These days, quality furniture is easy to find and it doesn’t have to be expensive. I tend to steer clear of the lowest quality furniture, such as the pieces found at Living Spaces and stores like it, but if you look carefully, you can find local stores that sell decent furniture at a decent price.
Where to Find Affordable Furniture
Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Room & Board, and Crate & Barrel make lovely furniture, but at $4000 for a couch, it’s not within my budget. Instead, I found a local place that makes knock-offs of their furniture for a quarter of the price. Sure, I had to deal with a random pirate-themed store and drive 30 miles to choose my furniture, but I also chose the style, size, fabric, leg style and color, arm shape, and number of cushions for $700. It could have been more, but the fabric I chose wasn’t very expensive. I got faux leather (it’s a fabric) for $1000. Compare that to $8000 for leather couches at some stores.
If you live close enough to a major metro, consider stopping in their warehouse district for deals on things like rugs, tables, and chairs. I visited downtown LA recently and scored two rugs for $240. (Bring cash and you’ll get an even better deal. The sale may not be reported, but that really isn’t your problem.)
Believe it or not, some furniture stores do offer coupons. Check the ValPak or MoneyMailer envelope that arrives in your mailbox. During the slow season, I found a coupon for $500 off at a local sofa store. I’ve actually bought furniture there before, and it was good quality. The coupon was during one of the slowest parts of the economic recovery, so that may be one reason, but I’ve also found coupons for furniture stores on Groupon, Living Social, and similar sites. There are coupons to be had if you look carefully.
Won’t Cheap Furniture Wear Out Faster?
Yes, probably. I don’t expect my $700 sofa to last as long as a $4000 sofa, but I don’t necessarily want it to. I have three cats. I’m hoping to have a baby. My friends and family have young children. Those three factors combined mean that my sofas and rugs will be trashed long before the cushions wear out! I did Scotchgard everything, but cat scratches, spit-up, and ground up crackers will eventually wear down the couches. And then I’ll replace them. Maybe my taste will have changed by then, so it will be nice to make a change without worrying about the money I spent.
If I were single, didn’t want kids, and had no pets, I would probably be willing to spend more on furniture, but cheap furniture gives me peace of mind. I want to enjoy my furniture, not worry about stains and wear.
A couple months ago I showed you how to make a no-sew window swag. If you want a more architectural window treatment, and still don’t want to sew, it’s time to consider the window cornice. Once again, you’ll need power tools and lumber, but you won’t have to sew. I used instructions I found at Lowe’s, but I discovered along the way that some modifications were necessary, so here’s my version of the instructions for making a window cornice.
Window Cornice Materials
1/4-inch Lauan plywood
1×2 mounting board
Staple gun and staples
¾” Wood screws
1 or 2-inch L brackets
L or T square
Marking pen or pencil
Steps to Build a Window Cornice
1. Measure the window. Take the following measurements: width including frames or window treatments that extend beyond the edge of the frame, depth including window treatments that extend beyond the edge of the frame, height of window treatments you want to cover or window frame.
Now add to each of those measurements. Example: I added 4 inches to the window width to allow room for mounting. We don’t have window frames, so I measured the height of the blind cornice and added 4-6 inches to give it some drama. My cornice sticks out half an inch, then I added 2 inches to the depth.
Write down your measurements. Determine the number of cornices you’ll be making and figure out how many pieces of 4×8 foot Lauan you’ll need. You’ll be cutting a cornice front that is the width of the cornice by the height of the cornice and two cornice sides that are the depth of the cornice by the height of the cornice. For example, one 60×8 piece and two 3×8 pieces.
2. Measure out the cleats. If you use Luan, you’ll need to make mounting cleats out of 1×2 pine. If your cornice is less than 3 inches deep, make 1 inch wide by 2 inch tall cleats. If your cornice is more than 3 inches deep, make 2×2 cleats. Each cornice will require four cleats. Buy enough wood to have some overage for mistakes. If you make 2×2 cleats, you can use 2-inch mounting brackets rather than 1-inch.
3. Measure and cut the wood. Sand all the edges smooth.
4. Lay the cornice front flat. Measure half an inch in from the left and right edges and make a line. Measure half an inch down from each of the edges and make a line. Glue one cleat in each corner. If you’re using 1×2 cleats, the long side of the cleat is parallel to the short edge of the cornice front.
5. Lay the cornice sides flat. Measure half an inch from the left edge of the left cornice side and half an inch from the top. Mark these lines. Repeat half an inch from the right edge of the right cornice side and half an inch from the top. Glue one cleat to each cornice side. Let dry.
6. Turn over the cornice front and sides. Screw through the Luan into the cleats to secure in place.
7. Turn over again. Run a line of glue along the left edge of the cornice front. Attach the cornice side to this line of glue, perpendicular to the front, and flush with the mounting cleat. The mounting cleats should also be perpendicular. Hold until dry. Repeat on right side.
(See photo in step 11 for example. There are cleats at each end in the photo, but this was because of a mistake.)
8. Screw from the outside of the cornice side into the mounting cleat attached to the cornice front.
9. Measure the length of the cornice from side to side, allowing wrap-around. For a 60-inch wide cornice with 3-inch sides, this is 66 inches. Add 6 inches for batting and wrapping. Add 6 inches to the height for batting and wrapping. My total fabric size was 72 inches by 12 inches.
10. Iron the fabric.
11. Cut the fabric and the batting to the appropriate size. Turn the fabric wrong side up. Lay the batting on top of the fabric. Center the cornice on top of that. Pull the fabric taut against the bottom edge. Staple in the center. Repeat at the top. Move to one side. Pull the fabric over the side and pull taut. Staple in the center. Repeat on the other side. Now staple every few inches along each side. Pull taut before each staple. Trim overage. You may need to stitch or hot glue the outer corners so the fabric doesn’t bunch where it presses against the wall.
If the back of the cornice will be visible from outside the window, hot blue glue an unpadded piece of the fabric to the inside of the cornice.
12. Measure from the middle of each mounting cleat. Mark this width on the wall. Hold up the cornice to make sure it’s centered and level. Mark the edges to confirm. Drill starter holes in the wall and each cleat. Mount one L-bracket to the wall with a drywall screw. Align the cornice cleat with the L-bracket, and screw the bracket to the cleat with a wood screw. Check leveling and centering again and repeat on the other side.
You’re done. The total cost was about $60. My fabric was $10 a yard and the batting was $1 a yard, but I have access to cheap fabric. Without the fabric, the materials were around $30, not counting the tools I had to buy that I didn’t already have.
My dad proposed a couple of alternatives to this. When they made their cornices, they used 1×10 mounting board rather than Lauan and held them together with L-brackets rather than cleats. Although this is easier, it will be heavier, so you make sure you can mount the cornices to studs.
If you use Lauan and cleats, he suggested that we could have hung mounting hooks on the wall, attached hooks to the cleats, and simply hung the cornices on them instead of screwing them to the wall. Visit the hardware store and see what looks useful to you.
This weekend I embarked on a simple home improvement project that was as cheap as it was easy. I made swags to go over my kitchen windows. It didn’t require any sewing, and depending on the price of the fabric, costs as little as $30 per window. You don’t have to sew, but you will need some power tools.
No-Sew Window Swag Materials (in order)
Fabric: 54-inch-wide decorator fabric (it should drape well). You’ll need a length that is 2.5 times the width of the window
1 x 2 pine board
Table, jig, or circular saw
3/4-inch stitch witchery (iron-on hemming adhesive)
Heavy-duty staple gun
No-Sew Window Swag Instructions
If you can cut, iron, and drill you can make these. If you don’t have a saw, have the mounting board cut to the right length at the hardware store. Most will make 1 or 2 cuts for free.
Step 1: Measure your windows. Buy your fabric. My fabric was $3 a yard, but I have access to the Los Angeles fabric district. You should expect to spend $5-10 a yard for a medium-weight cotton. I brought a swatch of my paint with me to match the fabric to my kitchen.
Step 2: If you have a window frame, cut the mounting board 6 inches shorter than the width of the frame. If you don’t have a frame, cut the mounting board the exact width of the window.
Step 3: Iron the fabric to remove major folds and wrinkles. Lay it flat on your cutting surface. Normally, you’d use a sewing mat on your dining room table. I don’t have one yet, so I used my empty dining room floor and my sewing mat.
Step 4: Cut the fabric in half lengthwise. This is enough for two windows. Cut each length to 2 ½ times the width of the window. A46-inch wide window would require 115 inches (3.25 yards).
Step 5: Lay the fabric wrong side up on your ironing board. Lay Stitch Witchery or another iron-on hemming adhesive about ¾ of an inch in from the edge of the fabric. Fold the fabric over so the adhesive is completely covered and flush against the edge of the fold. Heat the iron as instructed on the Stitch Witchery package. Lay a damp towel over the hem. Lay the iron on top of that and let sit for ten seconds. Lift up the iron. Do not slide it. Set it down on the next section. I found it easiest to lay a whole section of towel flat over a long section of hem so I could work through several sections at once. You need to hem all four edges. After the hem is complete, iron out any large wrinkles in the curtains.
Step 6: Lay the fabric on your cutting mat right side up. Fold it to find the exact center and mark it on the hem. Find the exact center of the narrow side of your mounting board and mark it. Unfold the fabric and lay the marked center over the center of the narrow side of your mounting board. Staple the edge of the fabric to the edge of the board so it covers one side. Pull taut and staple each end. Staple several places in between.
Step 7: Drill two small holes about three inches from the end of each board. Poke the nail through the holes to make holes in the fabric that will be against the wall.
Step 8: Place the mounting board on the wall about 1 ½ inches above a frameless window, or at the top of the frame. Mark the spots where the holes go. Have someone hold the board in place with the stapled side at the bottom and a wide side against the wall. Drape the fabric over the top and front of the board. Use a cordless screwdriver to screw the drywall screw through the board and wall. You may need someone to hold the drape out of the way. Don’t tighten the screw completely yet.
Step 9: Place a level on top of the board. Adjust it until it’s completely straight. Drive the other screw tightly into the wall, then tighten the first one.
Step 10: Tie loose knots at either end of the window. If the knot droops more than you’d like, poke pushpins through the insides to hold them in place.
Ta da! No sew curtains that you can make in an afternoon.
The last time I bought a Christmas tree was six years ago. The five-foot tree cost me nearly $70. That’s when I decided my days of fresh trees had come to an end. Now that I live in a different apartment, I don’t have room for a tree anyway. I do have ornaments to hang though, so I found new ways to display my decoration collection without spending a fortune on something that will die in a few weeks.
Artificial Christmas Tree
I don’t have room for an artificial tree, but my parents’ tree is gorgeous. They found it for $180 at Costco, and still have it four years later. That brings their cost down to $45 a year, which is far more affordable than the $100 minimum they’d have to spend every year on a real 7½ foot tree. Artificial trees usually come pre-lit, so you also don’t have to worry about burned out bulbs or untangling mangled strings. As a final benefit, they’re flame retardant. Not having your house burn down is a major cost savings!
Fresh or Artificial Pine Garlands
One year I ordered fresh pine garlands that I hung over the two main windows. I then attached some lights and my ornaments to the garlands. The affect was lovely, the smell was delightful, and it was more affordable than a Christmas tree. I just spritzed it with water every few days. You could also do this with artificial garland.
I currently have a gold ornament tree that I stand on top of my entertainment center. In case you’re unfamiliar, an ornament tree is usually gold, but it can be silver. Mine stands about two feet tall and has four levels or four arms each. Each arm has one to three loops to hold ornaments. It’s perfect for displaying my favorite ornaments. Sometimes I add some brightly-colored Christmas balls in the back to add color and fill in holes. The best part of the ornament tree? The cats can’t reach it.
Live Mini Christmas Tree
Of course, I like to have a little something fresh, so I usually pick up a live 18-inch tree and attach a few simple ornaments to it. I can usually find them for $12-20 at Trader Joe’s. This one can be reached by the cats, so I only put cheap ornaments on it.
If you want to buy a real tree, just make sure you factor it into your total holiday budget. If you want to save, consider one of the above options. Spend the money you save on extra eggnog to drink while you decorate.