Home & Style

Recessionista Decorating: Updating Your Pad Without a Palatial Budget

Dennese Guadeloupe-Rojas, owner of Interiors by Design.

The Frugal Fashionista has been spending a lot of time at home lately, figuring out how to transform last season’s outfits into this season’s treasures, practicing the Frugal Foodie techniques she’s seen on Washingtonian.com, and attempting to make more with less. She’s also realized that her pad is in serious need of some updates.

So we called Dennese Guadeloupe-Rojas, owner of the Rockville-based design shop Interiors By Design and the interior-decorating store IA Etc., whom we had met on a recent shopping excursion.

A 20-year veteran of the industry, Rojas not only owns her own shop but also holds numerous seminars on home decor. She’s also the interior designer for many local and national NFL players from teams such as the Redskins and Ravens.

Those big boys may not be on a budget, but they certainly need the assistance of a seasoned designer.

We quizzed her on some of the best ways to get the most out of a budget. Here’s what she had to say:What are some low- and no-cost things that any Washingtonian can do to spruce up his or her home or apartment?
“Adding a new color to your space is quick and easy, but be sure to tape off a wall if you’re doing it yourself. You can also add new touches such as pillows, lamps, and rugs or jazz up a space with accessories. You can even paint or refinish existing pieces of furniture for an easy and cheap new look. Also, add flowers on a regular basis—they instantly brighten a room. For a touch of newness without a price tag, move furniture around. Move items from a living room to a den or from a bedroom to a living room. Also, don’t forget that purging is just as important as adding new elements. Don’t be afraid to let go.”

You mentioned color. Are there particular ones that are trendy this season or that work for a variety of rooms?
“I encourage people to keep a neutral palate, especially on big pieces of furniture such as a sofa. That way, you can change accessories such as pillows for an easy new look. For a bold statement, choose a bright accent wall instead of painting a whole room.”

Is there anything you should or shouldn’t splurge on?
“Furniture pieces such as a sofa are investment pieces. I always say that having these pieces is like building a house with a good foundation. If you purchase good anchor pieces such as a coffee table, you can cut corners on things such as end tables or lamps. When looking at things such as sofas, consider the construction more than the brand. I’ve noticed that men especially tend to ‘throw’ themselves on to a sofa. If it’s cheaply made, the whole shape and comfort of a piece can change in as little as a year or two. You also don’t need expensive window treatments—there are plenty of semi-custom options available, or you can save window treatments for a later date.”

How do you test out ideas such as paint and new fabric?
“Try to live in the space for a while before decorating so you know how you’ll use it and where the natural light hits. When you’re getting ready to paint or upholster, always test your colors with a board or swatches before.”

What are some major trends this season?
“A lot of designers have been drawn to the dandelion color worn by Michelle Obama on Inauguration Day—it’s been popping up everywhere. I’ve also seen a big demand for eco-friendly merchandise, but it’s generally more expensive.”

How can people avoid being sucked into the Pottery Barn funk?
“Your space should really reflect you. You want unique things that resonate with you—it’s what makes a house a home. I always insist that clients do their homework, so to speak, and at least go through magazines and show me what they like, rather than saying ‘just do it.’ ”

What are some of your favorite places to shop for home items?
“I’m a fan of Theodore’s, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, and Robb Stucky. For a smaller shop, And Beige, on Florida Avenue, Northwest, is great. After you’ve found quality anchor pieces and some good accessories from these types of shops, you can fill in with merchandise from places such as HomeGoods to balance your budget and create a well-rounded look.”

How do you deal with a mishmash of furniture—the general twentysomething way of decorating? Is there a way to find continuity without replacing everything?
“It’s easy. Reupholster it, paint it, and of course, add pillows. It gives rooms a whole new look.”

Are there styles that look especially good in small spaces such as apartments or condos?
“Don’t choose anything too busy. Keep it simple. In an apartment or a condo, find an apartment-size sofa or loveseat.”

At what age or budget should you consider an interior designer?
We have room-in-a-box makeovers: We provide you with a space plan, and you show us your existing room and furniture. You give us a picture of the room and a look you’re trying to create. The cost is $1,500 or less. We tell you where you can buy things and suggest things that would look good in different spots. Just remember, everyone has to start somewhere. When you’re getting started, ask for a consult for just one room, and go from there, or ask for help with accessories to keep costs lower.”

How would you suggest hiring a designer?
“Speak with people that the designer has worked with before and ask to see samples of his or her work. And most of all, remember that when you’re working with a designer, it’s a relationship, not a transaction. You’re riding the wave together.”