Local designers’ ideas on how to decorate your space on a budget


At the Alphabet Soup thrift store in Petaluma, store manager Maria Mandolini demonstrated what to look for. She pointed out a large 1980s wooden dresser set with gold handles and priced at $135. The original price, 40 years ago at retail stores, was $600, she said.

“Open up the drawers and make sure the drawers aren’t flimsy and everything opens and closes the way it should,” Mandolini said while pulling out the drawers.

Stay away if the piece has particle board, also known as chipboard or low-density fiberboard, as it probably will not last, said Vidinsky, a devotee of high-quality wood.

When it comes to chairs, avoid those with damaged cane seats or outdated fabric as it is costly to reupholster an entire chair, she added.

At Alphabet Soup, Kristina Morris, who recently moved from Half Moon Bay to Petaluma, was focused on a round wood table outside the store. She was hoping to find a piece that would last through her nomadic life.

Morris said she picked up a mahogany dresser she found on Craigslist for $100, painted it with white chalk paint and distressed it to give a “modern-chic farmhouse aesthetic.

“Because of inflation, prices for furniture are only increasing,” Morris said. “You can find a piece of furniture whose wood has been around for over 50 years, put some elbow grease in and turn it into something new.”

Once, Andriola found a wooden octagon-shape table at a Santa Rosa garage sale for $60 and added his personal style by painting just the top of it a deep green.

“Sometimes you paint the very top of the piece, or add color or fabric to the back of a book shelf,” he said. “If people are willing to put in a little work, you’re creating a piece that is uniquely personal and you’re saving money.”

Check out estate sales, thrift stores, garage sales

At estate sales, you’re practically exploring someone’s entire, fully furnished, newly vacant home, and you’re bound to find a slew of old and new possibilities.

If you appreciate nostalgia, estate sales will feel more like a treasure hunt than a burdensome voyage with no end in sight.

Eckman, who has held these sales for more than 20 years, knows how to rummage through old things and pin down a deal. Through the course of nearly 500 sales, he has found kitchen chairs, pots and pans, dining tables and Asian decorative pieces like ceramics, Buddhas, dragons, wood carvings and framed art.

Incorporating second-hand pieces into your decor has benefits on a larger scale, too. “Fast furniture,” a term to describe low-cost, mass-produced and poorly made furniture that doesn’t last, leaves a heavy impact on our environment.

In 2018, nearly 10 million tons of furniture was disposed of in landfills, up from 8.9 million tons in 2010, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Only a small portion of furniture is recovered from landfills to be recycled.

“Becoming more environmentally conscious is more important now,” Vidinsky said. “There’s enough on the planet for everyone; we have to find ways to use it creatively.”

Styling tips

So, where do you start once you have a handful of pieces you’ve decided to work with?

Trying to figure out how to maximize space your tiny apartment can be vexing at first, but there are ways to do it.

Nancy Farage, principal interior designer of Holistic Home Designs in San Ramon, said placing a mirror in your space where it’s functional — next to a door, above a dresser or couch — will make your small apartment appear bigger and will bring in light.

Her motto: Keep furniture pieces light and warm in color so your apartment appears larger, open and breathable.

She also suggests keeping your apartment wall space as clear as possible so you don’t weigh down the room. Choose chairs and a sofa with low profiles rather than high backs. If you’re going to hang floating shelves on your wall, don’t overcrowd them. Simplicity is key.

Vidinsky said that when adding accessories like framed art, pillows or throws, keep one color consistent in the set to bring unity to your space. But don’t be afraid to mix and match different textures, monochromatic patterns and eras.

“If you find a piece that you love, get it. You’ll find a place for it in your space,” Andriola said. “Honor your sense of style. If you like it, it works. Ultimately, the space is yours.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mya Constantino at [email protected] @searchingformya on Twitter.