How to make your home look expensive on a budget

Kitchen with engineered white stone

Tianna Nadalin

Posted March 02, 2021


Give your house a high-end makeover with these inexpensive interior design hacks.

Dreaming of a home that looks like something out a magazine? You don’t have to spend a fortune to give your house a luxury feel.  

Whether you’re building a new abode or renovating an old one, all it takes is a few simple tricks to give your home an expensive aesthetic, without the price tag to match, says interior designer Ania Forster, one half of design studio Zephyr & Stone.  

From updating your hardware and upgrading your window dressings to fabulous faux finishes and seamless colour schemes, here are 13 clever design hacks to make your home look high-end on a budget. 


13 tricks to make your home look more expensive

Keep it consistent 

Have you ever noticed how, in high-end designs, spaces have a seamless flow? “The biggest way to really create that designer look is to make sure you use a consistent colour scheme so that rooms don’t feel disjointed,” Ania says. “Choosing a colour scheme and then repeating it from one room to the next connects spaces and makes the house feel finished and put together.” For example, if you have feature timber panelling upstairs, make sure you use it downstairs, too. “This helps to keep everything in balance.”  

Fake it ’til you make it 

When it comes to designer style, stone benchtops and bathroom vanities are a recurring feature in luxe homes. But natural stone or marble is usually expensive and, in many cases, can be quite porous, so it’s not always the most practical option for high-use areas. To get the stone look for less, Ania suggests shopping around for engineered alternatives that are, in many instances, not only more affordable, but also more hard-wearing and stain resistant.  

Engineered surfaces – such as Caesarstone, Silestone and Dekton – mimic natural stone but are made from a combination of compressed quartz, glass or shells held together with a resin or silicone bonding agent. Many engineered options are barely distinguishable from their natural counterparts, but tend to be much more hard wearing, which means they are less likely to need replacing due to cracks, chips or heat damage. The downside? While they tend to be lower maintenance, at the premium end of the spectrum, engineered options can be similar in price to natural stone. 

For an even more economical countertop alternative, Ania says not to rule out laminate. “Laminates are so good now and there is still a place for veneers. It’s a really good way to reduce the cost in a kitchen or the home.” More: Nine sustainable kitchen renovation ideas.

Shop strategically 

One of the biggest mistakes people make when styling their homes, Ania says, is impulse shopping. “Have a checklist of what you need,” she advises. “Don’t just go out and buy something because you like it and then get home and realise you have nowhere to put it. The trick is choosing pieces for a space rather than choosing pieces and then finding spaces to put them in.” 

Importantly, she says not everything has to be expensive. “You might splash out on a dining table that you really love, then spend a bit less on chairs,” she says. “It’s all about finding the right piece for your space because your home should be somewhere you can feel comfortable and relaxed.” 

Soaring ceilings

Just because you don’t have three-metre ceilings, doesn’t mean you can’t create the illusion of lofty heights. Hanging full-length curtains from the ceiling will draw the eyes up and make your ceilings look higher. Opt for long, flowing drapes to create an elegant look, and go for sheers to give a soft light. More: How to make small spaces look bigger.

Ceiling-to-floor curtains will give the illusion of added height. Photo: Getty
Shop strategically and choose pieces for a space. Photo: Getty

Declutter 

There’s nothing like clutter and mess to detract from a luxe aesthetic. Ania says you can give your home a high-end treatment – and make your spaces feel bigger – by editing your stuff. “Decluttering is vital for having a designer-look home.” 

Accent pieces and statement accessories are a great way to add form or colour but be careful not to overdo it, Ania warns. “Less is more. Don’t have too many pieces in a space.” 

Keeping your possessions pared back is a simple way to elevate your interiors without spending a cent. For more help on minimising your stuff, check out our guide to the art of decluttering.     

Think big

Small spaces don’t necessarily have to mean small furniture. “Larger pieces in a smaller room can actually make the room look bigger,” Ania says. “Sometimes having one big couch and a statement coffee table is better than having multiple smaller pieces, which can make the room feel cluttered and busy.” 

Repaint the walls

Home feeling a little tired and lacklustre? A fresh coat of paint is one of the easiest ways to transform your interiors – and it’s an easy DIY project to tackle over a weekend. Ania says whites and neutrals are always a safe bet, but that you shouldn’t be afraid to play around with soft colour.  

“Make spaces look bigger by using white or really light colours,” she advises. “Or, if you like colour, opt for dull hues such as sage or terracotta. Try to keep the bold colour for artwork and accessories.” 

And if you have dated brick feature walls or timber panelling, paint those, too. This way you get to keep the texture and character while adding a contemporary edge. 

Here, RACV’s Handy Andy shows you how to paint a wall, plus check out these expert tips for choosing the right white for your home

Add art

When it comes to wall art, Ania says the rule to remember is: go big or go home. Hanging a large-scale art piece helps to create a focal point in a room. If you can’t afford an original work, there are many online sites offering custom prints for a fraction of the cost. 

Add a beautiful timber or a sleek metal frame et voila. Keep an eye on local op shops or markets for pre-loved pieces, or unleash your inner artist and try your hand at creating your own extremely personalised works. Plus, check out our guide to investing in artwork.

Let there be light

Natural lighting is one of the hallmarks of high-end home design as it has the power to completely change the mood of a room. If your home isn’t awash with natural light, opt for soft, warm lighting that will create an inviting glow instead of harsh, fluorescent bulbs. Updating tired lampshades and light fittings is another easy way to give any room an instant lift. 

Capitalise on natural light where possible. Photo: Getty
Updating tapware and door handles can lift a space. Photo: Unsplash

Give it some character  

Architectural details are another easy and effective way to make a home look more expensive. Use strip moulding (also known as picture framing) to embellish ceilings or walls; create a focal point around light fixtures with decorative plaster or PVC ceiling medallions painted in your preferred hue; or add Hamptons vibes with painted timber panelling on walls or ceilings. 

Upgrade your hardware

Kitchen and bathroom makeovers can be expensive. But you can give the hardest-working rooms in the house an instant lift by replacing dated tapware, handles and doorknobs. 

Hang your TV

Looking to maximise your space? Hanging your TV on the wall is a quick win when it comes to making a room feel bigger. “If you can’t hide the cords in the wall – there are gadgets that hold them all together to help create an effortlessly organised feel,” says Ania. 

But be sure to check first that the wall can handle the weight and don’t forget to measure the space to make sure your screen is at the right height for optimum viewing.

Paper walls

Wallpaper is another easy way to create an upscale look on a budget, but be careful not to overdo it. Start with a small space – such as a powder room or bedroom. Peel-and-stick wallpapers are a cost-effective alternative to traditional varieties, making them a quick and hip-pocket-friendly way to up the luxe factor. 


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