Nesting on the cheap

IF you're furnishing your first home on a limited budget, what's the right way to go? Here's the latest advice from some East and West Coast interior designers.

``It is possible to create an attractive interior on a very low budget if you keep everything simple,'' New York designer Mario Buatta comments.

``The minute you get fussy, you start to lose it. Low budgets require low clutter and clean looks.''

Ronald Bricke says he would advise people setting up a new home to look for stylish design and inexpensive prices at stores like Conran's, the Door Stores, and certain thrift shops.

Jack Lowery, former president of the American Society of Interior Designers, says:

``If I were furnishing a small, bare apartment today, I would look for a really beautiful dining table that I would enjoy looking at and sitting at for years to come. And which, when not being used for dining, could be used against the wall as a reading and writing table - and even perhaps serve as an interesting focal point against an expanse of windows.

``Then I would lay out a room plan and head for import stores, Door Stores, and all the other specialty shops that offer relatively inexpensive but well-designed furnishings.

``I would buy butcher block tables, bentwood chairs, and colorful big Japanese kites to hang on the walls. Then, as I saved up money, I would replace the cheaper items, one by one, with those of higher quality.''

Bebe Winkler, on the other hand, recently said to a couple about to set up an apartment - and who decided they didn't want to buy furnishings for a while:

``Fine, put the right color on the walls to get a clean, fresh look. Then move in with your box springs and mattress, your TV and VCR, and your card table and folding chairs, and get acquainted with the space together. Get accustomed to how it feels and works.

``Think through how your life style might develop or change, how you will want to entertain there, and how important privacy is to you both. Then think about how you are going to proceed with decorating the place and what purchases you want to make.''

From San Francisco, designer Elizabeth Matthews, ASID, recommends, ``Buy the best bed you can afford, and a good sofa with simple lines that will survive several changes of d'ecor.

``Buy two good armchairs - but only after you have sat in them and selected that one which is best proportioned to fit.

``Stay away from overdressed windows. Put your money instead into good and interesting blinds, such as vertical pleated blinds or thin-slatted horizontal blinds. Buy modular bookcases that stack and bunch from specialty stores like Workbench.

``And remember that you can get an awful lot of decoration from putting a nice color on a wall or two, and from filling an empty corner with an interesting dried arrangement or a cluster of green plants.''

Terence Conran, of Conran's stores, now in several cities in the United States, says:

``Don't feel you have to get everything in place immediately, but do buy pieces that reflect what you really like.

``Starters could be a good bed - which you lie down on, and not just sit down on, in the shop; an inexpensive Indian dhurrie area rug; a basic coffee table; and a truly comfortable sofa, which at Conran's can run from $500 to $1,000....''

He also advises the purchase of a table that can double as a desk, as well as a basic unit or two of a flexible storage system, which can grow as the budget allows.

Various other designers sang the praises of the Pottery Barns for pottery and glassware and Azuma Japanese import stores for bamboo roll-up window shades, trays and baskets, and interesting screens from far places.

Some said that in a budget situation they would dispense completely with bedspreads in favor of beautiful sheets, which looked very crisp, very tailored, and could be folded military style.

One designer said he thought a good-size coffee table was an essential to go with that first sofa and two lounge chairs. It should be big enough to eat off of and to hold stacks of books and magazines. He also said that because lighting is so important, a couple should set the tone in a room by spending from $75 to $150 each on one or two good lamps - even if other lighting is done with inexpensive Japanese paper balloons.

Another designer advised: ``Buy basic pieces in neutral colors first. Then create interest with less expensive items like paint, art, throw-pillows, and inexpensive furniture pieces. Pick up imaginative art objects in thrift shops and junkyards and attics, and rotate them frequently. Or replace them periodically so rooms won't get tired or stagnant looking.''

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