May 21, 2024

Where to Invest and Where to Save in Home Decor

One-time catalog/retail behemoth Sears is believed to have invented the good-better-best merchandising and pricing strategy. Whether it was a washing machine or a set of dishware, Sears offered lower-priced, mid-priced, and high-priced options of good, better, and best quality.

Most retailers and brands continue to do so today. That’s great news for those of us who can’t afford to opt for the very best of everything (which is most of us, after all). But when it comes to interior design on a budget, there are certain furnishings worth spending more money on. By the same token, there are also items that it pays to spend less on. 

At the most basic level, you want to invest in items for which durability is a priority. These are pieces that need to stand up to everyday use or that are timeless in design. In Sears parlance, go for the best you can afford. Conversely, save on products that are trendy or infrequently used or handled. 

Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? But as with just about everything else in life, there’s plenty that falls somewhere in between. Below, we’ll help you be penny wise and pound wise. 

Invest in the best: where to spend

“You get what you pay for” definitely holds true for most big-ticket home furnishings. The more-expensive versions are typically made of better-quality materials and more meticulously crafted—important for items you’ll use every day. Below are furnishings where opting for the best will pay off in both the short and the long term.

Credit: Design by Veronica Mishaan

Sofas

In this age of dupes and knockoffs, it’s easy to find inexpensive sofas that look almost identical to the costly originals. But cheaper sofas—and armchairs, settees, and office chairs, for that matter—will almost certainly not to stand up to heavy use the way high-quality furniture will.

Top-end sofas are typically made with kiln-dried hardwood frames rather than with cheaper MDF or plywood (“kiln-dried” is important, as it ensures that as much moisture as possible has been removed from the wood prior to construction, minimizing the chances of warping as well as killing any mold or fungi). The frames of more-expensive sofas likely include double dowels, reinforced corners, and other construction features that will add to the sofa’s longevity as well as its cost.

Labor-intensive eight-way hand-tied springs beneath medium-density foam cushioning wrapped in feather and down, found in the best couches and sectionals, provide longer-lasting support and comfort than, say, foam cushions atop wood slats. Likewise, while bonded or regenerated leather upholstery is much cheaper than full-grain or semi-aniline leather, it’s almost certain to flake or crack with regular use. 

Mattresses

Your mattress is likely to get more use than anything else in your home. A mattress with low-density springs or a few thin layers of polyfoam will neither last as long nor be as comfortable as one with heavy steel springs or pocket springs, memory foam, a quilted top layer, or other more expensive elements.

All that said, there’s no need to opt for a costly top-quality mattress for an infrequently used guest bedroom.

Bathroom and Kitchen Fixtures

When shopping for faucets, sinks, shower heads, tubs, and the like, substance is more important than style. Fixtures made of solid brass with a thick plated finish such as chrome or brushed nickel will last longer than those made with zinc or plastic, making them worth the extra expense. 

Credit: Design by Emma Milne Interiors; photo by Hana Snow

When good is good enough: where to save

When it comes to home decor, knowing where to save can be just as important as knowing where to spend.

Trends

Should you want to update your home with the season’s It accessories—a bright orange mushroom lamp in keeping with the ’70s style revival, for example—go ahead and prioritize beauty over quality. After all, you’ll probably tire of the lamp before it starts looking shabby or breaks. 

Credit: The Eclectic Room

Decorative Items

Inexpensive home decor that is looked at more than it is touched, from centerpieces and candlesticks to figurines and vases, lets you refresh your home without breaking your budget. The same goes for art. If the frame for a favorite print is black metal rather than black hardwood, chances are no one will notice, and it’s not as if the frame is going to be manhandled regularly. Vintage shops, flea markets, and estate sales can be troves of affordable art and decor. Buying vintage goods has the added advantage of being environmentally responsible. 

Guest and Kids' Rooms

You can also opt for “good” rather than “better” or “best” when decorating infrequently used rooms such as a guest bedroom or bathroom as well as in kids’ bedrooms and playrooms. A toddler scribbles on an MDF table? No biggie. A toddler scribbles on a lacquered hardwood table? Ouch. 

A caveat regarding kids’ rooms, however: Don’t skimp when it comes to safety. Little ones might use a crib for only a few years, for instance, but you want to be sure it’s sturdy and well crafted. Fortunately many affordable cribs and other children’s furnishings are as durable as their costly counterparts but are simply plainer in design.  

Good, better, or best? It depends!

For many elements of home decor, how much you should spend depends on your unique circumstances. For instance…

Rugs

If your household includes kids, pets, or adults known to spill red wine or regularly track in dirt and mud, opt for less-expensive rugs, at least in your most heavily trafficked areas. High-end rugs are typically hand-knotted or handwoven of high-quality wool or silk. Treated well, they can last for generations. But they’re not resistant to spilled chocolate milk or cats with a yen for clawing at fringe.

Washable machine-made rugs won’t last long enough to become heirlooms, but they’re usually inexpensive enough that you don’t mind replacing them periodically, or at least until the kids are older and the cats have been trained to steer clear.

Credit: Lars Millberg/Unsplash

Dining Tables and Chairs

The more frequently you use your dining furniture, the more you’ll want to invest in it. A table crafted with kiln-dried hardwood and heavy-duty screws will be sturdier, more durable, and yes, more expensive than one with a thin veneer glued atop plywood. Similarly, the costly dining chairs are apt to have thicker, higher-quality cushioning than less expensive varieties. 

Curtains 

Unless you want to block out maximum light and sound, you don’t need to splurge on top-of-the-line curtains or draperies. In terms of appearance, ensuring the drapes are the proper length (grazing the floor, unless they’re café or apron curtains) and width (one-and-a-half times the width of the window) is more important than opting for the highest-quality fabric.

Bookcases and Étagères

How much to spend depends on what you’ll be placing on them. If a bookcase will be filled with heavy hardbacks, you need shelves that won’t sag under the weight; if an étagère will be displaying fragile, irreplaceable objects, you want it sturdy enough not to wobble at the slightest provocation. Such pieces will typically be made with higher-quality, and therefore more expensive, materials and joinery.

Paint

The color you’ll be painting your walls and what you’ll be painting over determine whether you need good, better, or best paint. When covering pale painted walls with a similarly pale color, you can likely get away with less-expensive paint. When covering a dark wall with a pale shade or when opting for a more heavily pigmented color, it’s worth investing in better-quality paint and primer. 

Credit: Design by Avery Frank

Your style, your budget, your way

When decorating your home, where you opt to splurge or save depends largely on your lifestyle and your taste. A sofa might typically be a piece one wants to invest in, but if you know your dogs will be doing zoomies on it whenever you’re not home, splashing out on a top-of-the-line piece might not be worth it.

Decorative accents are a safe place to spend less on, but if you fall in love with a mouth-blown Murano glass vase, go ahead and reallocate your budget so that you can spring for it. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it can help you create a home that makes you happy.


Sherry Chiger was formerly the head of editorial at One Kings Lane, where she produced a leading interior design blog. She also writes on decor and other topics for numerous other sites and publications.

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© 2024 Palazzo. All rights reserved.

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© 2024 Palazzo. All rights reserved.

© 2024 Palazzo. All rights reserved.