Home & Garden

Going from trash to treasure for a bold, new look

Palma made many of these bedroom items including the upholstered headboard.
Palma made many of these bedroom items including the upholstered headboard.

This monthly feature focuses on local interior designers and their ideas for choosing color schemes, furniture, art and an overall design style or scheme. Today we focus on Shelli Palma who owns Palma Home Design, and is also employed by Chameleon Style in Arroyo Grande. She details her design philosophy on her blog at http://treasuredrubbish.blogspot.com.

Designer Shelli Palma calls herself an interior designer by trade and a crafty mom at heart. She picked up a fondness for trash-to-treasure makeovers at her mother’s thrift store.

“Having a mom who was a super shopper helped fuel my fire for thinking out of the box to create awesome items from rubbish,” she wrote in her blog.

Today, she handles a range of design projects. But her signature makeover is her budget redo. For $1,800, she completely remakes one room, be it a living room, bedroom or kitchen. The process includes a fresh design scheme, furniture and accessories. Her fee is included in the price.

The installation usually takes a day or two, but the preparation takes around a month while Palma shops for bargains, then reinvents those pieces. The whole process culminates with a television design show-style “reveal.”

Palma approaches each project with a lifetime of experience and an arsenal of tricks up her sleeve. This includes both a garage and trailer full of yard-sale gems at her disposal, as well as prowess at the sewing machine. But anyone can employ some of her methods to enact their own budget room redo.

Splurge on fabric

Once Palma gets a sense of her client’s style and color preferences, she usually begins the design process in a fabric store. And this is the one place where she doesn’t skimp. Her top trick for creating an upscale look on a budget is starting with two to three yards of expensive décor fabric. You can substitute a pre-made item, such as a high-end drapery panel. That fabric informs all of the choices in the room in terms of color combinations and style.

She makes the fabric go a long way by using it to accent less expensive fabric on drapes and accent pillows. She stuffs those pillows using filling from bargain queen-size bed pillows.

“It is so much cheaper than buying the Dacron stuffing sold at the craft stores,” she said.

If the pattern is particularly striking, she will frame a section as wall art. The motif can be repeated in other ways, such as with a wall paint treatment, or reproduced on the back of bookshelves or cabinets.

That little bit of pricey fabric can make off-the-shelf items look custom. Repeating the same motif also helps to create a pulled-together, designer look.

Shopping secondhand

Palma finds nearly everything for her budget redos at secondhand stores and yard sales. Her biggest tip is to look past superficial flaws to see the potential of a piece.

“I don’t look at how ugly the item might be. I look at its shape, because everything can be painted,” she said.

Paint can mask a worn or unattractive finish. It can make mismatched pieces, such as a random collection of frames, look like they were made for each other.

“It will look like you spent a lot of money on custom framing,” she said.

If you go out looking for something specific, you’re bound to be disappointed. Instead, count on refinishing, painting and reupholstering to make a piece work for you. This is especially true of furniture.

Coffee tables, for instance, are plentiful and cheap at yard sales. If they’re older, they’re likely solid wood. Palma will take them and turn them into all manner of useful pieces such as benches or shelving. She once found a storage coffee table at a yard sale — solid wood, but afflicted with enormous gold rosettes and a dated finish. She had her husband split the wide, box-shaped piece lengthwise. With a coat of paint, those rosettes turned from tacky to sweet. A tufted, upholstered top finished the transformation from eyesore to two elegant bedroom benches.

She often uses a combination of stains, paint, stencils, decoupage and decorative painting on wood pieces — much more interesting than a solid coat of color. Creative tabletop designs are one of her specialties. On a thrift store accent table, she sanded the top down to bare wood, then laid down an elegantly patterned stencil before applying a dark stain. On her own dining table, she painted the words to a favorite family blessing in graceful cursive script.

Any of these techniques can be applied to furniture you already own. She often makes use of underutilized pieces from around clients’ houses, or items languishing in the garage. Or, she will give new life to an heirloom that is too homely to keep, but of too much sentimental value to cast off.

The biggest lesson we can learn from Palma is to never skimp on details, which are usually more time-consuming than costly. Attention to detail begins with prep work (always sand, always prime) and ends with adding well thought-out embellishments. For instance, beads, trim, tassels, flowers or feathers can be the difference between forgettable and remarkable. On her blog, she shows how to make fabric rosettes. Simple? Not exactly. But it’s an inexpensive way to add a handmade, designer look to pillows, draperies and other textiles.

Taking the time to remake old pieces has its monetary perks. But for Palma, it’s also about quality.

“It is very hard to find well-made furniture anymore,” she said. “At garage sales and secondhand stores you can find older pieces that are very well made and will withstand the test of time.”