How to "Upgrade" Decorate

When you're just starting out in a space that you plan on redesigning or decorating from scratch, there's what I call "Damage Control" to be done. (pic below is a before of my aunt's house, who I helped/ advised during her redecoration.)

These are the obvious things that need to be done and that can be done fairly quickly & fairly cheaply. Things like: painting, tearing up carpet to reveal pre-existing hardwood floors, replacing 80s window treatments or rugs with up-to-dateones, replacing an ugly chandelier, ditching outdated accessories, finding a solution for the worn sofa, creating a focal point, etc. Basically getting rid of anything that disgusts you (yes, strong word, but we know how it can be) and can be fixed easily. (In my aunt's room below, I helped her pick out the sofa- the "before" was taken just after the sofa arrived... the old one was a worn patterned piece- advised on a new rug and recommended she purchase some pillows and curtains with colors from the rugs in them and of course came over and rearranged & reaccessorized using what she already had.)

Now, most of us have what we truly want and what we can actually afford. There are items that we just simply have to save up for, but if we waited until we could actually afford them, our room would look terrible until then. (For example, with the 80s window treatments... If you left them in your room, the space would remain dated no matter what you did. Maybe you can't afford the custom lined linen beauties you want, but you can pick up something more inexpensive from a place like West Elm or Ikea until you can afford your "dream curtains.") Basically you plan on upgrading later. .)
A lot of us can't afford what we want right now but there's no reason our places should suffer style-wise. It's almost always possible to "get the look" for less. We may want the original Saarineen tulip table but if we use a knock-off with good lines, we can still have the same look for less. Eventually, if it's still bothering you, when you can afford the real thing, sell the old piece and buy the "dream item." (The blog Copy Cat Chic recreates looks for less and she's awesome at it!!! I get inspired every time I'm there, so check it out if you're looking for less expensive alternatives.)

(above is the real saarinen tulip table and below is my vintage ebay knock-off)

There are places to save and there are places to splurge. Some things you just might not be okay with skimping on and that's SO important too. If you have some high-quality basic pieces, then your stand-in cheapies will get pulled up to another level and look awesome. We hear it all the time: "A mix of high & low." Big ticket items like sofas and tables can often be expensive to replace, so these are often items I like to splurge on (relative term I know-- I STILL craigslist it haha!) or get right the first time so I don't have to rebuy. (below is a quick pic of my very-unfinshed living room right now --sorry, Christian did the photo styling for this one! toy trucks!!-- the sofa is a Lee Industries sofa (so OUT of my price range) that I found on craigslist & had reupholstered in green velvet... It's a high-quality basic piece that we'll have for a long time. (It's our splurge.) My $30 tool box coffee table looks okay with it for now and I can upgrade it later when the time's right.)

Lighting can also take spaces to another level of beautiful. Splurges here give you a lot of bang for your buck... But there are also some great sources for more inexpensive stylish lighting... It's toally up to you as to what you splurge & save on. We each prioritize differently. (image below from here)

We all have our own things that we wouldn't skimp on. Figure out which items those are and buy high-quality/ buy your dream item up front. Then figure out which items you can upgrade later. We're doing this a LOT right now. I want my house to feel great when I walk in the door, but I can't afford everything I want. I sewed my own curtains and am using all off-the-rack roman shades. (white cotton from Sears and matchstick from Home Depot. I ADORE custom roman shades. LOVE LOVE LOVE them. My clients always get them... but I will have to wait. We need the privacy now and custom shades just aren't in the budget and I'm okay with it because they'll be a great upgrade in the future. :) (hahahah can you just see me twitching & talking to myself right now, "Calm yourself, they'll be upgraded in the future." hahahah)

(image above from Cote de Texas and image below of the Sears shades in our bedroom.)

All of this comes down to being okay with a home that's constantly changing. I think most of us bloggers & readers realize that we're never truly "finished" with our homes. If we were, it would begin to feel stagnant and let's be honest, we decorate because we love it!! ... And I don't mean going out and buying new chairs one month and a new sofa the next, I mean little things: switching out pillows & accents, rearranging and pulling furniture from one room into another, picking up a beautiful vase you find on sale, just keeping it fresh. (Just like a wardrobe... buy some good basic pieces and then accessorize and flush out and keep updated) Allotting a small & very realistic decorating budget to yourself. (Oh please husbands! don't hate me! ;)

Here's my list of things to be upgraded: bedroom curtains, roman shades throughout house, end tables, club chairs, kitchen island, appliances & countertops, coffee table, DR chairs, carpet, doors and hardware, trim, windows, SO MANY aspects of my bathrooms!!! (keeping the green fiberglass shower and hiding it with a curtain until we can afford to redo it, etc.) and much- much more...

So, what are your thoughts on upgrading vs. waiting? Do you have anything you plan on upgrading in the future?




Maria Killam said...

Great post Lauren, I think thats the first time I've seen your sofa, wow I love it, mine is close to your colour but in cotton (I have slipcovers).

I think we upgrade all our lives, and certainly in the realm of art and accessories!

I still want to upgrade my dining table to yours!

Brooke @ Blueprint Bliss said...

Lauren- great post. Your house is looking great. LOVE your sofa.

I'm on a pretty strict budget- but love changing things around. That's why I'm always buying napkins and making inexpensive pillows. Great, cheap way to update my house!

Julie@beingRUBY said...

Hi Lauren
Great post.. and have been waiting to see your sofa which look divine!! Certainly worth waiting for.

yvonne said...

I agree with Maria - even if I had an unlimited budget, I feel that I'd be upgrading and tweaking things all the time. It's what I love to do!

High-Heeled Foot in the door said...

Oh Lauren. I totally agree with. There are many things in my house that will get switched to what I really wanted later on. We are on a budget as well so I can't always get the custom window treatments I want or all of the amazing designer fabric that I can now purchase at to the trade prices, but still can't afford!

A lot of my window treatments are steals along with my flooring choices.

Love the sofa! It looks fab!

Linda@ Lime in the Coconut said...

Absolutely the ticket! With an added little splurgee here and there!

LindsB said...

love this post and its so true about sometimes having to "make due" with what you have and upgrade later. I would LOVE to have custom curtains, but as a renter it is something that I just could NEVER justify. Our windows in the front of the house are curved, it makes it very difficult for my store bought DIY trim curtins and rods to look the way I want. But till I have my forever home, its just something that I'm going to have to deal with.

I will say that I wish I had a larger decorating budget for the time being- it would be fun to splurge on more :)

PS- your sofa is TO.DIE.FOR! I'm obsessed- i need more pics!!!

Kathy @ Sweet Up-North Mornings... said...

Great sofa and really love the crystal chandeler, mmmm delicious, xoxo~Kathy~ @ Sweet Up-North Mornings...

Tracy Watier said...

Oh my gosh, it never ends, right?
Love your "Styling by Christian"! It's so organic and real... I think he could start a new trend! (and btw, no amount of toy trucks and baby blankets could hide how great that sofa is!)

Erin {House of Turquoise} said...

Great post! I too adore your sofa. What did people do before Craigslist?!

I would love to get some new curtains in own home, but waiting until I find the perfect ones in the right budget.

Sarah said...

love your kitchen cabinet color, do you know what it is?

Unknown said...

I am in need of that tulip inspired table from IKEA. A great way to lighten up a room.

High and low is a great formula. Great always Lauren.


Lovely Little Nest said...

LOVE the saarinen tulip table - very chic! :)

Vanya Wilkinson said...

the kitchen is looking great, well done.

Don't talk to me about upgrading, I can't even frustrating being an interior designer with no house of my own - cruel and unusual torture. I have so many gorgeous things to put in it, all the ideas and enthusiasm but no house :(

Windlost said...


Great post! I have the money (relatively speaking...I am still a cheapskate but have a fair bit of disposable income, I suppose, having no kids, etc.), but I cannot find the quality and style of things I love here in my town.

I am a budget shopper still, but if I ever do find something I LOVE, I tend to buy it. That being said, since moving into our house 2.5 years ago, the only things I LOVED and bought were my new coffee table and my Asian alter table in the bedroom.

I have struggled to find a light fixture I love for my dining room. I have bought a $550 drum fixture, but now I am coveting a $800 chandelier. I can afford it, but on principal, I really don't want to go above $500! For some reason, I seem to have a built-in limit when it comes to a certain purchase. And since I rarely find MUST HAVE, I rarely go above my budget!

And I like to take things slowly, a new thing every month or two, so I don't have to put it on my Visa. Rather pay cash, etc. Last month I bought a Pottery Barn rug for the dining room and this month a light fixture and I am feeling sick from spending that much money, and it is only about $1500 all together. I am just not a big spender by nature.

Anyway, all that to say that I often find myself in "waiting" mode not because of budget, per se, but because (a) I get nervous spending a lot at once and (b) I never find things I "LOVE" and must have. Consequently, I have a house that is about 40% "done". But I like the process too, and don't want it to go too fast. Plus, I find my tastes evolve terribly fast, and what I love always changes!

I know it is hard starting out, with limited budget. We have all been there. But honestly, I think decorating feels better when it is honest, and what you can afford, and very rarely a thing you MUST HAVE. When you can have it all, it must not be very exciting any more....I really believe that. I even find that since I can afford to buy more and more, I want less and less. It is almost like too much candy. So enjoy where you are at and hone your style, which is amazing! Ithink your style is 10x more interesting than those "done" houses in magazines. I am way more eager to see what you have done with less!

Yet said...

...such great advice...I'm def taking notes!

Jenn said...

Great post! I think to an extent we all have to *make due* and upgrade as we go along. Thanks for sharing how you're making this happen.

Besides, the best way to create your own style is to mix timeless pieces and easier-to-replace pieces.

simply seleta said...

Oooooh, love this post. And LOVE your chandi and green sofa. Delish!!!!

I'd like to upgrade my master bedroom: would love to design custom faux canopy from ceiling in a wild China Seas pattern. YUM.

cotedetexas said...

God that sofa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It reminds me of what Ballard Designs used to be when everything in it was that color and leopard, remember? you are too young.
omg - it looks fabulous!!!!!!!! when is the seagrass coming????? it is going to be so fab.

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Reichel Broussard said...

I love that we both linked to each other's blogs this week. LOL. Thanks for the mention and keep up the good work. I can't wait to see what you're going to do next :D


Yes, yes and yes to everything you said! This is such a great post!!! I used to kick myself for buying things just to fill a need and not having the patience to wait for exactly what I was looking for. But as you said, it's good to have something to make do in the meantime too. It's a real delicate balance for sure and you're doing the most amazing job of it at your place. It looks so great even if you still have lots of things you want to "upgrade." Okay, and can I just say your couch is drop. Dead. Gorgeous. I can't believe it's the same couch. And that color is stunning.

Maria Killam said...

Lauren, thank you so much for giving me the heads up tonight. You are a doll!

Jennifer said...

your house is looking so great! the sofa!!! ahhhh I can't believe you found that on Craig's List.

upgrade decorating is pretty much my mantra. one thing that comes to mind is lampshades. I know what a difference properly-fitting shades make, but I can't bring myself to spend the money. and custom-cut seagrass is another, thanks to Joni! for now my HomeGoods version works just fine. here's to hoping we'll actually be able to upgrade one day!

N. said...

I love your newly upholstered sofa in green velvet. Fabulous!