Did you know you can order art-quality photography at a pittance from the Library of Congress, or that you can turn a flea-market find into a lamp with decorative mountings available at almost any lamp shop?
Or that white boat-enamel paint is the secret to giving vintage furniture a high-gloss finish?
You can accomplish these quick decorating projects and many more usually in an hour or two -- or at most an afternoon.
A new book, "Real Life Decorating" (Better Homes and Gardens Books, $29.95), has ideas from the homes of real people who share a passion for creating the homes of their dreams. Each idea proves the premise that you can enjoy your home right now wherever you live and whatever your lifestyle and budget.
Here are a few of the easiest ideas:
-- Order archival prints by famous American photographers from the Print & Photography Reading Room of the Library of Congress. Check the Web site, www.loc.gov/rr/print, or call (202) 707-6394 for information. The John F. Kennedy Library in Boston is another source of American history-based photography prints and can be reached by calling (617) 929-4500.
-- Look for interesting, one-of-a-kind objects, perhaps from your own collection, that can be made into lamps at a lamp shop. If it is impractical to drill holes for wiring, use decorative mounting sold at lamp shops and attach to a base. Dress up a plain shade with hand-sewn or hot-glued trims. Beaded trim offers a fashionable look.
-- Clean up and repaint country or cottage furniture for a more contemporary look. Sand to remove the remnants of peeling paint. Prime and repaint with shiny white enamel. To enhance the shine, replace hardware with sleeker styles.
-- Plan how accessories and collections are displayed. For the most effective presentations, group all of one collection together rather than scattering it around a room. Whatever you collect will look more important and interesting when it is arranged together. Consider less than obvious places, such as lining your stairs, to display your treasures.
-- Collect objects, such as painted metal tole trays, plates, old leather, books, boxes, baskets and small unframed painting for backgrounds and elevations. For example, lean a tray or unframed painting against the back of a bookshelf and display an object or framed family photograph in front. Or use books to raise small objects, such as framed snapshots or tiny vases, so they are more visible. Purchase miniature easels or plate stands for displays.
-- Be on the hunt for affordable accessories that enhance the personal style of your home. The secret: scour flea markets and tag and garage sales for interesting items, such as alarm clocks, teapots, crockery or vases that appeal to you. Narrow your collecting to one material, color or group.
-- Make the most of family photographs and snapshots. Choose one material, such as silver-plate or brass, for your frames and group framed pieces on a skirted table in your living room. Or mix snapshots with books and other family memorabilia in a bookcase.
-- Pick a theme with easy-to-find motifs and objects for a quick decorating starting point. For a country-French look, shop for figurines of farm animals, such as roosters and pigs, often associated with the style.
-- Use your wedding or other special-occasion presents every day. Don't put away your good vases or save serving pieces for holidays. Instead, fill them with flowers from the market or your garden for a polished finishing touch. Remember the design rule of an odd number of elements, such as a vase, lamp and plate on a stand, for harmony.
-- Substitute accent pillows from a linen outlet or discount store for pillow inserts, even if you plan to cover them with new fabric. Then you have two pillows for the price of one. As a further budget-stretcher, sew covers from fabric remnants or from oversize dinner napkins.
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