No skills required - Decor cheats for the untalented

People think I have artistic talent.

I don't now how they came by that idea... I am a total fraud really. I would never call myself an artist but I do have patience and I'm nothing if not cheap. When it comes to decor, I believe that all the money in the world can't buy good taste, and you don't need lots of money to make your place look amazing. I have a good eye and I am able to visualise the end result, and that helps.

Most of all, I am willing to have a crack at anything and that's really all you need to succeed.


  • Your best friends are a tape measure, glue gun, spray paint and wine

  • Just about anything looks great when painted gold or silver (even your ex-boyfriend)

  • More is more. Always group objects. Solitary objects look sad & lost

  • Think BIG and fill that space to the max!

  • Be precise, neat and meticulous. Measure twice, cut once

  • Research and appropriate others' ideas! Sites like Pinterest, Etsy and Houzz are priceless for inspiration


STENCILS - fake it till you make it!

OK, the secret is out - stencils are one of my favourite (and cheapest) cheats. Stencils are cut out pieces of plastic that you paint over with a roller, no skill required. You can re-use them if you wash them carefully. They come in a million designs, and you can use them on walls, furniture & floors, textiles such as cushions & table-cloths, and slow-moving teenagers.

My favourite stencil market-place is Cutting Edge Stencils. Most stencils are available in a variety of sizes, and the site has pics & how-to videos for inspiration. Some stencils are complex and may require lots of experience and practice, but most of them are pretty easy. Stencils can be a bit pricey but bear in mind that you can re-use them a few times if you look after them. Postage from the USA is expensive so I usually order several at a time. It would also be a great idea to get together with local friends and place a bulk order, and even swap stencils between you.

WARNING: Stencils are addictive and you will be tempted to cover every available surface, but don't overdo it. 2 or 3 well thought-out pieces in unrelated spaces is all you want. Either that, or go nuts and turn your place into a museum for folk-art enthusiasts!

This stencil looks elaborate but is actually just a vertically stacked repeat of the same 75cm high template, staggered to different heights. It has a 3-dimensional look at night with low lighting, like an enchanted forest. Sometimes when I close my eyes, I can hear Hansel & Gretel. Spooky... This stencil cost me about $45 + about $5 worth of paint, and took one afternoon to do.

Using different colours or layering the image can give depth and a totally different look. You can paint stencils directly onto walls, or onto canvases so you can move them around. Don't be afraid - it's only paint. Worst case, if you make a mistake or regret it, just paint over it! The possibilities are endless. The pic below is of my long boring laundry wall. The space is too narrow for any kind of wall art that might be knocked as you walk past, but a stencil is perfect for that spot. I layered the image, painting the first in a pale grey to look like a shadow. The top imprint is mainly black, with blooms highlighted in hot pink, burnt orange & gold. Stencil cost about $40 but I have used it several times so have really got my money's worth from that one. This took me a couple of hours, mainly because I had to let paint dry between imprints.


CANVASES - every picture paints a story

A common decorating challenge is rented apartments and I am always trying to come up with solutions that won't create permanent damage to walls. Using canvases is a favourite trick and when you team it with a stencilled design, you have an easy, lightweight, cheap solution that can really pack a visual punch. Even the biggest are light enough to hang on a stick-on hook.

I buy ready-made canvasses from $2 shops - the largest sizes cost around $30 or so (I always go for big ones to really fill that blank wall). Then I give them a coat of paint to prep them (whatever colour I want the background to be) and then apply a stencil or whatever design I fancy.

Another favourite trick of mine is to find an existing - usually hideous - canvas, and over-paint it. You can find plenty of these in op shops: ugly duckling unloved paintings and/or cheap prints on canvas. A thick coating of guache paint will erase all trace of the abomination beneath, ready for you to rebirth it as a stunning creation of your own. Don't worry if the paint beneath is a bit lumpy - a bit of texture is exactly what you want. Just make sure you are not painting over a Rembrandt!

Here's one that is hanging in my own living room. It was an over-painted canvas, so cost me about $5 (not counting the stencil) and took me about 15 minutes to create (not counting drying time of the paint).

This bedroom (below) was as boring as anything and needed something above the bed. I bought a new canvas (1200 x 1000mm) for $32, re-used a stencil (can you pick it from this page?) and made some stunning cushions in a complimentary fabric. Easy peasey & cheap as chips.



No, I'm not talking about your grandma's cleavage... I'm talking about the abundance of natural materials that Mother Nature provides for free.

One of my favourite activities is foraging for windfalls on nature walks. On a recent walk with my daughter we stumbled upon these incredibly sculptural seed pods. Sprayed silver & gold, they have now been repurposed as fascinating ballast in a vase of dried spinning gum. Pine cones are also a classic - a pile of them spray-painted gold in a basket are amazing at Christmas, or in an empty fireplace.

Dried branches & leaves are fabulous too. Once dried, you can either leave them au naturelle or spray paint silver or gold and they will look great forever and never need watering. Perfect for short stay apartments! Look out for really sculptural plants such as Spinning Gum, Tortured Willow & Curly Ben. Put into a cheap cylindrical vase, weigh down with pebbles or other ballast to prevent tipping and voila! Make it a nice big arrangement to fill a corner or place on a buffet.

Speaking of sea-shells, they are priceless as decor. You can send the kids out on a foraging mission on your next beach holiday, or buy a bagful from Bunnings for $7 if you are in a hurry. Best of all are scallop shells for their iconic shape, and because you have to eat them first (all in the name of your DIY project of course!). Tip: They are delicious grilled on the BBQ with lime butter, and we should try to rid the world of them :)

Go nuts with the spray paint, and don't worry if the shells are broken or less than perfect. Display larger ones on bathroom shelves, put smaller ones in decorative jars or small dishes, frame them in deep profile picture-frames (you can get these from Ikea), dangle them from your dried arrangements. There are more uses for shells than fish in the sea!


OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS for the cheap & cheerful

One of my favourite hacks is to scour thrift stores & op shops for eye-catching garments & shoes. I have picked up some truly crazy shoes (think massive platforms, glitter-encrusted, impossible teetering heels) for next to nothing. In a book-case or on a bedside table, they are a great conversation-starter.

I found a stunning red satin ball-gown for $6 and hung it on the wall with a big plastic flower as a "head".

I then got carried away and attached some black satin gloves & shoes, but removed them when my guests complained that the arrangement creeped them out at night!

My favourite part of the story is being at the op shop check-out with my size 6 ball-gown and size 6 sequinned shoes, and the look of disbelief on the face of the cashier as she looked me up and down. My healthy German figure clearly did not correspond to the garments I was buying!



Another treasure to be found at $2 shops are plastic flowers. Yes, I know what you are thinking - how hideous! But no matter how awful those flowers are, they will look amazing if you do this:

  1. Find a pre-loved old canvas.

  2. Stick the flowers down with your trusty glue-gun,

  3. Blast the whole lot with white spray paint!

It's fine if the colour of the flowers shows through a bit (say if all the flowers were originally pink) as it gives the piece an interesting blush.

Here's one I prepare earlier. I didn't actually paint the flowers on this one - I only painted the old canvas first. It was very lumpy from the old paint but that didn't matter at all. I found lots of different plastic flowers all in shades of white & cream with a bit of greenery and stuck them on. Again, a light-weight result that sits happily on a stick-on hook. This cost about $25 for the flowers, and I re-used an old canvas.



This is one of my favourite hacks, and you can see examples of this at nearly every property I have ever styled!

It's also one of the cheapest and easiest things you can do to add a quirky touch to any outdoor area.

I picked up the original idea from a Pinterest post, but they had made one it with a live plant - what were they thinking? Naturally it needed watering and that meant it was doomed from the start at my place. I have come up with a much more hosting-friendly version, guaranteed to thrive on neglect.

For instructions on how to make this Ball of Brilliance, go to my DIY Hack! Total cost: $13 per 30cm ball


WASHI TAPE - from Japan, the global home of cute

Once you discover Japanese Washi Tape you may never be the same again. You will be tempted to plaster every static object with it, and who could blame you? It comes in literally thousands of colours and designs, it's cheap, it is like a user-friendly sticky-tape and it peels off without a trace when you get sick of it - perfect for apartment-dwellers. Sites like Pinterest are full of thousands of application ideas, and it is readily available in stores like Officeworks, Spotlight and of course online. What's not to love? You must google this immediately!

This is my study wall. This project was an exercise in measurement and precision. For the best result it was essential that I measured & marked it up before I started. I made a 40cm square cardboard template which I used throughout. I also used a level and plumb-bob to ensure that the lines were straight. With a very geometric design such as this, any skewed lines would be painfully evident. It was important to centre the design evenly vertically between ceiling & skirting board, and also horizontally so that there would be no cut-off diamond motifs at the wall or door-frame. Then I pencil-traced the lines and covered them with lengths of the silver washi tape.

This project took me a day, but the bulk of that time was spent at my desk with my scale-rule. Application of the tape only took about an hour.

The best part about this project? It cost me $12 for the washi tape! Looks just like wall-paper. Love it!


So there you have it. To all those who think they have no talent and no budget I say,

If I can do it, so can you. Go forth, roll up your sleeves, and don't superglue your wine glass to your lips!

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