Frugal Floral: Five Tips on Decorating with Flowers on a Budget

Contemporary or traditional, cottage or castle, casual or formal, there is one characteristic touch in each of the beautiful rooms that grace the glossy magazines we love so much:  floral accents.  Imagine the room above from designer Jill Brinson:  try to picture it without the burst of fushia flowers--wouldn't be the same, would it?  So I guess there's no debate about whether or not flowers finish off the look of a room;  the only question is, how can the average person afford to fill their house with flowers on a budget?  I have a couple of tips.  But first, a couple of provisos:  first, the word frugal---I'm not using it to necessarily mean cheap--I'm using it in the sense of getting the most bang for the buck--the most impact, use, and longevity for the money spent.  Second, some of my suggestions are for creating the impact of flowers (their color, interest, and texture) with substitutes.

1.  Think high impact.  One of the great uses of flowers is to inject a bright spot of color into a room.  If you look at the two rooms above, the designers have used contrasting flowers that pick up an accent color also used in accessories, creating a win-win situation where the accessories make the flowers pop and vice versa.  They also show an important principle---put your floral money where it will do the most for the room--here, the major arrangements are on the coffee tables, the centers of the space.  The other important factor with these arrangements is the impact of a large number of one flower, without any other foliage or filler to distract.  To keep cost down, use inexpensive and long lasting flowers like chrysanthemums, alstroemerias, and carnations, available at most supermarkets.    Decorate the main areas of your room,  the areas you see --don't worry so  much about the formal living room or dining room if you don't use these areas often--there are others things you can do there.

2. Foliage is your friend.  In the above images, you can see that bringing in a branch or tropical foliage can do the same sort of magic for a room that flowers can--bringing nature inside.  Foliage can be easily gathered from your own back yard, and some leaves, like the split leaf philodendrens in the galvanized tub and  variagated ginger leaves (not shown) can last for weeks if you put a tsp or so of bleach in the water and change it weekly.  Even if you buy it, foliage is usually a cheaper option than flowers.

3.  Grow them yourself.   It can take a while to get into the act of gardening, but if it's a hobby you'd like to develop, you can reap great rewards.  In any case, if there are certain florals you like, go down to your local nursery, talk to someone knowledgable on staff,  see if the plants can work in your area, and then consider planting a fex.  After a few years, that $14 hydrangea bush can yield bouquet after bouquet.  I personally planted the philodendren and ginger mentioned above to pillage their leaves.  This can be a major investment at first, depending on your budget (I spent about $125 on 4 plants), but if you divide the cost by the number of arrangements you get out of them, it's money well spent.  In the past two years, the original plants have grown enough that I can constantly have their foliage indoors.

4.  Don't forget about houseplants.  Great florals don't have to just come in a vase, they can also come in pots.  I think that houseplants have kind of a frumpy image--I have to admit, when I think of the term "houseplants,"  I tend to think of the sad little African violets I used to see on my female relatives' kitchen windowsills growing up, or that equally sad, trailing philodendren that so many apartment dwellers had in the '80s.  But houseplants are  a great budget helper--with a little effort they can last months or even years, and they include orchids, topiaries, indoor trees, and other high-end floral effects.  
True, a mass of orchids like in this Miles Redd entry would be expensive, but at around $20 each, it's still comparable to the cost of a major arrangement, and even without re-blooming, would last for 6 weeks or so, compared to an arrangement's 1 week life-span.
Even without the arrangement on the cocktail ottoman, this room would feel bright and lively because of the long lasting (and inexpensive) fern and palm.  Each cost about $12 and could last years with proper care.
Ignore the large (and incredibly expensive) arrangment to the left, and focus on the topiaries through the arch.

Even the humble ficus can make a statement with a little pruning, a pair of great containers, and a playful sense of scale.

5.  Substitute if needed.  People use flowers in interiors for 2 main reasons.  One is for a love of the flowers themselves (who can resist the first daffodils of spring), the other reason is to add a touch of nature, a touch of color or texture, and a point of interest.  So, in other words, you can substitute other items which are either cheaper or more longer lasting than flowers to do the same job.

One  example is food, usually, but not limited to, fruit.  There is nothing like a bowl of beautiful citrus to add zest (sorry , I couldn't leave the pun just laying there) to a room.  Other decorative foods are apples (I especially love green apples), artichokes, pomegranites, red onions, grapes, pears, pots of rosemary, thyme, basil, and even glass containers of legumes and grains.    I do think that most food items look best in kitchens, casual dens, and dining areas---I've seen bowls of apples in bedrooms, studies, and formal living rooms and I think it looks a little odd.  I prefer bowls of fruit in a setting where they might conceivably be used.  The benefit of decorating with fruits, pots of herbs, and vegetables is threefold--first, their inherent beauty.  Second, they are usually cheaper than flowers and last longer.  And finally, they can be consumed.

Another great substitute (though overused a couple of years ago,it's still viable) is bowls and balls of moss, which are especially well  suited to stone and concrete vessels.  Though long lasting, they will need to be refreshed periodically.

And finally, you can use clusters of  decorative objects ( or "objets d'art" if you want to add a little pretension to your daily design diet) for interest and color.  Here, a collection of glass objects takes  the place of flowers on the dining table and sideboard.

The last two images show a combination approach--the centerpieces of the dining tables are made from food items and decorative items.

So, in conclusion, can you add the brightness and freshness of floral to your home on a regular basis and not break the bank?  The answer is yes, but like all decorating on a dime activities, it  is going to require patience, planning,  time, and ingenuity.

All images from the House Beautiful website.


Three Men and a Little Crazy said...

Loved this post!!! Perhaps my favorite of yours yet. Informative with great examples and pictures...awesome! I do some of these things in my own home, but now I'm inspired to do more. Thanks!

Marlo said...

Great ideas! I love topiaries but I heard somewhere that they could only be used in country or cottage spaces. Can they be used in contemporary too?

Charlotte Des Fleurs said...

I am a bit "late to the party" with my comment, however, here goes.

Two more suggestions:
1. Use flowering bulbs (fressia, daffodil, amaryllis, hiacynth, tulips, etc.) These often have a fragrance, last for one to two weeks AND can be replanted in your yard or allowed to "ripen" for forcing the folowing year. Ripen is gardeners' parlance for let the leaves turn yellow.

2. Place flowers in front of a mirror. This doubles the visual impact of the flowers at no extra charge!