Commonplace rooms can be customized with inexpensive ideas that make it easy to experiment and change your chambers on a whim.
Treat your windows special, using dropcloths--the same off-white material you buy at home centers to protect floors and furnishings from paint splatters. For about $1 per yard, you can use the 20 yards of fabric available in a 12-by-15-foot drop cloth as handsome off-white draperies or curtains. Or use dye to tint the fabric one of your favorite hues.
Sheets also provide lots of decorating drama without costing a fortune. Consider the following ideas for creating a new look with drop cloths or sheets:
* Space a few nails along the top edge of your window, then just drape the fabric loosely across the nails and around the window frame.
* Make your own "curtain rod" by tightly stretching picture wire across the top of the window frame. Secure the wire at both ends using screws anchored into the wall. Cut and hem the drop cloth or sheet to make curtain panels. Then, punch grommets along the top edge of each panel. Thread shower-curtain hooks through the grommets and hang the panels along the wire.
If using sheets, trim to the desired length for curtain panels, leaving enough fabric for a hem at the bottom and a rod pocket at the top. Then gather the curtains onto rods.
* Hide hideous walls or just give your room a soft, cozy look by swathing vertical surfaces in fabric. Sheets work particularly well for this trick. To attach sheets to walls, choose from a couple of techniques. One quick method is to staple sheet panels to walls along the ceiling and floor lines. To hide vertical seams, just overlap panels slightly. Then, conceal staples by gluing lengths of decorative cord, braid or ribbon along the top and bottom edges of the walls.
* If the plaster finish on your walls is rough and broken, enhance the look with a painted finish that mimics the look of old plaster. Apply a sponged and ragged finish with three shades of paint. The finish will be best if you apply paint with wet rags and sponges, and try to duplicate the look of smoke. Edge a broken section of plaster with pencil lead or create veins with pencil lines.
* Recover an old couch or chair for less than $50? Sheet savvy strikes again. First, hit the white sales and purchase a king-size flat sheet. You've latched on to about eight or nine yards of fabric.
Once you get home, iron the sheet, and toss it over your sofa. Start smoothing, pushing and tucking the fabric around the piece. For a more secure fit, you can pin the fabric to the frame in inconspicuous spots. Use upholsterer's screw pins or large safety pins, if they can be hidden in the folds of the fabric.
* Love the look of ceramic tile but not the cost? With a small supply of tile you can create a ceramic chair rail, redo an old tabletop; edge a fireplace mantel or surround a door or window with a tile border.
Don't forget bits of tile as a creative but inexpensive decorating tool. Use them to design mosaics on most any flat surface, including tabletops and fireplace hearths. Don't overlook the opportunity to embellish a garden pot or an old box.
For bargain prices on broken tiles, check tile stores and home centers for "seconds." In addition, junk shops and garage sales abound with chipped pieces of china or other dishware. Just break them into usable pieces.