High Style, Low Budget


Instead of leaving the ceiling white, designer Keith Baltimore adds visual inserts with a bold stripe pattern.

Executing a great interior with a top designer, an inexhaustible budget and a grand abode is easy. Don’t have any of those? Don’t fret. Armed with smart tips from the pros, creating rooms with high style is attainable. All it takes is a little extra effort and some sleuthing. Learn the tricks to make any space look larger, ceilings feel higher and even turn a small, awkward nook into a cozy den. It can be done and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

Be an Editor
Executing a great design isn’t always about putting more stuff into a room. Freshen up a space by carefully editing furniture and accessories. “Edit, edit, edit,” said Keith Baltimore of Baltimore Design Group in Port Washington. “It’s all about editing.” He feels the way to make a room look its best it to rethink and rearrange existing furniture. If the budget is tight, choose one main piece and have it reupholstered. “Decide where you’ll get the most bang for your buck. A good [interior] paint job for your home, for example, does wonders.” Angela Enrico of A. Sofia Interiors in Oceanside agreed that too much furniture—or furniture that’s too big—makes a room look smaller. Scale is an important factor and a larger piece of furniture might work better in another room. That goes for window treatments too. “Use panels to frame a window,” she said. “The look is fresher and more updated.”

Most of all, cut the clutter. “Let’s face it,” said Enrico. “We all have four or more remote controls. Get a decorative box to accommodate them all and place it on the coffee table as an accessory.” She likes using an ottoman with storage inside to hide things like magazines, extra blankets, CDs and DVDs.

Repurpose and Reuse
Some pieces of furniture simply go out of style and the armoire is one of them. But just because wall-mounted fl at TVs are the new norm, there’s no reason to ship an unused armoire off to Goodwill—although that’s a great way to de-clutter. Baltimore advises removing the doors, upholstering the inside and turning it into a bar. East Hampton-based designer Jan Lee found a beat-up credenza that was completely lacking drawer pulls and handles and sent it out to a spray paint finisher for a professional paint job. “Small details make all the difference,” said Lee. “The piece had an upscale look at a budget price.”

There are lots of sources for unusual design elements, which is where personality can really come to the fore. Simon’s Hardware in Manhattan is well known for its huge selection of beautifully crafted drawer pulls and handles, as well as online sites like Woodworkers Hardware and knobs.com. “Special details set things apart,” said Rebecca Goodman of Lola Tucker Interiors in Sea Cliff . To make a piece of furniture look more expensive, she uses pulls made of precious stones, antler or leather. She’s especially attracted to beautiful lamp finials and lately she’s been using ones made from quartz. Goodman’s tip is to buy an inexpensive lamp in Target or Home Goods, give it a chic new finial and a good lampshade.

Get a handle on things with specialty pulls.

When treasure hunting at yard sales, thrift-stores or consignment shops, look for furniture that’s in good condition and is structurally sound. Remember that a classic look can be updated with new upholstery or a contemporary paint job.

Color Outside the Lines
Paint can work miracles and offers endless possibilities for totally changing the look of any room. Annemarie di Salvo of di Salvo Interiors in Carle Place has a great way to update built-in bookcases. In a home office, she painted the insides a moss green to contrast the buttery shade of the millwork. This can also be an inexpensive way to introduce a bold color you may not have the courage to add otherwise. “The best part,” she said, “is that it’s so inexpensive and so transformative. For a $30 gallon of paint, you’ve changed your room dramatically.”

Other designers have taken it a step further and made book covers to spruce up collections. This can turn the shelves into an art installation of sorts, by using either a pattern—for instance, nautical themed wallpaper—that moves as books get shuffled. Color coding can visually streamline the room when sticking to a limited shade and using one hue per subject grouping or cubby of the book case, like using only blue tones that create visual blocks of sky blue, turquoise, aqua, navy, peacock, royal, etc. To brighten the wall and make the room pop, organize books to follow ROYGBIV from left to right.

To make a room’s ceiling look higher, take a cue from Baltimore—he has walls painted with vertical stripes. And he likes coating the ceiling in black to make it disappear altogether. A small, narrow room can appear wider with thin, horizontal stripes. Generally, painting a room a lighter color makes it feel larger, but that’s not always the case. “I think you can paint a room a darker color as long as you have very light contrasting colors,” Enrico said. “If all the furniture is a light color and the walls are a dark color, this can be a great look and not necessarily make the room look small.” Another way to make an upscale statement, no matter what color the room, is to paint all the trim and molding white.


Details, Details, Details
Small architectural details can be the finishing touch that makes a room look posh. One that can be used in a variety of ways is crown molding. It comes in many sizes, styles and materials. (Learn more about molding by reading Moldings with Oomph at lipulse.com). Molding creates a floating frame on the ceiling and calls attention to itself, directing the eyes upward and creating the appearance of raising the ceiling. Add it to the tops of kitchen cabinets for a more finished look or above window frames to make them seem richer. Other types of trim can be used to create wainscoting, which can make a dining room feel more formal and stately or beadboard for the casual, country look.

Don’t have a cozy den? Even a tiny nook can be transformed into a lovely sitting room. Make a faux fireplace using heavy crown molding as a mantel and door trim on either side. Line the opening with ceramic tile, add large candles at different heights to create the “fire” and hang a mirror above it. An armchair upholstered with a remnant of luxurious fabric and an inexpensive floor lamp complete the thought.

annette rose-shapiro

annette rose-shapiro

Annette Rose-Shapiro writes about decor, interior design, art and architecture. She is currently working on a short documentary about the creative process.