Let’s face it. Life can be complicated and messy, no matter where you live.
But when moving overseas, folks face even more challenges. Whether it’s something as simple as not flushing toilet tissue in the developing world or something as difficult as learning to live comfortably with less or without first world conveniences and products, the adjustments may be many.
But, the fact of the matter is, interior design can become expensive and overwhelming for anyone, anywhere.
Still, some of us encounter home-making and decorating complications because we move abroad with only our cat and six suitcases or because we’re waiting for a shipping container to arrive from North America or Europe. In either case, we’re forced to adapt and make do. We’re forced, not only think outside of, but in some cases literally live without the twenty-foot, steel box steaming toward Ecuador, India, or Indonesia.
(Pity the poor expat planning a dinner party without the perfect tablecloth or candleholders.)
So, hoping to help you manage issues that can challenge domestic bliss no matter where you live, I bring you 10 fun decorating ideas you might not have considered—design alternatives that are easy, inexpensive, and, in some instances, free.
Hang on and enjoy. I’m saving the best for last.
Here’s where thinking outside the box becomes literal, as Sara and I incorporate wooden ones into our decorating in ways you might not have thought of.
Sure Sara has used a box to elevate her computer monitor, but it’s even more interesting to turn one on its side and use it as a shelf.
Since we had floor coverings coming in our container but wanted something in our patio seating area in the meantime, we had to think creatively when it came to rugs.
It just so happened that here in Ecuador, where we live, indigenous folks use woven mats as mattress pads, of sorts, placing them between their mattresses and bed frames to create extra warmth. When we saw them sold for merely $15 at the local market, we knew we’d discovered the rug we’d been loving for. What do you think?
3. Coffee Tables
In the photos above, you may have noticed that we converted a raw wooden bench into a coffee table for our patio, by painting it white. But at the same market where we purchased the bench, we discovered a coffee table option for our living room , as well. In Ecuador, some folks use iron grills for outdoor cooking. These, we realized, could, not only be purchased for less than $20, but could also have a glass top added and be transformed into a conversation piece in our living room.
For one of our guest rooms, here in Cuenca, we built a bed from left-over lumber but didn’t have a headboard for either it or the bed in another room. In the first instance, we used a wall-hanging constructed from African spear handles and attached it to the wall to serve as a make-shift but awesome headboard.
In the second case, we used wooden ladders, turned them sideways, and hung them on the wall above the bed—instant shelving and headboard in one.
5. Curtain Rods
In those same bedrooms we needed curtains. However, we couldn’t find ones we liked and didn’t want to invest in custom-made curtains or rods made for what was only a rental property. So, I improvised, sewing curtains out of old sheets and making rods from plumbing parts I bought for pennies a piece at our local version of Walmart, a place called Coral. What do you think?
However, Sara’s office also needed a decorating intervention. So she used bricks for bookends.
And she converted tin cans into desk accessories by removing the labels and gluing photos she’d taken of bourbon bottles in their place.
I transformed cans into perfect utensil holders for our kitchen counter, using paint, duct tape, ribbon, and pieces of ceramic tile.
8. Window Frames
It just so happened that we needed picture frames, as well. And, again, we couldn’t fine the ones we liked. So we converted window frames into just the perfect frames for pictures and art.
9. Wall Hangings
In the house we now call home, we also needed oversized wall hangings in a stairway whose ceilings were twenty-feet tall. So, I decided to covert the ethnic Afghan dress Sara had been gifted in the north of that country into just the right-sized art. This could also be done in Latin America with beautifully woven ponchos or blankets, in a place like India with saris, or in Japan with kimonos. Any item of ethnic clothing will do.
But we, also, hung a round table top I’d painted on the wall as art.
10. Baskets and Bottles
Living overseas has taught me alternative uses for baskets, as well. They’re plentiful, inexpensive, and add an organic dimension to any room.
Since, we’ve been forces to survive without a medicine cabinet in our Cuenca home, for example, we’ve converted a basket into a first aid kit.
And on another wall in that same bathroom, we placed a basket on a shelf, leaned its bottom against the wall, and used it as art.
But even more fun than that has been my idea for decorating dinner tables, one I learned when we lived in Haiti and have employed here in Ecuador, as well—
—that bottles make amazing candle holders. In Port-au-Prince I used wine bottles, but here in Ecuador I’ve found beer bottles to be equally useful, especially the local Pilsner versions, some varieties of which are brilliant blue or green.
So what do you think? In what ways have you learned to adapt when it comes to decorating your home? Have you discovered any affordable and creative alternatives to traditional design elements? What is your biggest decorating success or failure?