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When to Choose Low over High while Decorating

By 04/14/2013February 20th, 201731 Comments

 When to Choose Low over High While Decorating

We are going with Turquoise + Red

My sister Elizabeth is turning 40 in July and for her birthday she wants the family room painted and re-decorated.

Her kids are almost four and six, they have not bought any new furniture since they got married and had kids.

The living room furniture currently has her husband Bill’s 16 year old black leather sofa, a black leather recliner, a black leather chair and. . . wait for it, a black leather ottoman.

The family room has Elizabeth’s inexpensive sofa and chair from The Brick to decorate her place when she was single. All of this furniture has been totally kid friendly, they have jumped all over it, threw up, you name it. It’s worked out just fine.

Quote by Thom Filicia

Instead of spending money on decorating, they go on lots of weekends away skiing in the winter, take vacations with the kids, etc.

But the house looks tired and my recommendation was that instead of re-decorating the living room to replace the black leather furniture, decorate the family room instead. Its a large room with a big toy room attached. Usually there’s an oversize train track set up. Every birthday and Christmas they add more tracks, the kids play hard in this room.

My thought was, for $5,000 you could get the whole room re-decorated using IKEA upholstery. The slipcovers are washable (Ektorp is still a classic) so you don’t have to stress about good furniture getting ruined as the kids are still young, plus this room is the focal point of the house. The way the house is laid out, guests enter through the back door instead of the front. French doors leading out to the patio where they entertain all summer long are also attached to the back entry so this room is very visual from all sides.

Cherry Blossoms

Plus the family room has nice big windows where you can sit and look at the mountains and the cherry blossoms. The living room windows are small and it’s a dark room.

You know when magazines do those ‘high and low’ pages where they try and duplicate a room using inexpensive pieces and then the other side is expensive?

Bill immediately thought the living room should absolutely be done first and that they should buy quality upholstery and definitely not IKEA. But the budget for that room is still low so if you buy a quality piece of furniture we were still buying a sectional. This room is long and narrow and has a TV it needs to be arranged around.

Keep in mind sectionals replace a sofa and loveseat so they seem more expensive but really it’s both pieces together in one.


Let’s say we bought a quality sectional from Crate & Barrel. Not high end, not low end either. This one is $5088.

That’s the whole budget. Gone, with one purchase.

So now you have a great sectional and thats it.

Here’s option number two (below). All links for each item on this Pinterest board.


Are you impressed by my first board that I finally learned how to do via Powerpoint (thanks Stacy Naquin).

My sister wants a colourful sofa, William’s (her 6 year old) favourite colour is red so she’s going for the red sectional. By the way my sister didn’t really like red until it became her oldest sons favourite colour.

Everything you see in this room still only adds up to $4283. And that includes 8 toss pillows with inserts, 4 pairs of curtains, 4 double wall sconces (they have some ugly fixtures that need to be replaced) and the only items from IKEA are the sectional, chair and curtains.

So which room would you rather have? One lonely piece of furniture while we wait until we can spend more money and eventually have a complete room? Or a fully decorated room with money to spare?

It’s cushions, drapery and lighting that give your interior a wonderful look and feel, if your budget is really low and you wait until you can buy quality, that day might never come.

Last week I arrived at my neighbours home just down the street. She wanted me to help her decide which lighting and accessories would look good in her living room/dining room.

I had already been there for an initial consultation where I had told her which furniture pieces she needed to buy. She had done all that on her own and was now ready for the finishing touches.

“It’s a good thing you have a minivan” I said, “Let’s go to HomeSense right now”.

“What? Right now? I need to be here for when the kids arrive home from school in 2 hours”. She said.

“That’s enough time, let’s go” I said.

90 minutes later we had spent $1200 and bought 4 lamps, an end table, 8 cushions, coffee table books, picture frames, seashells, a decorative pot for a flowering plant, hurricane lanterns and candles for the dining room table, accessories for the mantle and suddenly her living room and dining room had personalty and style!

Photos to come as the room needs to be painted.

She was impressed that the only items that did not work out of everything we purchased was a vase, a table runner (which ended up looking like a sheet on the table) and 2 extra toss pillows. And she added, “Thanks so much for taking me there, I could never have achieved this on my own”.

Clients have to have trust me while accessory shopping because they have no idea what’s going to really happen, as they watch one shopping cart after another getting loaded up (anyway it’s easy to return).

I recently had another client who said “I don’t like a lot of stuff on the tables in my house”. I said “Trust me, accessories are in an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT category than tchotchke’s.

She was also soooo happy when I walked out the door a total of four hours later. She had lamps, pillows, new colours for the walls, a plant, new living room arrangement, new art and she had no idea that an iridescent gold bowl with faux red apples, 3 coffee table books in raspberry, yellow and black/white placed underneath a small vase with pink flowers and a funky candleholder would transform her coffee table and living room into such a happy place to be.

Jeffrey Bilhuber

Jeffrey Bilhuber

It’s Spring and time to bring some fresh into your house!  I hope I’ve inspired you to do just that! Check out my Styled Interiors Pinterest board for inspiration.

What’s your favourite High/Low find?

Sign up here for my webinar on May 2 on Choosing Exterior Colour.

Related posts:

Three Things I Learned about Design While Decorating for my Mother

The Enchanting World of Atmosphere

The Rule of More

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, become a client. On-line or In-person.

Download my eBook, How to Choose Paint Colours – It’s All in the Undertones to get my complete step-by-step system on how to get colour to do what you want.

To make sure the undertones in your home are right, get some large samples!

If you would like to learn how to choose colour with confidence, become a True Colour Expert. April in Toronto and Vancouver in May.


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  • Ginger Kay says:

    I love the room you’ve put together for your sister. I’ve been happy with my Ektorp sofa and loveseat. Being able to wash the covers makes it so practical for dogs, kids, messy husbands.

    • Cherie says:

      Ginger, is the IKEA sofa comfortable? One that I sat on in a friend’s house was disappointingly uncomfortable. It was a sofa bed, so perhaps that’s why.

      • Ginger Kay says:

        It is not as comfortable as a $1000 sofa, but, yes, it is comfortable. We tend to lounge more than sit upright; I don’t know if that makes a difference or not.

    • Ginger, are the slipcovers easy to remove and then place back on after being washed? I have heard slip covers are a nightmare to actually deal with, so the idea to me doesn’t seem so appealing. thoughts? thanks.

  • Sabrina says:


    I like all of your posts – but these are some of my favourites.

    I love it when you feature your own home, or your sister’s – people clearly on a budget — like me!

    I love it when you lay out the dilemma clearly — buy just one kinda expensive piece — or get something going quickly by going the Ikea route. Not that we are always going to do that, but sometimes it is a necessity.

    I am putting together a home office for my new business (!!!) and according to my budget, I must do exactly what your sister is doing with her family room. I will take inspiration as you (hopefully) post pictures of her family room in progress.

    Your blog is brilliant — thank you!


  • A-L says:

    Thanks for this post, Maria. Like the others, I appreciate seeing real budgets at work. For a future post I would love to see your recommendations about picking out used furniture (what to look for/avoid) as another means of keeping to a more modest budget.

    • Maria Killam says:

      Unfortunately I am not a DIY gal so that probably won’t happen, I am not an expert there, sorry. Maria

  • Valerie says:

    You have convinced me that is the time to perhaps redecorate my guest room that I have been waiting to do piece by piece! I have been waiting to get the right thing. In the meantime, I have one thing in there — a bed. Why why why??

  • Maggie S says:

    Great Idea! Having a small budget is a common problem–this is really getting the biggest bang for your dollar and showing that you don’t have to spend a huge amount to make a huge difference!

    Now I’ll probably spend the rest of the morning looking at your Pinterest boards!

  • Jennifer says:

    It’s funny, people set aside money every month for everything else except decorating their home, where they spend the majority of their time.

    My decorating budget is small, but I put money aside every month, 1/2 toward large items and 1/2 toward small items.

    I can’t imagine buying furniture and accessories in one day for an entire room. I feel like I would have to compromise. I go to art shows and quirky little shops and home shows and craft fairs and poor through magazines, never knowing what gem will appear.

    I don’t buy anything that doesn’t make me light up from the inner core of my being. When I look around my home there isn’t a piece of furniture or an accesssory that doesn’t make my heart sing.

    • Maria Killam says:

      HI Jennifer, I totally agree with you and I think that a creative person can do what you are doing, however I have many clients in the same category as my sister who have no idea what to buy even down to the smallest accessory. They are the ones who need a room decorated from scratch.

      My sister has her own talents and gifts, they just don’t happen to include decorating.

    • Denise says:

      I’m with Jennifer. I know that many people want their homes decorated quickly, but I’m just not one of them. I’d rather spend months or even years looking for the perfect piece of furniture or accessory, the one that makes my heart beat faster when I see it. I don’t think you even have to be creative to do it. Anyone can pick up a piece of driftwood off the beach or a quirky vase at a secondhand store. It doesn’t have to “go with” the decor. It just has to make you happy. I can’t imagine living with a room full of “stuff” that has no meaning to me other than the fact that I paid for it. Chain store decorating is just so depressing.

      • Maria Killam says:

        The only accessory in this vignette is pillows. It will still need all kinds of cool and personal things like driftwood. Maria

  • laura says:

    Can I add that for most people’s budget, the “high-low” articles in magazine are really: expensive vs unrealistic

  • mrsben says:

    Taking all points into consideration, totally agree with you Maria re decorating the family room first however it being the most utilized room I question the feasability of choosing the cheaper sofa for it. Not to misinterpret as I do like Ikea products and the slip-covers are a plus but in all honesty I feel structure durability and the comfort of a unit itself, are of equal importance. In a nutshell given the facts, I personally would prefer to have a 2nd-hand chair, buffet and ottoman than risk having to replace my sofa in three or five years from now.

    Do love what you did in your client’s home and it does look like a happy place to be! ☺

    P.S: Question, did the Sea Fan also come from Home Sense? I’ve been wanting one but have been told by a supplier, they are restricted for import into Canada.

    • Maria Killam says:

      NO that room was designed by Jeffrey Bilhuber. My first clients room needs a paint job still and the second one we were finished in the evening so I could not take photos. Thanks for your comment! Maria

      • mrsben says:

        Ooops sorry Maria, I could blame it on the seashells (that was mentioned you had picked up and those that I seen in the picture) …. but ….. obviously I just can’t read. ☺

  • Jann Newton says:

    I too love when you feature your sister’s or your own home. I am sure they will get a lot of enjoyment out of their new family room.

  • Cherie says:

    I, too, love this post. There are times when staying on your budget and getting the most that you can for that amount, just makes sense. I would say, however, that I like to add accessories in moderation when decorating a room all at once. That leaves room for adding in my own collected treasures over time. But it’s true that when the room is all coming together there are things you need to buy upfront to complete the look and color scheme. Thanks for such a practical and inspiring post, Maria.

  • Robbin says:

    Great job on the board! But if you have an iPad, you should check out the app “Moodboard”. It’s really east to use with great results!

  • Victoria says:

    Great advice for all to be reminded of Maria. As a designer we need to be able to problem solve for our clients and you often have to bring these points up to be able to let them enjoy at least one room fully finished. I’ll always encourage this plan of attack for everyone after learning this the hard way myself!
    Love the look of Turquoise + Red and used it as my colour theme this last Christmas.
    Would love to know how to make the mood board via Power Point too does Stacy Naquin have a site that gives any tips on how to do this? I have used websites in the past that you have to subscribe to on a monthly basis and would love not to go that route. Any advice would be much appreciated.
    Glad you have such a wonderful life with Terreeia and all your extended family now, life is too short. I also believe that we should all live life sharing and helping others where and when we can.
    Kind regards,

    • Maria Killam says:

      Hi Victoria, It’s pretty simple, you just add text boxes for writing and images boxes for the pictures and you can move them around and make them as small or large as you want. It’s Powerpoint that totally lost me. . .thanks for your comment! Maria

  • cathy Z says:

    Maria, have you tried for creating moodboards?? I too first started out with powerpoint but quickly made the switch! I love it because the boards are interactive so the client can simply click on the image of the table or lamp and be directly connected to the online source. It’s really easy to use for both creator and user. As you check it out, you’ll see that a lot of people get people crazy creative with it but here is a link to just a regular ol’ mood board for a master bedroom I recently did for an online design.

    • Maria Killam says:

      I went on there but it looked like I had to use their products, so I guess I have to figure that out. Thanks, Maria

      • cathy Z says:

        Not at all! Yes, they do have preselected items for ease of use but you are NOT limited to them in anyway. In fact they have a neat tool that is a button you can drag into your permanent toolbar that says “add to olio board” – So if you are on the pottery barn website for instance, you just press that button and then click on the PB object you’re interested in and it automatically fills out the source info – name, price, store, link and let’s you add your own description if desired. Then it stores it for you in “my items” on Olioboard so when you’re ready to create your board – there are all the specific pieces you chose! You can also upload your own photos/objects and manually fill in links, prices, etc. You also can set it public or private which is nice. It’s VERY convenient and easy, highly recommend Irene checking into it for you! And please know I’m not endorsed in any way – I just think it’s a wonderful design tool that has proven valuable in my business. You help me ALL the time, I wanted to give a little bit of knowledge back at ya 🙂

  • EVERY decorating project has a budget! Somehow most people have come to equate the word budget with an erroneous definition of “budget = small amount of money”. Budget merely refers to how much money is allotted to be spent. Some budgets just have more money than others 🙂

    That being said pretty much all the projects I’ve worked on are small budget redesigns. Yes, I’ve had projects where I’ve had more money than some but again “small” is a relative term when it comes to money. I was really excited the first time a client said I had $10,000 for a project….until she told me it had to cover the entire house! Believe me, I know how to decorate on a (small) budget! 🙂

    The other thing that confuses a lot of people is hearing “We spent $5000 on this room.” If they’ve heard from a TV show or read it somewhere, more times than not, labor/design fees are not factored in. And then people who’ve never worked with a decorator/designer before get a wrong impression about the actual cost of a budget.

    I see tons of gorgeous decorating & design projects. Now if we could just get the public to understand the REAL meaning of the word budget and what that actually entails 🙂

  • Connie says:

    I have one caution. Children change their”favorite” colors. My grandaughter’s room was decorated in her favorite color, purple, and now it has swtiched to blue. Hope your sister KNOWS she really likes red for the long haul.

  • This is one of your “happiest” posts of mine! Meaning it makes me happy just to read it and I can feel the happiness of your sister coming though!

  • Monica says:

    Hi Maria, sells custom slipcovers for IKEA furniture. Their selection of fabrics is amazing. Also flea markets are a great source for solid wood furniture and accessories at great prices.
    Good luck!

  • Susan S says:

    Too damn cute! Husbands and significant others should soon be e-mailing you with their thanks for saving a butt-load of money!

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