Best-made plans: how to furnish your first home on a budget — a step-by-step guide

Best-made plans: how to furnish your first home on a budget — a step-by-step guide

Moving into your first home is so exciting — but so frustrating  when you haven’t enough money left to kit it out.

You could gratefully accept cast-offs from family and friends — or go for broke, giving up holidays and meals out and maxing out your credit cards to get it all done in one go.

Whatever you do, you will probably do it online, whether you are buying new or second hand.

Online interior design hub Houzz ( recommends you prioritise buying important big stuff, such as a bed, and then less expensive things such as side tables, to give you surface area to work with.

Gemma Shah’s bedroom (Juliet Murphy)

Lamps provide instant atmosphere, while small touches such as soft bathmats or pretty bed linen will add that feel-good factor.

A spending spree wasn’t an option for PR specialist Gemma Shah when she bought a ground-floor two-bedroom flat in a Georgian conversion in Brixton in 2014. Instead, Gemma, 26, devised a plan to tackle a different project each year.

“All my savings went into buying the flat so there wasn’t much left afterwards. But that meant I had time to properly consider the interior changes I wanted to make and what furniture to buy.

“Though it is very tempting to just go out and buy stuff, don’t. I’m still working through my list — each time I’ve saved up enough money I tackle the next project.”

She started with her bedroom, ripping up the tatty carpet and restoring the wooden floorboards, finding a recommended tradesman through It cost her £400.

The original parquet flooring in the living room was in a bad state and in a dark, unforgiving mahogany, so Gemma stripped it back and treated it with a clear, simple varnish.

She then sanded the heavy cream lacquer paint on the shutters in the bay window and repainted them in white matt, which really brightened up the room and, eventually, contrasted with dark walls.

“I’ve always been drawn to colours, and my bedroom and living room are both generous spaces with high ceilings so I felt they could hold dark tones.


Gemma’s sofa was an investment piece (Juliet Murphy)

“I went for Mylands Maritime ( in my bedroom and Scree by Little Greene ( in the living room. The rest of the flat is a simple white, to keep the colours in balance.”

Gemma prioritised investment pieces over decorating to begin with.

She bought a sofa from for £1,700 and a decent bed, then smaller, more functional buys such as a good set of kitchen knives and her first Le Creuset pan (

“My Dad gave me some great advice: have somewhere snug to sit and sleep at the end of the day; invest in a good-quality bed and mattress and a comfortable sofa. The rest could come later.”

Her biggest spend has been £2,500, on repaving her potholed outside patio.

After that she went bargain hunting, starting in Ikea ( A big living room rug cost £50, cushions are H&M Home ( and Gemma scours second-hand markets — recently buying a marble-topped side table for £65 while on holiday.

Don’t forget to consider furniture packages…

If you can’t wait to get your new home kitted out, ask your developer about furniture packages.

Respected builder Crest Nicholson, for example, offers a range of packages, including the one-bedroom open plan + master bedroom package, priced £4,099.

The two-bedroom open plan + master bedroom + guest bedroom package is £5,895, while the three-bedroom open-plan + master bedroom + guest room + additional bedroom package is £7,895.

Items include a kingsize bed, walnut chest of drawers and metal floor lamps.

And if you’re doing it yourself…

First, buy big-ticket essential items, such as a bed. Then find pieces that will give you surface space, such as the Elona bedside table in white gloss, £129 (

Lamps create mood —’s large Bow floor lamp is £119 and its Plume pendant lamp, in smoky grey, is £95.

Scroll through the gallery above for furniture package and DIY inspiration.

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