I have champagne tastes on a beer budget, as they say. I like the finer things, but can hardly afford expensive furniture, art, or food. So I improvise!
I have all that I need and more than I could want. But I still like the prettiness, craftsmanship, and feeling of fine materials. So what to do?
I seed my living space with luxe things. Instead of worrying about an entire living space filled with fine furnishings, art, or styling items like throws & pillows, I seed it with a few good pieces here and there.
For example: I found this table at a yard sale for $2. It is hand-made and of a good wood. But there is a gaping hole in the top! It was obviously used to hold a bowl of some kind so a person could wash up. Unless the owner of the yard sale didn’t have plumbing recently (unlikely) I surmised that the table was also old. But how to use with a hole in the top?
Elsewhere in the yard sale they were selling a thick and heavy polished marble slab as a cutting board for $2. Hmmm. I put it on top of the table, and voila!
Now it makes a nice end table in the living room.
Some years ago a friend made and gave me a Raku vase. Raku is a complicated and unique pottery method which results in the item having a patina that’s rich and glossy, and changes over time. If I were to search for a similar kind of vase to buy they would cost between $75 to $150. Because it is a hand made and a unique item, I display it in the living room. There, I can enjoy it and also add to the seeds of luxury and fineness I’m building.
Below, one side of the Raku vase is glossy copper.
The other side is a muted gray.
I was shopping at a vintage estate sale store recently. Often you can find good items for a decent price there. When you shop at flea markets or tag sales or anywhere, if an item is on sale look at it and think about how to use it. Here is a hand painted tray for $2. Don’t need a tray? How about using it for a frame, glue a mirror on it or a picture and hang it up? Here is a coat rack. Don’t need a coat rack? How about using it for a towel hanger in the bathroom? Find some milk glass but don’t need glassware? How about using them on your mantel with a votive candle inside?
I found this essential oil dispenser for $1. I don’t use essential oils. Hmmm. I liked the item though. It was unique, priced well, heavy, and hand carved out of some kind of material that is probably soapstone. A similar one is selling for $20 or more online.
When you’re shopping, look for things that are hand made, of an expensive or unique material, and/or priced well below what the market is bearing (or is what you can afford). I decided to use this as a pencil cup! I took the tape off, and if the hole on one side gets to be a problem with pencils and pens sliding out, I’ll just tape a small piece of cardboard inside and make sure that side faces the back.
If you can’t buy a $1,000 leather couch, then put a couple of expensive leather pillows on it. Or a hand made quilt, or vintage throw of excellent quality.
- At tag sales, flea markets, consignment stores…look carefully at everything, Take your time. Half of finding good stuff is going slowly and carefully, the other half is thinking, as in the next tip-
- Don’t disregard an item just because you can’t use it for its original purpose. You can re-purpose it with a little imagination. Think of what else it could become.
- Look for things that are unique, hand made, and beautiful.
- Place them around your living space so when your eye rests on various areas, you will see or handle fine things strews around artfully.
Here is a tour of my luxuriously thrifty, or frugally luxe, living room:
Below, an art glass lamp I found at the dump. (Back in the day, you could dump pick. Townspeople would place their “good things” in what came to be known as “The Good Pile”). I found the lampshade the next week. Cost: $0.
Below, a dead space into which I put a plant stand I’d found at the dump and used it to display a vintage camera I found at the second hand store. Cost $7.
Below, a vignette of my reading spot. When I’m not using my vintage lace curtain tie-back I put it around the lamp. An old coaster, and an old book complete the spot. Cost, $2.
Below, a coffee table tablescape. This could be prettier or more imaginative, but I like books, so that is what is on the table. Also, Murray uses the coffee table as part of his “Manic Moment” running around the apartment, so I won’t place a tray with glass items or flowers on it. Here, a vintage antique magazine, and a hardback book with an interesting cover are currently on display. Cost, 50 cents for the magazine, and $10 for the book.
Below, the couch with the aforementioned small end table with marble top. The table, buffet the lamp is on, lamps, chair, couch, and rugs are all second hand. End table cost, $4. Along the back of the couch is a vintage hand-crocheted throw my great-aunt made me 35 years ago. Why is there tape on the couch and pillows all across? Cats.
Below, wall art and the Raku vase atop the heater. I found the photo of the Colosseum at a yard sale for $4, it is from the early 1900s. The piece of art on top I found at a consignment store for $10. It is a piece of wood with a photo reproduction of a classic piece of art. When looking at art, turn it over and find a signature or ID somewhere. In this case, a sticker affixed to the back said “Fratelli Alinari, Via Condotti, Roma.” I knew fratelli meant brothers, and Via Condotti is Rome’s most fashionable street. It’s like saying Rodeo Drive, or Madison Avenue. The sticker looked old.
The advantage of thrift shopping for luxe items in this day and age is that you can google. If you have a phone you can google right then. I didn’t but I knew the quality of the piece was good and the vintage sticker on the back was significant. I bought it and when I got home I went online and I discovered according to Wikipedia:
Fratelli Alinari is the world’s oldest photographic firm, founded in Florence, Italy in 1852. Its archives contains 5.5 million photographs, ranging from daguerreotypes to modern digital photos from around the world.
Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert commissioned the Alinari brothers to reproduce Raphael’s designs, according to the Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography. Cool. I have two Alinari pieces. Fratelli Alinari pieces are are not hugely expensive because they are not exceedingly rare, but are part of a photography history that I am pleased to be part of and display. And the pieces of art that are reproduced on the Alinari prints are beautiful.
A great throw, nice material like art glass and marble, unique art, and hand made pieces complete the seeds. So that’s it! Lifestyles of the not so rich and totally obscure!