Living Rooms: Splurge vs. Save

Allocate your living room budget wisely, for the best and most beautiful results.

CI_Heather-Hilliard_0386-white-textiles_s4x3 Photo courtesy of Heather Hilliard

Unless you have an unlimited budget, you are going to have to cut corners somewhere — but where? Buying your throw pillows on sale at a discount store may be a great idea, but using a cut-rate electrician usually isn’t. An inexpensive end table can be covered in enough knickknacks to hide it — but an inexpensive couch may leave you with a backache that requires expensive chiropractor visits. Here are some good guidelines on where to splurge and where to save on living room purchases.

Splurge on fabrics you will touch and feel, but save on fabrics you only see from afar.

If you like (and can afford) velvets, silks or soft cottons that feel good to the touch, splurge on them only where you really will touch them. And if you like the rustic look of burlaps or duck — or need to save some money — use less expensive fibers on window treatments, which won't be in contact with your skin.

Splurge on things that move, but save on things that sit still.

If you want a media cabinet with doors and drawers for storage, look for a piece with hinges that won't break and drawers that won't jump their rails. But when shopping for furnishings that are purely decorative or get only light use — such as a table that is just used to hold a cup of tea or a magazine — you can chose less expensive items without worrying about their coming apart.

Splurge on wood that's visible, but save on wood that's hidden.

If you like to style your coffee table with lots of art books and knickknacks, the quality of the table itself is less important than if you prefer a clear, clutter-free tabletop that will be the center of attention. If you plan to fill your bookcases with a full library, the shelves themselves will almost disappear into the background, so the simplest pieces are a good way to save money. But if your bookshelf is really more of a display cabinet, with a few precious items carefully positioned with lots of space around them, spend a little more to get a bookcase that is a part of the visual appeal.

Splurge on classics, but save on trends.

Your living room renovation project is your opportunity to express your personality, says Karen Soojian, ASID. "And while it's okay to bring in a few trendy items, you should do that with things that are inexpensive — like throw pillows and lamps, not big investments such as your sofa and rugs. For your big investments," she says, "stick to classic, timeless items."

Splurge on quality craftsmanship.

If you need to buy some low-end furniture for now or even leave some pieces on your shopping list, that's OK. But don't skimp on construction or installation. "Don't go cheap," warns Bruce Graf, owner of Graf Developments. "Cheap renovations just make you and your home look bad. That's not to say you can't find ways to save money, such as buying your flooring or furniture on sale," he says. "But the key is buying quality products and hiring quality, proven contractors."

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