Everyone has some kind of budget for their decorating projects. Even a large budget provides some kind of spending boundaries. But if the furniture fund is small – or if you have a lot to buy and less money than you'd like – you have to be more thoughtful. Whether you are in a first or transitional apartment, or living in your starter house, your budget process requires planning, prioritizing and an eye to the future.
Start with a list. Include everything you need for each room you have to furnish. Don't worry if your list is too long, you can make changes or delete later. If you need a desk but don't know where it will go, list it under all the rooms where it might end up. Seeing it in each list will help you weigh one piece against another as you set priorities.
Set priorities. Essential items like beds, dressers, sofas and tables come first, followed by "close seconds" like additional seating and storage pieces like dressers, chests or nightstands. Finally, add embellishments – accent furniture and accessories. Keep in mind that one person's luxuries are another person's essentials. If you're at the computer a great deal, you need a desk or worktable and a good desk chair. If a TV or sound system is the center of your home, at the very least you have to keep the components organized and off the floor.
Define your look. Do a little research. Take a look at the Furniture.com Style Guide to help expand your style vocabulary. Keep a file or box of photos from catalogs, magazines and online sources. Note whether you continually gravitate to a certain kind of home magazine or room style. Spread your materials out and you'll begin to see the common threads. Knowing your preferences will help you create a unified look, with pieces that work together in a variety of combinations.
Make a floor plan. A common mistake people make is buying too many items, or pieces that are the wrong size (usually too big) for their rooms. It's easy to guess wrong about how much space you have to work with, so don't guess. Use the Furniture.com Room Planner to place furniture items in your rooms, then move them around, change sizes and generally play with layouts. This is also where you decide where to put items like desks and other pieces that fit into different rooms. Best of all, you can save your Room Planner layouts for future reference. Once you know which layouts really work, you can buy far more wisely and realistically.
Keep your information. Print out the room plans you like. Make a list of your rooms' dimensions and the size of rugs and furniture you need. Store it all on your hard drive, and keep a copy in a "shopping envelope," along with relevant paint chips and fabric samples. Leave the envelope in your car, so if you bump into a great bargain, you'll know if the size and color are right. A good ongoing shopping list will include everything from large furniture items to drawer organizers. As you think of things, add them to your list, but don't pressure yourself to exceed your budget or go too quickly.
Look ahead. Choose a stylish, well-made dining group with a water/heat/stain resistant finish that will work in a future eat-in kitchen. Be sure the table has extension leaves for extra place settings when company comes to call. Drop leaf tables are a great space-saver, allowing you to place your table against a wall if space is really tight. Choose sofas and chairs that will last for a long time and will also transfer nicely into a future family room or home office – leather or slipcovered sofas and chairs, for example. And small-scale or mismatched bedroom pieces may be chosen with an eye to a future guest or children's room.
Think multi-functional. Make one piece do the work of two. If you rarely use your dining room, commandeer the table for a desk or work area until you can afford (or have room for) a desk. Put a TV or music system on top of a low storage piece, like a buffet or chest. Find an ottoman that doubles as a cocktail table; buy end or cocktail tables with storage drawers. Opt for a sleep sofa instead of the regular model to create an instant guest room. Modular storage units can be reconfigured and recyled as your space needs change – the stackables that showcase books today can store a child's toys in future years.
Be creative. Although there are great bargains to be found in group pricing, you may have to buy a piece at a time. No problem: well-chosen pieces can work beautifully together without being part of a matched set. Look for items that complement each other; coordinate with thoughtful combinations of color and pattern. Interesting, timely and low-cost accents will add snap and visual interest. Art, lamps and area rugs can be good looking AND inexpensive but even when you go a little over budget, they tend to have a long life span and move easily from home to home and room to room.
Be organized. You'll cope better with less furniture by investing in cupboard, drawer and closet organizers. You can avoid getting carried away by all the options by thinking through what you'll need. Take measurements of cupboard and closet interiors, especially if you're considering modular organizers. Wait for bargains – somebody is always having a sale on plastic boxes and other clever organizers. Don't limit yourself to ready-mades: antique boxes, colorful hat boxes, baskets and other unique items provide storage options that are both functional and eye-pleasing … and isn't that what making a home is all about?