Wondering where to splurge and where to save when it comes to home renovation and decorating? We asked local interior designers to share their secrets on how to shave a few bucks without sacrificing style.
Room designed by Hochstin Group, Greenwich, Connecticut.
Curtain call While you can save money by using less expensive fabric, designers advise clients to invest in quality workmanship. (Room designed by Phyllis Harbinger of Design Concepts/Interiors, Cortlandt Manor)
Heavy Accent Add character to your living room without spending a mint by sprinkling it with great-looking accessories. “You can even find imported pieces at low prices at middle-of-the-road companies such as Target,” notes Gail Sirota of GLS Design in New Rochelle. “You can add interest to a room by incorporating lots of shelving and then stocking them with those beautiful coffee-table books from the bargain shelf of your local bookstore.” Nyack, New York-based designer Karen Houghton suggests using pillows, decorative lamps, and other accessories in hot colors and fabrics to inexpensively update a room without spending a bundle. (Especially since next year’s trends are bound to be different.)
Primary Colors One of the best ways to add impact to a room when you’re on a budget is with paint. For maximum effect, interior designer Alice Silverman suggests using a strong, unexpected color on the walls, keeping the trim white, and painting the ceiling a complementary color. “A lot of people hesitate to paint the ceiling, but it’s a very inexpensive way to get maximum impact from one of the largest surface areas of the room,” explains Silverman, owner of North Salem-based Creative Interiors.
Case in Point Another place to economize is with your case goods, a term for non-upholstery furniture, such as tables, hutches, dressers, and chests. Even if your traditional décor demands antiques, there are ways to achieve the look without maxing out your credit card. Kathy Abbott took a client’s pine country icebox and transformed it into a bar cabinet, painting it red and black and adding a subtle gold-stencil design and glaze. The result could be mistaken for a 200-year-old Sheraton piece.
Textile Support You can find an enormous selection of drop-dead gorgeous fabrics at mid-range prices, although most designers caution against scrimping on the construction. Nancy Almeida suggests using valances to dress up a window instead of traditional drapery panels, which require more material and up the cost. If you’re still dreaming of a pricey fabric weeks later and the amount required for drapes or to cover your sofa will break the bank, consider covering some accent pillows or perhaps the seat of an occasional chair with it. At least you’ll still get to admire it every day.
Shade service Color is a great way to add big impact at little cost. (Room designed by Susan Anthony of Anthony-Wright Interiors, LLC, Tarrytown)
Sit on It Designers were unanimous: don’t skimp on an upholstered couch. “Your sofa is a long-term investment,” says Karen Houghton. “Get the best one you can afford and look for classic forms that won’t look dated in a few years.” What to look for in a good piece: a frame constructed of kiln-dried hardwood, which holds its shape and doesn’t warp over time (quality plywood can serve as a second choice), and pieces fastened by screws, dowels, and glue, which last longer than ones that have simply been glued or stapled. Better sofas have coil-sprung seats, which distribute weight evenly, and high-density foam.
Labor Party You can find some nice inexpensive fabrics but more than one designer cautioned against cutting corners on the labor. “I shudder when I hear someone say they have a friend who knows how to sew curtains,” says Gail Sirota. “Sure, you can get beautiful fabrics at a lower price point, but you don’t want to skimp on the construction.” A top workroom can make less costly fabric look rich and elegant, so put your money in the labor and save by investing in mid-range textiles.
Frame Work Whether you purchase your artwork at Sotheby’s or at the flea market, make sure to have it professionally framed. “Good framing makes all the difference,” Gail Sirota posits. “The artwork itself doesn’t have to be expensive. Many of my clients have their children’s artwork professionally matted and framed. I’ve done it myself.” Designers agree that good framing can make any artwork look fabulous, even those fading botanicals you inherited from Aunt Maggie.
Token trend White subway tile is classic, chic, and comparitively inexpensive. (Kitchen designed by R.S. Granoff Architects, P.C., Greenwich, Connecticut)
Appliance Advice The pros agree: unless you’re a budding Mario Batali or a contestant wannabe on Top Chef, you really don’t need to spend a fortune on couture appliances. While a top-name refrigerator or range can help move a house if it’s on the market, Consumer Reports’ tests show that $4,000-plus professional-style ranges perform no better than conventional models. (Ditto other appliances.) “You can purchase a GE refrigerator that has the nice built-in look everyone wants for $2,000 instead of laying down $7,000 for a Sub-Zero,” says Sam Owen, owner of Garth Custom Kitchens in Scarsdale.
Haute side You don’t need to buy break-the-bank designer appliances to get a designer look. (Shown here: GE Monogram induction cooktop)
Tile Subway Style You can save money—and achieve a classic upscale look—with white subway tile as a backsplash. It’s relatively inexpensive, simple to keep clean, easy to match, and—score 10 for lasting value—never goes out of style. If you want to add a splash of color, invest in accent tiles. “I like to think of accent tiles as jewelry,” says Gail Sirota. “If used sparingly, they add drama to the kitchen.”
What Lies Beneath Flooring is another good place to save money—and in some cases, your sanity as well. “A lot of people like the look of limestone floors, but they’re expensive and require a lot of maintenance,” says Sam Owen. “For one-third the price, you can purchase simulated or faux limestone flooring. It looks the same and is much easier to care for.” Before you invest, research what’s hiding under the current flooring: in older homes it’s possible to find a pristine wood floor buried underneath decades of grimy linoleum or dingy carpet. All you have to do is refinish it—a giant savings.
Cast the stone first Gorgeous granite is here to stay, especially offset by an elegant Napa undercounter sink, Iron/Tones sink, and Revival faucet, all by Kohler.
Paint by Numbers Cabinetry is one of the biggest drains on any budget, but there are ways to economize on this essential. Kathy Abbott suggests having the cabinets delivered unpainted and hiring a professional painter to brush-paint them on site. “Even if you ordered the cabinets from a catalog, having them hand painted will give them a custom look,” Abbott suggests. “You should do the same thing if you’re investing in custom cabinets, because even high-end cabinetry is often spray-painted so it ends up looking like it came from a factory.”
A good light Layered lighting—such as a combination of recessed, undercounter, in-cabinet, and pendant lighting—is a best bet for illuminating a kitchen. (Kitchen designed by Jason Landau of Amazing Spaces, LLC, in Briarcliff Manor)
Counter top buy Ah, the luxe lure of stone! Most experts agree that granite is worth its weight in—well, granite. “Granite is no more expensive than Corian, but it looks much richer,” says Claude Smith, owner of an eponymous design firm in White Plains. “Marble has its charms, but it loses its sheen over time.” Sam Owen adds that stone and man-made quartz are de rigueur these days. “Nobody uses laminate anymore. You want something that’s going to hold up for the long run.”
Let There be Light You don’t want to be chopping lettuce in the dark, so make sure you invest in quality lighting. Most designers agree that layered lighting is the way to go in the kitchen. A combo of recessed, under cabinet, and pendant lighting creates a scheme that’s both functional and decorative. Kathy Abbott suggests installing lots of small high hats to create a warm ambient light; just make sure that all of your kitchen lights are on dimmers so you can change the mood at the touch of a switch.
Bed-side manner One of the best investments, say the experts: sink your cash—and yourself—into a good bed. (Shown here: Kelly Hoppen for Century bed)
Pillow Talk Lavish looks don’t require big bucks: the selection and quality of ready-made bedding is endless. “You see whole-bed ensembles in catalogs that look custom, but don’t carry the custom price tag,” Gail Sirota points out. The designer suggests integrating some custom pieces, such as decorative pillows or throws, with off-the-shelf bedding to help elevate the entire ensemble. “It’s like wearing a Gap outfit with a Gucci belt. The accessories bring it to the next level.”
bedding bets Since the bedroom is your sanctuary (not your showroom), you don’t have to spend a fortune trying to impress the crowd. Instead of splurging on an imported Persian rug or designer carpet, you can achieve an upscale look by choosing a more moderately priced nylon carpet or rug. “You used to have to stay away from nylon,” says interior designer Nancy Almeida, owner of Beautiful Home in Scarsdale. “These days you can find some really nice nylons that look and feel like wool.” And, since bedrooms get less traffic than public rooms, durability isn’t as much of an issue.
Side Story Matchy-matchy has gone the way of the waterbed, and it’s perfectly acceptable to acquire coordinating pieces for the bedroom rather than a matching set. Kathy Abbott suggests picking up some old bedside tables at a consignment shop and sprucing them up with paint and new hardware. You’ll end up with something that looks impressive—and very today—without taxing your wallet. You can do the same with dressers, vanities, and benches.
Off the Wall Finding the right artwork—and framing it—can be costly. Wallpaper can alleviate the need for decorative art and accessories, offering plenty of visual bang for your buck. “It’s is a good choice if you don’t have the budget to finish the room soup to nuts,” Kathy Abbott advises.
sleep on it Forget the interior design pro; a good chiropractor will advise you to put your money where your mattress is. “I always advise clients to invest in a very good mattress, whether it’s the traditional hair and jute or the newer adjustable mattresses,” says John Elmo of the Elmo Design Group in Yonkers. Things to look for include the number of coils (the higher the coil count, the firmer the mattress), the gauge of the coils (the heavier the gauge, the more support), and the connections between the coils (the fewer the interconnecting wires, the quicker a mattress sags). Nancy Almeida suggests investing in a custom memory foam mattress that’s made of a heat- and pressure-sensitive material that conforms to the shape of your body, relieving key pressure points. It may be a bit pricey, but your back will be eternally grateful.
Dark nights Window treatments do more than simply serve as a bedroom accessory; they’re important for blocking the light and even can help keep a room warm.
Made in the Shade Window treatments do a lot of master bedroom multitasking. Sure, they’re pretty, but they’re also vital for privacy and for blocking the light when you’re trying to sleep in on a Sunday morning. They can even function as a way to keep heat in. “I would invest in really well-made window treatments in the bedroom,” says Nancy Almeida. To save money, consider keeping the window treatments simple, but putting the money in shades, which shoulder much of the real function.
Dust-Have Bedding While you can get away with using off-the-shelf sheets, quilts, and duvets, Karen Houghton advises clients to invest in custom-made dusters. When they’re too long, dusters look like a fabulous pair of untailored pants that could trip their wearer. “A custom duster will elevate the tone in the master bedroom and upgrade the ready-made bedding,” she says. “A lot of store-bought dusters don’t fit right, aren’t lined, and look cheap, so this is a good place to splurge.”
Air package Air tubs are rivaling whirlpool baths as the upscale way to cleanse. (Shown here: the BainUltra Ayoura Hydro-Thermo Massage Tub)
Simply Lovely The best way to do a bathroom on a budget is to streamline. Several designers suggest going with relatively unfussy tile, such as white subway tile. Rich Pagano, owner of Bath N’ Bagno in Scarsdale, says that the more elaborate you go in design, the higher the cost, so today’s simple styles are a boon for modern lovers. “Contemporary-style cabinetry is popular right now, which is good because there’s less detail and therefore usually less expensive,” he says.
On a Pedestal Rich Pagano suggests installing a pedestal sink rather than a vanity if budget is a consideration. “While people like the convenience and storage of a vanity,” he explains, “it requires cabinetry and a stone or marble top, which can really add up.” For those debating his-and-her sinks: consider a single sink with plenty of counterspace for both of you and save the extra cost of the sink, faucet, and plumbing.
Sink it through Streamlined sinks without custom cabinetry can cut costs without sacrificing style. (Shown here: Porcher’s Lutezia 27-inch Pedestal Lavatory Kit with Reprise Widespread Faucet by Porcher)
Plumb the Depths There are a slew of options when it comes to plumbing fixtures and a lot of opportunities to save money (like opting for a mass-market distributor such as American Standard over the more upscale brands). Consider staying with top manufacturers with scores of chic choices. “You can buy a T-shirt for $5 or $50,” Gail Sirota says. “There’s a huge range in the price of plumbing fixtures, and you don’t have to splurge to get something nice. As long as you stay with a major manufacturer, you should be fine.”
turn to plush Designers assure that going for top-quality, absorbent towels is worth the extra cash. (Shown here: Pinwheel Towels by Waterworks)
Spa Treatment Ready to hop a plane to Canyon Ranch at a moment’s notice? Plunk down the bucks for a special bathtub you’ll enjoy long after vacation memories fade. Rich Pagano is enthusiastic about air tubs, which are starting to rival whirlpool baths as the must-have luxury item for the bathroom.
“Air tubs are much cleaner than whirlpool baths because you’re adding warm air to make the water turbulent rather that re-circulating the old tub water,” he explains. “This allows you to use bath oils or bubble bath, which you wouldn’t want to do with a whirlpool because it could clog the system. Also, you have less maintenance with air tubs because mold and bacteria don’t build up in the pipes.”
Blow off steam Not only does it use a fraction of the water of a conventional shower, but steam showers have health benefits, as well. Well worth the splurge, say the pros. (Shown here: Steamshower by ThermaSol)
Luxurious linens. Consider top-quality towels the crowning jewel of the renovated bath. “For a little extra money, you can buy towels with the thickness, size, and absorption that really makes you feel pampered,” says Kim Freeman of Ossining-based Kim Freeman Style & Design. Another plus: better towels last longer.
Steam Dream Another bathroom extravagance growing in popularity is the steam shower, according to Rich Pagano. Not only does it use a fraction of the water that a shower does (greenies take heed), but it also offers health benefits for your skin and respiratory system (not to mention obvious advantages to your mental health). And you can add some lavish amenities, such as mood lighting, a pump for aromatherapy, and an MP3 dock. Maybe the Romans were on to something.
Elizabeth Cunningham Herring is a freelance writer and editor living in Maplewood, New Jersey.
182 Mills Rd. • North Salem
Anthony-Wright Interiors, LLC
12 Hamilton Pl., Suite #2 • Tarrytown
(914) 332-0011 • anthony-wright.com
301 Roaring Brook Rd. • Chappaqua
Barbara Bell Interiors
55 South Broadway • Tarrytown
Barbara S. Horowitz Design and Decoration
184 Longview Ave. • White Plains
(914) 420-7335 • bhsdesigns.com
Barbara Sternau Interiors/ The Design Shop
37 Main St. • Tarrytown
(914) 631-1875 • barbarasternau.com
Beata Buhl Interiors Inc.
428 Main St. • Armonk • (914) 273-7323
37 Popham Rd. • Scarsdale • (914) 472-6457
The Blair Interiors Group, Ltd.
1 Chase Rd., Suite 207 • Scarsdale
Claude Smith Design
10 Stewart Pl. • White Plains • (914) 949-1688
The Color Schemer
18 Coralyn Rd. • Scarsdale
(914) 725-4075 • thecolorschemer.com
DeBear Designs Inc.
6 Circle Rd. • Scarsdale(914) 725-2385 • debeardesign.com
Design Concepts/Interiors, LLC
8 Devonshire Ct. • Cortlandt Manor
Design Smith Interiors
7 Knollwood Dr. • Rye Brook
(914) 939-9033 • designsmithinteriors.com
Dianne Wells Interiors, LLC
PO Box 502 • Waccabuc • (914) 767-3909
Donna M. Sherry, ASID, Interior Design
17 Churchill Rd. • Rye Brook • (914) 934-0537
Elmo Design Group, Ltd.
908 North Broadway • Yonkers • (914) 476-2530
GLS Design, Inc.
142 Seton Dr. • New Rochelle • (914) 636-6370
Gregory Allan Cramer & Company Inc.
43 Lawton St. • New Rochelle
(914) 637-7500 • gregoryallancramer.com
Hochstin Design Group
270 Stanwich Rd. • Greenwich, Connecticut
Iliana Moore Interiors
133 Pondfield Rd. • Bronxville
(917) 689-1937 • ilianamoore.com
621 Fox Run • South Salem
(914) 533-2275 • interior-consultants.com
J. Carrau Decoration, Inc.
60 Seaview Ave. • New Rochelle
J.R. Cattington Interiors
585 Pleasantville Rd. • Briarcliff Manor
(914) 762-7722 • jrcattington.com
Kaja Gam Design
125 Main St. • Ossining
(914) 923-2393 • kajagamdesign.com
Karen Houghton Interiors
41 North Broadway • Nyack, New York
(845) 358-0133 • karenhoughtoninteriors.com
Kathy Abbott Interiors
398 Cross River Rd. • Katonah
(914) 232-1934 • kathyabbottinteriors.com
Kim Freeman Style & Design
18 Overlook Rd. • Ossining
(914) 762-1657 • freemandesigngroup.net
Laurel Bern Interiors, Inc.
16 Lowell Ct. • Goldens Bridge
(914) 232-3022 • laurelbern.com
Lifestyles & Interiors by Lisa
33 North Riverside Ave. • Croton-on-Hudson
(914) 862-4163 • lifestylesandinteriors.com
Michael Wiener Design Group, Inc.
208 Old Briarcliff Rd. • Briarcliff Manor
718 South Fulton Ave. • Mount Vernon
(914) 633-1170 • motif-designs.com
Posh Home Design
680 Route 211, Suite 290
(888) 771-POSH/(845) 896-7674
SGH Designs Inc.
PO Box 535 • Pound Ridge
(914) 764-8042 • sghinteriors.com
Spice Hill Interiors
211 North Highland Ave. • Ossining
Susan Marocco Interiors, Inc.
37 Indian Hill Rd. • Bedford • (914) 234-7066
Victoria Klein Design for Living
318 Sea Cliff Ave. • Pelham
(914) 738-7502 • victoriaklein.com
Beaux Arts Studios
49 High St. • Katonah
(914) 232-4720 • bozarstudios.com
Dobbs Ferry • (914) 674-6413 • deerstooth.com
Hope McAdam Decorative Painter
7 Farrington Ave. • Sleepy Hollow
Miro Art. Inc.
704-A Locust St. • Mount Vernon
(914) 663-8350 • miroart.org