Shelley Ferguson hosted The Block NZ and is an award winning magazine editor. Using her love of interiors she now has her own interior design business. Together with Newshub Shelley is running a six part online series called 'Your Place' – where you’ll discover the latest styling trends and tips.
No matter how much you have to spend on updating your interior the same design principles apply. Flex your creativity, have fun and create a fresh look you love without spending a fortune.
Create a blank canvas with paint
When the foundations of your home like walls and flooring are wrong, it’s difficult to make anything else look good. So while it may seem like a decent investment, painting your home in a fresh neutral will set the scene for a cost-savvy style to be layered on top, and can also be done yourself with the right products and preparation.
Any interior design project starts with a plan including a colour palette, materials palette, space plan, budget and shopping list, so making these documents yourself on the computer or large sheets of paper creates a plan for you to follow.
Give your theme a name and write a list of keywords to describe it to give you direction when shopping and styling – I find nature-based themes like bohemian and coastal easiest to use when decorating on a budget as pieces are readily available at second-hand stores. Painting in neutrals is incredibly satisfying especially if you understand the nuances of sheens and undertones.
The best place to begin is with a Resene Whites and Neutrals palette. I like to paint the entire room in the same colour family, using different strengths and sheens for practicality in different parts. For example, after choosing a white, use the full strength version for the wall, half or quarter strength for the ceiling to lighten it up, and double strength on the doors and trims to help hide fingermarks. Or, if I’m after a really tonal look, I use quarter or half strength on everything and use sheen for practicality.
Ceilings are done first in Resene SpaceCote Flat, then doors, trims and windowframes in Resene Lustacryl semi-gloss as it’s easy to wipe clean, and walls in two coats in Resene SpaceCote Low Sheen waterborne enamel (use the kitchen and bathroom versions for wetter areas). Click here for more information on choosing the right white.
Pro tip: Consider the look you want to create when choosing the right white undertone. A warm colour palette suits whites with warm undertones like pinks, oranges, reds and yellows – my favourites are Resene Eighth Rice Cake, Resene Eighth Merino and Resene Eighth Blanc. A cool colour palette suits cool undertones like blues, purples and greens – Resene Alabaster and Resene Black White are my go-to choices.
Update surfaces, fittings and fixtures
If your budget can stretch to tiling a few key areas, this will help make the home look professionally designed. Not only are tiles practical for heavy use or wet areas, they also add interest to your interior palette and look expensive even when they’re not!
My favourite budget-friendly tiles are those that mimic natural stone like marble, travertine or granite, subway tiles stacked vertically in lines rather than offset, or mosaics in muted colours.
Simply tiling the entranceway if you have one and the bathroom floor in a larger format tile, then one bathroom wall behind the vanity and your kitchen splashback in the same smaller feature tile gives your home a more luxe look and unifies the spaces.
The Tile Space website groups tiles by style and colour, plus has images of tiles in actual rooms so you can visualise them more easily.
If your kitchen and bathroom cabinetry resembles butter, there’s now a clever product called Resene Waterborne Smooth Surface Sealer that prepares the surfaces for painting over, and adding new handles will complete the transformation.
Lighting is another key element that can really influence the look and feel of a room, is easy to swap out and won’t cost much. The trick is to change light shades rather than wiring or the position of fixtures to save money. One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to get a chic look for less is by adding statement pendants - downlights alone create a vast expanse of bright white. Use a matching set for the entranceway, living room, bedroom and kitchen for a cohesive look (matching table lights continue the style on consoles, dressers or side tables. You can even choose a simple pendant on sale and create a group of three at different heights to create more of a statement. A wicker, fabric or or rattan pendant would look beautiful to create a coastal vibe - check out Lighting Direct's on-trend range at great prices.
Pro tip: Warm soapy water works to clean most tiles, but old grout can be more challenging. Bar Keepers friend can be purchased at Tile Space and is a non-bleach, plant-based cleaner that removes dark stains from tiles and grout – and even watermarked showers!
Upcycle and recycle
If you’re on a budget or renting, consider a more neutral style when choosing key furniture pieces like sofas. They’re easier to find on Trade Me or in second hand shops, go with everything and work in different eras of home if you need to move. Or, try disguising existing furniture with slipcovers in cotton or linen to create a streamlined look – not only do they look nice and summery, but you can throw them in the washing machine at any time!
Team these neutrals with cane, rattan, timber or wicker accent furniture pieces like occasional chairs and side tables to add depth and texture to plain white. These textures are readily found in second hand shops or handed down, and their imperfect appearance adds to their charm.
Pro tip: Painting small side tables and dining chairs or bar stools in double strength of the Resene white or neutral you’ve used on the walls is a great way to offset natural furniture, freshen up a room and upcycle what you’ve already got. Use the correct sanding and priming products to prep so you get a long-lasting result.
Add that lived-in layer
Now you have a neutral base it’s time to add texture. Large rugs help define spaces, or layer two smaller ones if they cost less. Linen-look curtains have an artisan look at an affordable price from major retailers. And curtains, blankets and throws in natural tones and textures can be picked up on sale or you can make them yourself.
Dressing your beds with simple summery neutrals and accent patterns like muted stripes or checks makes the home look more designed, and is easy to achieve with euro pillows, scatter cushions and a quilt at the end. Experiment with using bedlinen you already have in the home styled in different ways.
My favourite styling items in second hand shops are white ceramics, pottery and collections of old items like straw hats, suitcases or art landscapes. These can all be grouped as vignettes on bookshelves and walls to help bring your theme to life. Or, paint frames white and create your own abstract art inspired by your chosen colour palette using Resene testpots. Add in some nice wicker baskets in bathrooms and bedrooms - they look great and double as practical storage.
Create focal points with statement plants
Each room needs a focal point for people’s attention to gravitate towards, and using nature is a clever and cost-savvy way to do this. This can involve using a feature already there, like changing furniture orientation to appreciate an outlook or positioning a mirror to reflect the view out a window. Or, create one using plants. Supersized, show-stopping plants with large leaves create great focal points without spending a lot, and a tall indoor plant can make a small room look bigger by drawing the eye vertically.
My favourite example is the Bird of Paradise plant with its stunning banana-like leaves and tall height. Another I love is the Fiddle Leaf Fig with its supersized leaves and lush formation. Other trending large plants include the Monstera, Split Leaf Philodendron, Alocasia Zebrina, stripy Calathea Orbifolia and Fan Palms.
The key is looking after these lovelies properly so they grow into the statement you seek. Plant them in Yates Thrive Indoor Potting Mix and keep the nutrients coming by using Yates Thrive Plant Food Drippers (Plants & Ferns). Gently dust the foliage regularly, and rotate large plants every few weeks to promote even growth (they love to grow towards the sun). Indoor plants love light but not direct sunlight, the right air temperature, good quality potting mix, water and food to provide the right nutrients for growth (my favourite plant food is Yates Thrive Plant Food Drippers). Each plant has different requirements though, so visit yates.co.nz/plants/indoor/ for specific care requirements for each.
Pro tip: If you have small spaces try leaning a vertical mirror up against the wall in a position that reflects your statement plant – it adds another visual element in the same colourways and throws light around the room beautifully.
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