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January 20, 2005

Do-it-yourself Decorating

Good ideas don’t have to be expensive

L. Sara Bysterveld

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Whether you are redecorating a room or decorating your first home, do-it-yourself interior design can be intimidating. Where do you even begin? With the colour, a favourite object, a theme? Things become even more complicated if you are operating on a budget.

Donna Kelsch, CEO (Creative Energy Organizer) of Starpointe Sales and Marketing Inc. has plenty of experience decorating homes from scratch. With 27 years of sales  and marketing under her belt, Kelsch has been decorating condo show suites and show homes on the cheap in Calgary for a year and a half. Before that, she designed sales offices in Vancouver for seven years. Kelsch has been known to do an entire show suite for $8000 or less, including furniture, decoration and the general ephemera that are often incorporated into the concept of a show suite.

How does she do this? Kelsch cuts costs by shopping creatively and by thinking outside of the box. Upon closer inspection, many of her designs prove to have originated at the hardware store or another, equally unexpected location. This breed of on-the-cheap interior design has been popularized in recent years by television shows like Trading Spaces, and is, indeed, an affordable and fun way to feather your nest. The key is learning how to see objects as something they are, currently, not.

Nicole Braseth, a design student at the University of Alberta, loves decorating her home creatively on a student’s budget, and continues to impress her friends with her stylish designs. She regularly mines thrift stores, hardware stores and her own collection of raw materials, combining items to create unexpected results. What Braseth and Kelsch have in common is their knack for creating affordable accessories that don’t look like they came straight out of a college dorm room.

The first step in decorating your space is to choose a theme or a colour scheme. Kelsch recommends choosing one big-ticket item (a couch, an area rug) and building the concept on that. Braseth finds inspiration in popular culture and media, studying “everything from fashion to art to architecture to pop culture” for looks she likes. She recommends taking note of images you like, then determining what it is you like about them, whether it is the colour, line, form or something else. Once you have determined specific elements that you like, you can begin to incorporate them into your own space.

Once you have a general theme and colour scheme, it’s time to go to town. The easiest place to begin when diving into do-it-yourself decorating is probably wall decoration. This can be as simple as getting reprints of your favourite photos enlarged (or scanning and printing them) and turned to black and white, then framing them and arranging them in an interesting formation. Or, you might want to enlarge just a small portion of a bright, colourful photo and frame that. This could be a theme that is carried throughout the room, using different portions in a series of frames.

If you’re up for a little painting, try using cut pieces of wine crates as canvas. Kelsch encourages do-it-yourselfers not to be intimidated by the prospect of painting a scene from scratch. When Kelsch paints, she often uses an existing image as a cheat sheet, and sketches the picture before painting it.

Moving from walls to windows, Kelsch says using your imagination is the key to livening up your window coverings. Both Kelsch and Braseth recommend buying pipe at the hardware store, having it cut to the correct length, and using it as a curtain rod. Pipe can be left as raw metal or spray-painted with matte spray paint to meet your needs. All you need to do is buy matching brackets and decide what you would like to use as curtains. The suggestions range from wide ribbons hung side by side, to a sheet (which can be hemmed using hemming tape from the craft store), to such imaginative ideas as hockey jerseys or pennants. Kelsch decorated a sports-themed room for a young boy, and used a hockey stick as the curtain rod, and a hockey jersey as the curtain. In the case of an odd-shaped window where a curtain isn’t necessarily needed, try hanging plastic prisms (which can be bought as part of a cheap chandelier, then dismantled) on fishing line from the top of the window frame. This creates a very nice effect. Anything is possible when you let yourself see objects in a different light.

You can even pull off furniture with found items, or by sprucing up a simple piece with a little stain. Kelsch has used fence planks to build a shelving unit, and Braseth is currently building shelves out of wine crates. You can also buy pine furniture and stain it to match your colour scheme.

Overall, Braseth says it’s all in how you look at things. “Use things meant for the kitchen in the office, things for the bathroom in the kitchen, and so forth,” she advises. “Look at an object’s most basic function and go from there.”

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