Ask LH: How Can I Turn My Boring Digs Into An Awesome Home Cheaply?

Ask LH: How Can I Turn My Boring Digs Into An Awesome Home Cheaply?

Dear Lifehacker, My apartment is boring and I want it to be really cool, but I don’t know much about interior design and I don’t have very much money. What can I do to make my home look cool and not really dull? Sincerely, Design Out of Reach

Dear DOOR,

Making your home look nice is actually not as hard as you think. Although you’ll want to know a few design principles to help you make the best possible choices, your primary goal simply needs to be to create an environment that exemplifies who you are. I spoke with Bradford Shellhammer, one of the founders of (a site that offers steep discounts on all kinds of design items), for some guidance. He offered several suggestions on making just about any home a well-designed place imbued with your personal aesthetic.

Plan First

First things first, you need to make a plan before you go out and start picking up the things you need. Bradford said he sees people often go out and just buy furniture or random art to fill the walls because they know these are things that homes are supposed to have. This tends to breed the kind of boring home you want to avoid because it’s purely utilitarian. When you plan ahead, you can get everything you need without sacrificing design.

Select A Colour Scheme

learn the basics hereAdobe Kuler

Steal What You See

shelter magazineDwell

Mix and Match Your Furniture

You don’t have to spend a lot of money — there’s nothing wrong with purchasing used or inexpensive furniture so long as you like it. If there’s an item you want that’s out of your budget, remember that you don’t have to get it right now. Wait until you can afford it, and keep an eye out for sales. You can even ask an employee at the furniture store to let you know if and when the item you want becomes a part of a floor sample sale. In the event the furniture store is willing to give you a call when that happens, you can pick up your furniture at a heavy discount. I once bought a great $900 couch for $250 with delivery this way.

Paint an Accent Wall or Two

If you’re a renter who’s worried about pissing off your landlord, or just don’t want to paint your walls back to white when you move out, you have a few alternatives. Temporary wallpaper — while more expensive — can be easily added to the walls and removed when you leave. Although its additional cost may be a deterrent, it does have the advantage of being reusable. Unlike paint, you can transplant it from one apartment to another as you move. Alternatively, vinyl wall decals (like these great ones from Blik) offer an easy way to add some unique designs without the risk of damage. For a few more painting alternatives, check out our guide to customising your apartment without pissing off your landlord.

It is worth noting that paint is pretty cheap and the simplest, most-effective option. Alternatives will cost you more, and if you’re looking to make your home look great on the cheap you’ll want to stop worrying and use paint. Bradford says “screw your landlord, paint your walls, and just repaint when you leave.” It’s less work than you might imagine.

Add a Rug (or Other Floor Covering)

Use Your Personality to Fill the Walls and Shelves


If you’d prefer to acquire art that already exists, the hard part won’t be finding anything good but narrowing down your options. Your best bet is to think of something you like — such as cars — and search for car-related art on or offline. Etsy is filled with unknown but very talented artists selling their work at reasonable prices. Some will even do custom work for you based on criteria you specify. If Etsy isn’t your thing, eBay is another source. You can also find discounted art at If you want to see what you’re buying in person, attending student art shows are great ways to find interesting new work without breaking the bank.

Bradford says it all comes down to this: find things you like that tell the story of who you are. If someone else doesn’t like it, who cares — they don’t have to live there. The only person who needs to love the look of your home is you.

A special thanks goes out to Bradford Shellhammer, one of the founders of, for his great, helpful interior design tips.

Photos by Sumetho (Shutterstock), Hometone and Wallcoo.

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  • Op-shop / garage sale furniture can often be turned into very tasteful items with a little bit of elbow grease.

    We have a number of items of furniture that we have picked up for $10 or less (mainly wood items like a table and liquor cabinet). After sanding the back, and giving them a few coats of varnish/paint they look fantastic (lots of visitors ask us where we buy our ‘antiques’).

    The other thing that I found with older furniture is that it is often better made and/or made of better quality materials than newer items.

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