When you’re living on a budget, you don’t have money to buy whole living or dining room sets. I’ve walked the hallowed halls of Crate and Barrel with longing, each time leaving empty-handed. I’ve peered at the wares of Ethan Allen and ne’er a sofa did I buy.

However, furnishing your apartment with limited funds can still yield a stunning outcome. Case in point: my apartment. I’m not saying I’ve magically materialized a magazine-worthy place, but in all my moves and attempts to furnish, I’ve picked up a few tricks— mainly, the merits of mix and match.

Between consignment shops, Ikea finds and hand-me-downs, I’ve massed a collection of mismatched furniture that somehow works. Wondering how to make your seemingly incompatible pieces uniform? Here are a few tips for working with mix and match items:

Create a Context

The Definitive Guide to Mix and Match Furniture - Create a Context

Whenever I peruse my favorite consignment shop, I’m left reeling. The place is packed with used furniture of all kinds, and when you look at a sofa amidst a sea of ’80s pieces that have no business being used anymore, it’s hard to imagine the potential.

Don’t get overwhelmed or distracted by the odds and ends you see in thrift or consignment shops, and instead invent a context. Look at each piece individually and picture what other furniture it would look great with.

It may help to keep in mind the overall style you want for your apartment. For instance, if you’re into the mid-century modern look, ask yourself whether a particular piece fits the bill and would make sense in a mod room.

Look Diligently

The Definitive Guide to Mix and Match Furniture - Look Diligently

You won’t assemble the perfect living space in one trip to Ikea or a consignment shop. Be prepared to slowly build a cohesive collection. To do so, scout your favorite low-cost stores often. Thrift and consignment shops get new merchandise literally every day. I’m not saving you have to window shop on your way home from work everyday, but go often.

Additionally, look for yard or estate sales in your neighborhood. Summer is prime moving time, so a lot of renters try to sell pieces they don’t need before they move. You’re bound to run into at least some of these sales in the next few months, so take advantage of them.

Check Out What You Love

The Definitive Guide to Mix and Match Furniture - Check Out What You Love

If you’re drawn to a particular piece of furniture or decor while checking out a sale, take time to really investigate. You’re decorating your apartment based on personal taste, so let your preferences lead you.

By the same token, don’t go crazy. Look at that vase you like, then ask yourself whether it matches the other pieces you already have. If not, say goodbye. If you let your likes take over too much, you’ll end up with mix and match that looks, well, mixed and not matched.


The Definitive Guide to Mix and Match Furniture - Upcycle

When shopping for furniture, look at the shape of the piece rather than the color or fabric– those things can be changed. In fact, if you find a piece whose form you love, get it! You can reupholster or repaint it to match the rest of your decor.

Both restoration options are things you can do yourself. However, you can also hire someone. If you want to hand off that sofa to a professional, factor that into your budget. A cheap sofa could quickly become expensive if you pay to have it reupholstered.

Stick to Neutrals

The Definitive Guide to Mix and Match Furniture - Stick to Neutrals

Matching neutral-colored furniture is far easier than colorful pieces. For instance, I sought cream fabrics and dark woods for my apartment. These neutral tones create contrast while still being compatible with other colors.

By sticking to neutrals in furniture, you open a world of options for accents. You can add bright pillows and art to give your space a pop of color. What’s more, you’ll be able to swap colors whenever you want and still have a cohesive room.

Buy or Make Pieces That Tie Everything Together

The Definitive Guide to Mix and Match Furniture - Buy or Make Pieces that Tie Everything Together

Once you have a furnished apartment complete with mix-and-match pieces that look mostly cohesive, you can finish the job with final touches. Curtains, pillows, art and rugs all have the power to unify a room.

For example, my dining chairs have metal legs, but there’s no metal in my dining table. So, I added a metal vase to ensure the chairs felt natural in the space.

Use the art and decorations you already have, make pillow cases and purchase other decor– all these things can unify your apartment design.

Mixing and matching furniture and art can be challenging, but it’s an effective way to save money as you decorate. With these tips, you’ll have a beautiful, cohesive space without spending tons of money.

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The Definitive Guide to Mix and Match Furniture