Decorating on the cheap with Holley Simmons | Home Front

Holley Simmons
May 04, 2017

Holley Simmons is a journalist and founder of Sill Life, a line of one-of-a-kind terrariums and potted plant life. She is also the co-founder of The Lemon Bowl DC, a shared maker's space in D.C.'s Park View neighborhood. Simmons wrote a cheapskate’s guide to decorating for this week's Local Living cover, read it here. Ask her how to inexpensively decorate or inquire about how she filled her apartment with furniture pieces each costing under $300.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, the Property Brothers or Nate Berkus, answer your decorating and design questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and decluttering. For more than 10 years, Home Front has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small, send them over.

Holley Simmons is a journalist and entrepreneur who often writes about design and decorating. She is also the founder of Sill Life, a line of one-of-a-kind terrariums and potted plant life. She co-founded The Lemon Bowl DC, a shared maker's space in D.C.'s Park View neighborhood. Simmons wrote a cheapskate’s guide to decorating for this week's Local Living cover, read it here. Ask her how to inexpensively decorate or inquire about how she filled her apartment with furniture pieces each costing under $300.

Hi all! So happy to be here today to answer your questions about home design on a budget. I'm in my living room right now, writing to you from my thrifted couch :)

Can you give me some advice on how table lamps should be scaled relative to the seating they are next to? (Such as on side tables on either end of a couch or in between a pair of chairs.) Should they be low, so they don't get knocked over, or should the shade be at head-level when seated, or what?

Great question! Whether it's a floor lamp or set on a side table, I think lighting looks best when the shade is eye-level when you're standing up. That way when you walk into a room, there's a nice, even flow and your eye isn't jerking all over.

LOVE! the colors, patterns, textures! Inspiring! Do you have more info on how to make the blue tassel hanging? The article and photos were so much fun! Great way to start the day!

Aw shucks, thank you! There's a step-by-step guide on Ruffled Blog here. The whole project cost me around $50, and I did it while watching Big Little Lies :) Send pics if you do it!

Hello - Could you point me to some reasonably priced upholsterers in DC? We have two chairs we would like to get recovered. Thanks!

Upholstery is by nature very expensive, unfortunately! I think that because it's such a niche skill, upholsterers can charge a premium. I had my chair done by Nicole Crowder and was very, very pleased with it! And considering I only spent $40 on the chair itself I was willing to invest a bit more in the cushions. Friends have also recommended Woodridge Upholsters and Sparkle Upholsters.

Hi! I'm afraid this is not in line with today's topic but I hope you can help. My couch seat cushions have gotten rather flattened over the years. The couch itself is fine and it's got a great sleeper so I don't want to get rid of it. Where can I find good-quality replacement foams for couch cushions? And on bookshelves. Years and years ago I bought some plain unfinished wood bookshelves from a cheap-y discount store (like Ames or something like that). They were a light beige-wood colored, plain and unfinished. I LOVE them! They've done the job, have been quite sturdy, and they've been easy to move over the years. I'd love to find some more shelves that at least match that color but everywhere I go (e.g. Target, Ikea, and online) all I find are black ones, white ones, cherry colored etc... I'm at a loss: I really need more bookshelves and would like to find some that can match that light beige color. Unfortunately, I wouldn't know how to build my own so that's out. Any ideas? Thanks a lot!

What a savvy solution re: your couch! I'm afraid I'm not sure where to find replacement foam in the area. Perhaps you can reach out to one of the aforementioned upholsterers. And a quick web search shows a number of online suppliers — if you're certain about the dimensions you might be able to get a deal through them!

And regarding your shelves (which sound like a dream) — Any time I'm looking for a very specific item I begin with sites like Wayfair or Houzz. They have tooooons of products and the search filters can be very particular, so often times you can search for wood products according to their finish. This might be a good option - and look at that price!

What design blogs do you read?

Great question. There are tons out there, but here are a few of my favorites:

Vintage Revivals - This woman is a magician with DIYS. They can require a bit of skill, but it's definitely aspirational. 

Justina Blakeney - I'm a sucker for the boho-chic aesthetic, and Justina brings it. Lots of bold prints and greenery. Swoon.

Apartment Therapy - I love this site for inspiration, particularly because they feature home tours of real people. (Including my old apartment!)

Domino - Very nice round ups!

And of course Pinterest. What did we ever do before Pinterest!?

I would like to know the name of the color and the manufacturer of the blue paint in the living room, the coral paint in the dining room, and the pink paint on the front door. Those colors are my favorites.

Yes! I love when people aren't afraid of a little color. 

Blue = "Blueberry Hill" by Benjamin Moore

Coral = "All A Blaze" by Benjamin Moore

Pink = "Best Friends" from Clark and Kensington

Jura, I am sooo ready to replace my C&B Axis couch. I bought it because it is deeper than most (43" outside, about 28-29" inside) and I like the depth. But it is worn, too soft, seat a bit lower than I want, etc. I'm willing to pay more for a good couch but I've spent a ton of time online looking for something to check out in person and just can't find anything! Any suggestions for a couch with a seat at least 20" off the ground, no skirt or slipcover, firm, rather deep and with an arm that is at least 8" higher than the seat? I think I like traditional-style (roll arm, etc) as I live in an arts&crafts house. As I said, am more than willing to spend more than C&B, Mitchell Gold, etc., pricing for a good couch but am stumped. Any suggestions for stores in the area that sell high quality couches that aren't too modern or mid-century? Custom ok too.

Ah yes, the hunt for a perfect couch. I know it well! If you have a flexible budget, Room and Board is a fantastic place to look. You can see most of their inventory online, and they have a showroom on 14th Street where you can check anything out in-person. I took a quick peek and their York sofa appears to match your description and has a lot of good reviews. I also like West Elm's couches, which can essentially be customized from the legs up. Plus, there's one just down the street from Room and Board. You can make an afternoon out of it! 

I agree with Holley that Room & Board might be a nice source for you. They have several sofas that would fit your needs and have excellent people to help you with your specifications. Make a trip to the Washington Design Center at 1099 14th St. NW . You can browse most showrooms, and although purchasing is through the trade, arrangements can be made for you to do that. Other shops that come to mind are The Kellogg Collection, Random Harvest and Restoration Hardware. Good luck.


I like having a tv in my living room, but don't want it to be the focal point. Any ideas for covering it up, yet still having it accessible?

Love this question. My first thought would be to paint the wall behind it a dark shade, so it blends in a little better. If that's not your cup of tea, I'd also suggest placing it on a shelving unit and filling the shelves with other items, such as books and knick knacks. You may also consider hanging art around it, similar to what these folks have done in this Apartment Therapy article.

I have a small patio, but want to be able to entertain guests outside. What are your recommendations to make the most of my space?

Benches! They take up less room than individual chairs and can seat multiple people. Also small side tables for drinks, etc., if you don't have room for a large table. And have you considered a vertical garden? Check out my DIY if you'd like to try it! It was super fun and easy. 

I purchased custom curtains (living/dining) for my east facing apartment. Without them my place becomes a sauna, I picked a taupe beige color. I paid a pretty penny . What is a good wall paint. I want a gray and can't seem to find a shade that works. Back away from gray?

Something with the sliiiiightest hint of lavender might be lovely! Since the room gets great sun you can probably go a little cooler with the tone. Perhaps something like this?

I love the paint colors and would like to know the name and manufacturer of the living room, dining room "sunset", and the pink on the front door.

Thank you!

Blue = "Blueberry Hill" by Benjamin Moore

Coral = "All A Blaze" by Benjamin Moore

Pink = "Best Friends" from Clark and Kensington

Do you think spray painting thrifted furniture is a good idea? It's hard to find a place to do that if you don't have a back yard.

Yes yes YES! It's such an inexpensive way to give an old piece of furniture a new look. But you're right, it should absolutely be done outside. I have a parking spot in the back of my apartment where I do all my spray painting. If you don't have a similar spot, you can probably do it on the sidewalk or street. Just make sure to a) wear a mask if you'll be spraying a lot and b) put something down so you don't mark up the surface. A flattened cardboard box works fine. 

I'm with you on waiting and hunting till you find something you love at a bargain, but my husband not quite so much. He does not enjoy the hunter-gatherer process. Did you really eat standing up, and for how long? My husband just wants to have a couch where he can sit and relax already!

I really did, haha. More often than not I would just sit on the couch. If you're in a pinch for interim furniture, I would recommend asking friends to borrow a few extra seats if they have some to spare, or picking up some cheap options on Craigslist. You can always re-sell them once you find your dream seating!

Where do you get cool counter stools? Im having a hard time finding a match for my counter height dinning table because it's made of wood and a marble top. What stool material do you think would match best? :)

Houzz would be a great place to start - a quick search for "stool" returned over 50,000 results. Wowza! You can use the filter function to narrow down the options. Your table sounds lovely! Because it's made of mixed materials you have a lot of flexibility. I think something metallic would look great.

Any advice on where to get window treatments? I'm moving in to a new home and there is an almost wall length patio door in the living room that I need to get treatments for (as well as for the rest of the house).

I love The Shade Store! (There's a location in Georgetown.) And if you know exactly what you want, you can have nearly any local fabric shop make it for you. 

Jo-Ann Fabric sells replacement foam. They will even cut it for you! You may also want to check Calico Corners.

Amazing! Thank you for the intel!

and they are going to be going through the crazy expensive process of getting rid of them. But wrapping their couches with impermeable stuff just isn't on for stuff that is as old as theirs is. So they are looking at getting new stuff. Is there anything they need to be thinking about. Former stuff was just an accumulation of his stuff and her stuff being mushed together. Now they get to pick coordinated things and the kids are old enough (youngest is 8) so they don't have to worry about toddler messes (recognizing kids and adults still have some messes). Any recommendations about how to approach this? It is amazing that we can get to our 40s without ever really choosing to decorate a living room in a coordinated way and all together.

Oh noooo! That is so unfortunate. If it were me, I'd start by scoping out some local estate sales. That'd be one way to get a lot of furniture in one fell swoop at a good price. Perhaps they can divide and conquer - he can choose the linens, she can select the furniture ... that way the rooms are a reflection of both of their styles.

Designers and homeowners need to stop doing this. The electronics in a modern flat panel Tv are very sensitive to dirt ad fumes. Most flat panels have more computing power than a laptops made a couple of years ago. Just stop and the biggest offenders are the Property Bros.

Excellent point!

Hi Holley and Jura, Anyway I can cover them up so clothes aren't showing. ANY suggestions for jazzing up the bookcases appreciated!

What about baskets?! It would help keep things tidy, and would minimize spill over. Something like this would allow you to see what's inside while still looking chic. 

I have a couple of wicker chairs that I got for free. Can they be spray painted (either a clear coat or a color) to make them waterproof for outdoors>

Nice! Yes, you can definitely paint them - or use spray paint - and top them off with a couple coats of marine varnish. It's designed to withstand extreme weather conditions.

Just please be mindful if it is even a bit breezy. Your paint will be carried away and decorate cars in the parking lot. You'd be on the hook for repairs. I had a car in a lot where a crew was painting overhead pipes and they coated every car in the lot.

Yikes! Great point. 

I'm interested in a platform but I'm interested in one that's both solid and will hold up, but also is easy to take down and move. Most product descriptions don't address the "how easy will this be to take to your next place" issue.

Your best bet would probably be to avoid anything made of wood. Unscrewing and re-screwing can strip the material and create weaknesses. Opt instead for metal or wrought iron. And I've mentioned this previously, but Wayfair is a great place to start your search. They publish PDFs of the assembly instructions, so you can see what you're getting into ahead of time!

My brilliant resourceful wife, when we replaced our "memory foam" mattress, had me take a bread knife and slice up the old one into big slabs like limestone. We're gradually replacing all of the cushions on the outdoor furniture and fixing the sagging leather pieces that we still love after 25 years.

A woman after my own heart. Love it! And what a great idea.


I can't seem to find the exact source, but this one from Behr looks similar. Search for "smokey purple."

Just a tip -- make sure you seal the bottoms of the legs...water will seep in from the ground or the patio and rot them from the inside. Marine paint plus a caster will prolong their life.

Thank you for the tips! 

How do you find and attend estate sales? I don't mean to sound stupid, but I just don't know where they are advertised or what the etiquette is...

Not a stupid question at all. is a great resource, and you can even see a preview of all the items.

Due to limited space in our bedroom, the bed is in the corner. Right now, we don't use a headboard because we think it might make the room feel small. Thoughts? Headboards on beds in corners look...strange.

Agreed, I don't think I would use a headboard. Instead try a few floating shelves to create some depth.

Gaaah what fun! Thank you all so much for sharing your tips, ideas and design conundrums. Happy bargain hunting!

You're a stylish cheapskate that has loads to share with the rest of us. Thanks so much for answering all those questions. See you all next week for a chat about caring for your wood and leather furniture and antiques with Christophe Pourny, an expert New York furniture restorer, who has his own line of plant-derived furniture care products.

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Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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Holley Simmons
Holley Simmons is a journalist and founder of Sill Life, a line of one-of-a-kind terrariums and potted plant life.
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