9 easy decorating strategies

A home-styling pro shows how to create high-end looks on a budget

Living area
Photo: Thomas J. Story

George Dolese, who lives in Berkeley (415/378-5750), has created beautiful setups for clients such as Williams-Sonoma. One of his specialties is food and entertaining photography; the book Williams-Sonoma Entertaining showcases his work.

1. Use neutral colors to make a small space seem larger and to allow more flexibility. "In my own home, I have a lot of white, camel, and chocolate brown colors, with splashes of red," Dolese says. "It makes the space seem bigger because there's flow between rooms. It also makes it easy to rotate pieces from room to room and change the look by adding accent colors."

2. Make often-used, visible objects simple and attractive. When not in use, cutting boards become elegant backdrops for sculptural bottles.

3. Create easy seasonal arrangements with fruits and vegetables. Dolese opts for whatever is in season at the farmers' market. "A bowl full of apples, lemons, or artichokes is great for a centerpiece or mantel," he says. "It's a low arrangement that couldn't be easier to put together. If you don't have a bowl, just scatter fruit directly on the table."

4. Shop import stores for deals. Dolese often cuts out the expensive middleman by going directly to import shops for funky finds. Check the Internet or local yellow pages for stores in your area.

5. Use high-end accents to dress up budget items. In his kitchen, Dolese installed inexpensive cabinets and an affordable laminate countertop, then spruced up the look with high-end cabinet and drawer handles.

6. Teach old bottles new tricks. Dolese saves liquor or soda bottles that have interesting colors and shapes. After removing their labels and washing them, he uses them as water carafes, cream containers, or vases. "It's amazing how some of these inexpensive bottles look like handblown glass after the label comes off," he says.

7. Go for quality, not brands. Dolese finds sturdy, high-quality wool blankets in earthy colors at the army-surplus store. A fine wool blanket can cost hundreds of dollars, but he gets his for $15.

8. If it's too expensive, keep shopping. Dolese wanted a colorful magnetic chalkboard, but was dismayed by the prices he found. By searching the Internet, he found a manufacturer that sells the chalkboards for hundreds of dollars less.

9. Rotate accessories often. Dolese thinks a few special pieces are interesting, but several become clutter. He keeps a limited number of objects on display and changes them every few months.

More: Reinvent your stuff: 20 fun DIY projects

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