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If you’ve visited before, you may have seen this little chair, which sits in a corner of my bedroom where I do most of my reading. I became obsessed this fall by replacing it with something newer, and possibly more comfortable.

What a mistake that would have been. I can’t count the hours I spent researching a possible replacement. At the end of it all, here’s what I learned. If you’re shopping for new furniture in all the places that seem obvious to the average bear, you’ll find two basic choices: cheap junk and expensive junk.

When I compared notes with others, they recounted the same experiences. One friend told me about a young couple who had purchased a very expensive suite of bedroom furniture from a recognizable brand. Three weeks later, the drawers were falling apart.

DSC00162Of course, there are exceptions. I considered jumping up to an Ekornes recliner like the ones in my living room. They’re Danish-made and built like a rock. The prices have gone way up since my husband and I splurged on a his-and-hers pair about 10 years ago. At $3500 and up, I couldn’t justify the cost for this replacement.

After all the shopping, my little chair, which was already an antique when I bought it at an auction in 1987, started looking better and better. I moved an unmatched ottoman from the living room so I could prop my feet up when I read. That solved the comfort problem that inspired the big quest.

It would have been sad to part with the chair anyway. In fact, I’m almost ashamed that I was so eager to cast it aside. It was one of my first pieces of furniture, recovered in fabric that still looks like new almost 30 years after I had it reupholstered. From my Mary Tyler Moore-esque apartment as a single girl to my married life in a condo and two homes, the chair is part of my story.

So what’s the answer to the dilemma of designing your home on a budget?

Photo Debra MaleyTom
I asked two interior designers, Debra Maley, principal of A New Arrangement, and Tom Vriesman, principal of Design Studio Vriesman, to share their advice.

Hire an interior decorator. I’m challenged by how to design space that looks pulled together, but I’ve always assumed that interior designers are for the rich and famous. Not so, according to Maley and Vriesman. Many designers consult by the hour with people who are on strict budgets. In the end, Maley says it often saves money that’s wasted on bad purchases or poor color choices.

With a keen understanding of your lifestyle, Vriesman says designers can help young couples decide where they should invest and where they can purchase things that are more “of-the-moment.” Rather than spinning your wheels where there’s no possible match (as I did with my chair shopping), an interior designer can take you straight to the source for your personal aesthetic, lifestyle, quality and budget.

“A designer can sift through the resources out there, whether they are retail or wholesale, and help homeowners navigate through them with a long-term view,” he says.

Take it a room at a time. It’s true that wealthy people are more likely to decorate a whole house all at once, but Vriesman says a room-by-room approach is more typical. Vriesman and Maley encourage people to be patient. “With the advent of HGTV, a lot of people think a room can be assembled with a couple of hours and a few thousand dollars,” Vriesman says.

When you see a room that’s well-designed, it’s because someone has put a lot of thought into the tension, scale and other design factors. Some people know those things intuitively. Vriesman says a good designer has both a trained eye and intuition. (And then there are people like me: I know it when I see it, but I haven’t a clue why it works.)

Mix it up. The most interesting homes usually have a diversity of art and furniture, collected over time. Maley says young people are sometimes less enamored with antiques, but that’s usually because they aren’t comfortable mixing them in a contemporary setting. She often leads clients to places like Midland Arts & Antiques Market, where she can show them what they’re missing.

“You have to be patient because you can walk in one day and find nothing, or the next day you might find exactly the piece to fit your space,” she says. When you work with a designer, Maley says you want someone who understands the history of furniture. They can help you find original designers and quality pieces for a fraction of what they would cost brand new.

Become an art collector. Vriesman considers art a lasting investment, with decisionmaking that’s based more on emotion than intellect. Collecting art doesn’t have to be expensive or intimidating. “When I’m installing art in a room, I often use the art to inspire what the interior is rather than looking for a piece of art to decorate with,” he says. “The art should be inspired by the space and support the space, but not be a decorative piece. I like the tension of what happens between the art and the décor.”

As a huge fan of art, Vriesman encourages people to buy from local artists. A piece by an art student can be just as exciting as one from a seasoned artist and easier on your budget. Start appreciating by attending open houses at the Harrison Center for the Arts and the Stutz, an other places where local artists have gallery space.

If you live locally and you want one-on-one advice for decorating your space, come to Art & Antiques Redux tonight at Midland Arts & Antiques Market from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Each $10 ticket gives you a guided tour of 14 vignettes featuring the city’s best local designers and artists. You also get access to Designer On Call, a free consult with an interior designer who answers your design questions in an informal setting.

If you can’t make it Friday, visit anytime this weekend. A percentage of all your purchases at Midland Arts & Antiques Market benefits Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, through the Methodist Health Foundation and Methodist Hospital Task Core. (I attended the preview party last night, and surprise, surprise: I’ve already purchased a vintage sweater!)

What are you doing on First Friday? If you’ve never visited Midland Arts & Antiques Market, check out this video:

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.