4 Ways to Decorate Your Dining Room on a Budget

by | Jan 31, 2020

When it comes to decorating, the only way you can really get it wrong is to skip it altogether. You want your home to feel like yours, and the best way to do that is to make thoughtful choices that reflect your personal style!

So whether you’re starting from scratch or giving your drab interior a makeover, you might feel a little dazed by the sheer number of options you have. But more importantly, you want to be able to do it without draining your savings. So before you even start to decorate, make a budget that you’re comfortable with. And don’t worry – no matter how low it is, there’s always something you can do to make your house feel more like home.

Once you’ve set a firm budget, stick to it – or better yet, stay below it. For many people, constraints can be the inspiration they need to put their heart and soul into a project. Once you’ve set a budget, you can spend some time thinking about the look you want to go for. 

Finding your theme

Before you spend any money, pick a theme that’s right for your room. Do you want a formal dining room for family dinners? Or are you planning to host parties and potlucks? You’ll need to have the right amount of space and seating to accommodate your goals. Ideally, you want to work with what you already have as much as possible, but that doesn’t mean you need to hang on to any junky furniture that ruins the feel of your room.

The next step is choosing a color theme. Most interior designers turn to the color wheel to choose hues that work best together and stick with that theme. The simplest method for beginners is the 60:30:10 rule, with the primary color used in 60% of the space, the secondary color in 30% of the space, and the accent color in 10% of the space. Once you’ve got your colors, shopping for decor becomes more streamlined, because you can ignore anything that doesn’t fit your scheme.

If your dining area isn’t separated from the living room, you should decide whether you’ll divide the two areas to make the distinction. One way to do this is by flipping the way you use the colors, to give a visual cue that identifies the transition.

Make sure everything matches

If your dining table is dark wood, you’ll want all the other woods in the room to match it. Similarly, your metals should match, so any metal lighting or furniture should have the same general hue. If you don’t have a uniform look to your materials, your aesthetic will suffer from it.  

The same goes for colors. While the color itself might be the same hue, you need to make sure they have similar saturations. If one orange has a washed-out look, it probably won’t fit right with more intense oranges. No matter how much you like something, forcing it to work with colors that aren’t right will make it stand out in a bad way.

The size of the room’s contents also needs to match the space. Anything too big will make the room appear much smaller than it is. That goes for things on the wall and ceiling, too. A giant light fixture or frame on the wall is going to shrink the room. A good rule of thumb for the table: It should take up no more than a third of the floor space. On the other hand, if the table is too small for the room, things will feel disconnected. You want your room to flow naturally from one piece to the next to achieve a harmonious design. 

Dining room decorating ideas on a budget

1. Get thrifty with second-hand furniture

Hit up the flea market, check out all the thrift stores, and scope garage sales to find high-quality furniture without paying a premium. A new dining table can easily cost over a thousand dollars, but some friendly negotiating at a yard sale can get you a solid wood table for a small fraction of that. And even better, there’s no frustrating assembly required. 

Plus, you can find unique vintage items, like clocks, radios, or globes, that will add character to your aesthetic. Department store decor has a tendency to be bland for mass appeal, but you don’t want a generic feel to your home. You want your home to reflect your own sense of beauty and style, as much for yourself as the people you welcome into your home.

Chairs should be sturdy, comfy, and fit naturally under the table. And they don’t have to match, either. Having unique chairs can add a lot of depth to your decor, but it’s good to pick one unifying theme. That could be shape, color, or even style (i.e., rustic, farmhouse, or modern). If you like, you can get matching pillows and cushions to bring them together.  

2. Use flexible lighting 

While an overhead light will get the job done, using multiple light sources can help you achieve the mood you want to fit the theme. The lighting you use while you’re entertaining guests, for instance, is different than what you’ll need when you’re lounging alone.

A good combination of floor lamps, sconces, LED strips, and candles can help you adapt to any mood – be it formal, romantic, or party time. Go for warm, yellow lighting over a blue fluorescent hue. It’s more relaxing and appetizing. A well placed unique mirror can take the place of additional lighting, as well as add style.

You don’t want to flood the room with light (unless it’s time to clean up), but you should think about where light and shadows will fall. Play with placement until you have light where you want it without creating dramatic shadows that will distract your diners. 

3. Find discount paint or wall covering

Wall design can utterly change the look of a room, and staring at a color that bugs you can have a negative impact on your state of mind. The best way to make the space feel like yours is to upgrade those unwanted hues. 

If you’re willing to do it yourself, paint or wallpaper can be cheap. There are several ways to get discount paint. Home Depot and Lowes often have miss-mixed hues on the cheap, and Habitat for Humanity resale stores have all kinds of home improvement items on hand, including wallpaper and paint. 

They may not always have the exact color you want, but it’s often better than the one you have on your wall, and a little flexibility and creativity can save you some money. Even better, some cities have paint recycling centers to prevent people from throwing paint into the landfill. You can pick it up for free on a first-come, first-served basis. No matter what, you need to use primer first. Otherwise, the paint won’t spread correctly, and you’ll have to use even more layers.

If you live in an apartment and you’re not allowed to paint it, you still have options. Temporary wallpaper comes in countless varieties and styles, but it isn’t right for every budget. Wall decals, tapestries, and curtains can all be used to modify the mood of a room without blowing your security deposit, and they can be found for a lot cheaper. If you already have a nice tapestry to hang, you can use it as a focal point to draw inspiration for your color scheme. 

4. Personalize your walls

Your dining area will feel much nicer if there’s something to look at on the walls. If you’re lucky enough to be a talented painter or to have one as a close friend, don’t be afraid to display it proudly. But even if you’re not an artist, there’s plenty of crafty ways to hone your creativity into something worth putting up on the walls (try some of these ideas). Generally speaking, making your own art is much cheaper than buying someone else’s.

You can always use pictures to personalize a space, and most of the cost is in the time you put into them. If you want to hang photos, use them to tell a story. You can use the look, feel, and placement of the frames to draw your eye from beginning to end. Whether it’s family photos or scenic portraits, you can place them in a way that makes sense to you, and at the same time, creates the mood you want. Less is more here, and the more hectic it is, the more it will distract from your overall design. 

The bottom line

Decorating your dining room shouldn’t be a daunting task. The more fun you have with it, the more you will feel at home. And the longer you plan to live somewhere, the more time and energy it’s worth putting in! You’re not going to make the room perfect overnight, so take your time with it. Little improvements here and there can make a big difference, and over time they’ll add up to the look and feel you’re going for.

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