First time home owner – furnishing on a budget

Updated: Nov 21, 2018

First timer

We’ve really enjoyed working with our ‘first time’ home owner client this year. The ground floor apartment, to use estate agent speak, is very well appointed. Built some 10 years ago it is spacious by new build standards with two double bedrooms and a third single that now serves as a home office. An open plan kitchen living room has French windows that open on to a compact patio area. The bathroom has been refurbished by the second owner with great quality sanitary ware, taps, floor and wall tiles, a real notch up from the developer standard installed in new builds.

Good bones

You could say this apartment has good bones but it isn’t without its challenges. It’s north facing aside from one bedroom which looks over the front of the building. The north aspect isn’t helped by a tall boundary hedge. The entrance lobby and hall were still decorated in that ubiquitous paint shade builders love Magnolia; it always gives off such a depressing vibe. The rooms had been decorated by the previous owners in neutral tones with varying degrees of success.


So the first job was to redecorate. We choose a warm neutral paint colour from Brewers Albany range, Swanley which was used throughout the apartment on walls and ceilings. This method of using the same colour on the ceiling and walls creates a seamless space especially with standard build ceiling heights. If you’re a novice decorator there is no cutting in, a win win. The power of colour to transform a space really did the business here, stepping into the apartment now, feels uplifting and welcoming.


We were very impressed with the quality and price of Brewers Albany emulsions. With a fantastic selection of colours we found just the right deep blue for the sofa wall in the living room. When it came to their bedroom the client fell in love with Rosy Posy by Earthborn Paints. There was simply nothing to match not only the shade but the matt, chalky finish that gave the warmth required for the northern light in the room. Sometimes it’s worth spending extra to achieve the desired effect. Whilst it’s common practice to match artisan brand paint colour in cheaper emulsions you will often not achieve either the depth or unique finish of the original.

Limited funds

Like many buying their first home this was a huge commitment not only financially but also emotionally. By the time our client completed on their ground floor apartment in the city of Winchester funds available for furnishing were limited to say the least.

They had one item of furniture, a beautiful Welsh coffer a statement piece for the sitting room, a Moroccan poof and one piece of artwork. Otherwise they were starting from scratch. We discouraged the urge to rush off to that well know Swedish flat pack store in favour of pieces that would have longevity.

Shop smart

With a tight budget we had to shop smart. Preparation is key; time spent on a floor plan enabled us to write a shopping list of must haves and aspirational pieces. It also prevents costly mistakes, knowing how the furniture will fit helps with decision making. No point buying a sofa and then finding it takes up half the room.

We started with big ticket items. We spend a third of our lives in bed, so it’s an investment in our health and well-being. Buy the best that you can afford. We specified the John Lewis Grace bed frame with grey linen look fabric base and headboard teamed with a medium pocket sprung mattress.

The sofa, also a John Lewis branded piece, we picked up at 60% reduction from a source that takes ends of line and customer cancelled orders from well know retailers. On the same sourcing trip we found an oak chest of drawers for the Master Bedroom and ladder shelving unit for the Home Office.

Mirror mirror

The House by John Lewis range Mix it Triple Mirrored Wardrobe was a concession to the no flat pack stance. Placing this opposite the window the mirrors captured the light in an otherwise darker room. We used this trick in the sitting room with a decorative mirror above the sofa.

Sleep, store, sit

So we had the basics, somewhere to sleep, storage and seating. There was still quite a list of must haves and crucially the rental bedroom needed furnishing ASAP to generate an income to pay the bills. With a basic divan bed and IKEA wardrobe, another flat pack concession, we turned to upcycling.


In a local vintage shop a pair of solid pine bedside chests, painted with Annie Sloan chalk paint and fitted with crystal drawer knobs, caught our eye. The deep drawers are great extra storage; we split the pair placing one in each of the bedrooms. Our next discovery was care of a charity’s furniture shop where donated furniture is lovingly sanded and painted by volunteers. The chest of drawers with framed mirror was the finishing item in the rental bedroom.


We were good to go but a lodger needs a dining table and our search for a compact table that extended from 900 mm square to seat up to six was eluding us. We scoured house clearance outlet who told us this specification is snapped up by pub chains but eventually we found an oak table in need of a little TLC. The top was sanded and varnished for durability; the legs got a couple of coats of soft black paint. With upholstered dining chairs from Next, we were there for now.

Phased approach

Window treatments are expensive so we took a phased approach reusing a curtain pole in the sitting room the client has a pair of curtains on loan from a family member, they’re not perfect but the colours work with the room scheme for now.

In the home office and rental bedroom room wooden slatted blind from Direct Blinds helps with privacy, the bedroom overlook the building entrance. The rental room neutral scheme will enable the lodger to put their own stamp on it. Our only other recommendation would be to install a couple of Ikea Mosslanda picture ledges to provide for personal accessories without the need to fix pictures and marks the walls.


A blackout blind from Direct Blinds in the Master Bedroom works alone for now with a Roman blind planned when funds allow. This blind will be installed in the deadlight above the window and reach to the ceiling with plenty of fabric on view when open. By just tipping the top of the window reveal it will maximise the light.

All in good time

Accessories, cushions, throws, lamps maybe a rug in the sitting room are all for the future and can be acquired over time. However, one big recent addition is an armchair. We spied the mid-century chair in Old Sarum Furniture near Salisbury buried under a pile of stuff. It was in excellent condition although the pink velvet had to go. We had it reupholster in Linwood fabric using a plain navy for the outer back and arms with a patterned seat and back. The chair cost less than £50, with fabric and upholsters labour the total cost came in just under £500; the result is a worthwhile investment that our client will benefit from for years to come and a stylish, comfortable focus in the room.

Top Tips: -

· Use warm neutrals in north facing rooms, the same or similar shade on walls and ceilings

· Mirrors help bounce the light around, great in dark rooms

· Keep blinds and curtains well off the window reveal to maximise light

· Ditch/ limit the flat pack, look for quality, solid furniture that can be upcycled

· Buy the best you can afford, take a phased approach rather than making do

· Mix and match furniture styles; antique, contemporary and modern pieces can work together

· Define your colour palate and then use different textures; linen, velvet, cotton, wood, metallic add variety and interest

· Develop your own style

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