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Design Challenge: One Living Room, Three Budgets

We’re going to start by stating the obvious: furniture is expensive. (Raise your hand if you had sticker shock the first time you saw the price for a sofa or bed frame!) But it also happens to be one of life’s little necessities. And if you’re getting your first apartment, living solo for the first time, or buying your first home and upgrading to more “grown-up” furniture, it can definitely feel overwhelming to figure out how to furnish your home and still afford to pay your bills and buy groceries.

Many of our Modsy clients are unsure how to think about budget and what to expect when starting a design project. How much does it cost to furnish a whole room? If you’re buying furniture over time, where do you start and what can wait? How do you make your space livable without it being fully furnished? It’s enough to make your head spin! So, we tapped one of our top designers to show us how she’d decorate one room with three different budgets.

Our hope is that this exercise will show you how far different budgets can get you when designing a room from scratch, as well as give you some practical living room design ideas. Of course, not everyone is starting from scratch—perhaps you’re starting with an existing sofa or decorating around a dining room table. But to level the playing field and show you as accurately as possible what it takes to design a full room, we’re starting with nothing but an empty room!

With some smart design choices and a couple of insider hacks, a Modsy designer can help you make the most of any budget. Read on to see how far $3,500, $10,000, and $20,000 will get you when designing a living room.

Budget Living Room in a casual coastal style

The Before

Here’s a little context before we get started: The room we’re designing is a 19’x17’ living room with a fireplace. Our designer’s main priorities for the space were to offer the functional basics and a conversational layout, with as much seating, storage, and surfaces as possible for each budget.

Budget Living Room in a casual coastal style

Design #1: Living Room With a $3,500 Budget

With a $3,500 budget, you’re just getting the bare necessities. When you’re starting with an empty living room, prioritizing function is key. So, we started with the living room essentials.

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Budget Living Room in a casual coastal styleBudget Living Room in a casual coastal style

What You Get

  • A Simple Sofa: For a budget-friendly sofa, we opted for a comfortable but less expensive option. Though it’s a fabric-upholstered sofa (made in a durable vinyl), it has a faux leather look which we like. The single bench seat cushion gives the sofa a sleek but simple look. It has smaller dimensions than the average sofa, being shorter and less deep, which helps keep the price point lower.
  • Basic Accent Furniture: The simple accent chairs, side table, coffee table, and floor lamp help fill out the function in this space. They offer a bare minimum for surface space and seating and are all 100% focused on functionality. But that doesn’t mean they’re lacking in style! Small details—whether the shape, material, or finish make them still feel like thoughtful pieces within the space.
  • A Synthetic-Fiber Rug: Why are rugs so expensive? Size and material are huge factors. So, we opted for a rug with slightly smaller dimensions and made of synthetic fibers (since synthetic-fiber rugs tend to be more affordable than their natural fiber counterparts). This rug is made of a combo of polyester and polypropylene and woven in a beautiful, global-inspired pattern that makes it look more expensive than it is. It provides necessary floor protection and helps to “zone” the floating furniture, but the material it’s made out of means it won’t last forever. (AKA, this isn’t an investment piece but rather a rug that does the trick for now!)
  • Minimal Decor: There wasn’t a ton of money left in the budget for decor—but we didn’t want to leave this living room feeling bare. So, one statement piece of wall art above the fireplace (a beautiful landscape painting) adds color and a touch of intentionality to the space. A basket next to the sofa adds a touch of hidden storage, and a few throw pillows and a plant help finish the look.

Budget Living Room in a casual coastal style

The Strategy: Function With a Few Frills

This is a “no-frills” living room design. When decorating on a budget, you’re getting the basics and not much else. But we didn’t skimp on functionality. Even with a smaller budget, we were able to fill out the space with essential furniture and accessories while leaving plenty of room to add more over time.

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Budget Living Room in a casual coastal style

Design #2: Living Room With a $10,000 Budget

With a $10,000 budget, you’re able to upgrade some of the basic pieces of furniture to add a little more luxury to your space. You can also go beyond the essentials and fill out the living room with a bit more decor.

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Budget Living Room in a casual coastal style

Budget Living Room in a casual coastal style

What You Get

  • Upgraded Essentials: At this budget, you can spend a bit more on a sofa and accent chairs—leaning more toward investment pieces than shorter-term placeholders. (Check out our guide on how much to spend on a sofa if you’re waffling between a mid-range and more luxurious sofa.) We swapped out the vinyl sofa for a leather one with brass legs. Not only is it a material upgrade, but it’s also longer and deeper, offering more room to kick back and relax. The accent chairs are also more substantial; this design is more comfortable to sit in for long periods of time.
  • Additional Seating: We added two poufs in front of the fireplace to add seating and visual depth to the room. Bonus: they can easily be moved around as needed. We also swapped out the coffee table for a tufted ottoman, which can be used for additional seating as needed.
  • A Larger Rug: Rugs get more expensive the larger they are; so it makes sense that with a smaller budget you likely have to go with a smaller rug. But with more to spend, you can upgrade the size. You’re able to cover more floor space—which, with this floating furniture layout, allows the whole furniture set-up to expand and feel more spacious.
  • Layered Lighting: For lighting in this living room design, we started with a larger and more decorative floor lamp, making a grander visual statement in the space. But we also added additional lighting—including a table lamp on the console, candles on various surfaces, and a beautiful beaded chandelier to give the space more layered lighting.
  • More Accent Furniture and Decor: One of the most notable upgrades to this living room with a $10,000 budget is the addition of a credenza. This not only offers added storage to the living room, but it also offers a styled surface for lighting and decor, and helps fill in the wall alcove on one side of the fireplace. Beyond the credenza, we were also able to add more decorative accents, as well as a large tree which adds texture and color to the space.

Budget Living Room in a casual coastal style

The Strategy: Upgraded Essentials

The name of the game at this price point was giving the essential furniture and decor an upgrade. Larger pieces made of higher quality materials will last longer and give this living room design a more elevated look and feel. The addition of a few extra pieces also helps fill out the space.

Living Room decorated with a $20,000 budget in a casual coastal style

Design #3: Living Room With a $20,000 Budget

With a $20,000 budget, get to go way beyond the essentials to a fully furnished and styled living room (with upgraded furniture and decor, of course). And with extra furniture, you now have a perfect set-up for larger entertaining and family hangouts.

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Budget Living Room in a casual coastal style

Budget Living Room in a casual coastal style

What You Get

  • Two Sofas: We loved the sofa from the previous design—so we decided to level up this living room design with two of them! Having a pair of matching sofas facing each other (especially ones finished in such beautiful, high-quality leather) really elevates the design of this living room.
  • Extra Accent Seating: Rather than ditch the pair of accent chairs from the previous designs, we simply swapped out the poufs and placed them in front of the fireplace instead. This offers more substantial seating options, rounding out a robust conversational seating area. The tufted ottoman coffee table or bench behind the sofa could also be used as additional seating when needed.
  • Larger, Layered Rugs: When a budget allows for it, we love layering rugs to add visual depth to a room and give it a stylized and finished feel. And that’s exactly what these layered rugs do for this living room. The top rug also adds beautiful color and pattern to the space—and it’s handwoven by artisans in India, in a durable but lightweight cotton (a meaningful upgrade from power-loomed, synthetic-fiber rugs).
  • Two Display Cabinets: With a larger budget, we could afford to upgrade the one credenza to two display cabinets that frame in the fireplace. This helps utilize the empty space that’s created on either side of the fireplace while adding lots of space for displaying decor and oodles of storage.
  • Additional Accent Furniture: To help fill out the space and give it a more polished look, we added a console table behind the sofa on the window side of the room, offering an extra surface for accent lighting and decor. And a bench behind the other sofa adds some visual depth and a warmer welcome when you enter the space (rather than having a bare sofa back be the first thing you see when you walk into the room).
  • Plenty of Decor and Accents: This budget allowed us to fill out the room with tons of decor and accents. We were able to style all the surfaces—from the coffee table and console to both of the display cabinets. We were also able to swap out the landscape print above the fireplace with a custom piece of artwork. Additionally, we added layered window treatments—building on the roman shades with silk curtains.

Budget Living Room in a casual coastal style

The Strategy: Add the Bells and Whistles

Feel like you’re seeing double? That’s because you are—with two sofas, two accent chairs, two display cabinets, and two rugs, there’s simply MORE in this space. And the pieces that are here are high-quality investment pieces that will last for years to come. But we didn’t stop at more furniture. With a $20,000 budget, we were also able to add in all the bells and whistles—fully styling this living room with decorative accents to give it a finished look.

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9 Cheap Room Decor Ideas To Help Your Decorate on a Budget

Do you have champagne tastes on a beer budget? Don’t worry—you don’t have to sacrifice style just because you’re on a budget. Decorating on a budget is possible! We’re big believers that, just because you’re looking for cheap home decor doesn’t mean you can’t still create a beautiful home full of furniture and decor items you love.

To help you out, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite hacks to get the look of some popular trends without breaking the bank. Because we want to help you make the most of your budget while staying true to your style!

And the pieces we’re suggesting? They’re not just for the home you have today. They’re workhorse pieces you can move around with you and repurpose when necessary to suit your needs and style.

Keep reading for some of the best cheap room decor ideas to help you get some of the best looks for less!

cheap room decorFill Your Walls With A Tapestry

Decorating your walls can be expensive. Neither art nor framing are cheap! So, a budget-friendly home decor item we love is using tapestries or woven wall hangings. These large-scale pieces look polished and dramatic—but are much more affordable than framed artwork. And they’re perfect for rentals since they’re easy to hang—and easy to move. (There’s no fear of them breaking in transit!) These soft wall hangings are also great for kids bedrooms and nurseries and for those in earthquake zones!

Another option? Hanging a large photo or print with poster hangers. You’ll get to shave off the framing part of your art budget, which makes art prints or large-scale photos much more approachable!

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cheap room decorOpt for Iconic Designs

Do you love some of those iconic furniture designs—like the Eames molded plastic chair or a wishbone chair—but can’t afford them in your wildest dreams? Don’t worry—there are a lot of great replicas out there that can help you get the look for less. By taking inspiration from iconic designs but buying them from a not-so-iconic brand, you can make your home more trendy and elevate the design without breaking the bank. These pieces, while not the originals, will still have that timeless, forever-on-trend look.

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cheap room decorGet The Look Of A Built-In

Love the look of built-in shelves, but not the price tag? We have a cheaper alternative to a custom built-in: floor-to-ceiling or wall-to-wall bookshelves. The key to pulling this off? Get two shelving units in the same style and place them side-by-side. They’ll give you that custom-built in look, but at a price tag that’s less hefty.

Another great thing about this approach? The shelves are very versatile. You can take them with you if you move, or you could even split them up or move them to other rooms. For more of a classic, traditional look, go for closed bookcases or cabinets. Or, for a lighter, arier vibe, opt for open shelving.

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cheap room decorEntertain In Style

If you love to entertain, perhaps you’ve considered adding a wet bar to your home. While a wet bar is great for entertaining, the plumbing and built-in requirements can get expensive fast. And even a bar cabinet in the living room or dining room can get pricey. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams of entertaining! Instead, consider the more affordable (but equally stylish) bar cart.

Bar carts have elegant and elevated looks, but at a price point that’s much more approachable. Most offer at least two shelves, which give you space for liquor and glassware, as well as mixing and pouring drinks. But that’s not all: bar carts are highly versatile. Many have built-in wheels, which means they can be easily moved around the house and out to the patio. And they can also be used as a side table or nightstand in a smaller space.

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cheap room decorDabble In A Trend

It’s fun to try out the new trends—but it can also be pricey. So, instead of investing in a big way, dabble in a small way! Consider this: instead of a trendy velvet sofa, try smaller pops of velvet with a chair or even throw pillows. You’ll still get that luxurious texture, without the luxurious price tag. (Same goes for bold colors like millennial pink, ochre, or forest green—try it out in a pillow or chair before investing in a sofa!) Test out the marble trend with a coffee or side table. Or consider an industrial-style table lamp instead of a chandelier or pendant light.

All of these options allow you to try on a trend without as much of a commitment, in case you decide it’s not the style for you. It also allows for a more subtle nod to a trend instead of it being the centerpiece of your home—perfect for people who favor timeless design but still like pops of contemporary trends.

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cheap room decorMix in Antiques

Furniture of any kind is an investment. But one way to balance out your bigger investment pieces with cheap home decor is by peppering in some antique furniture. While a lot of antiques aren’t super on-trend at the moment, they’re a perfect way to get high-quality pieces at an affordable price. Furniture made in the 1940s or earlier, especially, tends to be less expensive than buying brand new. And, you can almost guarantee that the construction of the piece is solid if it’s lasted through the decades. Plus, antique furniture holds its value—and could even appreciate over time, depending on where the trends head. For those of you who are conscious of your carbon footprint and want to live with sustainability in mind, antiques are also a great way to reduce and reuse!

And, not to toot our own horns—but our designers can show you how to incorporate antique pieces into modern designs with our design services! So, if you’re stumped on how to incorporate a piece you already have, or even if you have your eye on a certain type of piece but aren’t sure if it would work with your style, we can help you figure out how to make it a seamless part of your home’s design.

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cheap room decorSkip Hard-Wired Lighting

If you love the look of a sconce, but don’t want to go through the hassle of hard-wiring lighting (not to mention the price tag of hiring an electrician!) opt for a plug-in sconce instead. Sconces are both versatile and trendy—but hard-wiring is expensive. So, a plug-in sconce gives you that stylish, custom look without requiring extra expenses. (And they’re great for rentals.) Incorporating plug-in sconces can also help you create a layered lighting look in your home without the need to install overhead lighting. Chandeliers, while beautiful, are an even greater investment!

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cheap room decorHang Up A Wall Mural

Wallpaper is having a major moment right now. Wallpapering accent walls, or even full rooms, is such a fun way to add color and pattern to your space. But—you guessed it—it can be very expensive. Not to mention time-consuming! So, we love the idea of using a wall mural as an alternative to wallpaper. It creates a beautiful, textural backdrop for an accent wall, allowing you to make a major style statement.

The one featured in the design above hangs in front of the wall, making it a great option for use over textured walls. (Textured walls can cause trouble for traditional wallpaper, either visually or when it comes to adhering it smoothly to the wall.) Another budget and renter-friendly decor idea that’s a great alternative to traditional wallpaper? Peel-and-stick wallpaper or wall decals! They take some coordination to apply, but they are easy to remove and are much more affordable than traditional wallpaper!

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cheap room decorConsider Natural Fiber Rugs

Rugs can be quite the investment. But they’re also pretty essential to giving your living spaces a more “finished” and cozy look. For the budget-conscious, consider a natural fiber rug. These rugs—often made of jute, sisal, or seagrass—come in a range of styles, add a fun pop of texture, and work with so many design styles. Not only that, but they’re durable, versatile and—best of all—affordable.

With their durability, they’re great for high-traffic areas and for homes with pets and kids. Rugs labeled as indoor/outdoor rugs also tend to be more durable and affordable, and may offer a wider range of colors and patterns.

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5 Ways to Refresh Your Space for Spring On A Budget

Tips from Alessandra Wood, PhD & VP of Style at Modsy

Meet Alessandra Wood, the Director of Style at Modsy. With a PhD in Design History and an M.A. in the History of Decorative Arts and Design, she is a bona fide design expert, taught by the best of the best curators and historians. We picked her brain on the best ways to update your home for spring without breaking the bank. Read on for some of her tips!

Looking for some spring decor ideas to refresh your space, but not flush with cash to spend? Not to worry! Here are 5 easy changes you can make to your home for less (less than $100 to be exact)!

Before…

spring decor ideas

Ready to see the after? Scroll on for 5 of our favorite budget-friendly spring decor ideas and this complete room transformation.

spring decor ideas1. Change Up Your Pillows

The Swap

One of our favorite spring decor ideas is to swap your throw pillows. This is an easy and affordable way to add a pop of color and a bit more style to your space. You can save a bit more by buying new throw covers and reusing your existing inserts.

spring decor ideas

spring decor ideas

The Cost

Depending on fabric, you can easily score 2-3 new pillows for under $100 or 3-4 pillow covers, if you already have the inserts!

Spring decor ideas2. Restyle Your Bookshelf

The Swap

Knock out two Eames birds with one decor move. Take a moment to get rid of clutter and reorganize your surfaces. This is especially important for open shelving, which can start to feel a little stale (not to mention dusty) after sporting the same old tchotchkes for too long.

Try swapping in small pieces of art or decorative objects and sculptures. Pick up new pieces while you stroll the flea market or in your favorite little boutiques. Not sure where to begin? Sign up for a Modsy design package and our stylists can suggest decor and accessories that match your style and budget.

The Cost

$0-$50, depending on where and how many pieces you buy.

spring decor ideas3. Add Plants Galore

The Swap

One of our favorite spring decor ideas is to add life to your space by, literally, adding life! We love decorating with plants because they never go out of style and they clean your air while they’re at it.

The Cost

Small cacti and succulents usually run less than $5 a pop at hardware stores. Plant them in budget-friendly mini planters or even a few hanging options. If you’re looking for a larger statement, add a tall indoor plant to the mix.

4. Try on a New Paint Color

The Swap

Sometimes the best way to make your space feel new is a fresh coat of paint! If you’re up for a DIY moment, pick up a gallon of paint and create some drama via wall color. Paint just one accent wall, or go for all four if you’re looking to take this spring decor idea to the next level.

The Cost

Depending on the brand you choose and if your walls need primer, painting an accent wall yourself can cost as little as $25 and up to $75.

spring decor ideas5. Rearrange Your Layout

The Swap

If you’re saving your pennies for a summer vacation you can still make your living room feel new again by rearranging your furniture. A new layout creates a new flow in the space, which will change the way you think about that room!

The Cost

Free! Or sign up for Modsy (starting at $69) to try on new layouts virtually before you rearrange them IRL.

…After

spring decor ideas

Ready to See Some Spring Decor Ideas in Your Space?