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Cheat Codes: 9 Designer Shortcuts That Work

General Expertise, Interior Design & Decorating, Potpourri
By Katie Carlson on Aug 10, 2016
Cheat Codes: 9 Designer Shortcuts That Work

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We’re all busy people with hectic schedules. While we all want our homes to look their best, there’s not always time to make it a reality. It doesn’t help that most of us aren’t interior designers or know all that much about how to skillfully put a room together.

The good news is there are shortcuts you can take that’ll decrease stress and save you time and money. You want each move you make to look like it was on purpose and not a mistake or filler. See the top cheats designers use time and time again for quick results.

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Thrift Shopping

1. Shop Thrift Stores & Sales

Everything you own does not need to be expensive, but that’s not to say your home can’t look expensive. Even designers practice patience and depend on thrift stores, sales and clearance shelves for decorating homes. There’s no reason to blow your budget just because you think you have to have an item.

Shop around and purchase pieces at flea markets, during sales or on clearance. Learn how to decorate on a budget and map out where you can justify spending more money and places you can scale back. Making your home look more expensive on a dime is possible if you’re willing to put in a little extra work to find the sales.  

Arrange Furniture

2. Arrange Furniture

Interior design doesn’t just rest on what you’re incorporating in your décor, but also how it appears and displays. Arranging your furniture properly and keeping it clean are both ways to make your home look nicer without spending any money. It’s all about rotating, rearranging and creating visual symmetry.  

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Bring your outdoor furnishings inside or work new angles in your rooms. Pushing furniture against the wall and sloppy placement of side or end tables is easy, but it won’t get you the results you desire. Throw blankets are a great way to add a pop of color and effortless décor all at the same time. The blankets don’t have to be properly folded or hidden. They’re throws and are expected to be draped over furniture and part of the overall design.  

Layer Lighting

3. Layer Lighting

You can never have too many lighting choices in your home or individual rooms. If anything, many homeowners forget that lights have an aesthetic appeal, ability to set the mood and carry significant weight as to the overall design. Light fixtures, recessed can lighting, lamps and dimmer switches are all ways to layer your lighting in your home. Cheap and easy lighting tricks include, rearranging lamps and shades, lighting candles or using light to highlight interesting artwork, plants and novel architectural details.

Neutral Colors

4. Use A Monochromatic Palette

A unicolor palette is especially helpful for decorating small homes or spaces. Neutrals, creams and beige tones brighten up a room and make it look bigger. The last thing you want to do with a small space is emphasize the square footage. Very light-colored walls, floors and window treatments will accomplish this goal. This design trick can be used in any room you want to appear larger or make livelier.

Spray Painted Fixture

5. Spray Paint Dated Fixtures

Do you ever look around your home and wish it was more with the times? Those of you who are in this situation may want to make updates but know your budget won't allow it. One designer quick fix is to reinvent dated fixtures with spray paint and inexpensive refinishing kits. This will be cheaper than installing a new light fixture.

Makeover an old, brass chandelier with a quick coat of hammered-bronze or satin-nickel spray paint. Dingy switch plates, vents and doorknobs can all be transformed with a little bit of spray paint, and it doesn’t end there. Painting kitchen cabinets, applying counter-coating products and swapping out hardware will refresh your space in no time.


6. Hang Mirrors

Hanging mirrors is one of the quickest and most budget-friendly design shortcut to make. They have an amazing ability to bounce light, open up a room and have a nice decorative touch. Experts go as far as to recommend adding at least one mirror per room.

Although you need to know what you're doing, “Placing one in the wrong spot can be almost as bad as not having one at all. Put mirrors on walls perpendicular to windows, not directly across from them. Hanging a mirror directly opposite a window can actually bounce the light right back out the window.” (This Old House)

Area Rug

7. Invest in Area Rugs

Many people avoid placing area rugs in their home because they know they’re expensive. This brings me back to my point above about shopping sales and thrift stores. Area rugs are worth the frustration that comes with finding the right one at a decent price.

Area Rug Placement

Rugs soften hardwood floors, add color, come in all sorts of designs and make a room feel warm and cozy. Do your homework before making a purchase so it’s the right size, style and material for where you’ll be placing it. Most importantly, know how to arrange furniture on it. This means using appropriately-sized rugs, selecting your seating before your rug and using the right placement based on the room.

Painted Bookshelf

8. Paint on A Pop of Color

One of the easiest and most practical interior design shortcuts is to add an unexpected pop of color. A coat of paint is the simplest and most economical way to enhance and transform a dull room. One of my favorite tips is to paint or wallpaper the inside of your bookcases. After you’ve applied the pop of color, take time to style it properly and then sit back and enjoy the view. Other fun places to add a pop of color include painting fireplace mantels, the insides of closets, hallways and ceilings.

Bathroom Storage

9. Place Wicker Baskets for Storage

Organization and properly stored items will not only make your home look nicer and bigger, but it’ll make your life easier. Areas like your bathrooms and kitchen should be carefully attended to because they’re the most used rooms in the house and likely to have the most stuff in the given space. The image above is the perfect example of how a simple DIY cubby is so much more once wicker baskets are incorporated. Now it’s a storage, a statement and a convenience piece all in one.

Kitchen Storage

Don’t assume wicker is only for your bathrooms and living room. Wicker baskets and drawers are helping homeowners everywhere get more organized in their kitchens too. These attractive storage units also add character to your kitchen.


Shortcuts save you time and are the quickest way to get your end results when you're balancing a busy lifestyle. These tips are not meant to be implemented all at once. Experts agree not to rush the design of your space, but allow yourself to collect, rearrange and upgrade over time.

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