Cheap, Cheaper, Cheapest

By December 22, 2010Creative Ideas

Several years ago I proposed a book title, “Leslie Linsley’s Cheap, Cheaper, Cheapest: Decorating with Fabulous Knockoffs” to my literary agent. I am known for “good design at reasonable prices” and this new book was to be about getting the most value for your money by choosing the best-designed items for every room in your home at a cost anyone could afford. For example, if one needs a lamp, one of the best selections of all-purpose, well-designed lamps can be found through the Restoration Hardware catalog. Their lamps, designed to work in any room, come in a variety of classic styles and in different heights. They cost in the $300. dollar range. However, every year in September the company offers them at discount for around 25-35% off the original cost. At little over $200. dollars they represent a good buy. If this is still more than one wants to spend, you can find cheaper lamps of similar design and lesser quality for under $100. dollars at Home Depot. It may not look quite as good, but good enough and still well-designed for the price. If that is still an extravagant purchase, you can buy really good replacement shades for existing lamps for around twenty dollars and your lamps will look refreshed.

The point of the book was to tell readers how to find the best designs in all areas of home furnishings, how much they cost, where to find really good copies of each of these items, how much they cost and then offering yet another option for a great knock-off at a fraction of the cost. This was not to be a comparison-shopping guide but rather a book of strategies for getting the look at a comfortable price point. Even with my track record of over 60 published books, thirty-two publishers turned down the proposal.  Most of them expressed the point of view that surely the economy was not quite as dire as predicted and was about to spike upward. We know it didn’t.  By all accounts from many of my suppliers of home furnishing goods the economy, at least in New England is getting better. Their wholesale sales are up from two years’ ago and this is a positive thing to hear.

That said,  it is a fact – our economic situation has affected everyone, even those with high income status. It has become extremely fashionable to be money savvy. Finding ways to keep the status quo by using clever ways to do what we always took for granted in a more economical way has become a source of pride. Everyone likes to live well, to have a nice home and to decorate it with style and taste. But this may not be possible for the majority of Americans. Everyone knows that beyond basic furnishings such as a bed, something to sit on and a table, we don’t have to buy home furnishings. But over the last decade we’ve been exposed through the media and the fabulous stores and homes on the island to beautiful things and many of us have attempted to decorate our rooms like the pages of the magazines we admire. Quite simply, we have a desire to keep our homes looking good. There is always a shabby sofa that needs replacing or a room that could use a coat of paint

My readers have always expressed interest in ideas for decorating well for less so I will continue to dispense good house ideas that get the look without breaking the bank.  For example, an authentic early American blanket chest with original milk paint finish costs around $3500. This is the sort of item one finds in antique shops and from American folk art dealers. A reproduction chest looks quite similar-if one is not an expert in folk art- and will cost around a thousand dollars. And then there are copies of the reproductions that cost approximately $300-$500. This item is also available in unfinished pine from a ready-to-finish mill store for approximately $150. dollars. Almost anyone can stain or apply a milk paint finish to make this item look decent, and for this bargain it’s practical, good looking and functions in the same way as the original.

It’s amazing how removing an inexpensive but well-designed item from its environment immediately elevates it, especially if you surround it with better items.

Decorator’s Trick: A decorator I know furnished his house with very expensive, designer furniture. It is a spare, minimalist approach, therefore each accessory was carefully chosen. He found an inexpensive piece of pottery at Pier I Imports for $5. dollars and placed it on an antique table. That piece of pottery was instantly elevated to the status of good art, as no one would expect such a cheap item on an expensive table.

Sometimes the inexpensive copies are made as cheaply as the price suggests. However, an informed buyer can usually pick up on this pretty quickly. Good design prevails and it will be copied, sometimes forever. So, buy the best you can afford and use it until it can be replaced with better quality. The trick is not to overdo it so “cheap” defines the room.

Given budget restraints and a modicum of good taste, it can be an exciting challenge to come up with clever ideas and innovative solutions to decorating problems. Getting the hang of it can be most satisfying.

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