How Designers Combine High and Low Decor in One Space

published Aug 23, 2018
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(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

Most of us can’t afford to outfit our homes with pricey, one-of-a-kind pieces. Yes, we’d love a gallery wall filled only with high-quality canvas originals, or a collection of fancy, passed-down decorative teacups. But if we waited around until we had an entire apartment’s worth of high-end decor, we’d stare at bare walls for decades. There’s no shame in loving what you’ve got and going to stores like HomeGoods or IKEA for the rest.

Upgrading your home decor game means learning to seamlessly combine high and low decor. Your most unique pieces—whether they be heirlooms or simply expensive—can meld perfectly with inexpensive finds.

Not sure how the two ends might meet? Here’s how designers make the combination work.

1. Spend Your Money on Statement Pieces

Ask any designer their golden rule for mixing high- and low-end decor, and they’ll respond the same way: If your budget is limited, spend on statement pieces.

“When investing in high-end home furnishings, homeowners should select statement pieces that are durable and offer the most longevity, such as a sofa, bed, table, or hutch,” says Erin Powell, the design director for home staging company roOomy. “To offset the price, add touches of lower-level decor through throw pillows, decorative blankets, poufs or stools, and a series of vases, frames, and other ornate figurines.”

So feel free to splurge on a luxurious velvet couch—even if it takes over your budget. A quality piece will make even the most inexpensive accessories look glam.

2. Balance Your Lighting

Your ceiling is the perfect place to spend a little cash. Picking an extra-luxe pendant lamp or splurging on can lighting gives you license to select cheaper lighting elements elsewhere in the room.

“Overhead lighting is so often overlooked, but it is something that I encourage clients to spend a little extra on. A chandelier or lantern can really make a big impact and affect the whole feel of the room,” says Amanda Van Roy, an interior designer in Northern Virginia.

For your floor and table lamps, pick something fun that you’ll feel okay passing on in a few years. Because you splurged on your ceiling lights, you can “embrace something a little more trendy or colorful without having to worry about the investment,” Van Roy says.

3. Buy Nice Towels—and DIY the Rest

Mixing high and low in your bathroom can be a struggle. In such a confined space, a cheap-looking accent stands out like a sore, ugly thumb.

But investing in towels that not only feel luxurious but also look nice can make all the difference—and even jazz up your existing fittings.

“Splurge on high-quality linens and towels not only to enhance your own bathroom experience, but to dress up a dated vanity and towel rack,” says Liz Solms, the creative director at Philadelphia luxury housing community Spruce Street Commons.

No need to pair expensive toiletry and tissue sets with your high-end towels. Go low-end. “Try some thrifted Mason jars and milk glass containers to hold your toothbrush and cotton balls. It’s a cheaper and more stylish solution,” she says.

4. Glam up Your Backsplash

Redesigning your kitchen is the perfect time to practice mixing high-end elements with low-end features. Select an affordable flooring, like porcelain, and resist the urge to spend on ultra-luxe cabinetry. Save your cash for the room’s most visible element: the backsplash.

“Put a cool design element on the backsplash above the burners using an exquisite mosaic, and that will be the focal point,” says Jeffrey Mark, the owner of J. Mark Interiors. “Since it’s only one small area, you’re not spending as much.”

A glitzy backsplash commands attention—and diverts eyes from less-expensive elements.

5. Thrift Mismatched Dining Chairs

When you’re planning out your dining space, your table should be your statement piece. But that doesn’t mean you have to buy the pricey matching chairs. Save money by piecing together an assortment of inexpensive or thrifted seats. The result can be farmhouse chic, avant garde, or mid-century stylish, depending on your decor.

“Surround the dining table with a mix-match of chairs you’ve collected over time,” says Bradley Odom, an Atlanta-based designer and founder of interiors shop Dixon Rye.

Finish off the look by extending the mix-matched feel to your walls. “You can always find beautiful plates to hang on the wall to create a really dramatic presentation that looks like you spent a fortune, even when you didn’t,” says Odom.

6. Flesh Out a Collection

If you’re working on building a collection—of art or vases or vintage books—consider pairing your more expensive pieces with cheaper items found at flea markets or big-box stores.

“If homeowners find art pieces that truly inspire them, but are higher in price, they can complement them with other less expensive artwork,” says Powell. “This could include anything from flea market finds to large-scale, high-end pieces of art from a professional auction house.”

Showcasing items from different price points “creates an overall collection,” she says. Expensive pieces feel more exciting and valuable, and cheaper pieces are elevated by the display.

7. Try Open Shelving

If you elect for expensive lower kitchen cabinets, consider open shelving for the walls. And “don’t be afraid to hang random shelving you’d normally associate with another place, like a library or a barn,” says Solms.

Reclaimed shelving adds a funky, vintage appeal that balances the luxe look of your lower cabinetry. Keep the high-low theme in mind when decorating the shelves, as well. “Mix your favorite cookbooks in piles with your old college pots and pans,” Solms says. “The vibrant book covers will distract from the years of grease.”

8. Splurge on Your Sleep

You spend one-third of your life in bed—so spend a little extra when creating the perfect set-up. Surround yourself with luxe sheets, fluffy pillows and a statement-making bed frame.

“Make it as comfortable as possible!” says Douglas Graneto, a designer in Greenwich, CT. Your bed “isn’t something that needs much updating, so one splurge and you are good for quite some time.”

Accompany your super-plush new bed with something inexpensive and chic, like an affordable nightstand from a mass retailer. Stores like IKEA, World Market, and HomeGoods often have large selections of cute bedroom furniture that won’t look dowdy next to your fancypants bed.

9. Mix it up on Your Bookshelf

Bookshelves are the perfect place to practice mixing high- and low-end decor. Style a thrift store discovery right next to the stunning, heirloom vase passed down from your great-grandmother. Often, you’ll find your fanciest pieces pair perfectly with cheaper finds, which “will help make a space feel special without a large investment,” says Van Roy.

But what if you don’t have an enormous collection of expensive objets d’art? Van Roy recommends covering the back of your bookshelf with a luxurious patterned wallpaper.

“Flea market steals take on a whole new life when styled against beautiful wallpaper,” she says.

10. Seek out Vintage Steals

Here’s the other universal truth of mashing different decor styles: “A vintage shop is essential for the homeowner that likes to combine high and low,” says Graneto. You may already have a fave thrift store. If you don’t, get your search started. Look for a shop that shares your aesthetic style—and prices items within your budget.

Show off your thrift store bargains in your entryway. When you’re welcoming guests, there’s a benefit to choosing cheaper pieces: over-the-top expensive decor may make them feel like they’re visiting a museum, not a home. “This is a good place for showcasing decor accents that you love,” Graneto says. “This is an area you can lowball.”