Gone shopping: The fall project

Renovating a dining space on a $100 budget.


Summer is over. The leaves are changing color as the temperature drops and the pace is slowing down, giving us time to reconnect with our friends and family. It’s also a great excuse to refresh our homes, and for me, specifically, my dining area (more on that project later). And just like finding that perfect fitting pair of jeans, so goes decorating. 

There are many decisions to sort through. Many times, it is trial and error. If I were to bottom line the design process it would be this: you will need to live with each decision you make as you go through the process. Sometimes it lasts a few days or weeks, and you’ll move things around several times until it feels right. Failures often bring us closer to success — it’s all part of the process. Designers can get you going, but you know you best. 

Whether your space is a room in a shared house, a large estate, or somewhere in between, your home is another reflection of you and your style. As with your wardrobe and your personal style of dress, many of your choices spill over into how your home might be designed. You have specific colors that make you feel good, you have base pieces that you build from, and you choose to accessorize with colors and textures

Here are a few ideas of how to begin and questions to ask yourself.

What pieces are truly meaningful to you in your home? Use this as a starting point. Base or foundation pieces are what you will build upon as you transform your vision/design of your home. Items could include an heirloom rug, an antique dresser, a vase you received from a loved one, or a chair used as a child at your grandmother’s house. Pull out your best china and all those items that are saved for special occasions, and incorporate them into your new design. Because isn’t every day a special occasion? Things you don’t see, you will never use. So give them away or re-purpose them within your new design. Less, truly, is more. There is no rule that says everything in your home has to match, however I do believe the items should tie together. The easiest way to do that is with color. 

Color: The primary colors for home decorating are red, yellow, and blue (RYB). These three colors are the basis for mixing primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Within all of these are tints, shades, and tones: warm, cool, neutral and monochromatic colors. And so much more. 

Establishing colors will help to focus all of your choices going forward, including elimination of existing items that may not be useful. Here are some questions to help get to your color preferences:

  1. What colors do you naturally prefer? 
  2. What are your favorite places to visit, your oasis where you find peace? 
  3. What time of day specifically? 
  4. What colors are present when you are there?

For me, I love bold, primary colors. The main colors I use are red, black, and white with purple, yellow, and blue as accents. This common thread of color runs throughout my home to keep continuity. How each of these colors are balanced depends on the room.

Setting the design foundation and your path to completion

Know your budget. Be intentional with your choices. Keep asking yourself through this process: What is my goal? What can I afford? Know what you have. Know what you can do or are willing to do. And what you are willing to pay for. As you shop, keep receipts and return things that don’t work so you can free up dollars. And know when to call it at complete.

Start small. Fresh flowers are always perfect. Reframe an existing piece of wall art with color or different wood. Replace old hardware on kitchen cabinets or an old dresser. Repaint/refinish a piece of furniture. 

Assess “free items.” If it’s a needed item, whether it matches or not, take it. But if it is something, after review, that could not work in your space, kindly decline. Let friends and family know what you are doing — your color scheme — so they can help you. My grandmother was always crocheting beautiful afghans. On one occasion, she asked me what she could make (she always needed a project). I asked her for something in black and white. That was over 25 years ago and I still use the blanket today and cherish it in her memory.

The fall project

I recently inherited a solid wood, 5 foot, round, lemon yellow dining table with four matching wood chairs and two upholstered in sage green. As mentioned earlier, my color palette is quite different, but the table is lovely and I needed it. It came with a piece of glass covering the top. 

My challenge for this project has a few objectives: how to take a piece of furniture in the wrong color and make it work for my home; how to brighten up the room and give it a fall theme; how to create a defined space within a larger room for the dining area; and how to cover the sage green chairs without the expense of reupholstering. My budget was $100. 

First, I pulled out all the tabletop items I owned, as well as the linens purchased over the years and made a mental note of what I needed.

LeRoux in Vineyard Haven, has a wonderful 50 percent off clearance section on the third floor where I found a decorative tin to be the focal point of my table. Knowing I already had the white tablecloth which would totally brighten up the room, I headed to Granite in Edgartown, where I found some fun placemats and dish towels that were within my color scheme. Still in search of a way to cover those two upholstered chairs, I headed back to Vineyard Haven and visited East Chop Sleep Shop. I was welcomed by manager Jessica Giambattista and explained what I was hoping to accomplish. There’s a clearance area for items with broken packaging marked 50 percent off — they also discount floor samples. Jessica suggested patterned king size pillow shams, which happened to be in a shade of light grey. Stretching the imagination, she suggested removing the upholstered chair cushions, and then slicing the seams of the pillow sham to cover both the black and upholstered seat cushions. I continued on to SBS, and found cocktail napkins with a carrot theme for 20 percent off. Total money spent: $79.39.

Putting it all together, the white tablecloth gave me a blank canvas to start experimenting with. I love having a set table always and use those dishes daily. I find it helps with limited cabinet space, and I truly like coming home to a pretty table.

Shop local

Island stores are run by locals and support the local economy. Before heading off-Island for a “big ticket” deal, check out our local merchants to see what they can do for you. Shop at sale time: End-of-season and right after the holidays is usually the month for major home sales. 

A few places to get started:

  • Chicken Alley, Vineyard Haven
  • Dumptique, West Tisbury
  • East Chop Sleep Shop (bedding-great deals on floor samples), Vineyard Haven
  • Granite Stores of MV, Edgartown
  • LeRoux, Vineyard Haven
  • Refabulous Decor, Vineyard Haven 
  • Second Treasures MV, Vineyard Haven
  • Shirleys True Value Hardware, Vineyard Haven
  • The Martha’s Vineyard Boys & Girls Club/Second Hand Store, Edgartown
  • Vineyard Decorators, Edgartown
  • Yard and estate sales and retailer end of season sales 
  • MV Times Bargain Box 
  • Roadside “free”