The Wrong Call

Last Thursday, The New York Times Home section ran a story, The $300 Makeover. NYT Home sectionI was glad to see that the article addressed the issue of how people have become increasingly upset with the way their homes look and function now that they are spending more time there, during this recession. But by inviting five high-priced interior designers to redecorate one room each for no more than $300, and not including a budget decorating specialist in the group, they threw down the gauntlet, especially since the group are all “accustomed to spending five and even six figures on a single room.” Are you surprised to learn that only one succeeded in staying under budget, even though they were all permitted to use “free materials” (read: expensive stuff) from their offices? Not I.

Now, if the Home section wanted to show how to transform rooms without spending money – a real picker-upper of inestimable value, especially during tight fiscal times – they should have come to the experts, as they have several times in the past: my firm has been featured doing just that for almost 30 years as have the members of the Interior Refiners Network, across the U.S. who we trained and certified. Unlike the high-priced designers, we have actually been affordable and accessible throughout recessions and good times.growing money

Therefore, what was the point of the story? Was it to show that expensive interior designers are not capable of decorating on a budget (and does it matter since more than 90% of the population is unable to afford their fees)?

I can’t understand why The New York Times would miss this opportunity to show its readers that it really is possible to fix up their homes -without spending money – if they are going crazy with the way their rooms look and function, simply by using what they have properly.

What do you think?

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura March 18, 2009 at 2:20 am

I am so glad that I found you. I merely checked out your “Use what you have decorating” book at the library on a whim and it has given me more in one book that all of my years of reading articles and books about decorating combined.

I am so tired of all of the HGTV shows that show someone throwing out every thing that is time treasured in their home in favor of all things cheap from China. By cheap I mean quality not price. I wish these shows would give a proper impression. Even commercials and advertisements portray a young couple with small children in half a million dollar homes with granite and stainless kitchens and a house full of furniture from Pottery barn and Crate and Barrell. It’s like presenting to little girls barbie dolls and saying “this is what girls are supposed to look like when they grow up”.



Lauri March 24, 2009 at 9:53 am

Hello Laura,

So glad Use What You Have Decorating helped you!
And it is frustrating to see good things discarded on TV shows; especially those that could have been repurposed to look and function better.


Paula March 18, 2009 at 11:41 am

I Googled the NY Times article, and honestly a couple of their “after” photos look to me like your “before” photos. The living room at the two-story house on Long Island showed furniture pressed against the walls leaving obvious screaming distance between the sofa and the chair in the corner. Also, the decorator applied huge contrasting motifs at alternating heights all around the walls with the intention of giving the room more character, but it would just give me vertigo. The article did concede that “ there have always been decorators who insist you can do a lot to improve a space with little or no money, using the furnishings and accessories you have”, and further that when the five decorators they hired were selected, “only a few, to be fair, had ever espoused anything like that theory”.
So, what do I think? I think if the Times is like many other newspapers, they run articles intent on achieving one goal: selling newspapers So maybe they thought it would be more thrilling for people to daydream about having a high-priced decorator actually work for them rather than going with a more practical, earth-friendly approach that results in blissful comfort among items we already love. [BTW, I enjoyed Laura’s comment indicting trendy plastic pieces from China 😉 ]. To me, the decorators’ results look reasonably tasteful but not particularly comfortable. What I really think is that they should have called you.


Lauri March 24, 2009 at 9:49 am


We are in complete agreement.


frugalscholar March 18, 2009 at 1:10 pm

I agree that you could have done a better job. But I noticed that some of the rooms were transformed as per your advice–they were cleaned up, made more coherent, given better seating arrangements, and given focal points.


Lauri March 24, 2009 at 9:47 am


Yes, it’s true.


Marta March 31, 2009 at 6:50 am

Sounds like somebody at the Times had a good idea but it was badly executed. Or maybe the intended audience is that 10% who can afford high-priced decorators but their portfolios have shrunk in the recession?


Lauri April 1, 2009 at 6:00 pm


If that is the case, I wonder why they’d publish a story that could benefit only 10% of their readers. Beats me.


Monica April 4, 2009 at 2:15 pm

I’ve never written on a blog before, but I had to tell you that when I saw the Times article I immediately thought of how much better you could have done those makeovers. I’ve been a fan for over 10 years and your books have taught me so much, especially your “Use What You Have Decorating” book which helped me transform my awkward living room into a comfortable and beautiful space. Thanks so much for all of your fabulous advice–you are a gem!


Lauri April 8, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Thank you so much for your sweet comments. YOU are a gem!


Kat April 9, 2009 at 10:19 am

This is just another example of how spoiled many Americans have become. And many that aren’t spoiled long for these things. Don’t they see how much of a WASTE it is?

For example: I have been frustrated with my living room/playroom area in my apartment(the playroom is supposed to be a dining room). It was cluttered and too confining and blocked. Now I could have trashed stuff and bought all new furniture, but that to me, that is an unreasonable expense. Last night it finally hit me, quit using the TV as the focal point and make it one big family room! I rearranged the couch to face sideways, you can still see the TV but it isn’t directly in front. This opens the area up to be one big room. I have a whole new living area that flows through the apartment from the front door around to the kitchen and didn’t pay a dime!

Simple is good. When we all learn that, things might get a little easier.


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