First little home, many big ideas

By Wayne Bell

Ah, it’s American Idol time again. Every year I declare that I’m going to give up on the show and finally have two or three nights free again. However, every year, I get sucked back into the action. I think the most over used song on the train wreck has to be the Burt Bacharach classic “A House is not a Home.” Now as much as I want to hurl each time I hear the song, I actually started listening to the words the other day…and surprisingly, they rang true.

I, like a lot of my peers don’t actually have a house. I have been a pretty pleased Lindsey renter for close to two years now. There are a variety of reasons, but the main one is, of course, money. If we could all our own houses, then we probably would. However, few of us are in that financial situation, and the idea of getting into a mortgage is daunting while we continue to pay off cars, student loans and credit card debt.

I don’t bring this up to depress you, but rather to inspire you. Much like Mr. Bacharach, I have learned that a house isn’t a home, yet a home is a home. In my case, it’s a small Lindsey apartment.

For others, it may be one of those trendy condos or townhouses, and for others, it may actually be a house. Whatever the case, a home is what you make it and it doesn’t have to look like some huge cottage sitting in a subdivision like so many in Northwest Arkansas.

Whatever you first home situation is, the concept of creating and decorating it, often on a tight budget, can be daunting. I have friends who have lived in their first home for two or three years and have yet to hang a single piece of art on the wall. Why? It’s not that they don’t like the art they own. No, the reality is, they are scared of doing it wrong.

Therefore, I, a non-expert, will offer some simple, economical and easy-to-follow tips to make your first house, apartment, or whatever, a home.

MYTH: Small Room, Small Furniture
I know quite a few people who have fallen into this dark, deep pit of tackiness. Many of us can’t afford or choose not to have huge spaces. However, decorating a small space can be extremely challenging. The problem that many of my friends have is filling their small rooms with small furniture. One would think that this would actually be practical because you would free up some much needed floor space. Wrong!

What ends up happening is you crowd your room with a bunch of small crap that you probably won’t need if and when you move to something more spacious.

A great number of people get into the trap of buying, buying, buying smallish pieces of furniture and they put it all in the same room and poof, that much needed space is gone. What’s left is a bunch of crap to clean. Chances are none of it is practical or even comfortable.

Before falling into this pit, might I make a radical suggestion? Use normal sized or even overstuffed furniture. Why? Because it will actually create more seating and will actually trick the eye into thinking the room is bigger.

What…you don’t believe me? Well consider your first bedroom. Think about when you moved out your daybed of futon and all the crummy furniture you had leftover from your dorm room and moved in your first real bed—probably a queen. Granted, the queen took up more space. However, the room actually appeared bigger and more practical. There is more comfort, practicality, and actually…space.

When you get rid of the futon, lava lamp, milk cartons, cheap TV stand, and shotty dresser and replace it with a bigger bed, a nice TV stand and a simple end table, the room suddenly appears less crowded and much more streamlined.

If you have a nice size closet, I would recommend putting your dresser inside the closet, which will free up more space. If you can afford a flat screen TV, that will also help.

Here are a few basic suggestions that will make any small room appear larger:

First off, invest in some good quality pieces that will actually travel with you from home to home. A nice chair, a good sized bed, a medium sized neutral couch will all be much more practical then cheap stuff made of particle board. Try to spend some money on good pieces.

This next statement is so critical to the comfort of both you and your guests that I will ask you to pay special attention: BUY AN EXPENSIVE COUCH! A good couch should last you years and can be slip covered from home to home. Your couch should be a classic style and one that can really support you and your guests for years and provide durability and comfort. I bought a cheapish couch for about $150 and regret it every day. This should be an investment. The same could be said for beds.

Another way to make a small room appear bigger is to use stripes on the walls. Use simple, subtle variations of the same shade. A pale green with a slightly paler one works nicely. Just paint small stripes going up and down the wall. It will make the walls appear taller and make the room appear bigger. Just remember to use subtle colors and keep both shades close to each other. It creates a nice illusion.

My last suggestion for a small room is to get rid of popcorn ceilings. Nothing makes a room appear more cramped than the hideous popcorn ceilings. The trouble is, it comes standard with most apartments. If this is the case, either look for another one, or follow the suggestions above to overcompensate for the train wreck going on above your head.

I do understand that if you rent, scraping a ceiling or painting may be out of the question. However, you can always use temporary wall coverings (like the ones sold at or drape a colored fabric up to give the illusion of paint. A heavily starched cotton is ideal for holding up to a wall. It will also peel off when you decide to move.

MYTH: Your décor has to be expensive
Okay, so I’ve advocated that you spend a lot of money on certain items. You’re probably think that that doesn’t leave you much for all that décor like picture frames, candles and all that other crap to take up space on your coffee table. Truth is: You’re probably right.

If you want to buy all that stuff at Pottery Barn, then you are probably going to be in debt till your 40. However, some nationwide retailers like Target offer amazing knock-offs for half the price. Also, try hitting the sales at Pier I and TJ Maxx. These nationwide stores offer great looks at very affordable prices. Chances are, you will grow bored with some of the stuff you buy, so you don’t want to have to live with something because you spent a fortune on it.

We are extremely lucky in Northwest Arkansas to have some other options for home décor. First, go to Lacuna for inspiration and if you’re on a tighter budget you can find similar looks at IO Metro. A pillow that sells at IO Metro for 20 bucks might go for 60 at Pottery Barn.

Also, if you looking for a nice afternoon trip, load up the car at HOME by IO Metro in Bentonville. This is Metro’s version of a discount outlet of some of their overstocks, discontinues or older pieces. Know that it has weird hours and is often closed on Mondays.

Speaking of weird hours, check out Tuesday Morning in Fayetteville. This store, like TJ Maxx, is completely hit or miss. Sometimes you will find some great things, and other times, you won’t. Next door is Hobby Lobby, which often has décor and even a bit of furniture at low prices. Go to Hobby and print off some coupons to help with this.

And now to Northwest Arkansas biggest secrets: The discount crap stores. I know that sounds horrible and yet it’s pretty true. These stores don’t look like much, but provide some sales that will make your jaw drop to the floor in glee.

First, hit up Ozark Center Point Place on I-540 in Springdale. They have a variety of discount furniture, scratch and dent and factory return shops. You can find Hobby Lobby, Fred’s, Big Lots and NBC among others.

The Mecca of all discount stores is Oops in Tontitown. My other half took me there the other day against my initial reservations and made me a believer. A lot of stuff in this warehouse is just plain bad. However, a lot, and I mean a lot, isn’t. There are no fancy sales floors, pushy sales people or beautiful sitting areas. What you will find are rows upon rows of picture frames, artwork, flowers, candles, mirrors, seasonal décor and yes, furniture. The other day, Oops had leather club chairs similar to the ones in the Pottery Barn catalog at $799 for $120. You just have to dig a little bit.

MYTH: I have to go buy all new stuff
A lot of people think that if you have a new home, you must have all new stuff. That is simply not true. Take a pre-existing piece and stain or repaint it. Are you in need of some stuff to fill a boring coffee table? Take some great books that you’ve hidden on a cramped bookshelf and proudly display them. Do you have a lamp that you really like but it’s too short to be very practical? Put it on top of some beautiful books and suddenly it becomes taller and you actually use things you already own.

Many people don’t realize that the things they already own can be repurposed into great new looking pieces. A vase that you’re not using can be put in a new room, or mixing bowls that you never used in your kitchen can suddenly hold items in your living room. Get creative and don’t forget local flea markets and antique shops.

A few random tips.
Indulge me in offering a few random tips that should make your first home less daunting.

1) Your home should be filled with items that you have collected over the years. Now you probably don’t own them yet, but people don’t have to know that. If you’re going to buy things to decorate, choose things that reflect your hobbies, interests and preferences. Choose things that look collected rather than bought. This adds personality and class to any space. The flea markets and antique shops hold many treasures.
2) Don’t match everything. Buying an expensive bedroom or living suite is very unpractical and quite boring. There is nothing worse than going into a room and thinking “Damn, that’s a lot of look.” Break up living rooms by having one random chair or have an odd dresser in the bedroom. Never do matchy matchy! It looks dated and stale.
3) Some items in your kitchen will be expensive. Williams-Sonoma is a great place to buy those pricy items that you will require for years. However, check out Bed, Bath and Beyond for some of those items. Bed, Bath and Beyond’s 20 percent off coupon come regularly in the mail and in their newspaper ads. We are lucky in Northwest Arkansas to have a lot of restaurant supply stores. These are fantastic places to get great quality dining ware, baking tools and basic kitchen staples. If these items can stand up to the wear and tear of restaurant use, they can probably withstand your kitchen. I Hope! Try Areco in south Fayetteville.
4) Get inspired by home decoration mags, catalogs, events and even home shows. Use your creative juices to reproduce looks that cost much more. My other half recently created a wall grouping of similar pictures and frames from Hobby Lobby and Oops that was a spitting image of the set in the Crate and Barrel catalog for about 1/20th of the price.
5) Loveseats often provide more space that sectionals and couches. If you need more seating, get rid of those useless coffee tables and replace them with functional ottomans.
6) In your kitchen and bathroom, use under the cabinet and over the toilet storage to free up floor space.
7) Finally, make your own style. Use this article as a guideline, but not the ultimate source. You are your own best judge. If you can’t live in the space, then it doesn’t matter how fabulous it is, it won’t work for your lifestyle.

So I doubt that those annoying kids on American Idol knew what they were inspiring with that Bacharach song. However, I can empathize with anyone who’s trying to make their house or apartment into a home. It is a daunting task. I hope that I have inspired you to take a second look at those empty walls and get inspired to truly make it your home. One last tip: Remember no matter how much you screw it up, you can always repaint!

Categories: Features