How to decorate your first home: your essential guide to styling your home with interiors looks that last

After years of meticulous saving — in some cases decades — you’re finally completing on your first home and then, in one fell swoop, there goes all the money on the fees and deposit just as you’re about to get to the fun bit.

Here’s an essential step-by-step guide to making your new home your own without overspending.

Measure up

A laser tape will dull the pain (from around £20 on Amazon).

On a paper plan mark ceiling heights, radiator positions/shapes, windows (including any curtain tracks/poles), recesses, swing of the door, built-in fitments and so on. Make several copies.

Or go with sophisticated online tools (mostly free) for plans and 3D visuals — try SketchUp (, Floorplanner ( or HomeByMe ( DFS, Ikea and Carpetright also do online room planners.

Break down what you have to spend item by item

Stick mostly to your target prices… but be a little flexible. As a first timer you can’t know prices right across the market. And you can’t legislate for bargains unearthed at outlets and sales.

Invest in a sofa and bed, plus a desk, say, and storage and a good rug. Replacements after a couple of years mean spending more in the long run.

Add cheaper accessories from the high street or second-hand shops.

Make a mood board for each room

A starter mood board sets the tone for your room. Add anything that inspires you, from snippets of fabric, to print-outs, postcards, leaves, shells and more. Use paint swatches for colour references.

You can build an “ideabook” on the Houzz site or use Pinterest.

Get expert advice on the cheap

John Lewis, Heal’s, OKA and The Conran Shop all offer free virtual consultations.

An interior designer could maximise space and budget and save you money with trade discounts. Lots listed on Houzz will tackle small jobs.

Online, Topology will redesign a room from £299, or try Homewings or Zoom that Room, which offer brainstorming for half an hour for £35 (; 07807 281956).

Find quality for less

Branded furniture from classy retailers is obviously dearer than in low-price chain stores. But a single piece of cutting-edge design or an authentic modern classic could lift a room, and keep its value.


Country-style kitchenware at Sainsbury’s

Some mass-market brands are also starting to care more about quality and longevity. Guarantees at Ikea include 25 years for some kitchens, 10 years for sofa frames and cushions, and 25 years for mattresses and bed bases.

Sainsbury’s Home has high thread count linens and robust cast iron enamelware. Fox & Ivy is Tesco’s posher sister brand, selling chunky stoneware with a robust glaze: £45 for a 12-piece dinner set.

Do it yourself

Be realistic about the work you’re actually equipped to do yourself — if you ruin materials, DIY will no longer be a cost cutter.

Most people can roller-on emulsion (water-based) paints well enough (around five litres for a room but always check coverage).

Emulsion prices vary wildly — from around £19 for 2.5 litres at Dulux to pushing £50 for a designer brand. Wilko has two 2.5 litre cans for £20. Wickes own-brand emulsion is currently cut to £9 and Dulux to £12 (2.5 litres); more reductions are at B&Q.

The “paste-the-wall” type of wallpaper is fairly easy to put up. Hire a pro for such tricky jobs as plastering and ceilings and then finish off yourself.

Hiring someone to sand floorboards will cost around £16 a square metre ( then you could do the varnishing.

Get a builder to fit shelves and cupboards in MDF and then do the painting ( has more information on renovation costs).


Some antique markets are trading outside. Charity shops are cautiously trading again. The British Heart Foundation has second-hand furniture/electrical stores all over London (

Also scour eBay, Gumtree and your local Facebook selling pages.

Re-jig your search terms if nothing is coming up. Buy locally if possible so you can inspect and hopefully collect. Wooden/some metal furniture can be stripped and re-finished (stain, varnish or paint).

Head to the outlets and sales

Luxury brand Andrew Martin is at 29 Deer Park Road, SW19 with furniture, artwork, lighting and accessories plus more online with up to 70 per cent off;

Heal’s outlet is at 124-126 Chiswick High Road, W4 with more bargains on line at

The Conran Shop web outlet,, is best for accessories/gifts.

OKA’s website outlet has silk cushions, ceramics, textiles and furniture at half-price or less;

Swoon Editions is the place for ritzy clearance cabinets/velvet chairs;

Danish BoConcept regularly sells ex-display furniture at half-price or less with different stock at different branches;

The Used Kitchen Exchange sells re-purposed and ex-display kitchens; summer clearance now on

Graham & Brown have low-cost designer wallpaper at B&Q (from £16 a roll).

Lots of lovely modern furniture by Matthew Hilton, David Irwin et al is in clearance (save up to 60 per cent) on Case Furniture website;

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