I think it’s safe to say that mass produced, big box store, generic home decor is out (for the most part). No longer do you walk into your friend’s home for the first time and say “oh wow I have this exact same ______ in my house” repeatedly. The days of most homes being decorated almost identical are long gone and in fact, it’s become trendy to be unique and original. Can I get an Amen?? Finally, you don’t have to fit in any certain “box” and you can be true to your inner spirit animal and be applauded for such! It’s about time! News flash…it’s in fact CHEAPER to decorate these days with salvaged finds than it ever has been before buying new home decor.
Truth be told, anyone can go to a big box home decor store, buy stuff on the shelf and put it in their living room and make it all match. That’s pretty easy to do and not very challenging, however I believe true creativity is required to turn what was once considered to be “trash” and upcycle it or find a way to use it to not only give it life again, but also to create authentic, unique spaces that capture a piece of history and often times come with charming stories that make for great conversation when entertaining! I’ve always been the most proud of my design projects that were done on a tight budget. When working on a budget, it forces your mind to be extra creative and you can come up with ideas you normally would not have thought of when you’re working within a tight boundary. If you have already come to terms with the fact that some of your home decor shopping won’t be happening in a big box home decor store and are ready to start transitioning your home into a warm inviting space that’s full of character and a true reflection of aged beauty, then here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing. More importantly…open your eyes and allow yourself to see great architectural finds that you would normally walk right by without giving it a second thought.
Here are some tips for getting started…
(Side note for those nervous to make the leap to historic finds…start slowly and see if it’s right for you. Introduce one touch of old architecture or an accent into your room and let it grow on you for a while. See how you feel about it after a few weeks of staring at it before jumping in head first.)
1. Don’t Get Carried Away – While old junk is certainly charming and captivating as well as the trend across homes in America, there IS such a thing as going overboard. Where is the line drawn?? Well there isn’t a defined line…it varies depending on your particular taste. Regardless of where the line is for you personally, you will need to balance both old and new pieces together so your home doesn’t look like a junkyard. There is a classy way to incorporate old pieces into your home. If you aren’t sure where to draw the line, do some searching on Pinterest and take time looking at pictures to see what look you like and what look feels like “too much” for your preference. Everyone’s idea of where the line should be drawn will not be the same, but that’s perfectly fine because as long as the end result is something you are proud of and is a true reflection of you…then you’ve achieved success.
2. The Shame Phase – The deeper you dive into “junkin” and upcycling, it is inevitable that you will (more than once) feel the need to give yourself a swift kick in the butt as you remember things that you or family members once had that you thought no longer served a purpose. Don’t stress…this has happened to all of us and it’s best that you just come to terms with “it is what it is” and let go of those shameful feelings and accept that your trash became someone else’s treasure and commit to going out and finding someone else’s trash to treasure yourself and bring it back to life. Don’t beat yourself up…who knew trends would take such a spin and that you would ever be able to use that stuff?? It was very unpredictable and the good news is…at least you haven’t been hoarding it all of these years. As a professional organizer (and maybe kinda sorta classified as an OCD individual), please understand I struggle to type this next sentence. If you are a hoarder…you are in a better seat than the rest of us if you’re still saving storage units full of “junk”. Ouch that was really hard to say. But seriously…go through your stuff and part with the stuff that is truly trash…but for the first time ever, I’ll say “save your good junk because we might find a use for it”. Instead of leaving this piece of scrap wood from the store’s recent remodel project in my scrap wood pile, I felt inspired to add hanging brackets on it and use it to decorate one of those small and “difficult to decorate” areas in my home.
3. Matchy Matchy – Erase that term from your brain and instead think “blending”. It’s no longer necessary to make everything in a room match exactly. In fact…it’s kinda boring and even outdated at times. Everything you choose to use in your room needs to blend and compliment the other pieces in the room, but it absolutely does not have to “match”. This is also an area you will save money by being able to upcycle, paint or accessorize items so they blend well instead of having to buy an entire brand new matching set. You will save thousands by blending instead of matching.
4. Heirlooms – Heirlooms are perhaps my favorite piece of making old new again. I’m elated to see people use their great grandmother’s china cabinet in their own home, keeping generations of memories alive and well as opposed to sticking it in a garage or storage unit for years, as it collects dust and deteriorates out of guilt feeling like you have to keep it. Even though it doesn’t represent your personal style, you can paint it any color your want, change out the hardware and make it look brand spanking new! Heirlooms aren’t limited to furniture, look at all of the heirlooms you have and with each ask yourself “how can I use this/what can I turn this into so it works in my home?”. My husband has a bucket of old rusty tools from his deceased grandfather. By thinking outside of the box, we’ve been able to incorporate a few of those pieces in our home…this one even serves a practical use that we use every single day! Have an old hymnal of Grandma’s collecting dust or her doily collection? Try these upcycled home decor projects…
5. Before throwing out or selling your old decor, look at each piece with an open mind and ask yourself if there is any way you can alter it so that it works with your new decor goals. If so, save money by keeping it and rolling up your sleeves for a little DIY therapy. If not, sell or or donate it and keep going. The money you make from selling your old decor can be used to fund your new accessories and donating it will benefit someone else in making their own home a space they are proud of. Here’s an example from a client’s home where we were able to incorporate something she already owned from her previous decor style. She had these iron scrolls from a big box store but they were generic and didn’t bring any value to the room as they were. We found a way to give them new life, by mounting them onto some old chippy shutters for a perfect blend of old and new with a splash of character!
I’m always eager to point out when my parents fed me false claims as a child. For example…”Never judge a book by it’s cover”. I always judge books by their covers. In fact, when shopping for them at Goodwill (old books are usually sold there for around $1.99/each) I always remove the paper cover to see what the hardback cover looks like before buying it. I’m confident claiming that old books can always be salvaged…whether painted to become coffee table decor, used to stage greenery and bring in a subtle hint of color in a room or as props to display other cool “junk”.
6. What To Look For – Literally anything! I’m not exaggerating…you can literally turn almost anything into awesome decor as long as you have an open mind. Creativity does help, but if that’s a department you are less blessed in, the amazing world of Pinterest can be your very best friend. In my dining room I wanted to maintain the simplicity and farmhouse colors and definitely didn’t want curtains, but skinny walls can be tricky to decorate if you only think conventionally. I used these old posts that have been cut in half, thus creating a flat backside and added hanging brackets to them to create new wall decor. I always keep hanging brackets on hand because literally anything can be turned into wall decor with a couple of hanging brackets.
Look for pieces that could be complimentary standing alone but also be sure to look for pieces that could be a really cool background. My background finds are often times some of my FAVORITE finds! Here are a few that come to mind to get your wheels turning…
7. Safe Starts – If you are not comfortable hanging a rusty tool on your wall, don’t sweat it…that may or may not come with time depending on your own personal style and courage level. You may be comfortable taking risks but absolutely shake your head at some of the things you see and that’s ok! Decorating your home isn’t about impressing everyone else…it’s about making a house feel like HOME to YOU! There is no blanket decorating template that works for all personality types and that’s what makes our world so interesting! If you are looking for a “safe” start to your farmhouse or industrial venture, shop for shutters, old windows, small fence pickets or corbels and add subtle hints of old charm and architecture instantly with minimal risk.
8. Unique Finds – When/if you decide after your “safe start” purchases, to take your unconventional decorating a step further, you will begin to see things in an entirely different light than you’ve seen before. Here are some examples you may not have considered to use as home decor…
Left: Rusty metal light cover from an old light fixture – Soften the look with some cotton balls to achieve a perfect old/new balance.
Right: You may recognize this piece but probably haven’t seen it used in this way before. It originated from the top of an old dresser and used to function as mirror support and a small drawer from a tall chest. The dresser it came from had been severely neglected beyond being worthy of repair but that doesn’t mean that all of it’s parts can’t be revived and restored to serve a new purpose. It now serves as tabletop decor in my entryway staging.
My entryway staging where you can see how it works as tabletop decor…
Left: Yep…you saw that right…it’s faucet knobs. This one may be a little distant from where you plan on taking your unconventional decorating, but it’s still a good example of just how far you can go with creativity. If it’s something I view as “really cool” odds are I’m going to find a way to make it work in my house even if I’m the only person in the state of Texas using it as home decor.
Right: Metal buckets make great shelf accessories providing an industrial feel and chippy pieces of trim and architecture look great standing on a shelf or wall hanging. I’ve even used them in collage walls as a “filler” item (see my collage wall blog for more info).
Decorating unconventionally isn’t limited to inside your home. Due to the durability of most unconventional accents, you can carry the theme to your patio space as well.
I hope this answers some of your questions about decorating with “junk” and salvaged pieces, but I’m happy to answer any questions you may have that I didn’t cover! Comment below with your questions! Happy junkin!
I had so much material for this blog that I’m going to be doing more soon on areas that I didn’t get to expand on here (including decorating with old doors and other large architectural pieces) so stay tuned for the next one! Leave your comments below! I’d love to hear your thoughts after you’ve read this blog! Enter your email address at the bottom of our website to subscribe to our future blogs.
xoxo ~ Jennifer McDougald