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Splurge or Save? Where to Invest at Home

Who doesn’t appreciate the finer things in life? But just because you can afford to buy the chandelier you’ve always dreamed of doesn’t mean you need to break the bank to light things up at home.

Before you redecorate in 2017, consider what interior designers Barry Dixon, Jennifer Jones, and Marcelle Guilbeau have to say about what items you should splurge on — and where you should save.


Whatever your budget, the sofas, love seats, and chairs you will use most often should definitely be splurges, says Virginia-based designer, Barry Dixon. “I’d rather have an expensive sofa with inexpensive fabric on it than vice versa. An inexpensive sofa will break down, and the expensive fabric will quickly wear because it’s not being supported,” he says. The designer recommends eight-way hand-tied springs, a hallmark of quality construction.

Not shopping big-box stores does have its rewards, says Jennifer Jones, principal designer of Niche Interiors in San Francisco. With higher-end brands, “custom upholstery offers more fabric and finish options so that you can design pieces down to the inch, ensuring they fit perfectly in your home.”

It’s OK, however, to save on upholstered furniture that won’t see too much use, the designers say.

Farrow & Ball The Fine Line


Since experts agree their biggest concern is off-gassing of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are harmful solvents released into the air as paint dries — aka that wet-paint smell — there’s no need to splurge, but expect to pay a little more — upward of $50 per gallon — for brands that tout their low-to-zero-VOC content.

Jones likes LEED-certified choices such as Benjamin-Moore’s low-VOC Aura and zero-VOC Natura lines), which run $70 per gallon and $57 per gallon, respectively. Dixon recommends Farrow & Ball as well as C2 Paint. He also has his own low-VOC collection of colors, called The Naturals, that cost $25 per gallon; they are inspired by hues the designer sees while on his Virginia farm (think: Pond Shimmer and Calf’s Snout).

Barry Dixon The Fine Line


Perhaps the most exciting to shop for — but the elements that vary the most regarding price points — are accents like mirrors and décor. But it’s important to think long and hard about acquiring decorative items that reflect your uniqueness rather than choosing something that’s mass produced. Flea markets seem to be the places to find real treasures that let your personality shine.

Dixon thinks every home should show off an antique or at least vintage mirror, he says. “But if you can’t afford an antique, then find a nice reproduction from the 1940s or 1950s at a flea market.”

Perhaps most indicative of your own taste and style is the inclusion of original artwork in your home. “Real art makes a home sing,” says the Tennessee-based Guilbeau, “and no one else in the world will have the piece you have.” She suggests looking for special pieces in consignment shops and galleries — and now and then Guilbeau confers with a professional art consultant to help grow and curate a client’s collection.

Niche Interiors The Fine Line


Sure, the bed gets most of the attention when creating a comfortable respite. But the mattress, says Dixon, is really where you should splurge. He recommends investing in a Sealy Posturepedic (upward of $600) or Beautyrest (upward of $800) mattress (“It’s what they use at the Hotel St. Regis,” he says). But before the sumptuous sheets go on, Dixon layers a Scandia Home down comforter atop the mattress itself, and then covers it with yet another down-filled mattress topper. “It’s like sleeping on a cloud,” Dixon says, “and you’ll be sandwiched in luxury.”

As for sheets? Aim for 400-thread-count Egyptian cotton — sateen finish in winter, percale for summer, Dixon says.

Marcelle Dining Room The Fine Line


Formal dining tables can really put a dent in your wallet, but if you have the space you need one — and a quality one at that — say our experts. A clever way to grab quality pieces is to shop estate sales or an online marketplace like 1stDibs, says Dixon.

But before taking the plunge, Dixon suggests doing some reconnaissance: Know your lines and recognize top-quality brand names, he says. Brands such as John Widdicomb, Lane Furniture, and Thayer Coggin are only a few of many good names to remember. “Flip the table and look under that chair,” Dixon says. “If you can get a Baker chair for $75, you can re-cover it in a nice Belgian linen and it’s still less expensive than buying from a retailer.”

Guilbeau and Dixon both love consignment shops, too. English & Company is a local Guilbeau favorite her clients check out regularly. “I’d rather buy a name-brand table at a consignment shop or estate sale than an off-brand one from a catalog or large showroom that there are 14 of in every town, Dixon says. “Who wants those? There’s nothing special there!”

Often, you’ll see antique and vintage dining tables and chairs sold as sets, but Dixon suggests buying them separately. “I don’t like brown tables with brown chairs,” he says. “It either looks Colonial or corporate.” If you can’t split the set, paint and upholstery do wonders in transforming boring chairs.

Ochre Chandelier The Fine Line


You’ll need to spend and splurge on lighting to develop a high-end look. Large fixtures, especially those guests see immediately upon entering your home, should be splurges.

“A chandelier in the foyer or a hanging pendant over the dining table — they have to be great,” Dixon says. Floor and table lamps, then, should be moderately to low priced. “People notice the grand pieces and presume everything is high-end. They then elevate lower-cost lighting,” he says. “Just choose well from low-price fixtures so that they’re not bringing the high-cost items down,” he cautions.

Not everything can be from stores such as Apparatus, Niermann Weeks, and Ochre, Dixon says. So if a $12,000 chandelier just isn’t in the budget, Dixon again suggests the antique route. “Find something that’s one-of-a-kind at the flea market. There, you’ll score a statement piece without spending as much.” The designer also frequents Arteriors and Visual Comfort for moderately priced options, as well as Rejuvenation for more affordable sconces and bathroom lighting.

Anthropology Glassware The Fine Line


Interior designers are must be masters at marrying the high with the low. While Ikea is a dirty word to some, shopping the Swedish giant for essentials like glassware and dishes does have its merits. Dixon also likes shopping for vintage and vintage-inspired glassware at flea markets, Anthropologie, and Crate & Barrel. “I switch out my old glasses with new, fresh versions every couple of years,” he says. “It’s fun to do.”


Wool was the go-to fiber for all of our experts, because of its durability and easy-to-clean properties. Jones estimates a good wool rug will set you back anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000.

Too rich for your blood? Guilbeau recommends wool-blend flat-weave rugs from Dash & Albert. “They’re very European looking, and there’s a pleasant, lived-in quality about them,” she says. Plus, “wool doesn’t nap the way that olefin- and polyester-fiber rugs will,” says Dixon. “Wool is the best and it lasts forever.”

Many people gravitate to sisal rugs due to their relative affordability and supposed durability. But even though sisal is beautiful, explains Dixon, “one spill of wine or one dog accident — and it’s all over. It’s uncleanable and untenable.” Instead, the designer prefers using sea grass. “It grows in water, so it repels it, unlike sisal, which absorbs it,” he says. Sea grass rugs can be smooth or braided and are even perfectly durable in offices, too. Dixon shops Merida for wool and sea grass rugs and The Rug Company for affordable, reversible cotton rugs, as well as runners.

Barry Dixon The Fine Line


Dixon says you can spend a lot less on side tables than a coffee table, especially if you’re looking for matching side tables, you’d have to splurge twice.

But a coffee tables is the workhorse of any living area — plus it sits right in the middle of a space. “People use coffee tables to prop up their feet and to eat pizza, and just generally abuse them,” Dixon says. “A side table, however, usually contains a lamp, the odd picture frame, and not much else.” Sure coffee tables come in a variety of materials — and you can basically use anything to configure one (think: four smaller tables, a steamer trunk, or a large ottoman outfitted with a tray) — just be sure that it’s 15 to 18 inches high, Dixon says, and that whatever its permutation, it’s designed to last.

Cowan Tout Window Treatments The Fine Line


Our experts agree that custom window treatments go a long way in making your home look stylish and refined. “Window treatments that are tailored to your space — and measured perfectly — make a huge impact,” says Jones. Her go-to styles? Flat-fold Roman shades and Parisian pleat drapery panels. In addition to farming custom work out to a local drapery workroom, Jones always hires a pro for the final installation.

But, according to Guilbeau, you can hang off-the-shelf drapes in places like guest bedrooms and smaller rooms with ceiling heights of up to 8 feet. She suggests layering a window with pairs of solid and sheer drapes and using off-the-rack hardware, estimating a cost of about $800 per window — a far cry from custom treatments.

Photos: Courtesy of Niche Interiors; courtesy of Farrow & Ball; Gibbs Smith : Edward Addeo for Barry Dixon Interiors; courtesy of Niche Interiors; courtesy of Marcelle Guilbeau Interior Design; courtesy of Ochre; courtesy of Anthropologie; courtesy of Merida; Gibbs Smith : Edward Addeo for Barry Dixon Interiors; courtesy of Cowtan & Tout

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