How to plan/design a room on a budget

February 13, 2020

I'm Joey, the creator & founder of Beach House for Six. I believe your home should be beautiful, approachable & a true reflection of your family. 

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Remodeling a space can be daunting for many but I want to help you easily design and plan a room on a budget. If you just can’t swing hiring an interior designer I want to give you some simple tips here in this post that you can implement in creating your own home.

There is so much out there on Pinterest and often times my clients will have a multitude of pins and really no direction where to start. I promise there is a common thread in those pins and I am going to show you how to sort it out and find your style without losing your unique personality in your home.

As a mom of four, I have spent years learning the art of creating spaces that invite people in, create a place of refuge, and speak hospitality. Being a one-income family I have had to learn how to resource and find ways to recreate rooms and images I felt drawn to, or that spoke volumes to me. I appreciate beautiful design and what professionals do but I also believe we all have the ability to be creative. We create every day in some capacity if you think about it. So hold on to your seat and let’s dive in!

Let’s get started:

Let me start by disclosing here this is not a post of me telling you how to decorate your home. I am not giving you tips on rug placement or interior design advice. My goal is to help you find your creativity, save money, and learn how you can begin to design and create your own spaces.

Looking at photos of other homes can be inspiring but overwhelming at the same time. We can gain inspiration, knowledge, and direction of what catches our eye or how a design resonates with you, but most often homes we see on apps are professionally photographed, staged, and if you’re reading this as I said previously, probably way out of your budget. These spaces are generally shot with mega lenses and the perfect lighting. I just want to preface this and encourage you to not have any doubt or compare your home to a professionally shot photo.

Key Items covered in this post:

I hope to break this process down by looking at some easy and practical ways anyone can tackle a remodel. Were going to explore the following key bullets listed below. Take what works for you, remember this is your home.

  • Functionality/ what is inside the walls of your house and what is going to serve them well.
  • Budget/ tips on how to set a budget
  • Style/ Determine a common theme
  • Purging/empty your space
  • Communication/ what do you want your home to communicate to your guest
  • Mood Boards/ developing an idea and breaking it down
  • Research/Finalizing your design
  • Source your home/ out what you have that fits your design
  • Go shopping/remaining items from various retailers

Set a Budget:

I cannot stress this enough. So many times I have made the mistake of not setting a “cash” budget and go into the shop till I drop syndrome wasting a lot of time and money. It’s easy to walk into a store and go crazy with everything you like thinking it will fit your end goal only to find that you have a lot of really cute stuff that doesn’t really go together in a room. I’ll talk more about this in finalizing the mood board.

For practicality purposes, we use the Every Dollar app on our phone and allocate every penny that goes out. I know how much cash I have for my remodel and stick it in an envelop. I have successfully designed a room by setting aside $300 for a small project. When I walk up to the cash register with my items and open my envelope I think twice about what I am purchasing and if it really fits my end goal. This will help you immensely to stay on a budget, it’s just too easy to swipe a credit card.

You may be thinking $300 that isn’t a lot. I’m telling you we purchased a sectional off marketplace brand new that had been in storage. It was originally $2500 and we bought it for $400, so it’s possible to save and budget a major remodel if you’re diligent and resourceful.

Functionality: How does the room need to function:

Functionality is really important. Considering the needs of your home and family especially when working with a small space. Ask yourself, what is going to be functional or just look good and be impossible to achieve? Are there 3 or 4 kids running around, dirty fingerprints, shoes, a dog, toys, people in and out? Consider other people living in the home.

For example, I have four males in this home besides Em and me. We are big /tall people. I have a son over 6 feet so putting small modern furniture in my living room may look beautiful but honestly, nobody will be comfortable. Being that it’s a small space I want to maximize the seating and comfort. So for us, furniture with storage is also a practical option. Break down each room from the ground up. Consider how the room needs to be used. I have a quick IGTV Video here for more on that:

When designing the living room I had some pertinent information to start with and build off of.

  1. The room is small ( measure, measure, measure)
  2. I need lots of lounging because everyone spreads out
  3. Because the room is small I don’t want it to feel cluttered with a lot of furniture
  4. I want the room to feel light, bright, open, airy with good traffic flow
  5. Kids and a pet live here so a white couch is probably out of the question
  6. I need seating for 6 and possibly a guest
  7. We don’t have a formal living space so this is our primary space to hang and entertain. I don’t want to worry about spills and tracking in dirt.

What do you want your home to communicate:

Author of Restoration House, Kennesha Buycks writes:

Embracing our stories will leave us with something deeper, richer, stronger than mere decoration

I can’t stress this enough. Don’t be afraid to display your rich history, family traditions, faith, or personality in your home. If you sacrifice your personality and things that comfort you for a design you will be left with a beautiful space that doesn’t satisfy you, communicate who you are, or become your sanctuary. Everyone has a story to tell and its part of your creativity. Embracing this will make your home cozier and more inviting than the most beautiful home design you can imagine. When my guests come into my home I want them to be invited into my heart. My gift for hospitality is going to shine, not my clean home.

To me, this means creating spaces that people feel at home, comfortable. Small details like flowers, back pillows, a place to sit, china and linens, trays with snacks, lighting, blankets, a place to hang their purse or coat, seating, music, and good food, are all elements that are important to me and communicate my love to others. Serving my guests is my end goal not impressing them.

Purging your things:

Clearing out the space of extra furniture and things you don’t like is going to help you have a clearer focus for your vision and creativity. You will be able to see your space in a new way. I like to garage sell what I can and put the rest on Marketplace ( a local Facebook app). The rest can be donated to goodwill. Often times I am able to add to my budget by a few hundred dollars or more which can translate to an upgrade on my flooring, a new sofa, or a little nicer textiles.

Leave the big furniture in the room you want to keep and remove all the knick-knacks and art off the wall so you have a clean palette. Store the keep pile away, we will come back to them later. When you create your mood board having a clean palette will help you to envision the room better.

Consider your style:

Now I have to admit this is probably the hardest part of the design process for me. I love so many styles and I tend to pull in little bits here and there.

When designing my first home in my early 20’s an interior designer once told me to choose colors to live in that you like to wear. It made sense to me. I love to wear white, black, blue, and gray and that is pretty much the color of my house. One of the houses we owned was out near the wine country so I had this epic idea to decorate with a wine country theme. My husband and I would walk through the model homes in the neighborhood and I would be struck by these beautiful red kitchens. So naturally, I painted my kitchen red and my living room camel (this was popular at the time) and wouldn’t you know I absolutely felt like the walls were closing in on me. I hated it. Every time I walked into the room I didn’t feel relaxed and at home. Quickly we picked out a nice blue-gray to cover over it and lighten up the room. Ironically, I don’t wear red or camel so Ill go with that analogy. Haha

Another good source I find helpful is a book by Joanna Gaines called “Homebody“. I resonate with her words:

My home is my safe place, it’s my exhale. The way my family feels about home is of the utmost importance to me. It’s an honor to get to create a place that we all genuinly want to spend our time in. One of the reasons I am so passionate about my work is because I deeply want this for everyone. JoAnna Gaines

Now I know what your thinking. Joanna Gaines, Fixer Upper, seems like it’s been overdone in the design world, but to me, she sets the foundation. Joanna understands the importance of visual examples in identifying your personal style but doesn’t lose the heart behind the process as she quotes above. Her book is remarkable and practical for you and me. She goes through the process of laying out the different styles in an easy to understand way. Just by reading you will start to see what you like. You can find it here by clicking on the book image:

Example from her book on determining your style:

A third and easy way to determine your style is by browsing apps like Pinterest or Houzz. Let me give you an example. I gravitate to modern, traditional and coastal. Each one has different design elements so I try to bring in a blend without losing my unique style. I will search “modern living room ideas” or “modern traditional” or “modern coastal”. You can look on Pinterest, start pinning spaces you like to start getting a good idea of an overall theme your gravitating to.

Another important thing for me to search for was small living rooms. This really helped me to get a visual ( I am visual) for what I was realistically working with. I noticed that all the spaces I like were neutral, had sectionals (major space saver) and some sort of wall unit with very little other furniture. This seemed the most comfortable and open and it met the criteria for how my room needed to function.

The mood board:

Now you’re ready to start creating your space and get started on the mood board. Take all your pinned and saved photos and print them! Also, gather any other fabrics at this point. Some people will pin pictures to a board in pinterest but if you’re visual for good reason print them, I’ll explain later. You can get a pinboard or just lay them out on the floor once you have them printed and do the following.

  1. Stand back and look at them all and pick out ones you really like or some object in the photo that grabs your eye. Maybe you just like a piece of art in a photo but nothing else, or a pillow or a vase. Cut the picture out and keep it in the pile.
  2. Start looking for common items in the photos, for example, do a lot of your photos have a gray couch?
  3. What color are the walls in your photos?
  4. What other common themes can you find on your mood board?
  5. Bring your pictures into your room/ space and try to envision and begin creating your space. Take out what isn’t going to fit with pieces your keeping.
  6. One of my ‘tricks” is to take a photo of my room and look at it. Because I am so visual I see things in a photo I don’t see by just looking at it raw. Try it…it works!
  7. Remove the photos from your board that really don’t match or make sense. Although beautiful they will pull you away from your intended goal and you will be spending money unnecessarily.

You’re starting the process of weeding through all those pins.

To give you an example of photos I printed and how I started to organize them I have posted some below with a breakdown. Here is an example of some photos (not all) my living room inspiration.

Are you noticing a common theme in these modern living images? Let me pull them out for you:

  • Built-in wall unit
  • White walls!
  • Wood, leather, and baskets for warmth, texture
  • Blue accents ( I’m loving navy for 2020)
  • Shiplap
  • Sectional/ Couch facing wall unit
  • Plants for natural decor and texture
  • Trays, Vases, Ceramics, and metals all for texture and color
  • Neutral palette, light bright with pops of color

Notice in #2 I placed an exclamation point after white walls? let me stress this if you don’t paint your walls the color of your mood board photos your room will not look like your photos! I personally love white or any form of neutral to make a room feel light and bright and keeping the walls fairly uniform will make your space seem bigger, especially if it’s small. As soon as I took this step transformation happens and it’s an instant upgrade that is very budget-friendly!

Starting with your palette is so important. This will be Walls, Rugs, and Sofa. Everything else will fall into place as you decor shop.

Measuring the room:

Now your ready to start planning your furniture size and what will realistically fit and have flow. You may have an idea in mind of a huge wrap around sectional only to find it won’t fit. If your working with a small room make sure to measure the depth and the height of your pieces. We had a couch that fit great in the house when it sat in the middle of the room but it was so deep that if we tried to move it to a wall the room was gobbled up for any other furniture. If the couch is too tall it’s going to cut off a small room and make it feel small and block light. Sofas and chairs should all be about the same height in a room. For a small space, I suggest setting a perimeter.

  • All walking traffic will need 30-36 inches of space.
  • Wall distance to area rug is about 12-18 inches. If you have a large room these may look different but we’re talking small space and maximizing it.
  • Now that you have that done, tape off the space your furniture will have to fit in.
  • You will need 12 feet from the TV to the couch when you are sitting down.
  • The coffee table depending on the distance of your tv to the sofa will determine the size. If you don’t have a lot of room you may opt for an ottoman that doubles as a footstool and create more functionality (we have two).
  • Make sure you have 30-36 inches between the tv unit and coffee table for walking around. You may opt to hang the tv on the wall if you have really limited space with a basket and some plants underneath.
  • Homebody also has a section for planning your space and helping to set a visual on paper if that works for you.
Homebody: A Guide to Creating Spaces You Never Want to Leave

Finalizing My Vision/The Shopping Board

My daughter, Em, is very different than me creatively. She can get a vision in her mind long before she walks into the store. For most people, we need a little help and inspiration. Whether that be photos, magazines, or going for a walk in nature to find your inspiration.

So remember I told you to print the photos. Here is why- you’re going to create a shopping board. Again, working with a visual person here I cut up my photos and retape them together and start finalizing my vision. You can take this with you shopping along with any fabrics for good reason. NOTE: Now you can certainly copy and paste your favorites into power point or mood board apps like Morpholio but that takes time to learn so working with your cut outs is really much easier for a novice.

  • It’s easily accessible, no messing with your phone and killing your battery
  • I can see the room I’ve created all in one place rather than skipping around through photos
  • Wifi in stores is terrible and you usually can’t load your boards
  • I can hold my mood board up to things to see if my colors and texture are working.
  • It’s a great way to start resourcing and figuring where, and for how much, you can buy most things. For example through online dealers such as amazon.
  • It helps you stick to your budget by pricing stuff out ahead of time and avoiding impulse buying.
  • You can write your measurements on the page as well.

Example of your “shopping board”

I have inserted a quick link here for Home Improvement in Amazon to see some great deals.

Kitchen and Dining Storage and Organization

Disclosure: This is an affiliate link and we do make a small commission if you purchase.

Now the fun part- Time to shop!

You have done a lot of work to get to this point and I hope you feel confident about going shopping for your new space. You have created a beautiful board I’m sure and if it isn’t perfect don’t worry. Perfection is not what we aim for. When Emma (my daughter) switched her major from Biology to Fashion Design she said to me, “Mom biology is so black and white. There is a right way and a wrong way. But with art, there is no right and wrong but just create.” So take her advice and enjoy the process. Listen to some music in the background, get your favorite coffee mug and blanket, or go sit outside in creation and let the inspiration flow. We want to hear and see what you have created so please stay in touch, comment, and share!

Source your home/Places I shop:

Here is a list not necessarily in order of where I resource and shop. There are so many resources out there. Depending on what I am shopping for these can vary in order. Some places are cheaper for certain things. Make sure you have your shopping boards with you with all your measurements and prices so you can comparison shop! Do this as you browse when you have time and it will eventually come together. No one room in my house is from a single store. And don’t forget to shop all those items you set aside first when you purged. See what you can use and what you need. Good luck! You can always SHOP MY POST in the LIKE to KNOW it app as well.

  • Amazon
  • Outlet like CB2 or Pottery Barn
  • Ross (yes I find treasures here)
  • Target
  • Home Depot/ Lowe’s
  • Pinterest (search the image for all retailers matching the item)
  • Thrift stores (treasure can be found, money to be saved)
  • Walmart
  • Marshalls/ TjMaxx/Homegoods
  • Kitchen and Bath a wholesale showroom dealer ( I will buy floor samples)
  • Dixieline ( check the graveyard)
  • Other Hardware Stores ( ask if they have a graveyard)
  • Online Retailers like Macy’s
  • Facebook Marketplace/ Let Go

Some of these are affiliate links and I do make a commission if you make an online purchase.

Many Blessing,

Joey (Jo)

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