When it comes to decorating, creativity sometimes goes farther than cash.
And homeowners can see that principle in action at the State College Community Land Trust’s “Home Stage,” an event where visitors can peruse the handiwork of local interior designers who each have been assigned a space in a one-story starter home, one of the land trust’s borough properties.
The first “Home Stage” event falls in line with the nonprofit’s mission to provide and sustain affordable housing in State College, according to event Chairwoman Sue Hiester, who also is part of the organization’s marketing committee.
“Very clearly, I think this markets the potential of a small house,” she said. “That’s basically who we are working with. These are first-time homeowners. It’s a scary process. These are homebuyers who, in most cases, have been pushed out of the housing market in the borough because of the cost of houses. What we’re trying to do in staging is to show what you can do with a 1,000 square-foot house to make it a home, make it personal.”
Eight Centre County decorators have been working to transform spaces in the home at 239 Sunrise Terrace — as well as an outside porch area — not through big budgets or HGTV-style power-tool renovations, but with finishing touches that incorporate economic design through reusing and recycling.
The event, which started with brainstorming among committee members, is both a fundraiser and an opportunity for attendees to gather tips for decorating on a budget, Hiester said.
“We knew the challenge would be to stage it as budget-friendly, rather than high end,” she said.
Local designers joined the effort, ready to showcase their skills.
“Generally, once the purpose of it was stated and I explained the mission of the community land trust, their enthusiasm was boundless,” she said. “It was really very rewarding. Every time I talk with them, they want to talk about what they found and have done, which is exactly what we hoped would happen.”
The land trust purchased the house earlier this spring, and it proved an ideal property for “Home Stage.”
“It was, for us, a relatively new house, about seven years old,” Hiester said. “Most of our housing stock is much older — late ’40s, ’50s or ’60s. It was fortuitous that we had a house we did not have to rehab at all. Everything came together serendipitously.”
Though the committee members did not assign a budget to the projects, Hiester said she emphasized the importance of offering budget-conscious decorating solutions.
“We told them to have fun building and look for items that can be reused or repurposed,” she said.
“We decided not to do a budget, but one of the interesting parts of this staged home is the items they use — furniture, artwork, rugs — each product will have a tag where the designer will list the source and the price.”
The designers each will provide three hints for each space on another ticket.
“As designers, we do things so intuitively that you watch an HGTV show and you try to do it yourself as a lay person, and it just doesn’t work,” Hiester said. “People who are not in visual design have a hard time. We asked our designers to each provide a very general statement.”
An example: Bringing patterns into a room always adds instant coziness.
“An idea is an idea,” she said. “It can be expanded into a McMansion or used in a dorm room.”
While decorating might not be on top of the list for every budget-conscious homeowner, Hiester said there is no reason it can’t be.
“It’s not about money,” said Hiester, who had her own interior design business for 11 years. “It depends a lot on how much you are willing to step off the edge. Everybody has skills. A lot of times we don’t use those because we’re afraid.”
She used the classic can of paint as an example, but took it a step further.
“You can go beyond beige,” Hiester said. “Put $5 into a gallon of paint. Paint one wall as an accent wall.”
Space planning — and even downsizing cluttered rooms — can make an impact without costing a cent, she added, and amateur decorators can use existing possessions in a whole new way to add accents or even to create a room’s centerpiece.
“What we’re hoping we are doing for people is saying it’s OK to repurpose something,” she said. “That’s what design is about: seeing the possibilities.”
‘That’s my passion’
Even in a cramped hallway space, Boalsburg designer Miki Benner saw potential. Benner, who owns an interior designer business and also works as a designer for Liberty Hill communities in Boalsburg, pulled the utility space and narrow hallway from the slips of papers that listed designer assignments for the starter home.
“Yes, you absolutely can decorate on a budget,” she said. “That’s my passion: redesigning. You’re using existing pieces you might have and reconfiguring them into a different space, or repaint it and it’s something new.
“People a lot of times don’t realize something they use in the bedroom could be in living room. You could remove the drawers from a dresser and change it up. It can be repurposed as a TV stand,” she said.
To make the rear entrance — a laundry area where the homeowners would enter — more functional, Benner painted a pegboard with a lively pattern and added hooks, a bench and boot tray as well as storage for scarves and hats.
“I’m trying to make it useful,” she said. “I don’t think I spent more than $100 for both spaces. I used things I found on Craigs-list.”
One of her online finds was a $10 metal cabinet. She added wheels and it became a storage space for detergent and other supplies.
To the hallway, she added a mirror to make the space looked bigger and added shelves with baskets in one corner for additional storage space.
Though Benner said she sometimes gathers ideas from magazines and online — especially Pinterest — she often just sees something and knows it can be something else.
And homeowners can step away from perfect. Too much matching can take away from aesthetic appeal, she said.
“Nothing ever has to be exact,” she said.
“There can be visual interest when you don’t match. My bedroom has purple walls with a gray and yellow curtains and comforter. If you don’t want to spend more than $75, you could easily to go Target or HomeGoods, buy a new comforter and put new coat of paint on the wall. You have a whole new room.”