Most people walk by a discarded wooden wine crate and see a discarded wooden wine crate. Sabrina Soto, host of HGTV’s “The High Low Project,” sees an ottoman, an end table, a bookcase or a planter.
Soto not only shares my cheap reputation, but also, like me, deserves it. We blame our mothers, who were probably clones. They shared the world view: You can always get it cheaper. And they passed it on.
“Whatever my mom saw in a store,” Soto said, “she always said she could make it or find it somewhere else for less.”
“Wait, that’s what my mom said!”
And so, somewhere along the way, bargain hunting became a sport for us, and in Soto’s case, a TV show.
For each episode of “The High Low Project,” Soto meets with everyday clients in their everyday homes and works with their everyday budgets. She gets them to share their vision for their makeover room – if money were no object. (I want to play!) With that inspiration, she creates a high-end room, usually to the tune of $30,000 to $40,000.
They fall in love with it, of course. But the room is just a tease. All that expensive furniture goes back to the store. Soto then re-creates the room for about one-tenth the price. Who wouldn’t be riveted?
“Most people want a high-end look, but can’t afford $500 for a throw pillow,” she said. “By the end of the episode,” and she has now completed 37, “I show the couple and America it’s a look they can afford.”
Homeowners can get any look – modern, traditional, vintage – for a lot less, she insists. However, she admits, “It’s not as easy as we make it look in 22 minutes of programming. We have plenty of oh (darn) moments.” Here are some of Soto’s secrets:
Have patience: Home decorators overspend when they rush to design a room, often, say, just before the holidays because the in-laws are coming, Soto said. Take time to hunt items out, and don’t buy in a hurry.
Look for new uses for common items: Next time you seen an old birdcage, imagine a cool chandelier. Likewise, when you find an ugly glass table at a thrift store, buy it for the glass, which is often worth more. Put the glass on a new base. Look twice at ugly lamps. Many can be transformed with a new shade. Buy bad art if it has a cool frame.
Read the reviews: When buying a product online, read all the customer comments. “When I’ve made a mistake or been disappointed in an online purchase, I often find the warning was in a review,” she said. “Right there, it will say, color not as it appears! Now I religiously read them.”
Find additional discounts: Before you click ahead to the online checkout, Google the store name and search for promo-coded discounts. Soto often stumbles on money-off coupons or free shipping offers. “Shipping costs are a huge deal. They can blow a budget.”
Search for qualities: When searching for low-cost alternatives to high-end looks, don’t search for the item by store name. Instead of searching Restoration Hardware Tufted Headboard, search for tufted headboards with bronze nail heads. “You may find one that has the same character, only it’s covered in microfiber, not Belgian linen, and it costs a lot less. Also try searching by manufacturer, not store, and see if the item shows up elsewhere for less.”
Only make what you can’t find or afford: When she can’t find ready-to-go deals locally, she shops online. If she still can’t find what she wants, then she gets crafty.
Worst corners to cut: Spend real money on upholstered items that look and feel good, said Soto, who doesn’t like to buy upholstered items used, unless they were very gently used.
Best corners to cut: Wood furniture. “The most awful-looking pieces can be sanded down and painted.” She talked a pregnant friend out of buying a vintage wood dresser for her nursery that cost more than $1,000. Instead, she suggested buying an unfinished dresser and painting it like the dresser she wanted. They added vintage knobs from Anthropologie, “which we spent a little money on,” and it looked gorgeous – for $125.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). marnijameson.com.