STYLISH INTERIORS ON A BUDGET – A THRIFTY CHALLENGE FOR THE BHF
MAKEOVER CHALLENGE: STYLISH INTERIORS ON A BUDGET
I’m opening this post with a frank admission; frugality is not my USP. Thrift-shopping/bargain hunting is not my forte. And – at the risk of full disclosure – know that I couldn’t be less of a seasoned ‘re-purposer/’up-cycler’ if I tried.
Whilst I strongly support the notion that great design is for everyone, regardless of budget, and appreciate that many people have great success in the aforementioned areas, I feel it necessary to highlight from the outset that ‘stylish interiors on a budget’ is not necessarily my specialism. I say this wincing uncomfortably and hiding behind my hands. This is, after all, not what I should be saying out loud. Upcycling/reviving the old has seen a fashionable revival. Sustainability is a hot topic. But, whilst I support these ideals and practices wholeheartedly, it’s important to remember that we all have our areas of strength and individual preferences.
Grant Pierrus and I proving that stylish interiors can be achieved on a budget for the British Heart Foundation
In my ‘day job’ as an interior designer and blogger (read my post on this here), I’m not particularly accustomed to delivering stylish interiors on a maximum budget of £500 per room. So, when Grant Pierrus – The Interior Style Hunter – approached me to work alongside him on a project for the British Heart Foundation’s new interiors campaign, whilst I was keen to get involved, I was also a little frightened by the task ahead. The brief was to design an entire roomset from scratch, using mainly items from their nationwide home stores. This would happen in just one day and – ideally – we would even have some change spare at the end. What became abundantly clear from the outset was that this was going to be our ultimate challenge. The Chelsea Harbour mindset would need a little reprogramming. We would need to embrace total flexibility, creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.
BEYOND THE KING’S ROAD – STYLISH INTERIORS ON A BUDGET
I’m going to pause at at this point to provide some necessary context. I think now is the perfect time – just before you label me a total snob who won’t venture beyond Harrods. As a interior designer specialising in luxury schemes, I’m accustomed to working with large budgets. That isn’t to say that personally I have a frivolously disposable income but professionally, I commission expensive, bespoke pieces for my clients on a regular basis (at Sarah Mailer Design).
Details from an elegant interior at Sarah Mailer Design
All aspects of the schemes I design – from the shape and size of every piece to the textures, materials and finishes – are carefully considered. With luxury interior projects where most elements are made-to-order, very little is purchased on a whim. My studio, overrun by samples, supports this fact – so little is left to chance. This British Heart Foundation campaign would require a VERY different approach. Not just in terms of budget but a new way of working – for both Grant and I. A touch of ‘go-with-the-flow’. In a way, this made us the perfect pairing because we would be navigating through somewhat uncharted territory together. And who doesn’t value a little comradery?!
The big day. I’m in my painting attire – it’s ‘all systems go’!
DEFINING THE BRIEF
Stylish interiors on a budget – the challenge was set.
In four weeks time, Grant (The Interior Style Hunter) and I would be installing a roomset within a Shoreditch studio space that should evoke our usual style and design aesthetic but on a £500 budget. We would be working alongside three other teams; David White and Mark Russell from Forward Features, Max McMurdo with Phil Ely and Sharp & Simpson’s Micaela Sharp with designer Beth Clancy (read about Beth’s inspiring ‘Holiday House’ scheme here).
The team – all smiles after an excellent installation day!
This was a task that I felt excited to undertake. After all, as I mentioned earlier, great design should not simply be confined to ‘big bucks and bespoke’ (read my post on some key interior design secrets here which can be achieved on any budget). Ultimately, its how you select, refine and present that defines the overall look and feel. Budget does not account for taste. And, as with any good design scheme, step one was about conducting some research and defining the brief.
The studio space before the magic happened…
As Grant and I discussed the project, it became increasingly apparent that our intentions aligned. Whilst others had agreed to create a children’s bedroom, main bedroom and living room, Grant had chosen the dining room to be our space. Our intention was to deliver a scheme that looked sophisticated and elegant (this is something I often strive to create – read it here). Perhaps with ‘a touch of Poirot’. Something that felt expensive and refined, even on a strict budget and within a limited time frame. Essentially, the question we were posing was; ‘how can one deliver stylish interiors on a budget’?
SHOPPING WITH THE BRITISH HEART FOUNDATION
It was a sunny September day when Grant and I met at the Brixton BHF branch to select some key pieces. The store was orderly and easy to navigate so we hurried around with unbridled enthusiasm, quickly earmarking our favourites. Interestingly, we were in agreement on many items and took to thrift-shopping like ducks to water. I experienced the same excitement and darted about with similar finesse as in a high-end Chelsea showroom.
Smiling in our finished roomset. The sideboard was our hero-piece
We gravitated towards a weighty Deco-meets-Brutalist sideboard early on in our search. Somewhat unloved, marooned in the middle of the store atop grey carpet squares and overshadowed by an overbearing floor-lamp, this piece became a firm-favourite. Varnished but slightly scuffed, interesting carvings adorned both the cupboard doors and central drawers which amped-up its appeal. Every dining room benefits from a sideboard and this was to be our hero piece and the focal point within our scheme.
Other essentials were quickly defined:
- a table and chair set
- a table lamp(s)
- a rug
- some artwork. Artwork is always the answer.
STYLISH INTERIORS ON A BUDGET: BUILDING THE SCHEME
Design principals transcend budget limitations and we intended to showcase this in our dining room scheme. Choosing the right pieces was paramount to the success of the project.
Grant and I painting the lamp bases. We chose them for their height and gorgeous shape – the colour was easy to alter with some trusted chalk-paint
We stumbled upon a pair of speckled aluminium-look lamp bases. Tall and shapely, they showed great promise. Close by, two elegant oval shades rested over the arm of a sofa and we knew these were the perfect accompaniment. We noted that shape and size should always be a key consideration – finishes can be altered with relative ease. We explored the idea of displaying just one lamp on the sideboard but decided that, despite the snug fit, the symmetry of a pair created such strong impact. Perfect for the carefully curated and editorial look we were championing.
All that section was missing was a piece of artwork. On this matter, Grant and I concurred that the scale was key. With the tall lamps and imposing shades, anything too small and placed centrally would be overshadowed and this would compromise the entire look.
I began layering my abstract design over the pre-loved canvas. The colours within this piece would bring the entire scheme together
A large canvas was our next find. It showcased a pre-existing design which was NOT our thing but had massive over-painting potential. This was a brilliant procurement as brand new canvases can be costly. Oh, the power of a roller and trusted white, household emulsion to quickly disguise a multitude of sins. I volunteered to paint something really contemporary onto the canvas. This would form an interesting juxtaposition with the more traditional furniture in-situ. We concluded that this would be the perfect way to tie all elements within the scheme together.
The table and chairs came next (somewhat necessary for a dining room, we thought). When we saw the ever-chic French-caning on the back of the set of four chairs, we knew the search was over. This style is delightfully vintage whilst also feeling quite ‘now’. Unfortunately, there was an unsightly wood-clash between table and chairs so some chalk paint would need to enter the fray. The finer details were to be agreed later.
Stylish interiors on a budget – proportion is everything and carefully chosen accessories complete the polished look
We then set aside time to source accessories. This happened alongside some comical tag-teaming, as we took it in turns to shield our freshly coveted pieces from potential prey. You know how it is – once something openly appeals to someone, the interest from others surges! Once the red ‘sold’ stickers were applied we felt more relaxed although we continued to reiterate ‘please don’t sell these to anyone else’ to the store volunteers. Rug – sorted. Accessories – tick. We enjoyed a lemonade and a chat in the afternoon sun to finalise the scheme.
THE DINING ROOM DESIGN
Before the day itself, I mocked-up a quick elevation of the space. This wasn’t anything technically brilliant – in truth, it was a slap-dash cut-and-paste effort – but it would help us to gage the overall vision we were working towards.
Creating a moodboard or quick elevation is extremely useful – it helps you to clarify and visualise the overall look and feel you wish to achieve
The palette would comprise fresh greens, blues, white and greys, alongside deep wood tones, brassy hues and complementary accessories. A quick trip to the paint shop and we were ready to face the challenge. Fingers were firmly crossed that everything had made it from store to the warehouse in one piece!
Surely I’m not the only person who can’t sleep before a big event?! It’s that torrid mix of excitement, nerves, worry, doubt, adrenaline… My stomach flips and my brain will not switch off. Every hour of awake time that passes induces more anxiety. The pressure was mounting.
THE DAY: OUR BUDGET FRIENDLY, STYLISH INTERIOR
The ‘big day’ – Wednesday 3rd October – was a hive of activity and excitement as we all worked towards our final schemes. It was inevitable that we would feel ever-so-slightly pressured by the time-lapse camera in the corner, silently capturing our every move. It was a whirlwind of creativity, colour-mixing, furniture-arranging, painting, cold tea and half-finished conversations. An extremely rewarding event.
David and Mark of Forward Features arranging their roomset
The process was immensely enjoyable and all the outcomes so deliciously varied. Grant and I rediscovered the sheer success of chalk paint – it totally transformed our chairs and lamp bases. The power of colour to revive an object was also artfully demonstrated. The day also reaffirmed to me that embracing eclecticism can only be a good thing.
Max McMurdo transforming a lampshade for his quirky, innovative scheme
Here are the four final roomsets in all their glory. All very different and all achieved for under £500 with pieces sourced from the British Heart Foundation’s home stores:
1. Micaela Sharp and Beth Clancy’s Children’s Bedroom
Using a pastel colour scheme, Micaela Sharp of Sharp & Simpson and interior designer Beth Clancy, went for a fun gender-neutral theme for their children’s bedroom space, creating a look which could span across a variety of age groups. Sharp
Children’s Bedroom Cost Breakdown:
Bed £65, mattress £35, mirror £45, wardrobe £15, sideboard £15, pillow £2, throw £9.99, toy box £10, light £150, giraffe print £69.99, rug £30. Total cost = £446.98
2. Max McMurdo’s Living Room
Famous for his eclectic designs, Max McMurdo’s hunter lodge theme included chair legs which had been turned into antler wall mountings, a table created from upturned chairs – and even a lampshade made from chair legs!
Living Room Cost Breakdown:
Dining table and chairs x 3 – £25 each, Dining table and chairs £50, fireplace £69.99, gold and black globe £45.99, rug £24.99, electrical goods £20, bric a brac £140. Total cost = £425.97
3. Forward Features’s Bedroom
Design duo Forward Features have won awards for their design blog – but how did they find taking on the BHF Makeover Challenge? ‘We loved it!’ say the pair, whose main bedroom design was inspired with a retro 70s theme in mind.
Bedroom Cost Breakdown:
Chest £40, bed £100, mirror £10, records 4 x £2.50, chest £60, cushion 9.99, chair £20, throw £9.99, bedside table £55, stool £59, artwork £14, rug £85, jug £3, ornaments £15. Total cost = £490.98
4. Sarah and Grant’s Dining Room
Our completed scheme. We kept it simple with key statement, vintage pieces pared with some contemporary elements
Dining Room Cost Breakdown:
Dining room set £105, sideboard £80, lamps £40, jug £3, rug £65, canvas £40, teapot and cups £15, books £10, mirror £10. Total cost = £368
GETTING THRIFTY: CREATING STYLISH INTERIORS ON A BUDGET
A cosy corner within Max McMurdo’s living room space
Essentially, this has been the ‘non-thrift shopper’s guide to thrift shopping and decorating on a budget’. It was an important exercise in stepping outside our comfort zones and I am honoured to have been involved in such a worthwhile campaign. Grant and I are delighted with our roomset outcome and we feel it effectively responds to the question we posed; ‘how to create stylish interiors on a budget’? We are amazed that we only spent a total of £368 – the least of all the teams. How’s that for thrifty?!
I have certainly altered my mindset when it comes to shopping for interiors and I think I will approach things slightly differently moving forward. Allison Swaine-Hughes, Retail Director at the British Heart Foundation said: ‘The Makeover Challenge is a great example of how you don’t need a big budget to give a home a fresh new look – it’s been amazing to see what these designers have created from items found in their local BHF home stores! With sofas from £95 and wardrobes from £40, not only do the stores provide great value but every penny raised in store goes towards life-saving research’.
I hope you enjoyed this post and the outcomes we produced. I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below.
Girl signing off,
A little detail from Forward Features’s ’70s inspired roomset. To find out more, head to www.bhf.org.uk/makeover or to volunteer; www.bhf.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer
For over 50 years the BHF has pioneered research that’s transformed the lives of people living with heart and circulatory diseases. Our work has been central to the discoveries of vital treatments that are helping to beat heartbreak forever. But so many people still need our help. From babies born with life-threatening heart problems to the many mums, dads and grandparents who survive a heart attack and endure the daily battles of heart failure. Every pound raised, minute of your time and donation to our shops will help make a difference to people’s lives.
Each year, British Heart Foundation (BHF) shops raise around £30 million to help the BHF fund life-saving research into all heart diseases, stroke, vascular dementia and diabetes | The BHF has around 750 shops across England, Scotland and Wales including 550 Standard shops and over 180 Home stores, selling up to 85,000 items every day | The BHF eBay shop made over £3 million profit last year alone, selling over 120,000 items | The BHF has around 17,000 volunteer opportunities in its shops. Nearly 90 per cent of its employed retail positions are filled by those who have previously volunteered for the BHF | To find your local shop visit org.uk/shops.