AUTHOR: MITCHE

HED:Hidden Treasures

By Lena Mitchell

Daily Journal

A home's interior design can whisper Bloomingdale's, chatter Pier 1 Imports or groan "make-do" under the weight of cinder-block-and-plank bookshelves and empty-milk-crate end tables.

But it doesn't have to cry city dump.

Though an empty pocketbook may be all that's left after the down payment to move into a first apartment or home, home economists say there are economical ways to transform your living space into a warm, welcoming reflection of your personality and style.

"The first and most important thing I would say to anyone is don't overspend and get overloaded with debt starting out," says Lee County home economist Linda Mock.

Too often those decorating a first home think they should begin at the same point as others who have been building a household for years.

"Don't think you can start out where your parents are," Mock says.

Traditions like housewarming parties serve the purpose of helping those in a new home get a start on furnishing and equipping it. And for newlyweds, wedding showers fill in some of the gaps.

But most of the household gifts lean toward accessories and leave buying furniture and key decorating features like curtains or draperies to the resident.

There's no shame in having empty rooms in the house until you can afford to fill them, Mock says. Particularly if you are looking to purchase items you'll want to live with for a long time, "furnish just one room at a time," she says.

Best-laid plans

While shopping for a new home you probably envisioned how you wanted to decorate it. Without costly consulting over drapery and upholstery swatches, wallpaper samples and carpet pieces you looked at what is, and saw what could be.

You mentally took the first, and probably most important, step in creating an interior design plan. It's not always necesssary to employ a professional, just put your own creativity and sense of style to good use.

Treasure hunt

As the quest to acquire furniture begins, don't overlook the possibility of borrowing or accepting gifts of furniture from family members. There may be items in storage that they have outgrown or replaced because their decor has changed.

Mock points out that garage sales, yard sales, flea markets and auctions are also sources for good bargains.

"The other day I saw a table and six chairs in perfectly good condition (at a yard sale),"Mock says. "There was nothing in the world wrong with it but the family was moving and selling it for $125."

Furniture outlet centers like Furniture Liquidation Center in the Skyline community offer discontinued new furniture at discount prices.

Sherry Ray calculated a minimum budget to furnish a one bedroom apartment with a basic furniture grouping in each room. She said the budget for these furnishings at the Liquidation Center would run about $1,300.

"These basic pieces include a living room, dinette and bedroom," Ray says. "When young people start out they usually don't have much money and no credit, so it's hard. Stores usually won't give them credit if they don't have credit established already, but we can get them set up pretty well with this."

Skyline Flea Market and Antiques off East Main Street offers a range of furnishings from independent vendors, says owner R.C. Willis. Dealers' products include tables, chairs, sofas, recliners, bric-a-brac, lamps and a variety of other items, as well as fine antiques.

Browsing the paper and neighborhoods for estate sales, yard sales and garage sales can also turn up some great bargains.

Fine wood sometimes hidden under layers of paint can sometimes be brought to vibrant beauty with an application of paint stripper and wood stain.

Replacing frayed or faded upholstery on chairs or a sofa can be well worth the effort if frames and workmanship are solid.

And furniture slipcovers can mask a variety of ills, from mismatched or downright ugly furniture styles to covering goudged, scratched or water-damaged finishes.

Going for cover

One of the most versatile items to transform living space and furniture on a low budget is bed sheets.

Inexpensive bed sheets can make designer lookalike curtains or draperies, slipcovers, tablecloths and numerous other items.

Each year manufacturers produce sheets in the season's newest decorator colors. Use the deep, rich tones and sheets easily make the transition from the bedroom to any room in the house.

Leslie Linsley, author of a book of decorating tips, suggests that inexpensive sheets are best because they are crisp, and she says using them without washing helps them retain that crisp quality.

And sewing skill is not required. Information booklets about easy and simple methods of using fabric glue, iron-on adhesives, hook-and-loop tape and knots to create curtains and furniture covers are available in many fabric, home furnishing and variety stores.

The bottom line

Focus in the room often turns to the floor. Carpet remnants and area rugs are available at outlet centers and discount houses at low cost to accent or complement the decor.

Another more creative option not used frequently is sisal rugs made from the strong white hemp fiber.

The rugs come in a variety of designs and sizes, and are usually constructed from tile-like pieces woven together. Some part of the design in a block, the entire block or the entire rug can be painted to blend with any decor. Or the rug can be used in its natural state.

A recent trend is painting designs or stencils on artist's canvas to create a floor covering or floor accent piece. The canvas is inexpensive and comes in many sizes.

Touch of class

Accents lift a room out of the ordinary. Paint stencil designs on walls to create a wainscoting pattern, on door panels or around a door frame. Such special touches add personality to a room with a small investment in paint and a generous amount of elbow grease. Of course, before painting in an apartment get permission from the property manager or owner.

Paint accents can also include creating the look of expensive wallpaper by sponging complementary paint colors in random patterns on the walls.

Places to find used furniture

*Family member or friend's attic or basement: Ask if anyone has furniture they're not using that they'd like taken off their hands.

*Auction: Look for estate sales, moving sales or government seizure auctions.

*Yard sale or garage sale: Collectors often say rummaging through other peoples' "junk" is half the fun.

*Flea market: Usually find numerous vendors with a variety of merchandise.

Cost of furnishing a one-bedroom apartment on a low budget

Living room sofa, $199

Recliner, $229

3-piece cocktail/end table set, $88

Bed, dresser, chest of drawers set, $385

Double mattress/boxsprings, $99

Double bed frame, $29

Dinette set (table, 2 chairs), $95

2 table lamps, $118 ($59 each)

Total, $1,332 (includes $90 Miss. sales tax)

(Courtesy of Furniture Liquidation Center, Tupelo)

Places to find information on interior design and furniture buying

*Cooperative Extension Service: County home economist

*The library: Home decorating magazines and books

*Television: PBS; The Discovery Channel (TDC); Home and Garden Television (HGTV)

*Home centers: Lowe's; Marvin's; Home Depot; Home Center stores

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