Keeping up appearances is a good motivator.

Today I live in a spacious 2 bedroom apartment in a trendy neighbourhood with lovely art deco features.

I have high ceilings, large windows, and rooms decked with gorgeous custom features. It looks like it’s from a magazine.

20 years ago, I lived with my parents and little brother in a rented 1.5 bedroom ground floor apartment.

I say 1.5 because there was no door between the master bedroom and my 0.5 bedroom — it was more of a nook, than a bedroom.

We had old carpet, daggy 80s trimmings, and the bins for the apartment block were outside my ‘bedroom’ window. And it had been attempted to be burgled 3 times.

Despite this stark contrast, I never noticed this as a kid.

I saw beautifully upholstered dining chairs, a garden in full bloom, and eggshell white linen curtains my mum made from scratch (see above).

I remember how she taught me to put a 50 cent coin in the bottom corners of the hem to weigh it down and keep the floor line level.

A trick I applied to my own DIY curtain when I moved into my first apartment…

This is where my decor education began (pun, fully intended).

She made our home a place that I’m incredibly proud about. Here’s her making a sofa slip cover for our sofa which had seen better days (p.s. yes, this was the 90s).

In the above picture, she was a working mother of two (with a third not too far away) in a foreign country in a pre-internet time (i.e. no Youtube tutorials).

Her pragmatic DIY mentality, unique to immigrants who want to ‘keep up appearances’, allowed her to make the very best of what she had. Not shabby chic, but the very BEST.

This DIY decorating mentality is in my blood. Here I am getting my guest bedroom picture perfect.

My mum’s lessons for thrifty decorating for high-end custom results:

  • Second hand furniture. Why? Simple, it’s cheap. I use eBay. If you’re willing to wait a little, you can often snag bargains cheaper than IKEA and MUCH better quality. I bought this gorgeous sofa for $60. It’s clean and a beautiful shape — it’s now my favourite nook in the apartment.
  • Good bones + Paint = Magic! 80% of my apartment is filled with cheap eBay finds that I’ve slapped some paint on and voila!…magazine quality furniture that I could (and have) easily resell on eBay for 3 times what it cost me.
  • Reupholster your furniture. My mum would buy the best of the cheap fabric she could find at Spotlight and reupholster furniture — a basic cut and staple, staple, staple. Like my DIY upholstered Louis armchairs.

As an adult I can now feel for myself the sense of pride my mum must have had in crafting her home for family and making the most of limited resources.

Her home, and now mine, is a road map of my time, energy, and creativity.

She created a hunger and pragmatism in me to create and just do it.

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