Shopping Your Home Is the Free Decorating Tip Designers Swear By—Here’s How to Do It Successfully

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

I’ve heard designers say this, in one way or another, what feels like a million times: Shop your home to change up your decor for free. And you know what—it’s a good idea, in theory. You can’t beat free, right? But, it’s also a little soundbite-y. And by that, I mean, how does one actually go about doing this? I’ve never pressed a designer for actionable tips—that is, until now. Here are a few thoughts on just how to refresh your space with the stuff you already own.

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Play Switch-a-Roo—One Item at a Time

“Stand back and look at your anchor pieces first—large furniture items and rugs—then move on to smaller accessory items like side tables and last ancillary items like artwork and final touches,” says Heather Eubanks, co-owner of The Design Collaborative. If you tackle each of these categories, one by one, you can see which items might be able to have a second life in a different room. Then go ahead, and make that swap. And onto the next, and so on. That way, Eubanks says, you are shopping within your house first for items to complete your new design concept before buying anything new.

(Image credit: Samara Vise)

Make It All About the Memories

“Think of your house as a series of family moments and design those new areas with what you already have in your house,” says designer Jeremiah Brent. “For example, we love reading with our daughter, so we created a reading nook from things we already had on hand.” How exactly? Well, find an empty stretch of wall and pull up a comfy chair, a side table, and a lamp—best if these things were previously all in different rooms. Then you’ve effectively created something new by working with stuff you already had—just by putting these things into a new context. You can do the same thing with other “moments” too, think: a new crafting corner, a homework hub, a cozy morning coffee spot, and so on.

(Image credit: Emily Billings)

Dig Deep for Pieces

Ever feel like you have a closet full of clothes but nothing to wear? That’s probably because your closet is filled to the brim, and you literally can’t see all of your options, many of which you might have even forgotten you have. The same thing is probably true of your tchotchkes and decorative accessories, and a little bit of digging in a cabinet, bin, or even a basket may unearth some real gems. “Do not purchase a lot of knick-knack-type things,” says interior designer Nancy Munnerlyn, owner of Audley Designs. “Rather look into your cabinets to see what interesting bowls or vases might be hiding.” Same is true for towels you might have purchased and shoved to the back of the linen closet or an old vase you saved from a flower delivery. If you haven’t done a clean-out recently, now’s the time. You may be surprised at what you find.

(Image credit: Diana Paulson)

Break up Those Sets

“Sometimes a fresh eye on the furniture and accessories within your own household and how it is rearranged is all you need,” says designer and Clorox partner Sabrina Soto. She suggests you start by breaking up any sets you have—matching sofa and loveseat, for example. Or a bed that’s part of a set with nightstands. Maybe move one of those tables to the living room, and put an old side chair in its place. The idea is to take the dated concept of matchy-matchy furniture and mix it up, just by rotating the pieces you already have.

(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

Change Your Art

Rejigger your gallery arrangement, if you’re okay with making new holes in the wall (and filling those old ones). If you have a couple of standard size framed art prints, swap a few of the pieces’ frames. Print out some new pictures to update and refresh your framed photos.

(Image credit: Samara Vise)

Tweak Your Layout

So you can’t exactly take down walls, but what if you flipped the functions of a full room or two? Brent says this can be the start of a home shopping spree. Why? Well, say you made your guest bedroom an office and vice-versa. This change forces you to reconsider each room’s layout and the items that will go into each space should be different because the rooms will be functioning differently. And the first place to look for decor when reconfiguring should be you own home.

(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

Use Textiles to Your Advantage

Not saying you have to reupholster your furniture because that costs money. But you can use textiles to give your chairs, sofas, and beds a new look. Take a throw and drape it over your headboard to freshen it up. Or tuck it into your couch cushion or use one to wrap your banquette. You can give a piece a totally different vibe this way.

So that’s a start, but there must be other ways to work with what you’ve got, right? How have you shopped your own home for decor?