Jill Gardner
Langdon Clay

Meet Jill

When Jill Gardner’s 1940s Greek Revival cottage was way past needing an update, she pulled out her piggy bank and pushed up her sleeves. With a lot of creativity, character-building manual labor, and frugal sensibilities, Jill created a bright, lively home that suits her family of five. Take a look at her budget-friendly decorating ideas, and be inspired.

Note: Jill owns 2HK, Second Home Keepers, an Oxford, Mississippi-based caretaker business.

Blue Bedroom
Langdon Clay

Color Your World

"When we bought the house, I was going to use all these subdued colors and make everything really sophisticated," Jill says. "But after we painted the whole thing white and took a step back, I thought, 'I can't do this! It looks like an asylum!' "

Jill repainted her daughter’s bedroom the very next day. (Yes, she did all the painting herself.) Looking to a bedding sheet from Pottery Barn for inspiration, she chose Tranquil Blue for the walls and accented them with green and white pillows and artwork.

Learn how to paint a wall.

Wallpaper murals.
Langdon Clay

Big Impressions

In a downstairs bath, a digital image of a green-and-white botanical evokes spa serenity. Though this Graham and Brown wallpaper mural is discontinued, there's plenty more to choose from on their site. We're especially fond of the cream rose and purple flower. "It's a fun way to get a great splash for about $120," Jill says.

A green slipper chair.
Langdon Clay

All in the Family

A hand-me-down slipper chair becomes modern and sophisticated with a fresh covering of a green velvet remnant. The lumbar pillow, a no-sew project, adds a bit of funkiness. Jill found the peacock print at a retailer for around $70 a yard. "But I only needed a 1/4 of a yard," Jill says of what turned into a bargain purchase. Wrapped around a bolster and tied with ribbon, the dress silk wears a dragonfly pin for extra flair.

Colorful pillows.
Langdon Clay

Pillows Talk

Pillows have always been an inexpensive way to dress up a bed or sofa. Though most of Jill's pillows in this bedroom are store bought, she built on a color scheme of greens and blues and shopped a variety of retail outlets for a one-of-a-kind combination.

A lamp with a a turquoise shade.
Langdon Clay

An Excuse To Shop

On top of a catalog-outlet chartreuse chest, a T.J. Maxx lamp gives an extra pump of color with its turquoise shade.

Jill's Tip: The secret to discount-store shopping? Find out their delivery schedule, and shop often. You never know what perfect item might be on that next truck.

Green velvet love seats.
Langdon Clay

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

Set your alarm to shop the garage sales early. Grab the newspaper, and map out a plan. Jill found this pair of green velvet love seats for a song. “"Oh, I think I might have paid $75 dollars for both," Jill says. "The owner stopped me and asked me if I knew how nice they were." Jill’s response? "Yes, ma'am, I do." Then she made her quick exit before the seller could change her mind. Zebra-striped pillows are a T.J. Maxx score. Artist Cathy Lancaster gave Jill the "friend discount" on the gallery pieces above her sofa.

Crepe myrtle coffee table.
Langdon Clay

Hidden Potential

"I had a West Elm moment," Jill says of the oh-so-cool crepe myrtle coffee table in her living room. Found curbside, Jill took the knotty tree home to begin its transformation. Branches, cut evenly, support a glass top. For stability, screws in a 20-by-20-inch steel plate custom ordered from the local hardware store anchor the stump. Total cost: $35.

Art work above a mantel.
Langdon Clay


Several items, such as the swing arm lamps over the fireplace, were originally intended for another purpose. Unable to return the outlet store finds, Jill used them to highlight a favorite piece of artwork over the mantel.

A bamboo curtain rod.
Langdon Clay

Go Green

Jill found this bamboo rod in a thick stand of the fast-growing crop behind her house. Long a favorite for flooring, furnishings, and fishing poles, bamboo is heralded as a hardy, renewable resource. It also makes an excellent drapery rod if you own a handsaw. Store-bought bamboo rings enhance the wooded charm.

Powder room.
Langdon Clay

Stripe It Rich

A level, painter's tape, and a steady hand transformed the powder room into a chic niche. Seven-inch chocolate brown and cream stripes wrap the water closet with graphic elegance. "I knew I wanted the faucet to come out of a brown stripe, so I started there," Jill says.

Painting the ceiling and baseboards the same color as the white stripes helps forgive the difference in shorter top and bottom stripes. An antique bureau holds a white vessel sink from Lowe's and provides storage for soap and hand towels beneath. ( Wood Grain Brown and Cotton Balls by Benjamin Moore )

A vase with garden flowers.
Langdon Clay

Put It on a Pedestal

Make an impression with inexpensive (or free if you've got them) garden flowers. Tropical foliage (cut from a potted plant), a fern, and hosta blooms in a glass vase make an easy, low-cost arrangement that delivers big impact. Jill also favors cut branches or whatever happens to be flourishing in her backyard.

A wall with kid's art.
Langdon Clay

Be Your Own Critic

Art is in the eye of the beholder. And in this case, Jill's arrangement of her kids' artwork is just as creative as the pieces themselves. For your own wall display, look for drawings and paintings with similar colors and themes. Mix in cast-off toys, such as a ukulele, for sculptural interest.

A bed with framed art.
Langdon Clay

Color Coordinate

Striped pillows and a favorite orange paint give cohesion to the boy's bedroom and bath. Inexpensive, unfinished wood frames from Hobby Lobby gain importance with a coat of Clementine by Farrell Calhoun "The mats cost more than anything else," Jill confides. A vintage kid's bike, painted in the same festive hue, brings in a bit of nostalgia.

A bicycle painted orange.
Langdon Clay

Take a Bike

"When we were in college and really had no money, a roommate came up with the idea of painting an old bike bright red and hanging it in the living room. For the sake of nostalgia, I had to bring it back," Jill says of this freebie she painted orange. Her 14-year-old son, Wilson, approved. "He thinks a cool room is a cool thing."

A wall-sized map.
Langdon Clay

Map Quest

A wall-size map in 9-year-old Andrew's room sets a colorful tone and just about guarantees him an "A" in geography.

A chair and rug.
Langdon Clay

Offset a Splurge

When you find a $30 chair at a garage sale that doesn't even need recovering, a West Elm purchase such as the orange pattern rug doesn't seem to cause as much pain on the pocketbook.

A wall of street signs.
Langdon Clay

Watch the Road Signs

Just don't steal them. Jill promises she found these authentic street signs at a junk shop. Set against a rubber shower rack, Jill cut the signs to fit and used aquarium glue to seal the edges.

More Budget Decorating Ideas
Decorating on a Budget
Decorating in a Downturn
Flea-Market Smarts

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