how-to-decorate-using-what-you-already-haveDisclaimer: you might have to forgive excessive exclamation mark usage in the contents of this post–’cause this is my very favorite interior design topic!! How to decorate using what you already have? This might be the whole reason I got into the biz in the first place.  And why aren’t more people talking about it?? It’s like “interior design” exclusively means “buying new and expensive matchy matchy stuff.” It’s just not true! It’s a lie! And I’m naming no names, but HGTV and big time designers aren’t even trying to dispel this baloney! And maybe I’m alone in my principals, but really, I refuse to believe I’m the only person out there who thinks amazing design is all about creativity and less about cash. Reusing, reimagining, and repurposing should be our number one goal in interior design. Spaces that are designed using what you already have have much more character, charm, richness, and interest. They are not generic, they are completely personal to you and yours. Not to mention you’re saving money! So without anymore bloody to do, here are some areas of interior design where you can rock what you already have:


One of the funnest, easiest ways to decorate using what you have is with art. Begin by looting your storage. Look for anything sentimental, funny, striking, or beautiful. It doesn’t have to be “art.” Think outside the box, here. It doesn’t have to be a print or a painting or a photo. Think letters, doodles, kid art, cool old clothes, heirlooms, origami, books, postcards, wrapping paper, handkerchiefs, tools, instruments, trophies, wall paper, fabric, newspapers, sheet music, any kind of collection… Basically anything flat can be framed, and almost anything else can be attached to the wall one way or another. Some pieces can stand alone (like your mom’s college jean jacket, hanging from a hook by a hanger), but you can create amazing galleries to include lots of your cool stuff, especially smaller or tiny pieces that otherwise would be lost otherwise, by assembling collections. A gallery collection needs to be united either by a color scheme or a theme, and preferably both. (Check out my previous post How to Know Your Interior Design Style for more tips on choosing your scheme and theme.) Proper framing will also really legitimize and unite any group of random and obscure objects.


Furniture can be frustrating. You have to have it, but usually you don’t have the budget for the legit kind you want. Welcome to my woild. I’ve been making do since 2002. Whether someone gave you your furniture, or you found it at a thrift store, or you picked it up off the side of the road, as the great Tim Gunn says, you can “make it work!” Here are several ways to make the furniture you already have work a little longer and a little harder:


  1. Cover it. With upholstered pieces, the greatest bandaid known to man is the blanket. If your sofa arms are gross, cover them with a throw blanket, if the cushions are torn, wrap them all together with a quilt. If the style is nauseatingly 90s or otherwise ugly, cover the whole thing with a paint drop cloth. This trick can also be used for ugly tables or side tables. (Or if a side table is secretly an upside-down Home Depot bucket.) Cover it!
  1. Paint it. If you have a wooden piece that is old, weathered or ugly, sand and paint that mofo! Old outdated frames? Paint! 80s upholstered headboard? Paint! Stuffy dining chairs? Paint!
  1. Fix it. If you have even the most basic carpentry skills (i.e. if you know how to operate a drill and how to squeeze wood glue), you can do a lot with what you have. If you have piece that is wobbly, reinforce or tighten it. Replace broken or missing hardware. Update knobs and drawer pulls. Sometimes a lot of pieces are almost there, they just need a little TLC.
  1. Rearrange it. Sometimes The best thing you can do to breathe life into a space is to move the furniture around. Ask yourself how you want/need the space to function, and then draw up a new floor plan for the room that reflects those needs. If the room you are rearranging is a big priority, borrow pieces from any other room in the house. Then roll up your sleeves and get to work!


Lighting is such a key component to establishing the ambiance you want that my number one piece of advice is this: don’t ever get rid of a lamp because it’s the wrong style. All lamps are precious. Bases can always be spray painted, shades can always be embellished, recovered, or swapped out. If you have a bit of electrical savvy, lamp parts can even be salvaged and reassembled. And if you don’t want to take any of that on: temporarily, even the wrong lamp is better than no lamp.

Window treatments

A lot of different things can act as a window treatment. Sheets, blankets, fabric, rugs, shawls, lava lavas, etc. A sewing machine can turn basically anything fabric into a curtain. So well do substitutions work, that I have become extremely lazy about procuring legitimate window coverings. Instead, I invest in good hardware (and by “good” I mean “actual”– i.e. designated for the purpose of holding up curtains. I don’t do expensive). A trusty curtain rod can make anything you hang on it look intentional.


You can do so much with your space without spending any money! It’s just so damn exciting, guys. But occasionally, you really do need to spend money on your space, so here is my short list of investments that give you the biggest bang for the buck:

  1. A nice big rug

      2. New paint

      3. A stylish new ceiling light fixture (banish the boob light!)

      4. Lamps you love

      5. A coffee table/side tables

      6. A couple awesome throw pillows

      7. A big plant

As we speak, I am working on a comprehensive guide to designing with what you have. It’s going to be an epic installment to my course library, and I’m so excited to present it to you soon. If you haven’t already, subscribe to my email list for updates on the launch (and enjoy the free mini course that you get for subscribing)! Good luck, designers! Make it work! (“Who am I kidding, there’s always time for a Tim Gunn impression!” – Leslie Knope)

Love and guts,