Howse designers Kathy McCray and Janice Argo Cranford.

Janice Cranford and Kathy McCray, head interior designers at Howse, give their insider tips for creating an enviable living space without breaking the bank.

It doesn’t all need to be designer

Kathy: I encourage scouring flea markets and some farmers’ markets for fabulous pottery, metal works, blown glass bowls ... These items add interest and personal style to your home.

Janice: Lamps, pillows and art — things that are more easily replaceable or interchangeable — you can spend less on. You don’t want to have to change out a $400 pillow in the spring.

Unique touches you can add yourself

Kathy: Definitely paint the legs of the antique table your grandmother passed down to you, while keeping the integrity of the wooden top. Bring organic pieces into your space. A piece of driftwood that you pick up at the beach on vacation is a good example. Turn an old set of shutters into a headboard. Use old closet doors for hanging jewelry. If you have your grandmother’s old chair, lacquer it and reupholster it. Lacquer paint works wonders. The biggest mistake people make is trying to hang on to too much stuff. Pay it forward, give your couch or chair to a family in need. You can feel good about giving it away, knowing someone can really use it.

Where to start when designing a room

Janice: I suggest you start with a sofa. It’s probably the largest piece in your living area. Then you can pick colors, rug and accent pieces around the sofa. If the couch has a silver base, you want to have silver accents, for example. If you pick big pieces first for each room, it’s easier to pull it all together.

Pieces to invest in

Kathy: A good sofa and a fabulous bed, mattress and box springs. These are the main two investment pieces.

Janice: Invest the most in the room you spend the most time in; you want it to be the most comfortable. Make sure the structure of the sofa is good, that it will last. Also, ask about a warranty.

Why use an interior designer, and when?

Janice: Most people know what they like, but sometimes they have a hard time visualizing it, putting it all together. They have good taste, but they don’t know where to start. Or they might not have time. If you start with a plain couch, then add a couple of pillows and a rug to dress it up, people often see it and say, why didn’t I think of that? If you order anything custom (as opposed to off the floor), it takes about eight weeks. If you know you’re moving in two months, it’s time to consult an interior designer. Or if you’re going to be buying lighting or choosing paint colors, maybe sooner.

How to stay within budget

Janice: Kathy and I like to draw up a whole, complete plan first, even if it’s just for one room. Work in stages as you can afford to. If you stick to the plan, you’ll always have a better look. If I know a client has a strict budget, I won’t use it all on the sofa. I’ll spread it out a little more. You can always add things later.


Howse offers free design services. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Customers can call for an appointment or just come in during business hours.