Mad About . . .

10 Cheap ways to make your home look more expensive

26th May 2020
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None of these ideas need to cost much money. What they do cost is time. Time to hunt down the right things that work in your home. Some will cost more than others, of course, but I have tried to give you adaptations on the principle where possible. And sometimes it’s about spending money on one thing rather than several.


large vase from the anthropologie soho home collaboration

large vase from the anthropologie soho home collaboration (this was an expensive piece and was part of a shoot I did with them but the point stands.

This always works. I have always said that you should buy the biggest rug you can afford – see below for why, likewise a big mirror. Even a huge paper lantern – one that is slightly too large for the space – makes everything look better. Don’t do it with everything or it will look odd but a big plant, a big vase – that becomes a real focal point – or any of the above will always, always (can I say that again – always) look better than a collection of tiny dust collecting objects and rugs that look marooned in the space.


jennifer manners scallop rug, design by salvesen graham for christies inc

jennifer manners scallop rug, design by salvesen graham for christies inc

Ok for the rugs in more detail;  large rug speaks of wealth and luxury – not just financial but also in a tactile sense. If you can’t afford one that’s big enough buy smaller ones and layer them. Vintage Persians work well as they are so flat and small ones are proportionally cheaper than large. And if that doesn’t work then buy a large piece of carpet, which doesn’t have to cost much, and spend a little more having the edges bound in a contrasting colour. Handmade details look expensive.


salvaged mirror over the fireplace and foxed mirror tiles in the alcove

free salvaged mirror over the fireplace and foxed mirror tiles in the alcove

But make sure you keep it dust free. Mirrors bounce the light around, they bring the light in and they add a sense of luxury to a space. Now large mirrors can be expensive, but you can buy a cheap piece of mirror – perhaps from a local glazier or from ikea – and you can stick it in a vintage picture frame that you can pick up from a car boot sale. You can use mirror tiles stuck to the wall and stick some architrave round the edge to create a frame. As a final point if you have a little more money in the pot then make your mirror foxed – it looks antique and, therefore, expensive. Actually, a final, final, point there are various you tube tutorials on how to fox/antique a mirror yourself. I haven’t tried it so I can’t speak for how successful it might be.


paper lantern in the home of lisa dawson

paper lantern in the home of lisa dawson

Good lighting is a game changer. You can hide a multitude of sins/cheap furniture with good lighting. A pendant light doesn’t have to be expensive – buy a paper shade but make it massive. If you are feeling brave try one that is actually too big for the space. But don’t stop there, you need to layer lights so they create more atmosphere throwing pools of soft light up walls and into corners. But don’t be afraid to leave the odd dark corner – a little mystery looks good. Table lamps don’t have to be expensive and you can recover a simple drum shade with a small amount of more fabric, which will elevate the whole piece.


navy blue kitchen of Kate Watson-Smyth of by Paul Craig

image by Paul Craig – my ikea kitchen with leather handles from superfront

This is the single most important thing you can do to transform a cheap piece of furniture. We did it twice on an Ikea kitchen – both times to leather straps – first black (one white) then tan (on charcoal). At the time it was hard to find leather straps (I took the idea from an old issue of Elle Decoration where the Danish designer Tine K said she cut up a an old belt to create hers). But these days you can buy them everywhere. Leather softens and improves with age and brings a patina and a sense of quiet authority to a cheap door. Doesn’t have to be just the kitchen – change door handles – nothing says cheap modern firedoor more than a chrome lever handle – and while we’re at it light switches. People remember the touch points as they are the parts they interact with.


It’s a boring job but maintenance does just that; maintains value. It also makes a place look clean, tidy and well-cared for. Which, in turn, makes it look like you have spent money on it, ergo it looks more expensive. You don’t have to use expensive paint but just make sure it’s well applied and that you touch up when it gets scuffed and messy.


grow your own fresh air with house plants image by KW-S chair by La Redoute

grow your own fresh air with house plants image by KW-S chair by La Redoute- from a styling job I did with them

Houseplants are having a moment, not least because they are proven to clean the air and remove toxins. And, at a time when we are all working and schooling from home and our computers are on all the time, that makes them a vital part of any home. But it’s not just that – an airy room that is clean and filled with plants will automatically feel more luxurious and healthy than a closed space with nothing living in it.


bisque tetro radiator volcanic image by madaboutthehouse

framed magazine covers in my hall

Now this one might be controversial, but I am not a fan of those sites that sell lots of generic posters at very affordable prices. Don’t get me wrong, affordable is good, excellent even but when you scroll through Instagram and see the same posters again and again it takes away any sense of personality, individuality and style from your own space. I have framed magazine covers, my kids artwork (only once or twice and on a large scale with a proper mount to make it look more expensive) postcards, photographs and exhibition posters. You can frame anything you like that tells the story of your house and your family and it doesn’t have to be the same as anything anyone else has – unless you truly truly love it. Lisa Dawson wants a David Shrigley (don’t we all) and has framed some of his postcards instead to create something bespoke. Other people frame teatowels. Create something invididual that looks bespoke and everything in your room will look more expensive. Good art elevates.

david shrigley postcards turned into a gallery wall at the home of lisa dawson

david shrigley postcards mounted and framed at the home of lisa dawson


Like I said – a single big vase that doubles as a great object even when it doesn’t have flowers in will always look better than a small one. Buy cushions in singles rather than a series of matching sets. The thing about a single object is that it looks like you choose it because you loved it rather than just plumping for a pair. And something that looks like you choose it because you loved it looks, in turn, like you knew what you were looking for and hunted it down rather than just adding to cart. Which brings me to the next point:


vintage chair found by lindsey holland of ropes of holland

vintage chair found by lindsey holland for £150 with a matching sofa (she reupholster both in cream linen)

For the reasons above. A single vintage piece adds character and personality. It tells a story – that perhaps you inherited it from a Granny – who, in turn, had something that was worth inheriting. It doesn’t matter if you inherited it/bought it from someone else’s Granny on eBay. It will make your room look more thought through and more expensive.

And finally clean and open your windows

 Nothing says expensive and airy and luxurious more than fresh air and clean windows letting the light stream in. You wouldn’t go out in a fabulous dress for an evening out without washing your hair would you? Because in the end, it all comes down to the details. No-one will notice your cheap sofa if the room is light and airy, smells fresh, is well maintained and tells a story either through the interesting works of art, or the one-off pieces of furniture, or the sense of welcoming luxury underfoot.


large yellow vase on wooden coffee table in the home of Kate Watson-Smyth

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  • Tina 2nd June 2020 at 11:16 pm

    Lovely post. I’m inspired! From a fan in Seattle.

  • monique 2nd June 2020 at 1:49 pm

    Love all the points, I have for years looked at almost anything as having the potential to be framed. Small pieces like vintage postcards or even new note cards are affordable and can be placed on tables or walls.

  • paula 27th May 2020 at 8:23 pm

    I have always wanted to ask where you got that eye catching hand on the spring which you always have on your mantle.

  • Karen 27th May 2020 at 6:05 pm

    Great post, 100%.

  • Marie Bunworth 27th May 2020 at 3:22 pm

    Great post Kate. You’ve reminded me that I actually have some very small postcard size art work bought 100 years ago in Barcelona… sitting in an envelope in a drawer …. Next project coming up 😂

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 29th May 2020 at 11:28 am

      Perfect. I think Lisa bought perspex frames so she would be able to change the pictures easily.

  • Ellen Reed 26th May 2020 at 11:07 pm

    Simply amazing what clean windows will do!!! AND you rarely know they are dirty until after you’ve cleaned them. Great advice.

  • Miranda 26th May 2020 at 9:47 pm

    Gosh that Vase is hideous

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 27th May 2020 at 12:58 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to leave such a personal comment.

    • Jacqueline 27th May 2020 at 2:14 pm

      Only in the eye of the beholder!

  • Elaine Fraser 26th May 2020 at 7:06 pm

    As always excellent ideas all round except perhaps for the one about the mirrors. In lockdown I have been asking myself who the hell invented mirrors and sorry if I have mentioned before on here Kate but you definitely influenced my decision to go ahead with a foxed /antiqued mirror splash back for my kitchen. Yes my kitchen! So unless I want to starve day and daily I am reminded of my need for a cut and colour. Mirrors yes but be careful where you put them !

    • Pauline Johnson 26th May 2020 at 7:26 pm

      Kate and Elaine Fraser – mayI ask where you recommend to go for foxed/antique mirror for a kitchen, or anywhere really?


  • Monika Gil 26th May 2020 at 1:57 pm

    I would love to know your opinion about having rugs on carpets? I have a carpet in my whole apartment and I feel like it would be a mistake to put a rug on a carpet! What do you think?

  • Georgie 26th May 2020 at 10:47 am

    You’re so right about the windows. I hate cleaning them but have started on the ones in my bedroom. Makes such a difference

  • Melanie 26th May 2020 at 8:16 am

    I love this last paragraph about windows! Made me laugh about the hair washing, but it’s so true! Clean windows are a game changer!

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