Design an eclectic look without spending a fortune

Design an eclectic look without spending a fortune

By: Donna Benton

Photos by: Rita Treece

Previously published in 501 Life Magazine

This vintage painted dresser will make a great "anchor piece" for a nautical themed boy's room.

Our homes are our security and our comfort. Each day, we go out into the world and take on its challenges as they are presented to us. Then we come back to our homes, which wait for our return, exactly as we left them that morning. We take refuge in the idea of a sanctuary that we have prepared for ourselves, and that is unique to ourselves.

Perhaps the desire to keep things comfortably constant is why we seem to have trouble making changes in our home. We love our homes because they are a reflection of ourselves. But we evolve, and sometimes it is hard for us to realize that our 1992 matchy bedroom set no longer represents us.

Often homeowners reach out to me and they want change but they don’t know how to begin. They are not sure how to take what they have and make the transition into what they want. They envision sledgehammers and sawdust, moving trucks and mayhem, big headaches and bigger bills. They threaten to give up, curl up on that sofa from their husband’s college apartment and bury their sorrows in an HGTV binge. I must admit, I do not have this problem. I am a bit of a gypsy. I thrive in change, and it’s when things start to feel too comfortable that I start to get nervous. I am not sure if that makes me the wrong person to give advice for design change, or maybe I am exactly the right person.

Nonetheless, I am happy to share my thoughts on how to begin a design project in your home without breaking the bank or driving your family to the curb. I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, but here is my simple advice. Start with an idea, use what you have, then fill in the gaps over time with special pieces.


For me, every good design plan begins with a moment of inspiration. A single item, a color or an idea that starts the creative process, and hopefully builds and blossoms into a plan, then into reality. Some time ago, I was rummaging along through my favorite outdoor antique fair and I spied a piece of metal art shaped like an anchor. I didn’t really need an anchor, but the price was right… You know how that goes. I brought it home and moved it around my workshop for a month or two. Eventually, during a cleansing period, I moved it out to the area in the trees near the back property line, informally named “the rust garden”. It’s the place where, to my husband’s dismay, I stash metal pieces so they can develop that perfect weathered rusty look. It’s easy to forget about a piece in the rust garden.

I gave no more thought to the anchor until I ran across a roll of beautiful ocean blue paper covered in tiny white anchors. The color seemed to jump right off the paper. I knew right then what I was going to do with that anchor that was out in the trees working on its patina. A design plan was born.



I am an avid flea market shopper. I am always on the lookout for a piece of furniture with “good bones” and I had the perfect vintage dresser for this project. I grabbed up the paper roll and ran right down to my favorite paint store. I presented it to the guys and they did a little behind-the-counter wizardry, then handed me a gallon of that gorgeous ocean blue. I am well known there for attempting to color match all sorts of objects: animal, vegetable and mineral.

My dresser was well worn, but otherwise in great shape. A mid-century modern design with straight lines that was about to transform from functional to fabulous with a new ocean blue finish.

The first thing I do when I enter a new client’s home is to take a quick look around at what they already have. I’m looking for pieces that can be used in a new design. My favorite trick is to use traditional pieces in unconventional ways; a vintage buffet as a console for the tv, or a china cabinet in the bathroom filled with towels and bath supplies. I love the homeowner’s reaction when they see their own pieces with a new custom finish, reimagined with an unexpected purpose. Mixing up traditional furniture and tying it together with a new color is a great way to build the foundation of an eclectic look that is your very own, and a great way to design without spending a bunch of bucks!


Now I had the fabulous blue dresser as the “anchor piece” for this nautical themed little boy’s room that was taking shape and I had this great metal anchor with just the right amount of rust. It’s time for the fun part; the quest for art and accessories that complete the look and make the space unique. I encourage clients to take their time and fill in the gaps as budget allows, and as they discover distinctive pieces. Antique stores and flea markets are great places to find objects that you don’t see every day. Carry fabric swatches and paint colors with you so you can be sure it’s a fit before you buy. The idea of an eclectic style is to fill the space with special treasures that you have collected over time, so go collect! The hunt is part of the fun and really makes the space your own.

It’s a really simple plan to develop an eclectic look, using many of your own pieces, and best of all, it doesn’t cost a fortune. Using the pieces that you have in new imaginative ways is a refreshing design surprise, and taking your time to select unique and affordable art and accessories will make your design unique.