Reading Time: 4 min | Aug 2022

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7 ways to surround yourself with great design on a budget

Let’s be honest: great design has its price. But if you are doing it right, you can afford buying designer goods in some way.

While we have no doubt that a well-designed product is worth every cent, not everybody can afford to have an Eames chair in every room (or in any room, for that matter). Still, if you’re reading this, you’re probably able to afford to buy designer goods in some shape or form, especially if you do it right.

1. Less, but better.

The famous principle of Dieter Rams doesn’t just apply to designers, it’s also helpful when decorating your living room or remodeling the kitchen. Think less: Are those three vases on that coffee table one too many – or just enough? Do you really really need one more Star Trek collector’s mug? By limiting the number of items on your shopping list, you can spend a bit more on the others.

2. Go eclectic.

What used to be true only of college dormitories is now a good rule for everyone to keep in mind, especially when designing on a budget. Mixing styles is the new matching. Only able to find two Rosenthal Bettina 3331 dinner plates? Mix it up with a couple of Alt Schönwalds. The great thing about blending styles (and design epochs) is when one item reaches the end of its life – or you just get tired of it – you can swap it with something completely different without starting from scratch.

3. Hit the flea markets or 2nd hand shops.

Buying someone else’s pre-loved treasures is a great way to Gucci up your home without most of the markup. In fact, you might be surprised at how reasonable it is to decorate with the finest designs, as long as they are not new. Of course, not every culture has such an active and entertaining flea market culture as in many European countries, but there is still probably an app you can use to buy used designer goods.

4. Know your stuff.

If you’re confusing your Vitra with your Vignelli, it might be time to do a bit of reading up on design history. If you’re not sure where to start, you might check out Elizabeth Wilhide’s Design: The Whole Story. Another great read: The Red Thread (a compelling introduction to Nordic design!).

Image: Eames armchair ©Vitra (left). New York City subway map ©Vignelli (right).

5. Turn old into new.

Some of the coolest interior designs incorporate shipping crates, pallets, or even old packaging materials to create interesting textures. Brazilian architects and designers have been among those at the forefront.

6. Embrace imperfection.

You know that dirty white table in your cellar, the one scuffed on the corner and that you were thinking about cleaning up and repurposing as shabby chic? Good idea. You can even take it a step further and look to the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, which translates as the art of imperfection and rustic beauty. Besides reducing your environmental footprint, this could be the perfect retort for a particularly fastidious guest complaining about chipped china. “That’s wabi-sabi,” you might say, “I’m practicing detachment and contemplating the passing of time.”

The Japanese concept of wabi-sabi

"The art of imperfection and rustic beauty"

7. Details make the difference

Charles Eames once said: “The details are not the details. They make the design.” Precisely.

If you’re decorating your kitchen (and that’s not the only room you live in), you’ll probably have to compromise in places. In Europe and elsewhere, this often means buying your flatware at Ikea. Hide your compromises in plain sight and spruce them up with an heirloom Ittala glass or a String shelf bought second hand. The great thing about each beautiful piece of design, whether candle or doorknob, is that it can lighten up the room and delight the senses.

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