The credit crunch is really beginning to squeeze now, and many of us have spent all our money just getting on to the housing ladder, or are stuck in a slightly dilapidated house we can't afford to decorate. But your house need not be a carbon copy of Ikea, or kitted out solely from a charity shop. In the spirit of thriftiness, some of Britain's top designers and interiors experts share their tips for decorating on a budget.
If you have an old sofa that has gone manky, buy a throw from somewhere fabulous like The White Company (0870 900 9555; www.thewhitecompany.com) and sling it over the back, tucking it in slightly behind the cushions to make it look like you meant it to be there. Also, you don't just have to use pictures of your family on the walls. Go to a photo library (such as www.istockphoto.com) and choose a series of pictures – grasses, shells, ferns, anything you like – and print off lots of them. Hang, say, six across and three deep, or four rows of two – be bold. Use plain frames and hang them so close they are almost touching. That will make a real statement.
Emily Todhunter: www.todhunterearle.com
Owner of Couverture
It's great if you can sew – invest in a sewing machine, source vintage fabric and turn it into floor cushions or poufs. You can also make your own duvet covers. I once made some curtains out of old linen sheets with thread-worked borders. Use vintage wallpaper to cover small areas (try www.vintagewallpaperonline.com). Painting makes for dramatic change – floorboards, basic wooden furniture, even a border in a darker shade if you can't afford a skirting. Or recycle wooden wine crates (ask your local wine merchant) and stack them to create shelving. Collections of similar things look great – inexpensive pieces en masse (eg ceramic jelly moulds).
Couverture: 020-7229 2178; www.couverture.co.uk
Get the shell of the room right, then add to it later when you have more money. A rug makes a room: you can get lovely funky designs from Ikea and Habitat that don't cost much. (Indian rugs are beautiful too, but don't buy a new one that is pretending to be old.) Keep it simple. You don't need pelmets on the curtains. You will always look good in a beautiful dress – it doesn't need an amazing necklace as well. Start off with the thing that you love best and work around that. When I lived in a shared room in New York, I made it my own by adding throws I loved – perhaps a piece of Indian material or my own candles. It's the little touches that make the difference once you have the basic structure right.
Allegra Hicks: 020-7235 8989; www.allegrahicks.com
Managing director, The Holding Company
Antique markets in small towns can be a haven for bargains. Use your local auction rooms, and do buy on eBay – especially for branded items. Don't spend too much on fitted items – you can't take them with you. If you can't afford new kitchen cupboards, try using open chrome shelving, which is very stylish. Fill them with baskets and hang pots and pans below on old meat hooks. Clothes storage is a perennial problem, but in my first flat I knocked 16 nails into a piece of wood and fixed it to the wall as a tie rack. I had winter jumpers in plastic boxes under the bed and shoes in old cardboard boxes with pictures on the front.
The Holding Company: 020-8445 2888; www.theholdingcompany.co.uk
Managing and design director, The Paint and Paper Library
Paint is an inexpensive way to make an impact, and it's also the only thing people tend to remember when they leave. Choose colours that you like to wear. In Georgian times, society hostesses would paint their rooms to match their eyes. Pay close attention to areas where the hand and eye are naturally drawn: door handles, cutlery, banisters or taps. Or add a splash of vibrant colour to the inside of the cupboards. These are the bits that people will remember even if the rest of the room is rather dull and neglected. Years ago, I had a hideous brick wall that I covered in hessian for about £18. Buy the cheapest fabric you can, then get a sofa cover made by the best upholsterer you can afford, and decorate with a bit of ribbon. Spend the money on the people doing the work.
The Paint and Paper Library: www.paintlibrary.co.uk
Make sure the fixtures and fittings are the best you can afford. Details like radiators and light fittings make all the difference; wooden flooring need not be expensive. Plain walls and curtains can create a low-cost blank canvas, and you can add impact slowly with cushions and lamps.
Neisha Crosland: 020-7584 7988; www.neishacrosland.com
Vice-principal, Inchbald School of Design
Budget for a few key pieces, then combine with more economic elements. Keeping lighting consistent will look considered no matter what the cost of the shade. High-quality wallpaper combined with a simple wash taken from a colour within the paper can look effective. Make dress drapes in something luxurious with a plainer, more budget-conscious draw curtain. Frame all your pictures the same size regardless of the size of the artwork and group together in the same frames. Buy cheap wardrobe doors and drop in glass panels and paint with high lacquer for a smarter look.