Copycat Decorating
by Kim Tilley


We have all seen those incredible decorative accessories and other items that are so expensive that we could only afford them in our dreams. Perhaps you saw something something in a showroom that really caught your eye. Maybe you saw "the look" on a house tour, or on a commercial, or perhaps you spied it in your favorite decorating magazine. How do you get those favorite but overpriced items into your home for less? You copy them!!!! I have been doing this for years with craft projects and even recipes, but never thought about doing this for decorating until some of our discussion list members started sharing their ideas on this subject.

You really can decorate for less if you copy the expensive items you like. Like any good recipe, most of the items you see for sale at the store are really adaptations of things that can be made at home. The exceptions, of course, are some of the specialty items, such as ironwork and glass blowing. However, where there is a will, there is a way! You can join groups that are into making these specialized items too!

Here are some pointers for getting started in "copycat decorating":

1. Get some inspiration! It is everywhere! Look at catalogs, magazines, sales flyers, commercials, stores, and even other people's houses! Don't forget model homes, showcase homes, and house tours. You can also get inspired online with tours of castles, homes, and interior decorator websites. The best way to find these is to go to This website is a multiple search engine, which searches all of the major search engines, such as Yahoo, Lycos, Hotbot, etc. I use it for everything.

2.Get some pictures! It is so much easier to copy an item when you have a picture in front of you. If that is not possible, make a sketch and take some notes of what you like. Do anything you can to keep these ideas fresh in your memory.

3. Start an idea file or a scrapbook. This is a great way to study items that you are drawn to. Sometimes we know what we like subconsciously, and will keep buying or wanting to buy the same things over and over again. When I made a scrapbook of what I liked, I learned a lot about myself! I discovered that my personal preferences lean toward a rustic "Cottage Style" decor. I like the twigs, birdhouses, ivy and lace. These are the things I am drawn to. 

Another case of "subconscious decorating happened when I moved away from home. My mother redid my bedroom into an office/guestroom. When she was finished she was shocked to discover that she had inadvertently recreated the room she grew up in! You can go home again! So get your ideas into a file or scrapbook and look for preferences that seem to resurface. You could learn a lot about yourself!

4. Break down the item into its basic elements. Once you know what you want to make, break it down into workable elements. Some of our fan members recently did this too:

  • Angie Knowles recently made her own basket table, inspired by one she saw in a catalog. Here is what she did: She broke it into two sections: the top, and the legs. For the top, she used a large tray-style basket. For the legs, she cleaned up an old luggage rack and spray painted it. She mounted the basket on top of the luggage rack and now has a beautiful table for her porch. The cost of the table in the catalog was $75; she did hers for well under $20!
  • Mary Stephenson saw a pediment she liked for almost $200 and said, "I don't think so!" She is currently working on her own version. You all may know her, she was featured on the "Home of the Brave" episode of Interior Motives and showed how to make the cardboard cornices we all love.
  • June Hess wanted a huge mirror that would have cost a small fortune. She showed us how it could be made for far less by embellishing a normal mirror with decorative molding.

It is this adventurous, creative approach to solving problems that makes budget decorating fun. Be a copycat!

5. Get the feel without the price tag! Sometimes the things you really want are expensive, no getting around it! So what do you do? You use a small amount of the expensive item, giving your room a "hint" of it. For instance, a little bit of expensive fabric can go a long way sometimes. Perhaps you can't afford to make curtains or to have your couch reupholstered. You can still copy "the look" by putting a small amount of this fabric on a pillow, or even recovering a seat on an inexpensive chair or stool. Another way to work the expensive fabric into your decor would be to make valances out of it, not entire window treatments. You could put sheers with the valances, or "tab top" curtains in less expensive but coordinating fabric.

You can also incorporate reproductions instead of authentic items into your decor. Who is really going to know? This strategy works for artwork, pottery, furniture, anything collectible (which is just about anything these days!) We would all be broke if we could not live without authentic Ming Dynasty vases in our decor! Thank God for reproductions!

6. Look for cheaper alternatives.  As always, use what you have, and keep your eyes open for bargains and unusual alternatives. Remember the decorative paper from Loose Ends that was featured on Interior Motives? These were a wonderful alternative to the expensive animal skins and furs, and are cruelty-free. You can order all kinds of wonderful decorative papers from their website: Loose Ends.

Sheets are a great alternative to expensive window treatments. We have seen linoleum used to make floorcloths and cardboard used as the base for beautiful cornices. (that was Mary again!) There is usually a cheaper way to do what you want, you just need to be creative!

6. Get some help. Still can't figure out how to make something you are dying to have? Ask a friend or ask us! Check out our bulletin board and our discussion groups. Do a web search. There are online guides to upholstering fabric, learning all kinds of crafts, sewing, woodworking, just about anything you want to learn is online. Don't forget to check the local library. If you have thought of it, someone has probably written a book on it!

7. Personalize it to your own decor and style. Recently we were talking on the discussion list about pot racks. A pot rack is a very basic idea, but we all came up with different ideas that would suit a wide range of decorating styles. I found the picture below and wanted to make it with twigs. Others found ironwork pot racks that they thought they could copy by using an old iron gate. One of our members wants to do a nautical theme and make her pot rack out of a captain's wheel. There are so many ideas floating around out there! Adapt them to your own style and it becomes your own original creation.

8. Go for it! Remember that you can't copyright ideas, but neither can others! If you see something you like, do it! Then show it off here! We love to see what everyone is doing. We know you can do it!

(c) Copyright Kim Tilley 2000

About the Author

Kim Tilley is the mother of three boys, ages 8, 5 and 1. She is the online editor for a local tv station and the editor of Frugal Moms, sadly now closed. She is also a tightwad at heart. Her interests include cooking, crafts, gardening, computers, and saving money! When not typing away at the computer, she entertains herself by chasing kids and finding ways to create something out of nothing!



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