biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies: how to create a studio on a budget

by Stephanie

Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from Decorator in a Box founder Annie Pauza. Annie’s mission is to create beautiful living and working spaces that meet clients’ aesthetic, functional and financial goals, and today she shares with us some helpful steps to creating a studio on a budget! Thanks, Annie, for this informative guide to creating a creative space! — Stephanie

CLICK HERE for the full post after the jump!

When I started my online design business Decorator in a Box, I was creating designs from my dining room table. Like most biz ladies, I wanted to put my money into my website, marketing and product. I didn’t want to take any time away from my clients/projects to set up a studio. Since I was able to pull together a studio in a weekend in a financially savvy way, I knew this insight would benefit my clients and my business.

I became frustrated by digging through bins and folders to find my fabric swatches, scale, templates and more. I finally realized it was time to turn the guest room into a home studio. The guest room was being used four times a year at most. Why not use that room all the time and benefit my business? It took one visit to Ikea and Etsy and by Sunday evening, I found myself enjoying a new studio. My productivity increased and I began completing designs in half the time I did before. I found such joy in opening a drawer and easily grabbing a furniture template or pulling a basket of beautifully organized fabrics off a shelf. I was able to create this joy in a budget-friendly way and still focus on my business priorities.

I want all you creative biz gals to feel the same joy I did when I got my studio set up, so I’ll show you just how easy and affordable it can be. I’ll take you step by step through the process and will provide my favorite resources to shop for budget-friendly items. Once we have found the items, I will show you how to put them together in a mock-up studio design, just as I would for a client. I hope this will inspire you to create an environment that increases your productivity and customers, saves you money and most importantly, allows you to focus on being creative.

9 Steps to Creating Your Studio with Budget-Savvy Resources

Step 1: Find Inspiration
Nothing gets me excited about a home project like finding inspiration. My best inspiration comes from my clients. My second best inspiration comes from design blogs and magazines. Hands down, Design*Sponge is my ultimate source for inspiration and I promise I am not being biased. My other favorite sources are lonny.com, elledecor.com or old Domino magazine photos. I look at everything in the image, from paint colors and window treatments to interesting storage ideas. I found inspiration for the studio design when I spotted a photo of a cork board a chalkboard-paint wall. I also saw pin-board panels applied to a closet and found that to be a clever idea. Seeing ideas like this will help you develop a design concept. Don’t overdo it by looking at too many photos; just see what grabs you and go with it.

Here are some links that inspired the design concept for the mock-up studio:

Step 2: Set a Budget
Putting money into your studio is putting money into your business. Being organized saves you money and time. When everything has its place, you will not be running out last minute for more ink cartridges because you will already know that there are some in the supply drawer. Set a budget that makes you comfortable and stick to it. Keep in mind that you do not need to make all your purchases at once. You can purchase your main furniture pieces first and accumulate art and accessories over time.

Step 3: Create a Rough Furniture Layout
Measure your space and block in a rough furniture arrangement using an architect’s scale. I always draw plans in ¼” = 1’. If you’re not comfortable with an architect’s scale, there are plenty of websites to help you create a plan, as well as iPhone and iPad apps. Draw two or three layouts to see which one will work the best for you. This will give you an idea of what you really need. Here is the furniture plan we arrived at:

Mock-Up Studio Furniture Plan

Step 4: Think about Walls and Windows
Since this is a studio, I was inspired by walls that function. I love the idea of writing your to-do list or an inspirational quote on a chalkboard wall. I also love the concept of ripping a page from Elle Décor and tacking it up on a cork wall for even more inspiration. It would be too much to have all cork and chalkboard, so I balanced the mock-up studio by bringing in a soft teal paint for the side walls. This color reminds me of a softer version of Tiffany blue.

Paint for Walls — Sherwin Williams SW6757

Paint for Chalkboard Wall — Benjamin Moore – Studio Finish Chalkboard Paint 307

I am always a sucker for drapery panels. It was love at first site when I saw Anthropologies Swatch Book Curtains. Buying them would have pushed us over our budget, but we could make DIY swatch book curtains. With some inexpensive drapery panels, fabric swatches and a fabric marker, you can create the same look for less. I always find drapery hardware deals at JCPenny. For the mock-up studio, I found this pink bubble rod and finial.

Step 5: Shop Your House
The most budget friendly way to design a space is to use what you already have. Most people don’t move their furniture, art or accessories much after the day they move in to a place. Take a stroll through your home and try to think outside the box. Have your furniture plan in hand to help you find what you need. Think about moving that credenza out of the dining room and using it behind a desk. Maybe your family room would really open up if that corner chair was moved into your studio. Those fabric swatches that have been in a box for a year? Why not pin them on the wall like artwork. After shopping your house, you may find that you have minimal pieces to purchase.

Step 6: Create a Shopping List of Budget-Savvy Items
Now we arrive at the fun part — the shopping list! I think a great tool for saving money and time is to pre-shop online. While searching online, create a shopping list showing store, photo, price and size. Or simply print the photos and keep them in a folder. It is difficult to know whether you’re meeting your budget without a shopping list. After I have all my items selected and listed, I scale them onto the furniture plan and verify that everything fits. Once everything looks in place, I visit the stores to make purchases or buy online. I always shop for the large furniture pieces first then finish with art and accessories to give the space personality.

Mock-Up Studio Final Design Board

Budget-Friendly Furniture Resources to Shop

The following list of  shopping resources were used to create the mock-up studio design.

If it is budget savvy you need, Ikea can stretch your dollar. Ikea works exceptionally well in an office/studio space. They provide a nice clean style, finish options and leg/drawer options. Ikea is also a wonderful source for rugs and lighting. The best part is you get to take it home with you that same day — I love instant gratification. I know the Ikea quality sometimes gets a bad wrap, but for pieces like a desk or bookshelves, they are my go-to source for style and budget. I definitely recommend creating your shopping list from their website and checking stock and availability prior to your visit.

A great affordable resource to find key and special pieces is Ebay.com. You don’t want to order everything at Ikea or your space will look like their catalog. You also want to steer clear of the “everything matches” or “came as a set” look. Give it your personality by mixing old and new. It’s all about creating the right combo and balance of furniture. Search for those old chairs you can paint a fun color and reupholster. Bring in a little mid-century modern piece that has adequate storage. Think of using a vintage suitcase on a stand as an end table. Put a Moroccan pouf in front of a chair instead of a regular ottoman. eBay has all this and more to offer.

In every design I do, there is a little something from Etsy. I think the main pieces I search for on Etsy are pillows, art work and vintage sign letters. I also search for interesting accessories like vintage typewriters or telephones. Support small creative businesses and shop at Etsy.com.

Local Thrift Stores and Garage Sales
Do a Google search for local thrift stores in your area. Check the paper online and see if any garage sales are listed during the weekend. If you happen to drive by a sale, quickly stop in; you may find a diamond in the rough. My favorite Design*Sponge sources are the City Guides showing all the local picks in your area. I don’t go on a trip without this list in hand. Keep your local shops alive and save money while doing it.

Craigslist is wonderful in some of the same ways that eBay is. It is also a great way to cut out shipping costs that can add up. It may take a little longer to find the right piece, but the results can be very rewarding. We may even meet a friendly neighbor in the process.

I have been pleasantly surprised with Target and their furniture and accessory styles lately. Keep them in mind and pick up a cute outfit in the process.

CB2 is the more frugal sister to Crate and Barrel. They are modern and have some fun pieces. You can shop at CB2 for any of the items on your plan.

Consistently a delightful and style-savvy resource. West Elm is a store that could break the budget, so shop smart and ask about their up-and-coming sales. West Elm would be a good place to find a white lacquered desk, chevron rug or stump to rest a stack of magazines on.

Find croc-covered side tables with drawers, fun vases, urns, art and more. Check for up-and-coming sales, they have some big ones.

JCPenny is a resource I sometimes forget about, but when I rediscovered them, I realized that they are a budget-savvy gal’s dream. I use JCPenny a lot for window treatments and window hardware, like the hardware found in the mock-up studio design. Also keep them in mind for storage furniture.

Pier 1 Imports has come a long way from only selling rattan furniture. I wouldn’t recommend a Pier 1 chair for your family room, but for your studio . . . sure! They are a great place to shop for art and accessories, as well. Ask them about their up-and-coming sales.

I know Anthro is not budget friendly, but they can be. Update a boring white night stand with fun knobs. Use them for inspiration to create the look yourself, like the swatch-book curtains we talked about above. Look at their pillows, curtains and art and see if you can create the look yourself for less.

Urban Outfitters is a fun resource for giving your room that quirky touch and a sense of humor. Look for rugs, lighting, letters and more to give your studio some spunk.

World Market is my favorite spot not only for food and wine, but for tchotchkes. Fill a bare shelf with a great clay pot or vase. They also have lovely rugs and drapery panels.

If you want affordable and original art, 20×200 is your place. They are always receiving new work, so be sure to sign up for the newsletter updates.

Allposters.com and Art.com
If you want to order a print/poster and have it matted and framed in one place, these websites make it easy. You can spend hours on these sites flipping through everything, so watch your time. Just plug in a key word, favorite artist and a large selection of options will pop up.

There are so many more resources, but these have definitely been my tried and true. I hope you enjoy the shopping experience and these resources as much as I do.

Step 7: Paint and Reupholster Furniture
You have purchased your furniture and now it needs some TLC. Think of ways you can update used or vintage furniture you purchased. For example, in the mock-up studio design, I am updating these eBay bamboo chairs. I am going to paint them a deep teal to contrast with the wall color. Then I will reupholster them in a fabric with the Decorator in a Box logo. Visit spoonflower.com to create a custom fabric with your logo.

Paint for Chairs — Sherwin Williams SW6768 Gulfstream

Step 8: Installation Party!
Rally your handy husband, boyfriend or friend to help you apply the wall treatments, assemble, paint and reupholster all the furniture and install. Ikea furniture is fairly easy to assemble, but is usually a two-person job. Hang photos, fabrics and write on your new chalkboard wall. Supply the wine and pizza and you will have a happy installer.

Step 9: Enjoy!
Your studio is complete! Nothing is more rewarding than enjoying your hard work. Take time to soak in the new creative surroundings. Then get back to work — your customers await!

3D Perspective of the Mock-Up Studio Design

The 3D perspective drawing was created by Jessie Carruthers. Contact Jessie for a 3D drawing at Decorator in a Box. Jessie is not exclusive to Decorator in a Box, so you may contact her at jessiecarruthers@gmail.com if you would like your work drawn.

It has been a pleasure creating this studio with you wonderful biz ladies. Please contact me if you have any questions or comments. Contact www.mydiab.com to create your online design in the most financially savvy way. — Annie, Decorator in a Box

Suggested For You


  • Perfect timing! I’m renovating my office space as we speak. Can you provide some examples of good websites that help with furniture layout?

  • Don’t forget about Homasote! It’s great for putting on the entire wall to use as a bulletin board instead of cork. AND it can be painted. I’ve seen it used at an architect’s office I used to work for. It’s on my wishlist for my studio.

  • What a great post. I love that it takes us through ideas to create a room on a budget and an entire design process. Very interesting and informative!

  • Sometimes it’s just about maximizing the space (esp. in work/live environments) but I think that work flow is a really important element. I finally have a great space (that isn’t the basement for once!). I share it with my partner and it is used for a wide variety of creative projects. It would be great to see a post on setting up a studio for creative work. I feel a “before & after” coming on!! cc

  • This is really helpful, Thanks for giving this kind of ideas and love this.

    Anyways I’m also interested in home designing with hand made simple stuff. But actually I wanted to improve my creativity and imagination, before I start my own business.
    Please if you can give me some details regarding some design magazines or books or whatever stuff which gives many ideas for a beginner it will be very helpful for me.
    (I’m from sri lanka, so the design magazines and books must be available in online selling sites, Thanks again :) )

  • Great timing! My two associates and I are creating a studio in an old farmhouse, on a budget. We’re painting cabinetry, and we have the chalkboard wall, cork board, and ribbon board in our “tween room”. We are even using some similar colors! Orders are in for our product lines, and fabrics, and we’ll be off and running!

  • I always tend to jump in and start without a plan… so I like this idea of an inspiration board, list of needed items, etc… before I begin. At least if I can’t start working on my pretty space quite yet, I’ll have a place to display my dream!

  • I would also like to add that Cost Plus world market is great for affordable rugs and pillows! They even have a few great little decorative pieces and some of their furniture is really great quality!

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