Built-in storage and good sofas are must-haves in a decorating budget
Experts say built-in storage should not be overlooked, especially in small flats, and neither should one skimp on sofas, lighting or mattresses
Household budgets are almost always finite - the line-up of brands and vendors vying for our decorating dollar is not. When to spend, and when to save: that is the question.
Alex Sheldon, a home stylist, is routinely called in to "rescue" flats that are usually rented, often for short-term postings, and almost always considerably smaller than the occupants would like.
Her first piece of advice is: don't skimp on storage. "A cluttered home is a cluttered mind, as well as making your space appear smaller than it is," says Sheldon, the founder of The Home Stylist.
Even if renting, don't overlook built-in storage, she suggests - with the landlord's permission, of course - because custom-built cabinetry is cheap in Hong Kong, and can turn an otherwise useless nook or corner into something functional.
Think storage, too, when buying furniture - an ottoman with a lift-up lid, for instance, or a child's bed with a large trundle drawer. In her home office, Sheldon uses a retro Danish sideboard as a filing cabinet - it looks good, whilst keeping paperwork neatly tucked away.
She would also invest in lighting - layers of general, task and accent lighting - which is "incredibly important" to create the right atmosphere in a home.
"Make statements with your art," she adds. "They don't need to be expensive pieces but have them framed and hung well. This can also help define your space."
"Have them lined properly - I recommend triple lining - and make them voluptuous. Don't go with one little valance at the top - do a goblet, or three pleats: it's luxury you want to cosy up your house," Sheldon says.
And have them made in Hong Kong, she adds, so a decade or more of curtain life can be counted on. (Sheldon wouldn't touch cheap, Shenzhen-made drapery - "it won't last", she warns).
It is the same with sofas, which Sheldon always commissions in Hong Kong. "It's important to be able to go and check what they look like halfway through - is the arm high enough, do we need to add more down?" she says.
Because one's home should be a sanctuary, she would also invest in a few bedroom and bathroom luxuries - "really good-quality towels and fabulous sheets" - which Robin Beaumont, the director of Sleep Naked, an online Manchester store, argues is a wise investment.
High-quality cotton sheets help regulate body temperature during sleep due to the material's inherent breathability, he says.
However, Beaumont asserts that higher thread count, which usually costs more, is not necessarily better. "Bed linens ideally between 300 and 400 thread counts have a desirable weight and feel and are durable enough to last through multiple machine washes without pilling," he says. "When you start getting up to thread counts of 600-plus, the fabric becomes thick and dense, which makes it less breathable and also less durable."
Marco Hui Yiu-ming, the founder of Soul Design Group, would spend on mood enhancers: a fireplace, for example, can "upgrade the space" by bringing a cosy feeling as well as a visual focal point. He would also add stylish ceiling fans, again because these can be a design accent, while providing more natural ventilation.
Designer Monique McLintock always opts for the comfort factor. High-quality sofas, dining chairs and mattresses are her non-negotiables. "These are three things people always tend to skimp on, yet it's where they spend the majority of their time," says McLintock, the founder of McLintock Wong Interiors.
Whilst plastic and metal chairs may seem like a trendy way to save money, after an hour you will find dinner guests fidgeting as these chairs are not the most comfortable option when it comes long-term seating. Nothing can beat a quality, well-designed, upholstered chair.
Similarly, McLintock urges her clients to go and sit on an expensive sofa, then try a cheaper one, to feel the difference. "Don't skimp on your sofa," she pleads. "Many people get foam instead of feather - foam is a lot cheaper, but there's nothing like a sofa you can literally sink into."
Splurge on a good mattress too, such as those from Okooko - your back will thank you, she adds.