Home decor expert Jo Alcorn offers tips on where to splurge and save

mix high- and low- end decor

By Vicky Sanderson, Toronto Star

When faced with an empty room to decorate, it’s tempting to look for a shortcut, including the one that takes you to the nearest designer showroom and maxing out the credit card by shopping for the entire space in one go.

As appealing as that may be, design specialist Jo Alcorn has a suggestion that will take more time, but which she insists will pay off in both savings and better style.

“If someone is dressed entirely in Gucci, it looks like they’re trying too hard – it’s too much. But if you mix one designer piece with simple staples, it really stands out and has an impact on your look. It’s the same with decor,” says Alcorn.

Don’t think that she equates eclectic and affordable with rustic and haphazard; Alcorn’s spaces are smooth and polished, partly, she says, the result of taking time to find pieces that balance each other. “It’s hard to rush a great look,” she says.

The growing acceptability of cheaper pieces is directly related to the shortening attention span of the consumer, says Alcorn. “In the past, you would design a space to last 15 years. Now people will want to switch it up within a few years.”

What’s splurge-worthy? “Anything that is a real showstopper – the one you just have to have and will love forever. And larger pieces, like a sofa, that will get a lot of wear and tear. That’s where the money should go, and then you can add a less expensive accent chair or coffee table.”

Even a small splurge can add to a signature look, especially with accessories. “If you include one gorgeous pillow among some plain ones, it will add to overall effect, ” she suggests.

Alcorn frequently looks to two types of retailers to shave costs. Those, such as Bouclair, which reproduce designer looks at mass-market prices, and players like HomeSense, which sell stock from higher-end manufacturers who need to unload seasonal merchandise.

In between, of course, there’s everything from West Elm (Alcorn likes their textiles) to Urban Barn, all of which increasingly try to hit consumer-friendly price points. A good eye is still needed to thread various elements together, and Alcorn hopes her spaces offer inspiration for homeowners who want to achieve seamless chic on a sane budget.

Paint can be a relatively low-cost way of injecting colour and drama to a room. But Alcorn suggests that it’s an area where many people, including her, will show restraint.

“I think clients will get the most value by sticking to strong colours in the accessories. I still find it hard to add too much colour to the walls. Risk-takers can add it to upholstery and larger areas and have fun. But I tell everyone to start by finding an inspiration piece; that will dictate what colours to introduce and what kind of textiles you’ll use and even the furniture pieces you’ll choose. It’s a starting point that becomes a guiding principle.”

First published in the Toronto Star on November 3, 2012.

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