Q: I just moved into my first apartment and money is a little tight. Can you offer any tips for stylish touches on a budget?


A: When I moved to Detroit and began my career as a journalist, unpacking stacks of cardboard boxes took low priority. Eventually I managed to throw decorative fabric on one or two boxes and pretend they were end tables. It wasn’t very green and it wasn’t very stylish. Fortunately, my design taste has grown over time. My digs got a considerable upgrade when I met Shawn Ergle, co-owner of Traders home décor shop in my neighborhood.

For the cost of a consultation, he became the Professor Henry Higgins to my Eliza Doolittle, refining the elements in my home and helping me clear the clutter and embrace the beauty within. Generous soul that he is, Ergle shares a few pearls of design wisdom that can help you turn shabby into chic — on a budget.

Declutter: Removing clutter from your home is one of the first and easiest ways to redesign and redefine your space. Ergle notes that you may find an item in the kitchen would better serve your purposes in the bathroom or guest room. That was the case with a few canisters that now hold my dog Lulu’s treats.

Peter Walsh, host of “Enough Already!” on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network, offers 5 easy steps to declutter a room. Start by removing all items from the room. Then establish your vision for the space and sort items based on what you should keep and what you should eliminate, which requires a serious dose of honesty and perhaps a little help from a friend. Items labeled “keepers” should have true sentimental value or reinforce your vision for the room. Anything that doesn’t match your vision should be donated, recycled or discarded. Then create the space of your dreams.


Embrace your style: Resist the urge to purchase inexpensively mass-produced items and instead invest in unique items that speak to your personal style, whether it’s a cool African mask or a ceramic dog sculpture. A framed black-and-white picture from your last vacation has more meaning than a vanilla scene from a place you’ve never visited. That picture also tells a story that belongs only to you.

Group important things: I had family photos in the living room, the den, the foyer and the master bedroom. Ergle suggests grouping those important pieces so that they make a stronger impact. The same applies to your collection of action figures, handbags or teapots. Embrace the power of the pack; this also helps eliminate clutter.

Don't fear scale; it adds presence: Mix things up a bit by incorporating oversize items in a sea of sameness. It adds a bit of drama, says Ergle, who studied theater at the University of Georgia and knows how to build drama with a simple assortment of vases above the mantle.

Note appropriate height for pictures: Hanging photos, prints or artwork too high or too low is a rookie design mistake, Ergle says. Instead, be sure the framed piece is about 2 to 3 inches above eye level. This helps visitors avoid craning their necks to see your treasures.

Maintain a central theme: Whether you prefer summer shades or winter tones, keep things simple by selecting items in one color family, with occasional pops of color to build visual interest. This gives the room a fresh look that can be more soothing.

“Think of a tree: It isn’t one color, but different shades of green,” Ergle says. “Mother Nature does not make mistakes.”

— Morieka Johnson

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Photo: Morieka Johnson

How can I decorate my apartment on a budget?
By keeping it simple and cohesive, your space can look like a million bucks.