I'm currently in the middle of revamping some thrift store art, just waiting on the new frames I ordered to arrive. If it works I'll have more inexpensive wall decor to add to our brimming collection.
There was definitely a time when it felt impossible to acquire interesting, but affordable art. I'm not just talking one-of-a-kind masterpieces; even stylish prints were out of reach. And sure, while I hope to eventually deck our walls with more significant pieces over time, for now I'm content with cheap vs. the naked alternative.
Over the years I've employed some tricks, in both our home and client spaces, to achieve that collected-look-on-a-budget. Here are some of the tips I've gleaned from those projects.
Tip 1: Thrift without ceasing.
Ok, this is a given, but if you're looking for unique, statement pieces, then second-hand is a must. 90% of the art adorning our walls was snagged this way. In fact, we even make it a point to pop in to roadside flea markets, antique stores, and thrift shops when we travel because you never know what treasures await. This is how I scored the Syroco wall hanging for Darby's mantel.
And on the same trip I found Mr. Horse. Awww, look at us documenting my find outside of the strangest hybrid of flea market meets a "No credit, No problem!" discount furniture retailer.
He's now prominently displayed in Traci's gallery wall, and, yeah, that was a ton of thrifting.
Tip 2: If it's cool and you can afford it, buy it!
So this tip is another specifically reserved for second hand hunting. Make this your mantra: Good (cheap) art is hard to find, so if I find it, I must buy it. Even if you don't have a home for it, if it's good, you'll always find a place. I've designed some rooms completely around the quirky artwork and wall decor brought home from thrift stores.
I also have a small collection of some finds that aren't displayed, but are waiting for the right venue (like the below 4' wide needlepoint of a British hunting scene. While I'm not advocating full on hoarding, it's totally ok to hang on to some key pieces you know are good, but may not have a place in your current home. Trust, you'll find their home some day. Or you'll regret passing them by once you do.
Tip 3: Think outside the frame.
Thrift store (and other second hand) art gets a bad rap most frequently due to the framing situation – the mauve and ivory double mats of yore just aren't the luxe symbol of refinement they once were. But don't let that dissuade you from snagging something great. A new frame can do wonders, highlighting a stunning image while simultaneously modernizing it.
This is what the above picture looked like when I found it at an estate sale. All it took to breathe new life into this beaut was shedding its 70s textured backing and adding a simple white frame and mat from Target.
On a similar note, sometimes it's ok to forget the frame altogether. Woven wall hangings and textiles can be just as impactful as a large framed image, often at a fraction of the cost.
Tip 4: Reimagine and repurpose.
Being able to reimagine an object's current state, then transform it into artwork, is another way to adorn your walls inexpensively.
I knew I wanted to do a gallery wall in a portion of the Gilbert's basement, but most of the budget in that makeover went to wallpaper and construction materials for their media console. This meant we had to get creative with whatever we decided to hang. On one of my many trips meandering the aisles of Target I spotted a black and white vinyl tablecloth. Using a square wooden Ikea frame from Bethany's on-hand collection, we created a graphic pop of pattern for her walls (total $3).
I also picked up this gold foil heart gift bag. Enclosed in a simple white matted frame it's now another cute and graphic print.
Tip 5: Just DIY it.
Ok, this one can get a little dicey. It's a narrow line between craft project and refined clever creation, but if you can trust your abilities, then go for it. I've personally had some hits and a lot of misses in this department, but sometimes all you need is one "hit" to really transform a space.
Most of the objects and images compiled for the gallery wall had a strong black and white color palette, but I wanted to add a little more pop of cobalt to tie in with the rest of the room's design. On a canvas board I had on hand, I used a combination of blue and green acrylic paints to create a bold geometric pattern.
Once the paint dried, I outlined each shape with a gold Sharpie paint pen.
To hang it, we used an ornate brass clamp Bethany already owned, purchased at Anthropologie.
So there you have it! These are the five tips I use on the regular to achieve a customized, curated look on a budget. Let this be proof you don't need to wait until you can afford beautiful art to have a home that reflects your personalized taste. Put stuff on those empty walls, and don't be afraid to make mistakes along the way!
Any other tricks up your sleeve for budget-friendly art? Do tell!
Photos 1,3,6: by Luke Pettipoole
Photos 4,5,7,8,10,12,14,15: by Bethany Gilbert