everywhere you look nowadays, you see articles explaining how to save money through recycling, upcycling, swap-shopping and all-round general bargain hunting.

The list of ways to save is exhaustive, and it mainly applies to consumables such as food, clothes and beauty products. Designing a home on the cheap, however, isn’t such a hot topic.

During my student years I rented several cheap apartments, all with the same decorative mainstays of magnolia and MDF. (And mushrooming mould spores, and fly infestations, and neighbours with quirky nocturnal hobbies. But that’s a whole other story.)

With rental contracts and budget constraints preventing you from letting loose with the paint brushes, it can be hard to make a rental property feel like home. With this in mind, I’ve produced a rundown of cheap but effective design tweaks that can transform rooms and create talking points.

For the truly thrifty among you, here are my favourite methods:

–          Hand-me-downs. If you’ve been meaning to connect with your dear Aunt Donna or weird Uncle Steve but can never find the words, now’s the time to drop a text their way. Chances are that they’ll have some disused homeware goodies stored away that they’d be happy to offload on you. They might see your predicament as an incentive to treat themselves to some upgrades or – if they’re feeling extra generous – treat you to a housewarming gift.

1fairylights–          Fairy lights are both plush and practical and there are tonnes of kooky designs available. A quick eBay search will bring up designs ranging from dainty floral gardenias to ironic pink flamingos. As well as adding free-spirited flair to your dwelling, they provide an air of intimacy you just won’t get from a clinical ceiling light.

TIP: Carefully twist the lights around your bed’s headboard or drape over a mantelpiece for a gorgeous alternative to a bedside or living room lamp.


–          Bring nature inside. A few strategically-placed houseplants can turn even the filthiest hovel into a bohemian boudoir or a poet’s paradise. Not only that, but plants are a healthy choice too with air-purifying qualities. Just remember to water them!

TIP: A line of fresh live herb plants on the kitchen windowsill looks great and means you can impress guests with fresh basil on your pizza. Roasting a chicken? Now earrrybody got thyme fo’ dat!


–          IKEA. It’s the retail monolith everyone loves to hate, but this flat-pack kingdom is chock full of practical bargains. Proof? Recently I picked up a coffee table, an uplighter, a bedspread, a full set of kitchen utensils and crockery and a set of curtains for under £25. I even had change for a bucketload of hotdogs and a cup of lingonberry juice. Mmm, refreshing.

TIP: Find out what your local IKEA’s ‘Offer of the Week’ is. That’s how I bagged my £1.50 coffee table and £3.50 bedspread.

1table–              Dual-purpose furniture. Save space and money with dual-purpose furniture. I’ve noticed many high street retailers selling these stools-cum-coffee tables-cum huge storage boxes that look great. You can fill them with books or blankets for those impromptu sleepovers.


–          Posters. If you’ve graduated and you’re setting up home, you might feel it’s time to become more mature in the poster stakes. Go for visually stimulating posters such as prints from your favourite artists, vintage advertisements, classic film posters and emotive photography. Got a little extra cash? Frame it and pretend you own the original. Still a student? You win extra student points if your walls feature ubiquitous pop culture references from Trainspotting, Pulp Fiction, The Beatles, Jack Daniels whisky or Bob Marley.

TIP: Rental rules say no hooks in the walls? No problem. Perch picture frames on shelves, mantelpieces and cabinets for the same effect.


–          Old-fashioned furniture. If your new pad comes unfurnished, you might have to scavenge for furniture. Find big-ticket items such as sofas and dining sets on eBay and Gumtree. Outdated pieces are less sought after and therefore command lower prices. I bought an outrageously comfortable mint green sofa for £15 on eBay. Be warned, however: second hand furniture ranges from tastefully timeless to downright fugly. Be prepared to tart things up with throws, scatter cushions and tablecloths.

TIP: You can hire a van from as little as £15.00 per day. Convince friends or family members to help with the driving and heavy lifting and remind them of the calories they’ll burn!


1candle–          Cheap mood lighting. Interior lighting sets a room’s tone and can have a lasting impact on your mood. Scented candles are a good starting point as they’re cheap and smell amazing. Paper hanging lanterns look great and cost mere pence to buy. Hang a few lanterns of varying sizes from the ceiling to create a cool solar system-inspired focal point.

TIP: Arrange pillar candles in a vignette of different sizes to add a dramatic touch to side tables, hearths and bathroom windowsills.

About the Author

Jordan Brough Jordan Brough

I graduated with a first in Journalism from Teesside University in 2013 and work as a professional blogger. I yearn for my student days and have forgotten what it’s like to be up past 11pm.

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