Before buying anything, look at what you have. Michele Adams decorated her courtyard by refurbishing furniture she already owned. The faded wicker chairs received a durable coat of outdoor paint. The metal table -- once kitchen table height -- was cut to coffee table size and painted bright green. The pillows were covered to complement the color scheme.
Look beyond an item’s traditional use. Tablecloths can be used as throws; wrapping paper can be framed as art; a Victorian-era dining chair can be recast as a modern armchair with a bright color and patterned upholstery.
Alter old furniture to fit a new style. Adams and Gia Russo manipulate what they find. They often add slipcovers, paint dark furniture, and reupholster chair pads for an updated look.
Shop warehouses and garage sales for bargains. Recently Russo coveted a pair of chairs that cost more than $3,000 each. She found a run-down look-alike pair in a warehouse and was able to have them refinished for $300 per chair.
Use bits of material to create a style file. When working on a shoot or a book, Adams and Russo group small bits of ribbon, fabric, and photos together on a bulletin board. Moving the pieces around to see how the colors and patterns work together is a constant source of inspiration.
Never underestimate the power of flowers. Both women say even simple arrangements of blooms add life and energy to a room.
Avoid being too balanced or having too many matching sets. Russo and Adams like to mix it up by grouping odd numbers of accessories, such as candles or pillows. Instead of having matching throw pillows on each end of the sofa, try two on one side and one on the other. Select them based on complementary colors, textures, and style.
Shop at fabric stores for pillows, linens, and napkins. “It’s usually cheaper to buy fabric than purchase finished linens,” Russo says. “For simple pillows, I take the materials to the dry cleaner and ask for their tailor to make them. Most dry cleaners will sew linens for a fraction of the usual cost.” For table runners, she tears silk or linen and uses Dritz Fray Check to keep the edges from unraveling.
Make shelves more interesting. Stack books horizontally as well as vertically and add accessories.
* Founders of Los Angeles–based MiGi, Michele Adams and Gia Russo have styled photo shoots for magazines and cowritten three books for Chronicle Books on bridal and baby showers and entertaining at home.