How to glow up your first home when you have no money left

The great irony of owning your first home is that just when you’re allowed to do some DIY, you’re too broke to try.

You’ve got one or two (or more) bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen to fill, and there’s some shabby wallpaper and chipped paint to deal with.

But you’ve just emptied the coffers paying your deposit, lawyers’ fees and rates – not to mention the cost of living at the moment.

If you want to do some sprucing, it’s going to have to be on a budget. So how should you start?

Slowly, says interior designer Amanda Holland, of Wellington design store Small Acorns. “Don’t rush out just to fill your new home. I always think, ‘buy once, buy well’. It’s worthwhile not being too impatient. If it means waiting a few months before you can get what you need, wait. Wait, wait, wait. “

Don’t be disheartened, though – having less to spend can actually be a good thing for your decor.

“Budgetary constraints actually force you to be more creative,” says Holland. “You often you end up with something that’s unique, and very cool, and much better than if money was no object.”

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Use what you’ve got

Think judiciously about the pieces that you need to buy, and what you already have.

Will that tea trolley make an interesting bedside table? Does that bookshelf need to be in the living room, when you could work in the hall?

“Just because you had a piece in one living space, doesn’t mean that’s where it has to go in your new home. Sometimes you can completely give things a different look, and you can look upon them differently by moving them into a different space or giving them a different role to play, ”says Holland.

Make this easy hanging propagation stand for growing your stem cuttings.

Take your time

Besides, you should prioritize getting the utilities working efficiently, before “dedicating money towards the fun stuff”, says Nelson-based interior designer Carley Lloyd of Colourbolt.

Spend your first year “assessing the functionality of your home”, such as the heating, insulation, ventilation, water, gas and power, as this is where a lot of your money will go.

“Live in your new house and experience each season before you make any kind of structural changes or start replacing expensive items like curtains and blinds.

“We invested in an expensive fireguard prior to moving in [to our house]only to end up ripping the fireplace out completely a month later. “

Shop around when it comes to buying larger items. “At any given time you might find the same piece in a couple of stores, and it can be quite a difference in price,” says interior designer Gabby Muir, of Finer Homes.

And remember, you can change the look without replacing everything. “Laying down a rug three quarters under a bed or sofa, or adding a stair runner will transform your space completely,” says design consultant Bailey Smith, of SoJo Design. “You can definitely find one on a budget.”

Choose one room and start, but do it once, and do it right. “Cutting corners will just lead to further expense in the future. Trust me, ”says Lloyd. “Don’t focus on the outcome. Just enjoy the process and journey of transforming your new house into a home. “

Carley Lloyd says take a year to learn how your house works and prioritize your utilities.


Carley Lloyd says take a year to learn how your house works and prioritize your utilities.

Think second-hand

Consider hitting the op-shops and vintage stores for affordable (and more sustainable) decor objects, rather than cheap stores.

“You can definitely find some unique pieces at op-shops, like ceramics, which are very popular at the moment, and you can still find good quality smaller pieces of furniture at op-shops and markets. If they’re a bit worse for wear, you can freshen them up with paint, ”says Muir.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be cheaper [to buy second hand and recover a sofa], but if you choose the fabric well, it might last you longer, and you might be happier with the outcome. Because you’ve chosen something that’s unique, something that you love and that you’ve spent time on, you might look after a little more and the quality might just lend it to lasting longer anyway. “

Try sewing your own cushions, and stuffing them with a feather or microfibre inner. “If you find a cheap commercial cushion, you can give them a bit more of an elegant feel by putting a feather or microfibre cushion inside.”

Think paint

The quickest, easiest way to refresh a space is by painting it – if not the walls, then at least the trim and windowsills.

You might even be able to paint your kitchen cupboards, your bathroom vanity, the tiles – the list is endless. “Without a doubt, paint is your cheapest option. Paint is your best friend, ”says Holland.

“In most cases, you can do it yourself. Even if you just go for your favorite white to refresh a space, even if you’re unsure what you might be going to do to the house and the future; for now, it’s a great way of getting rid of colors that you don’t like. “

Amanda Holland from Small Acorns says don't rush to fill you home - buy one and buy well.

Ross Giblin / Stuff

Amanda Holland from Small Acorns says don’t rush to fill you home – buy one and buy well.

Think light

Lighting can be an inexpensive, yet effective way of changing the feel of a room.

Start by updating all the bulbs with LEDs. Keep “cool” bluish lights to a minimum – bathrooms and task lighting in the kitchen only – as they can make a room feel less cozy and inviting.

Replace old light shades with ones that suit your design style and the style of your home. There’s a huge selection at varying price points, but there are bargains to be found second-hand if you’re willing to hunt around.

“I’ve recently sourced three large industrial light shades off [Facebook] Marketplace, which had been sitting in a shed on someone’s farm for years, ”says Lloyd.

Art is a good start

Art doesn’t have to be an expensive original piece, or the kind of cheap posters you might have put up in your flatting days. In fact “anything can be art work if you just treat it that way”, says Holland.

“You can make small pieces or minor pieces into major pieces by creating a gallery. You might have favorite photos that you could blow up. It could be tear outs from magazines or postcards you could frame. Anything like that can be a nice way of personalizing a space. “

The Poster Club and Pop Motif are good places to start, or check out the versatile, affordable work of Kiwi artists like Maiko Nagao and Stacey Weaver.

Moira West is a houseplant collector with more than 400 indoor plants.  You don't have to go that far in your first home, but a bit of greenery can make a big difference.


Moira West is a houseplant collector with more than 400 indoor plants. You don’t have to go that far in your first home, but a bit of greenery can make a big difference.

Put down roots

Pot plants and greenery from the garden have two-fold purpose – they can fill space (try a tall plant instead of a big, expensive piece of furniture), and they give a space a homely, lived-in feeling.

“A few snippets from the garden, anything that will make it your own,” says Holland. “They’re only minor details, but they really personalise [a space] and adds a living thread to a space and so immediately looks different. “

Often, you can propagate and swap with friends. “So you get a bit of a mix without having to spend any extra money,” says Muir.