Depressionista’s Guide to Cheap Frenchie Decorating

A bit about myself:

I live in a three bedroom apartment in a town you’ve never heard of, next to a city you don’t really want to visit.  I’ve lived here for 6 months, spending the majority of my time in my bedroom and sewing room/office…and very seldom in the living room.  This “living room” has been a place for puppies to play, still-unpacked boxes to linger, and a smish-smash of various pieces of unloved furniture to reside with little purpose.  Eventually a girl of 18th century persuasion tires of this, as you might imagine.

I’ve been yearning for furniture, sweet, candy-like rococo, shabby, french-country, victorianesque furniture.  I read The Paris Apartment and Design Sponge, pining away for interesting old-world pieces and do-it-yourself projects.  The problem is…I have not much money at all, at least not much to spend on not-totally-achingly-necessary items such as food, toilet paper, and dog toys.  Another hindrance was my unpredictable future in terms of living situation – that is, who I could be living with in the future, and how much furniture (and of what style) that particular person may already have.  And lastly…in my neck of the woods, that being the Westerly Coast of the still-young U.S. of A., this sort of furniture seems ridiculously hard to find and appallingly expensive when you do.  Time to get creative…

Here’s What I’ve Got So Far
I purchased, completely on impulse, a wrought iron bench (outdoor furniture), from Costco, for $40, with the express intention of making some lovely jacquard cushions for it.  It’s a small piece of furniture, but large enough for two people to sit on.  It is not a cuddling couch by any means, but more of a use to perch on and sip your morning tea.  I find it delightful and girl-sized.

Some rearranging of furniture last night dispatched those two unpacked boxes, hid away an ugly tv stand (not mine!), and created space for a seating area.  I pulled out oodles of prints, cards, photos, and other bits of art, and arranged them on the walls in clusters, like little tableaux – things on the walls always gives a space an instant lived-in feel, more than if you left them blank.

Today’s Adventure
I took a trip to a shockingly charming used furniture store, full of interesting pieces, old suitcases, steamer trunks, and various knicknacks I had to resist snatching up.  I found there a small chest of drawers for a side/endtable ($40), and area rug ($40), and quite possibly the coolest little metal chair I’ve ever seen ($18).  These things I scrubbed up, steamed (the rug is still a bit rumpley, but much better), and placed around, feeling quite proud of myself, and charmed with how things are coming together.

The Plan
I’m still seeking some small shelves, and maybe some pretty fabric for a wall hanging.  I live in an apartment, so painting, though possible, is somewhat of a hassle.  I intend to paint the metal chair – white, or maybe a fun color like pink – and I will also be sanding down and painting my large armoire.  I’m sick of it having a parrot on it!

The nice thing about buying outdoor furniture for use indoors is that if I find something better – like a “real” couch – I can still use the little bench outdoors.  The metal chair can go outdoors as well.  However, for a total of $138 so far, it’s a VAST improvement over the totally unlivable space prior.

It’s not much to look at now, but look for future updates on Cheap Frenchie Decorating!


  • Rowenna

    May 20, 2010 at 1:12 PM

    Love it! I'm very lucky to live in a college town, so there's a constantly rotating supply of very cheap used furniture–I scored an incredible down sofa in a ridiculously Rococo bird and floral print for $90 last year. Jury is still out with my friends if it's ugly…I love it 🙂

    Keep us updated on your cheapie decor adventures!

  • Lauren

    May 20, 2010 at 4:29 PM

    Very nice! I hear you on the lack of 18th century French like furniture in the West. Especially in the Southwestern States. Growing up in AZ all one finds is horrible kokopelli themes and seafoam green with pink furniture.

  • Duchess

    May 20, 2010 at 6:21 PM

    Bwahahaha, Other Lauren, you are SO right! Now it all seems like totally bland cheap oak life-lessly designed crap up here in Reno. I guess all the really *good* stuff was dumped out the back of Calistogas crossing the Nevada desert back in the 1850s. That stuff maybe needs a little *too!* much restoration, lol!

    Now I'm thinking of painting. I am allowed to paint, so long as I paint it back when I move out. Or I might do some kind of high wainscoting thing with fabric…not sure…

  • duchess

    May 20, 2010 at 9:38 PM

    I'm thinking that too, MrsC – what about getting some cheap molding from the hardware store, and making like a false wainscoting? but high, like way up the wall. There's something so charming about striped jacquard…and if I ever take it off the wall I can make a dress out of it, lol.

  • Olympe de la Tour D'Auvergne

    May 21, 2010 at 12:17 AM

    All great ideas! As someone who just moved into a new apartment (on the East Coast, in my case) I am intensely interested to see how your adventures in decorating go. Alas most of my furniture is somewhat dark and darb, but one can't complain about free hand-me-downs. Best of luck with the projects!

  • MrsC (Maryanne)

    May 23, 2010 at 11:36 AM

    Ooh, or you could make big festoony drapes out of yummy fabrics in the corners and tie them back….hmm, on second thoughts, not very doggy friendly, or perhaps TOO doggy friendly? 😉

  • Duchess

    May 24, 2010 at 2:55 AM

    oh great ideas! I amazingly have a dog that does not destroy or pull or tug things that aren't her toys, so big drapey-drapes may very well be an option!

    I've recently lost the nondescript IKEA lamp that was in the corner – it belonged to my roommate and she's made off with it, so I have a floor lamp to buy now as well, and I'll be sure to get something in the realm of awesome, maybe steampunkish…just to add that extra twist 🙂

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