5 Steps to Redecorate Your Living Room for Zero Dollars
If you’re anything like me and enjoy spending time at home, you likely spend a LOT of this time looking at the same things. And like me, you’ve probably sat there thinking ‘…maybe I’ll deep clean, maybe I’ll redecorate, maybe I’ll declutter, maybe I’ll drink some wine’. And guess what? You can do ALL OF THOSE THINGS AT THE SAME TIME if you’re a great multi-tasker like me (wink wink).
Seriously, there’s SO MUCH you can do to a room without spending any money (assuming you have wine on hand). If you want to spend money, you can fill your lil boots – a little retail therapy can be good. HOWEVER, I’m here with the most BUDGET of budget-friendly ideas to help you feel a bit more at home in your home.
But before you get started, be warned that this is an EPIC read, so you better grab your
wine bottle reading glasses.
Don’t be afraid to do only one or two steps a day!
STEP 1 DECLUTTER & CLEAN
You can’t do ANYTHING decoratively until you clean your room (flashback to teenage years). And I don’t just want you to clean it, I want you to declutter it too, creating a relatively blank slate to work with. I’ve covered the guts n’ glory of cleaning/decluttering in the first chapter of my E-Book, ‘The 5 Room Fix, Love The Home You Love In‘ and this section alone would be a MASSIVE blog post, so I’m just going to hit the key points here…
Before you declutter/clean…
- Choose a place where you can put all of the miscellaneous items that will be leaving the room (some temporarily, some permanently).
- Have a garbage bag, box(es), marker and tape ready so you can pack up things that need to go in storage/donation/recycling/garbage. This is assuming your room is full of stuff. There are those of you who won’t need ALL of that, but I’m going to assume that not all of you are as OCD as me.
- Get your cleaning supplies ready: windex, wipes, paper towel, vacuum/broom, duster and anything else that you include in your regular cleaning routine
Next, handle one surface at a time…
Start with one surface, ie. your mantel or coffee table. Remove ALL of the items on it – every single thing.
As you take each item away, decide what you’re doing with it and put it in a ‘pile’, for example:
- love it, but don’t want to look at it anymore (pack it away)
- will be going back in the room somewhere
And you’ll want to do this for every surface in the room, including bookcases, side tables, sofas (blankets and toss cushions will be removed too!) as well as ANY item on your floor. When you’re done, ALL that should be left are your main furniture pieces (sofa/chairs/tables/bookcases/tv). I EVEN want you to take your artwork down – for reals. We’re going down to bare bones people!
Once you’re down to the basics, it’s going to be MUCH easier to clean and redecorate your room. I know cleaning isn’t fun, but it’s THERAPEUTIC and so friggin’ satisfying (says me, keeping in mind that my standards are slightly skewed towards the anal side). However, to fully expel my demons, I’m going to give you a checklist to do…I am a wicked task-master, but you’ll thank me later (or pin a photo of me to a dartboard).
Starting at the TOP of your room/walls…
- Clean light shades and fan blades. Replace any burnt-out bulbs.
- Dust the tops of window and door frames.
- Clean the windows, even going so far as to get bleach/q-tips and clean out those grungy old tracks.
- Wipe down the tops of baseboards, be sure to get in those nitty-gritty corners!
- Look at your walls from FIVE FEET down, these are the areas that take a beating. Wipe up any scuffs carefully. Remember, Magic Eraser can mar a surface and is packed full of chemicals. I prefer using a soft cloth with a wee wink of soap on it, which I then carefully wipe off once I’m done cleaning the area. Don’t use so much water that it drips down the wall, but don’t leave the cloth abrasive on the wall either. If THIS doesn’t take off what’s on your wall, you might just need a fresh coat of paint.
- Wipe or dust any surfaces like mantels, bookcases and tables. Consider the legs of tables as well if you have crazy kids or animals running around.
- Take a
- Vacuum your furniture pieces. Tops and backs of sofas and chairs and then underneath the cushions.
- If your furniture has marks or stains, try scrubbing them out.
- Vacuum your floor. If you have an area rug, vacuum it first and then remove it from the area. Vacuum all visible floor areas. Move main furniture pieces and vacuum underneath them as much as you can.
- If you have a fireplace, dust the grills and clean the glass. If you have a TV, dust ALL the way around it, it’s amazing the dust that hides in those nooks and crannies!
Phew. Doesn’t that feel good? Are you breaking out in a Richard Simmons-style sweat? I SURE HOPE SO!
Now that the grunt work is done, I want you to sit down, appreciate your hard work and have a glass of whatever floats your boat (wine/coffee/water/beer).
STEP 2 FIND YOUR FOCAL POINT
You might be thinking, ‘what the heck is a focal point?’ A focal point is the main feature of a room, the thing your eye is most drawn to when you walk into your space.
And a focal point doesn’t need to be any screamin’ glory, it can be as simple as a TV or as grand as an expansive ocean view. Here are some examples of focal points…
- TV (on the wall or on a stand)
- gallery wall or key artwork
- bookcase, wall unit or sofa table with decor/artwork
You can also have TWO focal points, in which case, one is the primary focal point and one is the secondary focal point. You’ll want to give priority to the primary one.
Once you have your focal point in mind, you can then arrange your furniture accordingly.
And please remember, these are GUIDELINES, not rules. No spankin’ with wet noodles if you can’t check off every box, these are just ideas to help you see your room in a new way and MAYBE make a few adjustments to make it even better!
STEP 3 REPOSITION YOUR FURNITURE
This is a tough one. There are SO many room layouts and SO many different furniture pieces/sizes, that it would be IMPOSSIBLE for me to cover them all in one shot, but I do have some great general guidelines for you to consider. Keep in mind that you don’t have to do ALL of these, you can just pick and choose the ones that best suit your furniture/layout/personal preferences.
TIP 1 CENTER YOUR MAIN PIECE OF FURNITURE ON YOUR FOCAL POINT
If your main piece of furniture is off-centre, your room will feel off-balance. I’m always amazed at how shoving a sofa 2-3 feet to the left or right can make a MASSIVE DIFFERENCE in the flow and energy of a room. If you CAN’T centre your main piece (ie: you have a corner fireplace), it’s okay, I forgive you.
Now, of course, that can change depending on the layout you choose. In this next photo, we COULD have put the sofa opposite/parallel to the fireplace with the chairs on either side (which would’ve created a cosier, more intimate layout), but with having kids, my sis-in-law wanted a more open approach.
Yes, that one pouf does need to be moved in front of the one chair
For a practice in BALANCE, which we’ll be chatting about in Step 3, I want you to draw an invisible line down the middle of the above room, right through the TV and fireplace. Notice that although different pieces were used, each SIDE of the room/focal point is balanced, so that one side doesn’t visually weigh more than the other.
A few things to notice in the above display…
- the two chairs with cushions/side table visually balance the sofa on the other side
- the small gallery wall/lamp balance some of the visual weight of the windows (windows can be a tricky one to accommodate)
- the home decor on the built-ins are different from each other, but visually, carry the same weight
- the green accent colour is spread throughout in at least three places (plants/cushions) as is the blue (cushions/rug/built-ins/gallery wall)
- there aren’t knick-knacks on the coffee table. I know, everyone loves to see a well-dressed table, but in the real world full of a 3-year-old and 1-year-old, it’s function over fashion!
TIP 2 PLACE YOUR MAIN FURNITURE PIECE (USUALLY A SOFA) ALONG THE LONGEST WALL OR AIR SPACE
If you have a sofa and loveseat (or two chairs instead of a loveseat), your sofa should be on the longest wall space. If that doesn’t work, then the longest open space. As for sectionals, they’re a bit trickier and often have only ONE ideal placement.
Click HERE or on the above image to see my E-Books!
TIP 3 KEEP PASSAGEWAYS IN MIND
A secondary passageway should be a minimum of 3′ wide, whereas the MAIN passageway should ideally be 4’+. If you can’t make it happen, don’t worry, it’s just a general guideline to consider.
TIP 4 CENTER YOUR MAIN AND SECONDARY FURNITURE PIECES ON SOMETHING
It’s important to CENTER your main pieces based on what they’re facing or what they’re against. For example:
- If a piece of furniture is facing the fireplace/tv, it should be perfectly centred on it.
- If the furniture is against a window (below), it should be PERFECTLY centred on the window. This also applies to wall spaces, as long as the wall space doesn’t extend ridiculously far or into another space
In this next example, the sofa is centred BETWEEN the two windows with a balanced, eclectic wall gallery…
BTW, the blog post links will be SUPER HELPFUL to read and I’ll include a summary of them at the end for you to refer to so you don’t have to bounce around too much.
TIP 5 DON’T OVERLAP EDGES
This is a HARD one to explain. You know how humans have bubbles, that space around us that we don’t want intruded on (unless it’s Ryan Gosling, he can burst my bubble any day)? Well, the main pieces in a room AND the focal point have bubbles too and they need their own air space. When the edges of furniture pieces overlap each other, a room looks crowded and not well laid out. And sometimes, even a few inches one way or another can make it or break it (that’s what she said).
In this next photo, look at the right-hand corner of the hearth and how it relates to the sectional (the end closest to the fireplace).
You can see how the sectional doesn’t OVERLAP the fireplace’s ‘zone’. If the sectional were 6″+ forward (closer to the coffee table), it would overlap the fireplace’s bubble. In fact, let’s just look at that…
In a large room, there’s more forgiveness for this, but in a smaller room (where it’s harder to accommodate), there is LESS allowance for that overlap. Some people simply have TOO much furniture or the wrong size pieces for their space.
And I’ll admit, the fact that the coffee table isn’t centred on the fireplace gives me NO shortage of grief (first-world problem, I know). However, if you were to view the room, on the large scale, you’d see how this is a necessary feature to keep the flow and general balance.
A few other things to notice…
- The 3-foot passageway behind the long part of the sectional.
- There’s approx 2 feet behind the shorter side of the sectional, as we don’t walk back there, it’s more to give the sofa table some breathing space. If we were to push the sofa FORWARD by one foot, this would become a valid passageway but would crowd the fireplace’s bubble.
- The repetition of key toss cushions in the corners balances the sectional out.
- The pieces on the left and right sides of the fireplace are visually balanced with each other and help to balance out the visual weight of the sectional. If ONE of those corners were empty, the room would feel off-balance.
In this next photo, see how the two chairs give the fireplace its breathing room, based on the front of the chairs and the far left of the fireplace surround. If they were moved forward one foot, they’d be taking up the fireplace’s air space – they would BURST the bubble!
And there are ALWAYS exceptions, so don’t get your knickers in a knot if you can’t get it right. But I encourage you to just TRY giving your furniture pieces a BIT more room to breathe and see how it feels!
TIP 6 PLACE YOUR RUG THE RIGHT WAY
If you have an area rug, the LONGEST side of it should run with the LONGEST piece of furniture, this keeps things proportional. As for size, if your rug is the RIGHT size, it should sit under ATLEAST the first 1/3 of your main furniture piece or more (ideally it would be that far under TWO main pieces, but I’ll take what I can get). If your rug isn’t big enough to sit underneath your furniture comfortably, it’s too small. Living rooms need at least an 8 x 10 rug, if not bigger and in fact, MOST living rooms nicely accommodate a 9 x 11.
This next photo shows the MINIMUM the rug should be under one or more key pieces of furniture…
And while you can’t SEE it, the rug is also equal distance under the side chair and the length of the rug runs with the length of the sofa, with the sofa CENTERED on it.
This next room is a GREAT example of an exception – because there are ALWAYS exceptions. Because the room was narrow and due to the furniture layout, it ONLY made sense to have the rug running the other way. The key is that they used a LARGE enough rug that there is a good 12″ on either side of the sofa.
TIP 7 COFFEE & SIDE TABLE SPACING
There should be approx. 18″ between the front of your main furniture piece and your coffee table or ottoman. Your side tables should be within EASY reaching distance of their assigned seats, so approx 6 inches.
STEP 4 START ADDING DECOR BACK TO YOUR ROOM
This is where you have to be careful. Start with the most IMPORTANT pieces first, the pieces that above all else, must find their happy place. Again, this could be a MASSIVE BLOG POST, and although I love NOTHING more than to hear myself talk (type), I’m going to touch on the basics here and refer to some helpful blog posts along the way.
If you need a QUICK brush-up on the 3 main decorative terms, check this out: The 3 Main Rules for Decorating and Accessorizing
TIP 1 DECIDE IF YOU WANT BALANCE OR SYMMETRY
If you’re doing a mantel, bookcase or shelf, decide whether you want balance or symmetry. This will help you decide how to layer and stagger your pieces, which you can learn more about here: 4 Easy Steps to Accessorize a Mantel
As you bring things back into the room, consider whether they really deserve to go back in the room, or if they need to find a new home (like in a box). Put items back that you want to look at every day, that add visual and/or emotional value to your room and get rid of the fillers.
I love the above photo for its eclectic look, there’s something so homey and authentic about it. The only improvement I would suggest would be to adjust the artwork slightly to accommodate a lamp in place of the Eiffel Tower. This would add some energy, life, and a much-needed key piece to this surface, which we’ll talk about next.
TIP 2 FIND YOUR KEY PIECE(S)
If you have a display that includes something hanging on the wall (ie: art above a mantel or sofa table), that will be your main key piece, but you’ll also need a key piece(s) for the horizontal surface that you’re decorating. Start with these pieces when you’re adding items back to each surface and work out from there. Remember, less is OFTEN more (except anything related to wine or Doritos).
The less THEMED your key piece is, the more flexibility you’ll have for decor (ie: a beach-themed piece of artwork would limit your decorating options).
Let’s look at some examples that will show you key pieces, as well as symmetry and balance.
- KEY WALL PIECE: clock
- KEY DECOR PIECE: vase with branches
- SECONDARY KEY PIECE: creamy scroll
- I might actually move the cow art to the right (leaning against the wall, behind the floor container). This would give more visual weight to this side, balancing out the visual weight of the other side.
- I would ALSO consider adding a lamp in place of the creamy scroll and pare that spot down a bit
Next up is another nice display of balance…
- KEY WALL PIECE: mirror, hanging at the right height
- KEY DECOR PIECE: gold vase
- SECONDARY KEY PIECE: a stack of plates with apple
- Also, notice the bit of sheen from the candle holders. Sheen is VITAL to any well laid-out display!
- I might move the floor basket to the OTHER side of the cabinet, as the colours/size actually adds a bit too much visual weight to the left side
BTW, you can share this blog post with a friend and you might end up with some extra decor pieces to play with from each other’s homes! Just make sure you choose a friend who has good style (wink wink).
- KEY WALL PIECE: The mirror serves as a unisex key piece above the mantel and even the TV acts as a key foundation piece for the cabinet (and let’s all tip our cup to the now deceased, Henry Bacon…).
- The decor on the tv stand helps to balance out the visual weight of the TV and offers a distraction.
And now for a bit of symmetry…
- KEY WALL PIECE: gallery
- KEY DECORATIVE: a simple display of three
And back to balance (as I obviously don’t have many decorative examples of symmetry…)
- the large artwork is not only a key piece but a secondary focal point (to the fireplace)
- the lamps are the foundation and add symmetry, while the decor adds a balanced, but more eclectic vibe
If you want to learn more about decorating a surface like this, I’ve got tons of blog posts, including this one: 4 Steps and Ideas: How to Accessorize a Mantel
This next example belongs to one of my FAVE long-time E-Design clients…
- KEY PIECE: TV
- SECONDARY KEY PIECES (not overly dominant): candleholders
- Notice that the two tall candleholders add SYMMETRY, while the decor offers a more balanced approach
- The great thing about this display is that it’s EASY to change seasonally! And if you’re anything like me and like to change things up based on the weather or your time of the month, you might find this handy.
TIP 3 LOOK AT EACH PIECE OF ARTWORK CAREFULLY
Art says SO much about a room. It doesn’t just hold the colour palette and style of a space, but can be an insight into the owner’s tastes and preferences. Sometimes, it’s better to have NOTHING than the WRONG thing, so don’t be afraid to have a bare wall space for a while. You can also hop onto Wayfair or Amazon if you want to find a new piece that strikes your fancy or wait until you stumble across something in your future travels.
Original painting by Ronei (prints available)
When you hang your art, don’t just stick it back on the nail it was on before. Read these important tips first: The Right Height to Hang Artwork and Mirrors
TIP 4 STAGGER, STACK, LAYER & CREATE DECORATIVE TRIANGLES
Again, if I got into this one, it would be a shocking amount of info, and already, I’m sure I’ve crossed the line.
Check out the decorative triangles in this next photo. Each section of each arrangement should create a triangle if you were to map out the basic perimeter of each item.
In this next example, we’ll look at stacking and layering (and there’s a whole WHACK of triangles in there as well)…
A few things to notice…
- groups of three arranged in a triangle pattern (stacks of books as well as the three art/framed pieces)
- the framed/art pieces serve as a backdrop to the smaller decor in front, creating a triangle and/or layering
- there are SEVERAL foundation pieces or pieces that anchor the unit and give it bulk (plant/art/decorative box)
- notice the taller items are at the back with smaller items in front – each small arrangement also makes a triangle of sorts
TIP 5 USE THE RULE OF THREE & ODD NUMBERS…SOMETIMES
When it comes to the rule of three, I’m pretty flexible. Sometimes it works, but other times, you can create a SUPER dynamic display with two of the right items.
In this next photo, you’ll see an AWESOME decor display using single items, groups of two AND groups of three – it’s all about balance!
AND, mad props to my E-Design clients who send in their after photos – you make my crazy lil world go round!
The amount of stacking, staggering and layering in the above photo makes me ALLLL kinds of happy. And there are groups of TWO and THREE and triangles coming out of the wazoo!
TIP 6 CARRY YOUR ACCENT COLOURS THROUGHOUT YOUR ROOM
This is VITAL. To get flow within a room, you’ll want your main accent colour(s) repeated at least three times and in varying spots (ideally creating a triangle if you were to draw a line between the pieces). The same goes for decorating a bookcase, stagger those accent colours!
The STRONGER your accent colour is, the less of it you need – although you can do as much as you like. In this next room, I’d just give that shelf a little love and add a SMALL bit of orange on it, to pull that colour through the space and create a triangle.
Next up, while it isn’t a living room, the layering of blue is awesome from the art to the bench to the rug. Accent colours don’t have to be OBVIOUS statements, they can be as subtle as a colour mixed into an area rug.
See the before and after photos of this entryway HERE
In this next photo, the colour connections are so clear and well-layered. The display is also FULL of pieces with history and sentimental value, which always help to create a home with heart…
TIP 7 STEAL FROM OTHER ROOMS (OR YOUR MOM)
Don’t be afraid to scrounge around other rooms (or homes) for artwork, home decor, toss cushions and more. You might be surprised at how one item that lived in a certain room for years looks AMAZING in another!
So, there you have it. If you’re looking for more, my E-Book re: The 5 Room Fix: Loving the Home You Have ALSO includes a FREE accent colour booklet, so if you’re not sure where to go from here, I’ve got some great solutions!
I have SO much more I could add, but at some point, we’re both going to be exhausted, so that’s it for now and stay healthy!
Check out my E-Design Books and Online Colour Consulting services