Decorating: Spend or Save? 10 Tips for Tackling Your First Home
Prioritise your must-haves to create a smart space of your very own that will stand the test of time
With a limited budget, prioritising tasks and setting aside money for key purchases is crucial. Not everything will get done as quickly or as perfectly as you might like, but if you plan wisely, you will be able to create a home that’s stylish and practical, and might even make you a bit of cash when (and if) you decide to reach for the next rung on that property ladder. Here’s where to spend and where to save as you settle in.
There’s no way around it, new flooring is a budget buster. More purse-friendly options, such as laminate or vinyl, might suit you, but, whatever you choose, remember that quality will pay off. After all, it’s the part of your home that will get the most wear, and definitely a case of buy cheap, pay twice. Invest in a specialist fitter, too, as once it’s in, mistakes can be hard to rectify.
This is especially the case with solid wood flooring. However, engineered wood, which can look as good as the real thing, comes in fancy finishes, from fumed to oiled to lime washed, can be easier to fit and is generally more affordable. Opt for multi-layer hardwood-ply boards, which are the most stable. A wear layer of at least 3mm will ensure your finished floor can be sanded if necessary in future (though not, generally, as many times as solid wood).
Carpet is another spendy addition that’s worth doing well or not at all. Look for natural fibres in hard-wearing styles that won’t need replacing by the time you move onto your next property.
If you have a period house with decent floorboards, consider having them professionally sanded (some of the latest machines are amazingly dust-free – what a revelation!) and waxed. You can always add extra cosiness and soundproofing with rugs and stair runners where necessary.
Unless you intend to splash out on bespoke cabinets, you can save on a new bespoke-effect kitchen by buying your carcasses and doors separately and shopping around for taps and handles, rather than getting them all from the same shop.
Most off-the-shelf kitchens from big-box suppliers consist of melamine carcasses to which you attach doors and drawer fronts using concealed hinges. So source this basic from a shop at the cheaper end of the market. You can then either splash out on fancier doors, having saved on the carcasses, or have MDF versions cut. These may last you far longer, since you can paint or spray them any colour in any shade you desire, with the option to repaint for a new lease of life later on.
Get some ideas for your kitchen design with these photos
When it comes to one-off items or vintage gems, don’t be afraid to blow the budget on furniture you may not have the opportunity to purchase again.
Assuming it’s true love rather than a passing fad, filling your house with treasured belongings is the best way to create an environment with personality and character. Of course, this is assuming the money earmarked for that must-have midcentury lamp wasn’t meant for something non-negotiable, such as a mortgage payment!
Get inspiration on upcycling second-hand finds, another good tip for first homes
It goes without saying that your first house is unlikely to be your last, and therefore it’s sensible to focus your spending on pieces you can take with you when you leave. Instead of commissioning built-in joinery, restrict yourself to freestanding furniture.
Take measurements for any key spots you’re looking to furnish and save them on your phone, so you always have the crucial numbers to hand if you happen upon a great antiques shop or clearance sale.
While even a simple divan base can look elegant given the right treatment, a bargain basement mattress will certainly make its presence known for all the wrong reasons. Do your research and test out the main contenders in person before making this pricey purchase.
Many quality mattress retailers claim a mattress should last for 10 years, therefore every £100 you spend represents just 2.7p per night over that time. Mattress markers of quality include pocket springs and hand-stitching.
Get more advice on choosing a new mattress
Replacing a bathroom is never a cheap task, but there are ways to cut costs without compromising on style. I recently found an immaculate Victorian-style pedestal basin complete with taps at a salvage yard for £60. It’s also common to see second-hand or ex-display pieces from brands such as Burlington, Perrin & Rowe and Lefroy Brooks listed for sale in online auctions.
Tiles can be an expensive option, but shop online (there are highly competitive small businesses as well as large suppliers) or look into shipping direct from European manufacturers to cut costs on designer styles.
Painted MDF wall panelling is another design trick that can add wow factor to your bathroom. Ask a carpenter or builder for a quote and see if it works out cheaper than tiling.
Ready-made curtains rarely have the same luxury look or longevity of their custom counterparts. For the amount of work involved, handmade drapes are worth the investment. Opt for interlined curtains if your property has draughty windows and they will pay for themselves in terms of energy savings and your comfort at home. For a simple style statement, choose classic linen and have them fall to the floor.
When your bank balance is depleted but you’re still desperate to make your mark on a new home, skip the pricey prestige paint shades or heritage hues and opt for the Scandi favourite, brilliant white. Inject colour and creativity with accessories instead.
Tour a stunning traditional Scottish house given the brilliant white treatment
Buying a sofa demands a big chunk of your funds, even if you go for one of the lower-priced options. However, such a key piece of furniture for both aesthetic and practical purposes warrants investment, whether you go for new or a second-hand design classic.
Look for a hardwood frame that’s glued, screwed and dowelled, feather-wrapped foam seat pads and serpentine (zigzag) springs. Fabric is also key – linen-cotton mixes are timeless, stylish and hard-wearing. Choose a loose cover style in a dark shade if you’re prone to spills!
Depending on your taste, second-hand dining tables in pine or oak can be a great option, and can often be picked up for a lot less than the cost of new models made from inferior materials. They are easily sourced at car-boot sales and antiques fairs, as well as online.
Iconic dining chair designs, such as these Hans J Wegner Wishbone chairs, are a pricey option for seating, but the design has stood the test of time. For an affordable alternative, try painting mismatched wooden chairs (picked up for a few pounds) in the same shade of eggshell. If pairing with a farmhouse table, you could also paint the table legs.
How did you save money in your first home. What did you spend on – and was it worth it? Please share your experiences or photos in the Comments below.