Our New Beautiful and Frugal Small Living and Dining Room

In the past few days a few different people asked me questions about living situations that brought to mind some things that were at the back of my mind for much of the duration of my marriage, and especially in the last 5 years where we lived in 484 square feet, with a family of 6 the last two years...

Namely, how hard it was, and not just physically, but also emotionally. Because by nature I want to be able to host people, have guests over, invite friends and family to chill out at our house... but our last home was simply too cramped. And for the first few years there, we didn't even have a couch since we couldn't find any room for it. When we finally got a couch, it was a tiny little Ikea Solsta couch, which made me very happy at the time, and was the best we could do then, and it did allow us to have guests over a little bit more, since they had where to sit down that wasn't just around the table, but it wasn't really enough.
I wanted to be able to have an area of my home designated for lounging around. Even though I probably wouldn't ever have enough space for an entire room dedicated for that, I wanted to have room to comfortably have at least a small crowd hanging out together. On couches.

And I wanted prettiness. I have had such a hard time with feeling like I'm just living with somebody else's cast offs, never really being able to make my home mine since everything in it wasn't too my taste, but rather it was whatever we could get cheapest or free.

About a year ago, I decided to give our current home an interim makeover, to at least have the colors in my home, as much as possible, be ones that I liked, and I got rid of all the things whose colors bothered me, and replaced them with things more to my taste, just by making pillow covers and couch covers and replacing the tablecloths. You can read more about my super frugal home makeover here. It really made such a huge difference to my overall happiness, that my home at least somewhat felt more me, with colors I liked and in styles I liked.

But in our new house, I felt that wasn't enough. Now that we finally had the space, I wanted to have a real living room. Real couches in colors I liked. A rug. Pillows. And not with covers, but the actual thing. And we splurged. But not too much.

The only new things we purchased for the living room were these two couches, on sale at a Black Friday sale. A two seater and a three seater in the colors I liked.

Microfiber, so it is easier to clean. I don't remember exactly how much they cost, but I think less than $350 for both of them together.

And pillows from Ikea. A few dollars each. Machine washable and awesome.

And a rug. That rug actually is going to be for my bedroom, but temporarily it is in the living room. It cost 23 dollars at Ikea. I'm going to get something with a similar look for the living room, but a little sturdier. (This one isn't hardy enough for living room traffic.)

Other than that, it's what we had at home already. Throws that I bought last year relatively cheaply. A vase with fake gerbera daisies that I bought from Aliexpress and have had on my table for a while already, currently on the little pallet wood table my husband built me as a night stand. He'll build another, slightly bigger, for the living room, to hold that vase.

But already it is such a different look, and I'm loving it so much, and feel it makes my home that much more inviting.

I still want to add curtains, but have to decide what color and style, so that isn't in a rush.

I also want a standing lamp in the corner behind the end table and flowers.

As for the dining room table, currently it is constantly covered with my homemade tablecloth, and pushed against the opposite wall, in the corner. When just the kids eat, there is room for them around the table- we can eat in shifts, or we can squish to get the entire family around the table at once. For day to day we are leaving the table pushed against the wall so that we have access to the sliding glass doors outside. When we have company for meals, or simply more formal meals, we pull the table away from the wall and sit all the way around it.

The plan is to paint the chairs and reupholster them as soon as possible.

I thought at first we'd have it positioned so that the table and couch would be on switched around from how they are now, but it works better this way and then I don't have to worry about the oven dirtying the couch. 

Speaking of oven, if you rotate left from there, you get to the rest of my kitchen, seen in this post.

What can I say? My home is making me so much happier already. It feels that much more inviting to guests. I want to hang out in my living room instead of wanting to leave my house all the time... 

My house is still small, especially compared to many American homes. And in fact, its a few square feet smaller than my first home after we got married. But we lived so long in a tiny place that even this small home seems palatial.

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And for comparison's sake: compare this living room to my last one, and you'll see why this makes me so happy.

When we first bought the couches, I was feeling so guilty for spending money on something that was clearly a want, not a need, since we managed so long without nice couches... but now, especially once I see how it makes me so much happier and content, I do not feel like it was a frivolous purchase at all.

As a frugal person, do you have a mismatched home because you got things free or cheap? Does it bother you, or do you like it, or does it not make a difference to you?
How do you manage to assert your own personal taste into your home, making it feel yours, without spending too much money on things, especially if much of what you have is purchased second hand or free?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. I wish you many blissful hours sitting in your relaxing sitting room. I own my current home, but I'm proud to say 90% of the furnishings in it, are 2nd hand or free. They are colours and styles that I like as I spent hours searching and sourcing online for things that suited my tastes and our needs as a family. However, yes the 'mismatched' look bothers me, and the knowledge that it could be so much more functional, also bothers me. By this I mean the materials of sofas or, the type of shelving/hanging space and design inside cupboards. And not using the living space generally at optimum. But each time I update an item to something I really prefer, that's new, and mine, I get the buzz that you describe in this post...the feeling of harmony and things being just right. The inner peace and satisfaction wouldn't be nearly as strong and rewarding if I'd bought everything new, first off. The second-hand 'phase' aside from being frugal, is a great way for me to learn what I really want,and what I really don't want, and what I don't need at all. If you've read to the end, thanks :) and thanks, as always, for your posts. Keep up the good work!

  2. Most things in my home are mismatched. Over half the furniture is second-hand, the rest is cheap (mostly Ikea). I moved things around to make it more homey, and added a bit of art (mostly made by me and the kids) a couple years back. It's helped a bit.

    It doesn't bother me all the time, but when I visit the homes of other people, many of them younger than me, or married about the same or less time, and then it can sometimes be hard walking into my house and seeing a home that isn't looking spacious and put-together. But there really isn't anything to be done about it at this point. I try keeping things clean, which helps a lot. And we have lots of windows, B"H, so keeping the blinds open makes things look more cheerful and less squished.

    I think furniture is something worth spending a bit more on, because you want it to last, and you can recoup a some of the initial layout of funds if you decide to buy new furniture in a few years. But when you don't have the money to spend, you just do what you've got to do.

  3. When my husband and I first got married, we just meshed all of the stuff we already had together with some freebies from friends and family. We did buy an over-the-toilet storage cabinet and a wine glass rack, but that was it. Miraculously, the wall colors I picked (to repaint the apartment) matched our freebie furniture to some degree. Slowly I've been working on hanging pictures, replacing furniture pieces and doing other home decorating. Last year we bought a new flat-screen TV, which was a huge deal. It freed up so much space! This year my husband is building me a set of cabinets to go around our old hand-me-down refrigerator (he works in construction, so he has all of the tools to do that). I think what Charlotte said is key: being patient, and spending hours looking for (or even making) that perfect item. I don't spend hours searching for things online, but I will wait from one garage sale season to the next in order to buy cheap home decorating items. Sometimes we do buy an item here or there at Walmart, but it's mostly garage sales for us.

    I don't mind living with used/mismatch furniture because I know that we will be able to buy nicer, possibly even matching(!) things in the next 5-10 years, or sooner. Having so much time to plan and look at different colors/styles is actually comforting to me. I want to be 100% sure of what I want before spending that much money!!

    Lastly, depending on your skill set, you can make or improvise nice looking furniture. A guy who works with my husband builds wooden apple crates for his wife to make furniture out of at home. The crates are completely free because he uses scrap wood from work. Also, a good set of sewing tools can take you a long way. I see a lot of home sewing projects that would look professional had they just been ironed with a pressing ham, or corners turned right side out with a little plastic corner-poking tool. If you are going to live frugally long-term, it's worth investing in tools and skills instead of new stuff.

  4. Your new home looks beautiful -- it's relaxing just to look at it.

    Our house is mostly furnished with inherited stuff or things from the local thrift shop. When we were in Arizona we bought some stuff (bed, chairs) from Ikea and sofa on sale. Now we're back and I'm going to sell some of the old inherited stuff (anyone want a Victorian parlor organ that has a nonfunctioning middle C?) but most of it we keep. Too many memories of people I love are part of the furniture.

  5. Over 2 years, we have mostly things we've bought, with a few cast offs form others here and there. the big exception is out bedroom. I have a headboard, bought nearly 25 years ago, but the dresser and night stand was hubs from his teen age years, and cast off when it became his. It does bother me, but other things were always more important, so i just make the most with bedding of my choice. I did pain the blond ugly furniture black. It looks a little more put together than the blond did.

  6. Great job! So pretty. I'm totally mismatched. What I want is something more simplistic like what you currently have, but I gather too much. Recently, after living here 5 years I purged my bookcases of tidbits and only left a few items that make me smile. Feel better about it. Put the other items in storage so I can bring them back in a few years, maybe switch out.

    My livingroom consist of new stuff vs. found vs. craiglist vs. yard sale finds.

    Just wondering one thing. Do you plan to put in a tv?

    1. I also clutter and collect things but i'm trying to get rid of them as much as possible since i absolutely abhor the cluttered look for my home... No tv in my home. Any shows or movies such are watched on the computer.

  7. Your new furniture looks very nice.

  8. Oh Penny this looks so great for your family! As a designer at a high end kitchen and bath firm I would balk at the idea of my clients visiting my home to see my "style". When you ask about "mismatched homes" that is ours, to a tee. We use what we have, until it doesn't work or we get something better for nothing or very little. We heat with wood so there are always bits of wood around the floor despite constant cleaning...not to mention the work of "chucking" it into the basement through a hatch window every weekend. (we live in Quebec, and the last few days it was -23 celcius in the daytime meaning we have to add wood about every 4 hours to keep the house warm). I work for myself as well as the kitchen and bath job, have 2 children, 2 year old is in daycare full time and the 5 year oldattends after school care (which is subsidized but still an expense). We don't have the desire or the income to make our house modern and sparse, we live, we read, we play and we love in our mismatched home... and enjoy it!!

  9. Your home looks so inviting. Been meaning to say Congrats, by the way! When I first move out of my parents' home, it was to my apartment in college. This was furnished through all hand-me-downs from mom, dad and siblings (being the baby of 10 has perks..lol). A few things were purchased from thrift stores and yard sales. When DH and I got married, he had moved from Florida to NC about 3 months before we met and was living with his Sis and BIL. I met him the month I moved back home into my parents' house from college. I rented a storage unit because I was looking for a place to rent. Well, we started dating December 12, 1998 and got engaged in April 1998. At this point, he had found a home to rent and since we were engaged and I was paying for a storage unit every month, I asked if he just wanted to use my things....I figured win-win. He needed household items and I was sick of paying $60 per month for storage. I am old fashioned in a lot of ways so I would not move in with him until we were married (Dec 11, 1999). All this to tell you that the biggest thing we wanted when we got married was a BRAND NEW bedroom suit. Neither of us had ever had one (I was 23, he was 1 month shy of 30)because we had always been blessed by family members. It was quite funny though because when the delivery folks arrived with our new set, they were in disbelief as to HOW it was going to fit in our tiny bedroom (we knew we wouldn't live there for long and didn't want to base a long-term decision on current space issues). Well, you could basically open the bedroom door in jump into the bed because of how close everything was! lol We laugh about that to this day! We STILL have the same set...new mattress and box springs although they did last until 2 years ago!

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