Designer Sarah Sham’s useful tips for those decorating on a budget


It took Sarah Sham forty-five days, 15 lakhs and numerous smart decisions to convert a dilapidated apartment locked up for 25 years into a beautiful house for herself and her family. When you see their two-bedroom south Mumbai apartment at first, the adjectives to best describe the space are - bright, airy and green. As you look closer you notice the terrazzo floor, the archway in the living room, the old teakwood framed balcony, the sleek furniture mostly from IKEA and Urban Ladder, the quirky artwork on the walls. The home is now exactly what Sarah planned it to be–contemporary yet keeping the old world charm of Mumbai apartments from the 70s intact.

Designer Sarah Sham’s tips on getting a huge upgrade while spending less

The fifteen lakhs were used to fix the three toilets, kitchen, all the flooring, ACs, electrical, carpentry, etc. And since this rented space was going to be a temporary home for her family of four (including her husband and two pets), Sarah decided not to spend more than five lakhs on furnishing it. “I have made so many trips to Ikea. It’s my favourite place,” laughs Sarah. 

While it made practical sense to design the space economically, it wasn’t an easy transition for the designer. “Professionally I will not take on a residential project under 90 lakhs, and I was supposed to furnish my own house in five lakhs. So it was a huge contrast and a big challenge.” That’s where brands like Ikea and Urban Ladder came in. Or using laminate instead of veneers. “To a client I would say you should always have veneer doors, it looks so much richer. It was very difficult to convince myself of the smaller spend, but laminates worked out well,” she adds. 

We got the designer to share details of how she gave a big upgrade to her rental apartment on a small budget, so that you can incorporate these simple ideas in your own home makeover:

Plants and more plants: “I think plants are the easiest way of juicing up a project. They give the space a whole new life, and luckily I have also found a great maali to take care of mine,” says Sarah.

Laminate over veneer: Laminates look like wood but are actually made of artificial materials, while veneers have a layer of real wood on a plywood base. However, at twice the cost of laminates, veneers can make a huge dent on your budget so choosing from the vast varieties of laminates available is your best bet.

Add height to a small room: “An interior designer friend visited my flat and pointed out that if my curtains came all the way down from the ceiling instead of just the height of the window, it would make my room look taller.” Try this trick yourself and tell us how it worked out!

Upcycling: Sarah polished an old wooden door and used it as an artwork in her room. She had some old mismatched drawer knobs and decided to use them for her space instead of buying new ones and now they add a quirky element to her space. Don’t be afraid to spruce up some old pieces and use them creatively in your new home.

Floor with spotted tiles and wooden doors, white walls with Indian-inspired arch, big indoor plants on the side

Sarah polished an old wooden door and used it as an artwork in her living room.

Upgrading the wardrobe: If your old wardrobe is in good condition but starting look dated, do like Sarah. She added a light coloured fabric textured laminate on top, and using sleek handles from IKEA she created a fresh look for the wardrobe and therefore her bedroom.

Affordable art: “Art tends to have a very unaffordable perception to it, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” says Sarah. She found a photographer on Instagram who takes photos of buildings in Mumbai and Sarah bought six of his prints for her study.

Mood lighting: Conversations and time flow more easily when you don’t have jarring beams of light bouncing off your walls. While you can create mood lighting in various ways, Sarah chose uplighting. She added lamps which direct the beam of light upwards, to her many planters around the living room to set a moodier scene in the evenings.

Watch the full video above for more of these tips and ideas!

In the first part of the story, we took a tour of Sarah Sham’s home and got details of her rental home makeover on a budget. You can read about it and watch the video tour here

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