Old and weathered has become a hot look in interior design. Oxidized metals and unfinished woods have found their way into many design styles.
For budget-conscious apartment dwellers and homeowners, flea-market finds and garage-sale bargains are one way to add character and classic style to a room."Older furniture was built with pride in craftsmanship," said Kris Sly, a decorating consultant in Albuquerque. "Look for pieces with unique detail, interesting texture, anything that catches your eye."
The best furniture for recycled style can also be found in older relatives' attics and in thrift shops.
"And they don't necessarily have to be used for what they're intended for," said Kevin Vereen, a window display artist and home decorating consultant.
An old church pew can make a novel statement in a bare foyer. An old, beat-up trunk can double as a coffee table.
Another option is painting used furniture. Although painted furniture lost it popularity in the '70s, it is back and better than ever in the cost-conscious nouveau style of the late '80s.
Once you have the basics in furnishings, you can begin transforming your room into a more personal environment. Sly suggests you begin with color. "Color provides maximum impact at minimal cost," she said.
New paint in any of the latest neutral or pastel colors can give a room a totally different look.
Paying attention to detail can also create big effects. Painting doorway frames in coordinating colors or stenciling designs on walls add even greater impact.
Stencil kits are available in many arts and crafts supplies stores.
Use your own artistic skills and paint your own designs. You can even create a trompe l'oeil effect around doorways and on walls.
Sly transformed one of her spare bedrooms into a whimsical child's room by painting a scenic mural - frame and all - right on her wall.
Self-stick wallpaper can also add quick color and texture to a room. In small rooms, putting wallpaper on one wall is sufficient - and cost-saving. Make sure the wallpaper coordinates with the color of paint on the remaining walls.
Another low-cost and easy way of adding color and visual interest to your home is the use of fabric. Many fabric stores sell bolt ends or fabric remnants at reduced prices.
"Take home extra yards of a fabric you like," Sly said. "You may not have use for it now, but it's a great way to change the look of your home later on."
Windows can get instant elegance by winding a long length of fabric around a curtain rod to create a valance effect, then let the end panels drape on the floor.
Sheets can also be used for decoration. Check better department stores for sales on designer sheets, many of which come in hot colors and patterns.
You can instantly perk up your bathroom by attaching a sheet to a clear liner for a smart-looking shower curtain. Sheets can be used as window curtains as well, or cut up to make pillows or chair slipcovers.
Easy directions for making slipcovers can be found in the Laura Ashley Book of Home Decorating ($14.95).
Transform a couch instantly by draping a large sheet over it and tucking the corners in. Tuck and tie the loose ends of the sheet under and around the bottom of the couch.
For pillows, use foam filler, available at discount and crafts stores.
"Pillows make a room look smart, comfortable and contemporary," said Sly.
Floors also play a major role in the look of your home. There is no need to look down at that outdated sculptured shag rug.
Rip up the old carpet and see what's underneath. Many older homes and apartments have wooden floors buried under layers of linoleum and ugly carpet.
You don't have to be an expert to refinish floors yourself, and remember, they don't have to look brand new.
If refinishing sounds like too big a job, try painting wooden floors, then seal them with polyurethane.
If you feel ambitious, create textural interest over painted floors by using a natural sponge to dab on a second coat of paint. Use complementary colors, such as dark rose for the base coat and pale pink for the sponged-on coat. Protect with a polyurethane seal.
For a Southwestern look, rub steel wool over painted wooden floors and cover with green stain.
If vinyl tile is all you have to work with, try painting right over tiles.
Or consider industrial-grade carpeting in a gray or other neutral hue. This type of carpet can look smart and contemporary. It also is inexpensive and durable.