10 Unexpected — and Cheap! — Items to Decorate With, According to Design Experts

published Apr 4, 2021
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Credit: Sylvie Li

In a bit of a decorating rut? I’ve definitely been there. Sometimes it feels like I’ve scrolled through every single budget-friendly resource available yet still can’t find the right finishing touches for a space. However, after speaking with top designers and stylists, I’ve learned that some of the very best accent pieces are those that are a bit off the beaten path and may not even be intended for decorative purposes at all… but more on that later!

Read on to learn about 10 unexpected items that can double as stylish, affordable home decor and will help set your space apart from all the rooms you see on social media. Oh, and chances are that many of these objects are right under your nose already, meaning you can start making over your home (potentially for free) today!

1. Musical instruments

Even if you’d rather forget about your school marching band days, you can take that flute out of its case and give it a pride of place by hanging it on the wall — no one needs to know you barely ever practiced! “My mom saved my trombone, which I played, poorly, in high school,” designer Jewel Marlowe says. “After sitting in our basement untouched for a few years I decided to hang the old instrument in my son’s room. It is attached to the wall by a leather strap on a hook so that it could come down and be played at any time.”

Guitars are another obvious choice here, too, especially if you go the route of wall mounting. Smaller metal instruments would also look great in shelfie or vignette arrangements.

2. Repurposed baskets

This $6 rattan basket is pretty chic as it is, but Instagrammer Sourya Venumbaka took it to the next level with a little DIY love. “Inspiration can be found anywhere, but have you looked in the kitchen section of IKEA?” she says. “When I saw this breadbasket, I instantly knew that it would make a great sconce.” All Venumbaka had to do was add a bulb and a metal backplate then plug it into a nearby outlet. Talk about out-of-the-(bread)-box thinking!

3. Clothing and accessories

Take your beautiful knit pieces out of the dresser and hang them up to admire every day instead. “Scarves and shawls make for great wall decor with small nails to hold them in place,” designer Leah Alexander says. “Stark white walls are enhanced with texture and color from old textiles that can be swapped out with the seasons.”

4. Stylish matches

Light it up! “I love candles, so having a ton of matches on hand makes sense, but if I’m going to do that, then let’s make it fun,” Instagrammer Tiffany Barino says. “You can use them for small pops of color; they also provide an opportunity to display pretty vessels that you can use to store them in. Best of all, you can pick up a box for as little as $4.” Plus, you can make evenings at home feel a little more luxe in just a snap!

5. Vintage silver

You don’t see silver used so often these days, but gems are out there, waiting to be found and displayed. “Use vintage silver as clusters or cache pots,” urges says Joanna Buchanan, a home accessory designer, and entertaining expert. “I buy all my vintage silver on eBay; tarnished is good!” Display your pieces with their patina or shine them up with one of these easy methods.

6. Everyday cards and photos

Keep photos of your favorite people, places, and things out in the open by displaying cards and magazine pages on inspiration boards or even tossing a stack of polaroids in a bowl on your coffee table for easy perusing. “I love to frame family and friend holiday cards, which I refresh every time I receive a new card or announcement,” designer Habiba Koroma says. “It is a great way to display my cards in a less cluttered and more considered way.  I also love to encourage my clients to frame and display everyday items, which instantly elevates and creates beautiful and affordable art.”

What utilitarian objects is Koroma herself loving most lately? She says, “My favorite displays include a shadow box framed afro pick comb and a collection of vintage Black beauty magazines.”

7. Mismatched plates

Head over to your favorite local thrift shop and go to town searching for beautiful vintage plates. “I collect lots of mismatched mid-century plates from eBay for formal and informal dinners,” designer Kate Hume explains. “I style them with stems of flowers in between.” You could also hang your plates on a wall, too, to create a gallery wall-like installation.

8. Air plants

Plants are always the answer, but have you hopped on board the air plant trend yet? “Air plants are a must when styling a built-in, a coffee table, or creating a spa-like bathroom,” designer Danielle Chiprut says. “These little green plants bring so much dimension to any surface with their organic shape and sage green color. Their affordable price point and their ability to thrive with minimal maintenance make them a shelfie staple!”

Credit: Viv Yapp

9. Children’s artwork

Celebrate your kiddos’ artistic skills by keeping their colorful pieces on display. “We design for a lot of young families, and one of our go-tos for stylish decor that doesn’t break the bank is framed children’s artwork,” designer Katie Davis says. “Finger paintings, drawings, craft projects — if you opt for all white frames, it really elevates the work and makes for a fun gallery wall.”

10. Existing pieces

Why purchase something brand new when an exciting accent piece may be hiding in plain sight? “If I’m looking to save or not spend too much money, I am less excited about new decor and instead love to get creative with the placement of objects I already own,” designer Sara Swabb says. Her ideas? “Think rope adorning your ceiling, flat-woven baskets on a wall, art and lamps in the kitchen, or outdoor ceramics on mantels.”