In home design, learn where to splurge, where to save

When most of us are designing the spaces in our home, we have a wonderful vision of what we want our rooms to look like. But, alas, we also have budgets. I’ve learned from designing my own homes that you can get the high-style look you’re dreaming of without going over budget.

Here’s my trick: Splurge and save.

My friend Cynthia, whose well-appointed homes are featured in my books, is the queen of this design-savvy technique: Splurge on a few pieces, save on the rest. She invests in one or two fabulous pieces that will be the style-setters for the room. Then, she balances her budget with high-look, lower-cost furnishings and accents. I like to call these “cheater” pieces because they look way more expensive than they really are.

Where do you splurge, and where do you save?

This answer is different for everyone, depending upon your age and stage of life, decorating passions and how you use your home. Here are some examples of where you can splurge and where you can save to get the look you love in your home.


When it comes to upholstered furniture, I always urge people to get the highest quality piece they can afford, then scrimp someplace else. Why? Good furniture doesn’t just look great when you purchase it; it looks great for decades to come.

That durability is a result of the quality workmanship that goes into investment sofas. You can select the kind of cushion you want, from feather to firm. You have lots of choices in upholstery fabrics and trim details. Those are the kinds of options investment furniture offers you.


If you are just starting out in life, or you move a lot, or you have young kids, pets or a spouse who will be hard on your furniture, you may want your sofa to be your “save” piece. Slipcovered sofas can deliver a great look at a great value.


A wonderful spool chair is an investment piece that will elevate the look of the entire room and last for years. Offered by one of my favorite furniture makers, it’s expertly crafted and offers lots of design options. You can select how you’d like the wood finished — painted or different stains. You can pick from 1,400 decorator fabrics, like a coral and blue urn pattern that I’m crazy about.


When I saw an inexpensive spool chair at market, I ordered a case because it’s a great cheater piece. It mimics the look of our splurge chair, but costs a great deal less.

What do you give up? It’s an import piece and is only available in two fabrics. The quality does not compare with our investment spool chair. But we brought up the look just by adding a pillow made out of our coral and blue urn fabric.


Some people love to invest in fine accents to give their interior spaces a singular look. These beautiful butterfly urns are an example of a great splurge piece.

Higher quality urns usually have a creamier, richer color, while less expensive urns appear a bit grayer. The higher quality pieces also offer more unique designs.


Floral urns are lovely and can be about 20 percent of the cost of an investment urn. A lot of my friends and customers mix these cheater pieces in with antique china pieces and investment pieces.


It used to be that you could find fabulous looking lamps for a bargain. Not so much anymore. In fact, I think lamps are getting tougher and tougher to cheat on. The lower cost lamps just don’t look as good.


Because I am passionate about finding pieces that fit everyone’s price range, I have been digging hard to find lamps that are lovely but more affordable.

I scored with a line of porcelain lamps. With their clean lines, interesting shapes and contemporary colors, they are a great pick if you want your lighting to be the place you save on your budget.


Honestly, unless you just fall head over heels in love with a high-end mirror, or an antique steals your heart, I’d advise getting mirrors that are affordable. They deliver all the look at a fraction of the price.

This column was adapted from Mary Carol Garrity’s blog at She can be reached at

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