5 Timeless, Budget-Friendly Decorating Tips I Learned From My Grandmother

published Nov 12, 2020
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After: Bright, stylized room with table and chairs and gallery wall

I know I’m not alone when I say that I learned a lot about decorating a home from my grandma. I remember her as a woman unafraid of paint, who loved thrifting—she called it “junking”—and DIY.

She and I would spend weekends watching HGTV together and painting dollhouse furniture. My grandma filled several iterations of my childhood bedroom with upcycled furniture, special trinkets, and once, a handmade tulle canopy that she hung above my bed. Although I may have grown out of our mutual love for shabby chic decor, those decades I spent observing and learning from my grandma stuck with me. Keep reading for some solid styling tips from my nama—these gems are concepts I still use and could work for your home, too.

If you can’t buy it, DIY it!

When I was a kid, my family was big and tight on funds. Decorating our home wasn’t exactly high on the list of priorities. When I needed curtains (why are drapes so expensive?), my grandma miraculously found a few matching dark blue flat sheets at a discount store for something like $2 each, sewed a pouch for a curtain rod along the tops, et voilà: bedroom curtains for less than $10.

When I wanted a plant stand for my fiddle leaf fig, rather than dishing out $60 or more, I thought back to grandma’s DIYs, and then decided to make one of my own with a few dowels and wood glue from the hardware store. If you’re on a budget or have something really specific in mind, this principle always applies. This is not to say that you can’t splurge on a special piece; sometimes though necessity really can be the (grand)mother of invention.

Paint is transformative

As soon as we moved into our home, I knew I had to paint over the dingy gray walls with a warm, white color. I painted my first wall when I was an 8-year-old, and yes, my grandma was right there with me. I watched her paint old furniture (gasp!), walls, exterior trim—you name it.

If she didn’t like the end result, you can bet she’d paint over it, whatever it was. She’s right! Even can’t fail, moody shades, like the one I used in my bedroom, can be all wrong for spaces that don’t get a lot of light. I won’t give up finding the perfect color though, just as my grandma wouldn’t either.

Cover up the “ugly” stuff

Before peel-and-stick tile was a thing, my grandma used linoleum in her first home to cover up a worn-out kitchen floor. So naturally, when it was time for me to decorate my first solo apartment, she beamed when I made mention of these kinds of alternative wall and floor coverings as a solution.

In my current kitchen, which you can see above, I despised the original dark gray mosaic tile backsplash. With my nama in mind, up went the peel-and-stick subway tile, and it’s made such a big difference in brightening up the space.

Big artwork is your best friend

My grandparents’ walls were covered in massive framed Art Deco posters that my grandma hauled with her each time she moved to a new house. She loved using oversized art to fill up empty wall space, and I’ve never shied away from that principle either. Above, you’ll see my hallway adorned in a loud wallpaper and a giant framed poster. Although my grandma probably wouldn’t love this color scheme (her favorite color was black), I’m sure she’d appreciate its boldness.

Who cares if you’re renting: You live there!

When you’re the type of person who likes to move around a lot, as my grandparents were, you’ll probably end up renting. It just offers more flexibility, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for the fixtures and finishes there, especially if they don’t make you happy. My grandparents probably took this principle a little bit far; they made some serious upgrades to their rentals over the years like replacing carpeting. Their outlook on personalizing a rental space, however, has always stuck with me.

In all of my rentals, I’ve decorated with abandon! In the picture above, which shows my previous living room, I painted all of the walls white, hung curtains, added track shelving to create a book wall, and mounted our television. I asked my property manager before making changes, and they simply replied that I would be responsible for returning things to their original state before moving out. My grandma underscored the importance of loving where you live, regardless of who owns it or how long you’ll live there, and this is something that I wholeheartedly agree with.

What kinds of decorating tips did you learn from your grandma? Tell us about them in the comments.