1 Make a Still Life
The phrase "still life" doesn't apply only to paintings. Linda Wietzke, owner of Linda Street Design (440-871-5011), suggests making one for the kitchen. Scour bargain stores for a basket and bottles of various sizes to fill with oils and vinegars you use in your kitchen. "Group them [in the basket] so you have various heights and colors," Wietzke says. Add cloves of garlic or small potted herbs for a more complex arrangement.
2 Bring the Outside In
Lisa Smith, an interior designer at Donald Doskey Design Inc. (216-283-4853), suggests making an elegant holiday centerpiece using materials from your yard and kitchen. Take a few evergreen cuttings and collect several pinecones. Layer cranberries and the cones in the bottom of a glass vase and top it off with greenery. Look for a vase 1 to 2 feet tall, which can be purchased at stores such as Crate and Barrel for less than $20.
3 Slap on a Fresh Coat
Any room is one weekend away from a new paint job, says Jenifer Bemis, president of Metropolitan Design Group (216-398-9008). She suggests paint with an eggshell or velvet finish because it's low sheen and very kid friendly. Buy less expensive "mistints," which are about $5 a gallon, and mix them in a 5-gallon bucket to make a new, uniform color. "The rule of thumb right now is that any color goes," Bemis says.
4 Change Your Mantel
Twice a year, Christine Selick, owner of Interior Design 360 (440-842-7870), changes her mantel. "I make it a focal point of the room and personalize it," she says. She picks up cheap frames at dollar stores and buys inexpensive candles and potpourri to serve as accents. "Be adventurous," she says, suggesting that framing a child's drawings is a fun, lighthearted way to decorate around the holidays.
5 Update a Piece of Furniture
Attractive furniture doesn't have to be new. Jara Gray, an interior designer at Harrison's (216-521-9083), says an old coffee table can be updated by adding decoupage. Cut shapes out of wallpaper books or use prints of paintings. Place the cutouts on the worn parts of the furniture and apply multiple coats of clear varnish, rubbing it with wet and dry sandpaper between coats, giving the regenerated piece a glasslike finish.
6 Move Everything
Walk into your family room and look around. Now, move every piece of furniture from its current location. Kathy and Laura Suglia of KAS Interiors (440-247-5597) say this is an easy way to get a quick, inexpensive change. Once you're done, it's time to splurge by purchasing what they call a "wow" item — a unique, but inexpensive decoration that will be a conversation starter in the room. "Shop at T.J. Maxx or Marshalls," Laura suggests.
7 Brighten a Drawer
You want to make your guest room as welcoming as possible. Interior designer Chuck Mosberger (440-331-4119) says an easy way to do this is by giving the drawers your houseguest will use a personal touch. Buy a roll of wallpaper and line the drawers. Add a pleasant aroma by making a scented sachet. Mosberger suggests buying an inexpensive hanky or linen napkin, fill it with potpourri and tie it with a bow.
8 Use Feathers
Sometimes, a room just needs something quirky. If that's how you feel, it may be time to pick up a $5 bag of feathers at a craft store. Glue them to the rim of a mirror for a look Mosberger says is "perfect for autumn." Maybe you'd prefer a feathered table clock. Buy a wooden-block table clock for around $20 at Target and cover the top and sides with feathers for an odd yet interesting decoration.
9 An Autumn Arrangement
Simple table decorations can be inexpensive and make a difference in your dining room. Carol Loomis, an interior designer at Warner Interiors (440-331-4830), says a good table runner will brighten the room and can be found at stores such as World Market for less than $25. To liven it up, pick up colored dry leaves in your yard and haphazardly arrange them around the table. It's an eye-catching look without extreme cost.
10 Try a Tassel
"Tassels can be added to a lot of different things," says Chez Del interior designer Cindy Mihalic (330-867-6100). The colorful accent pieces range in size and can cost as little as $2. Accent a dining room by adding tassels to the backs of chairs. You can also add elegance to your living room by taking tassels that are a shade different from your window treatments and tying them to the sides and back.
11 Centerpiece on the Cheap
A finely laid table needs a centerpiece. Carol Consolo, owner of Carol Consolo Interiors (440-446-0525), realizes this, but instead of buying one, she recommends making your own. Create a base with a mirrored tile ($3 at a tile store) and set three to five pillar candles of varied heights on the mirror. But first decorate them by tying a raffia bow around the candles or gluing sequins on the sides.
12 A Great Buffet
Diane Armstrong, co-owner of ReDesigns Unlimited (216-707-0713), knows that holidays are a time for entertaining. Her cost-effective design idea sends you to buy a medium-sized mirror, clean it and line it with leaves for use on your buffet table. Place hors d'oeuvres on the mirror or use it as a serving tray for your salmon.
13 Spray It
"I spray-paint everything," says Robin Weidner, president of the interior-design division of The Weidner Group (440-327-8147). If you're at home, staring at an out-of-date chandelier, maybe it's time you took her advice. For less than $11 you can get a spray-paint kit at a home store that comes with two colors of paint for giving pieces an aged look. Take down the chandelier, paint it and you're done — except that "it's virtually impossible to spray the chain," according to Weidner. Luckily, some spray-paint kits include a chain in the appropriate color or you can buy one to match separately.
14 Freshen Your Dining Set
A quick fix to an old set will run you less than $25. Weidner says all you need is three yards of fabric for an eight-chair set. Jo-Ann Stores usually have a section of $1-per-yard fabric, which is perfect for this project. Pop the old cushions out of your chairs, wrap the new fabric around them and staple it to the underside. Slip the cushions back in their places and you're done.
15 Reinvent an Old Lamp
Covering a lamp and lampshade is what Weidner does when she finds a "horrible and hideous lamp." She starts by spray-painting the lamp stand and then uses hot glue to cover the shade with either fabric or paper. If she chooses fabric, it needs to be lightweight so it adheres properly. Lightweight wallpaper is also great, as is homemade paper. The flecks in the paper produce a gorgeous effect when the light is turned on.
16 Stencil It
"Stenciling is actually fun to do and it doesn't cost a lot of money," says Jennifer Monachino, an interior designer at Monarch Interiors (216-464-7337). The only materials you need are paints, a brush and a plastic material called "stencil blank," which should all run about $16 at a craft store. Trace a pattern onto the stencil blank, cut it out with a razor knife, spend an afternoon painting and you're done. As far as placement, skip the border idea. It's a lot of work and overdone. Monachino prefers the "sporadic look in a room; especially in a powder room, it's a nice touch."
17 Create a Picture Wall
A blank wall is your own photo gallery waiting to happen. Monachino suggests picking up several frames in the same color at your local discount store. Once you've gathered the frames, mount family pictures (or any other print) and hang them. "The best way to hang a group [of photographs] is to keep them tight and together," she says. "When they're spread out, it's too much to see."
18 Buy New Hardware
When people in the design world speak of hardware, they're not talking about power tools. They're speaking of the decorative knobs and door handles on cabinets and drawers. Monachino says you can "freshen up your kitchen, bathroom or a piece of furniture by simply purchasing new handles or knobs." Hardware comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and usually sells for $2 to $5 per knob, allowing you to change a room for a fraction of the cost of buying new cabinets or drawers.
19 Set the Mood
Candles and candleholders seem like an inexpensive way to decorate, but they aren't always cheap. That's why Johanna Pockar, co-owner of ReDesigns Unlimited (216-707-0713), has created a shortcut. She uses a wooden bowl from her kitchen and sets it wherever she wants a burst of light. She then pours a bag of dried peas or lentils into the bowl and nestles various 2- to 3-inch candles in the center.
20 Build an Accent Table
Lounging in the family room usually requires drinks, and if you're deep in conversation you'll want a place to set that drink. Pockar has a perfect design idea to add spots where guests can set cocktails or hors d'oeuvres plates. She calls them small accent tables and they're 12- to 18-inch potter vases turned upside down with a stone tile or plate placed on top. Pockar admits "it's not a traditional end table," but it is something unique that will personalize your space.
21 Show Off Your Wish List
Liven up your walls by displaying the holiday wishes you receive from friends and family with Beth Fitzgibbon's novel take on the tradition. She hangs an expandable drapery rod from small nails concealed in the molding of a room. The owner of Beth Fitzgibbon Interior Design (440-899-8180) then loops several pieces of 1- to 2-inch-wide ribbon over a rod and staples them at the top. Cards are fastened to the ribbon a couple inches apart, using staples, so friends and family can enjoy them.
22 Go Retro
For a vintage holiday look on your table, Pam Cable of Bainbridge Antiques (440-461-6454) suggests building an evergreen centerpiece around a metal crock or other antique kitchen item. There are no rules and Cable says it's easy to find a unique item for less than $25 at her store, a co-op of antiques enthusiasts who sell everything from furniture to tools.
23 Take a Bow
Tired of the same old tree toppers? Grande's Nursery and Christmas Shop (440-461-6454) sells bow toppers — a popular contemporary alternative to a star or angel. Each handmade, fabric bow measures 12 to 14 inches in diameter and includes streamers to weave through the branches. A variety of fabrics are available, including plaids, metallics and velvets.
24 Use Food for Color
Fruits and vegetables are beautiful and inexpensive decorations for your dining-room table, says Donna Chapel, owner of Donna Chapel Interiors (440-878-9205). Arrange fruits and vegetables of varying colors and textures in a basket for a centerpiece. To add more color to your table, decorate hors d'oeuvres with pansies or other inexpensive flowers from a local grocery store and use red, green and yellow pepper halves as bowls for dip. For dessert, serve ice cream or sherbet in hollowed-out orange halves.
25 Create a Retreat
When the holidays become too much to handle, escape to a quiet spot in your home decorated with objects to calm and restore your spirits, suggests Gloria Savage, co-owner of Arcancient Inc. Aromatherpy and Interiors (216-252-7442). For frazzled adults, a childhood photo may have a calming effect by offering memories of less hectic times. Savage also suggests incorporating objects that have personal meaning and adding small vial of essential oil ($10) and a tea-light infuser ($6 and up) to tap into the relaxing qualities of aromatherapy. Savage suggests frankincense to raise your spirits and jasmine to de-stress.