Decorating: Where to scrimp, when to splurge


Akron Beacon Journal

When it comes to decorating our homes, our choices are many.

From flea markets to furniture stores, from Costco to custom manufacturers, sources abound for furniture and accessories that can add function and style to our rooms.

But with so many price points to choose from, how do we know where to spend and where to splurge?

I turned to Lauri Ward for guidance.

Ward is the mother of interior redesign, the concept of decorating by rearranging and reusing things you already own. She’s president of Use What You Have Interiors, a design firm in Boca Raton and New York, and the founder with her husband of the Interior Redecorators Network (, an organization of decorators who are trained and certified in her methods. She’s also written four books on interior redesign, including Use What You Have Decorating and Downsizing Your Home With Style.

As the nature of her work implies, Ward doesn’t advocate spending with abandon. Many times, you can find what you need just by “shopping” your own home, she said. It just requires developing an ability to look at your possessions with new eyes and see their potential.

But sometimes, she said, paying more for good-quality pieces is a smart investment that saves money in the long run.

“If you get good basics and classic pieces … they will just always hold on,” she said.

Ward said she would put money into a good-quality seating in clean-lined, classic styles and solid colors — no exaggerated rolled arms, no plaids or prints that won’t stand the test of time. You can always update sofas and chairs with inexpensive throw pillows that can be replaced or recovered whenever your tastes change.

Ward believes armless chairs are smart for the living and dining rooms, especially in smaller spaces. Armless dining chairs let you fit two people at each end of the table on holiday dinners, she noted. In the living room, armless upholstered chairs take up less space than bigger chairs with arms, and you can get into them from three sides, not just one.

She’d also invest in a sturdy bench for its versatility. It can go in your living room, in your entry or at the end of your bed, and it can be moved into the dining room for extra seating when company comes. She prefers an unupholstered bench, because it’s more durable and flexible than an upholstered one.

And don’t cut corners when it comes to beds, she said. As with seating pieces, choose something with clean lines and classic styling. It’s much cheaper to update with bed linens than to buy new.

So where can you scrimp?

Accessories are a good place, she said — things like accent pillows, picture frames and decorative items that can be replaced when styles change without great expense. You can even buy different covers for throw pillows so you can change your room with the seasons, she said.

Rugs are another good place to save, Ward said. It’s cheaper to change a rug than a roomful of furniture, yet a new rug can give a room a new style direction or color scheme. And decent rugs can be had without a big financial outlay, she said.

Ward thinks repurposed pieces are also a great way to save. Accent pieces such as occasional tables and lamps can be had for a bargain at tag sales, estate sales, thrift shops and similar sources, and sometimes the quality is equal to or better than pieces purchased new.

A small chest with either drawers or shelves hidden by doors is an especially good investment, she said. It can be used as an entry table, a bar or an accent table.

Pieces with air underneath are smart buys, too, because that open area is potential storage space, she said. Put an attractive basket under an end table, for example, and you have a place to keep magazines, electronic gadgets or anything else you need to store.

Don’t be deterred by out-of-date styling or an unattractive finish. “You put some white paint on it, and suddenly it looks fabulous,” she said.

But do look for matching pairs, she advised. Ward is a proponent of what she jokingly calls the Imelda Marcos rule, named for the former Philippine first lady and infamous shoe hoarder: You can never have too many pairs.

Pairs, she said, give balance to even the most awkwardly laid out room and satisfy our innate need for symmetry. So by using pairs of chairs, end tables, pillows, lamps and other items, we can make our rooms more pleasing to the eye and comfortable to be in.

And that’s what decorating should be all about.

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