Update a living room on a budget

Given the nature of current property prices, making the most of where you are is far more appealing than making a move. We’re all tightening the purse strings and cheap nights in have never seemed a better idea - and that’s where a beautiful living room can be the perfect asset. But if your budget is tight, how do you create the space you really want? Here’s how…

Update a living room on a budget

Update a living room on a budget

Make your money go further

  • It seems obvious, but it’s the most important rule: set a budget and stick to it.
  • If you’re planning to make big changes to your living room, think longer term. Tempting as it is to blitz it in one go when you’re in the mood, gradual changes will give you time to save and spread the cost too.
  • Wait for the sales. You could get that sofa you like or one very similar for half the price.
  • Prices vary hugely from shop to shop. Price comparison websites such as Pricerunner, Kelkoo, and, are a great way to ensure you’re getting the best deal.
  • Try bargaining - some shops will do you a better deal if you can pay cash - and always ask if they can throw in any extras for free!

Look at what you’ve got
Take an objective look at your living room as it is now. Ask yourself: what has to stay, what can go and what can be repaired or revamped? You may have an heirloom piece that you will never part with or an expensive cabinet that you can’t afford to replace, as well as more cheap and cheerful items. Make a list of everything in the room, from cushions to curtains, sofas to side tables. Everything that stays will become part of your new room scheme and will have to be worked into the design.

Rethink your living room layout
Remember that you can always move furniture into other rooms of the house or bring in items from elsewhere – and that could mean more space or a new look without buying anything. Read our advice on how to plan and layout your living room for advice on arranging your furniture, room symmetry and making the most of you the space. You’ll be surprised how simply re-arranging furniture and removing some items can change the look and feel of the room.

Revamp fixtures and fittings
If your living room is looking a little worn around the edges, a few small DIY and decorating jobs can make all the difference. Filling, sanding and smoothing walls and woodwork before giving them a fresh coat of paint is a simple but effective way to give the interior a facelift. Modernising light switches, sockets, curtain poles, lamp shades and door furniture are other quick wins.

Customise your furniture
If you can't afford to buy new furniture, think about revamping the one you already have. In this new age of austerity, there is a real ‘Make do and Mend’ trend. Take inspiration and think about how you can revamp or renovate existing furniture and accessories round the house that you may otherwise get rid of – or, never really appreciate. All it takes is some beautiful fabric and staple gun (and some imagine) to transform an old chair in a stylish new version. Interior designer Kathryn Rayward shows you how how to reupholster a footstool in our short video. Or, if your sofa has removable washable covers, dye them a different colour in the washing machine for an instant update. If you take the latter route, remember not to fill the machine too full or the resulting colour will be uneven.

For more ideas, take a look our fabulous furniture makeovers, and our fun project – how to customise a chair with comics - ideal for child’s room.

Repair old or worn furniture
Breathe new life into old furniture by repairing rips or removing stains and marks. Take a look at our advice on how to repair leather upholstery for advice on fixing tears and sagging seats. Find out how you can remove ring marks from wood and fix loose joints in our article on how repair and renovate wooden furniture.

Update or restore flooring
Changing the floor in your living room will make a big difference simply because it’s such a large area of colour and a major focal point in the room. Updating the carpet or putting down an artificial floor isn't cheap, but it is a worthy investment. Read our advice on choosing living room flooring.

If that isn't an option and you're stuck with your existing carpet, get it professionally cleaned or steam clean it yourself; polish up or restore wooden flooring - if you’re lucky, that old carpet might have floorboards underneath that you can polish up. Finally, consider adding a rug for a splash of colour.

Consider painting a feature wall
The cheapest way to change a room completely is to paint it. Decorating feature wall in a bolder colour is also a great way to create atmosphere or brighten a room without having to buy paint for the whole room. Try mixing your own colour by adding sample pots to white matt emulsion. One word of warning - budget paint can be a false economy. Pigmentation in the cheaper brands means that their covering ability is less, so you’ll end up having to add more coats.

Add some mood lighting
Changing the way you light a room can change the mood dramatically, even if that just means buying new lampshades or cleaning the ones you’ve got! Bring in lights from other rooms and if you’ve got one that doesn’t match the décor, hide it behind a piece of furniture so you can still take advantage of the light.

Spots, uplighters, table lamps, standard lamps, fairy lights and reading lamps can all be combined to great effect and provide just the right amount of visibility where you need it. Read our article on mood lighting for more advice.

Change your window dressings
Adding new window coverings can make a big difference without costing the earth. Switch heavy drapes for light curtains or wooden or Venetian blinds and let natural light flood in. Roller blinds aren’t expensive and if you add a voile panel over the top, the effect is fresh and even quite ethereal, but you still keep your privacy.

If you have a sewing machine, curtains and blinds are very easy to make and give you carte blanche over the sort of fabric you use. Make a feature of the window and, particularly if it’s framing a good view, you’ll draw the eye away from any minor flaws in the room. We have loads of step-by-step guides on making your own curtains and blinds in our craft section.

Add some accessories
Don’t forget accessories – a great way to introduce new colour and give furniture a facelift. Think throws and cushions to give your chairs a lift or artwork to focus the eye away from little imperfections. You could even add a screen to divide up the room or change its shape. Finally, for even more design inspiration and advice, take a look at our modern living rooms on a budget gallery.