As someone who loves design, one of my favorite sources of inspiration are designer showhouses. The thing is, attempting to recreate a showhouse room is usually far out of reach for us mere mortals. It’s not uncommon for some of the top showhouses to have rooms with furnishings valued well over $100k. Furniture, artwork, rugs and wallpapers are often loaned or given to the designer to use for the duration of the show. However, if you have a keen eye, there are loads of affordable decorating ideas to steal from showhouses.

1. Have fun with paint

Paint is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to transform a space. Using paint in new and creative ways can add personality and make your space truly unique. In this Junior League showhouse, the designers used magenta and black paint to create a BOLD statement in the entrance.

When we moved into our new condo, I planned on painting a stair runner on the stairs leading to our basement. We had already over spent on a runner going upstairs to the bedrooms so I thought it would be a good way to save some money. Unfortunately, we quickly realized our dog needed carpet or we would risk him falling down the stairs. I still love this idea though.

Magenta entrance and staircase

design by Anu Shah and Laura Custodie

If you like the idea of a wallpaper mural but it’s not in the budget, why not try your hand at painting the wall yourself. If that seems like too big of an undertaking then hire a local artist to paint something for you. Unlike a wallpaper mural, it’s easy enough to paint over when you tire of it or simply are ready for a change.

painted accent wall

In this Holiday House showhouse bedroom, the designer did a very creative job with paint. Rather than extend the blue accent wall all the way to the ceiling, they chose to paint only 2/3rds of the way up the wall. This visually brings the ceiling height down to a more pleasing scale as well as acts as the artwork. It looks like the blue paint was first applied as a color block and then a wash was applied to give it a more organic look and feel.

blue accent wall in bedroom

2. Always consider the ceiling

News flash for any of you who are not aware but “ceiling white” painted ceilings are soooo old school. I don’t think I have ever been to a showhouse where the ceiling was not as carefully considered as the walls and floors. Ceilings at showhouses are often painted a “color” but even if they are painted white, it is a carefully chosen white and not default ceiling white.

The latest trend with ceilings though is wallpaper. This is obviously a more pricey option but if you have some DIY skills, a wallpapered ceiling is a fabulous way to make a statement. I fell in love with this strip of blue and white wallpaper in the bathroom at a recent Hamptons Showhouse. Those hot pink drapes blew me away as well.

wallpaper ceiling in bathroom

Today there are dozens of removable wallpaper options so it doesn’t have to be a permanent design choice. I’m currently helping a client source removable wallpaper and here are a few online sources to check out if your interested.  Tempaper, Chasing paper , Spoonflower

I think one of the most beautiful ceilings I’ve seen recently is the Cole and Son wallpaper that Corey Damen Jenkins used in his office at the Kips Bay Showhouse.

cole and sons wallper

3. Jazz up ready made panels with embellishments

This next affordable decorating Ideas to steal from showhouses is one of my favorites. I think most assume there are two choices for drapery, either pricey custom made, or inexpensive ready made. To create a custom look without breaking the bank, buy ready made drapes and embellish them. This gives you the designer look without the designer price. These drapes below are obviously all custom but it’s the embellishments that elevate them.

I’ve seen drapery panels on sale for under $20.00. A designer tip is to buy two panels for each side of your window. This will give you the custom look of nice wide panels. Then, look for tape, pompoms, ribbon, or anything that you can glue or sew on the edge to create your own custom look.

patterned drapes with decorative trim

Mark Sikes design

Designer Mark Sikes displayed striking drapery panels at the Coastal Living Idea house a few years back. Every drapery panel had an embellishment on the leading edge.

trim on buffalo check drapery


At a recent Kips Bay showhouse, the designer of this room not only used embellishments on the drapery but covered up the standard white tape on the blinds with a more attractive Greek Key tape. I had never seen that done before and love the idea. Ever since, I have been keeping my eyes open for big sales on tape or trim.

tape and trim on blinds and drape

Affordable denim trimmed with a funky rope like trim was the perfect drapery for this coastal master bedroom.

denim drapes with rope trim

If you want to see more fabulous window treatments from other showhouses you can read this post on “A master class on window treatments from three showhouses”

4. Add something unexpected

The last thing you want is a room that looks all matchy matchy. Most show house rooms have at least one unexpected element. It might be a one of a kind odd ball chair or an antique oriental carpet on the floor of an contemporary industrial loft.  This room had a statement light that was as much sculpture as lighting.

Modern floor lamp

This Holiday House kitchen had an unexpected surprise. A swing in the kitchen!  Why not? The idea to steal here is don’t take decorating too seriously. Have fun and incorporate items that you love even if they are unconventional.

Blue leather swing in kitchen

Another unexpected item I saw in a showhouse was a wasp nest hanging from the ceiling. I spotted it in the corner of what must have been a 14 foot ceiling. It was placed exactly where a wasp nest might be found. The fact that it was gilded with gold was such an unexpected surprise.

gold dipped wasp nest

A cautionary note to not try and DIY this. I happened to own a fabulous huge wasp nest at the time I visited this showhouse. As soon as I returned home I bought a can of high gloss gold spray paint. Five minutes into my DIY “gilding” project my nest dissolved and was completely ruined. I was heartbroken.

5. Go ahead and cover those walls with art

In my experience, what to buy and where to place artwork is one of the biggest challenges my clients struggle with. First of all, art does not have to be expensive. If your budget is limited, visit flea markets, have your kids create something or frame pages from an old book or calendar. Art work can act as your rooms focal point if it doesn’t have any interesting architectural features. A carefully curated gallery wall is one option but I have seen many showhouse rooms where art is hung all the way to the ceiling.

So don’t be afraid to cover those walls because sometimes more is the way to go. In the living room below, the artwork even has artwork hanging from it.

Gallery wall

6. Mix high with low

My favorite showhouse room to date was this sitting room designed by Alexa Hampton for the 2014 Kips Bay showhouse. The room was beautifully designed with impeccable furnishings of the highest quality. Hanging from the ceiling were three colorful $2 paper lanterns. I have had the privilege of meeting Alexa on several occasions. She is hilariously funny and in spite of her pedigree, very down to earth. I heard her interviewed about her room and she said the room felt too “stuffy” so at the last minute she ran to buy the lanterns. It was a brilliant idea and her room was the talk of the show.

I think it’s easy to get too hung up when decorating thinking everything needs to be perfect and everything needs to “go together”. Keep in mind that the best design is a room that truly reflects the people who live there. Don’t be afraid to step out of the decorating box and place that $5 yard sale lamp on your great grandfather’s antique mahogany desk.

Alexa hampton Kips Bay 2014

This Kips Bay outside wall brick had several affordable decorating ideas to steal. Notice that the white painted brick does not extend to the ceiling. By NOT painting all that mess near the ceiling the eye stays focused on the decorative elements on the white wall below.

outside patio wall decor

The second affordable decorating idea is the black and white painted cement floor. It looks just like a rug but only a fraction of the cost. Lastly, inexpensive plate chargers and plastic plates were used to create an outside wall art installation. A showhouse insider told me both the plates and chargers came from the dollar store. Those rope balls though? Probably hundreds of dollars each.

When you mix high end items with low end ones it makes for a more richly layered room. You don’t want your room to feel like a museum with all high end furnishings but a room full of cheap junk is just as unappealing.

7. Add something living

The one thing that every single show house room has in common is something living. It might be a white orchid, fresh flowers or a lush green plant. A live plant or fresh flowers adds a positive vibe and energy to any space. After thirty years of rarely buying flowers for my home thinking it was a needless expense, I finally started buying flowers when we moved into our new condo. Every Saturday when I grocery shop I buy fresh flowers. It has almost changed my life. The $10-$15 dollars I spend on flowers each week has brought me more joy than I can measure.

I don’t have a room in our small condo where window boxes filled with plants would be practical but if I did, I would steal this idea.

living plant wall

Design by Paige Lewin and Ana Bonilla

With the pandemic still going on I don’t know when I’ll be visiting a show house again. It makes me sad but also gives me something to look forward to when they do start up again.

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7 affordable decorating ideas to steal from show houses





Linda Holt | Interior Designer & iPhone Coach

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