“Just because the price tag has fewer zeroes does not mean that it is any less worthy of your home.” That down-to-earth approach to decorating a home proves that if anyone can make frugal fashionable, it’s Colette Conway. The 24-year-old blogger behind Frugal Finds has made it her mission to prove that home décor can be both budget-friendly and beautiful—starting with her very own apartment. When you take a peek inside her cozy Chicago apartment, you’re immediately greeted by a bright space filled with luxe-looking, neutral furniture mixed with bold accents and quirky trinkets from various places—budget-friendly shops like C. Wonder and TJ Maxx to places she’s traveled to her own parents’ home.
Today, we chat with the talented Colette about her move from New York to Chicago and how she decorated a fabulous apartment on an Everygirl budget, so join us on a tour of this vibrant abode and meet this equally vibrant young woman.
Full name: Colette Marie Conway
Location: Lincoln Park
Current title/company: Founder and Editor of Frugal Finds
Educational background: Freshman/sophomore year at The University of Southern California; junior/senior year at Northwestern where I received my B.A. in Art History
How long have you lived in your current space? How much time did the decorating process take after you moved in?
I have only lived in my space about 10 months. I moved back to Chicago from New York last August, but lived at my parents’ house on the North Shore while I figured out exactly what I wanted in an apartment and was ready to take the plunge and sign a lease. Luckily, I had quite a bit of furniture, art, and accessories that I brought with me from my apartment in New York’s Upper East Side, so my Chicago apartment basically looked fully furnished the day I moved in. Being a complete design junkie, however, I have been progressively adding to and editing what I have in my space ever since I moved in. I still consider it a work in progress, so check back in with me in six months and my apartment very well may look entirely different!
How did you find the apartment you’re currently living in? Tell us the process you went through while looking for it. What were the key characteristics you were looking for in a space?
Believe it or not, I found it on Craigslist! For anyone who has been apartment hunting in New York, you know it can be a living hell, so I was pleasantly surprised at how painless the process was in Chicago. As I was living at home on the North Shore and had plenty of friends’ apartments to crash at in the city on the weekends, I took my time finding the perfect space. My little studio in New York cost an arm and a leg, so I wanted to do a complete 180 and find the most cost-efficient space possible in Chicago.
In terms of characteristics that I was looking for in a space, cost-efficiency was #1. I wasn’t terribly concerned about the size of the apartment, as my New York apartment was a very small studio. Charm and character are also important. Although my apartment does not have luxurious amenities, the picture frame molding, large bay window, and pre-war details won me over. For some, an updated kitchen may be a make or break situation, but seeing as my idea of cooking is Trader Joe’s mac n’ cheese in the microwave, I was perfectly content with a kitchen that wasn’t chef-worthy. In fact, some of my apartment’s shortcomings proved to be exciting challenges when it came to decorating.
When decorating your home, what area did you concentrate on first (bedroom, kitchen, etc.)? Why did you choose that area?
The area I concentrated on first was the living room—I knew that is where I would be spending the most time. It is also the largest space in the apartment (my bedroom is actually meant to be a dining alcove!), so I knew that it would comparatively take the most time.
You’ve managed to pack a lot into a small studio! What’s the best space saving trick you’ve learned since moving into your apartment? Did you have any apprehensions about moving into such a small space?
I love using multi-purpose pieces, such as storage benches or storage ottomans. This provides both useful surface area and an inconspicuous space for just about anything. I have also utilized floor screens in my New York apartment and my current apartment to cordon off a corner and hide unsightly but necessary items, such as a vacuum, broom, or garbage can. After all, anyone who has lived in a small apartment knows that closet space is a precious commodity—one best served for more important things such as clothes and shoes.
Though you’re originally from Chicago, you also lived in New York for a bit. How did your studio apartment there differ from your current? Would you say that your decorating style has changed since then?
My New York studio, although very small, was much more updated. It had been gutted before I moved in and had one of the most luxurious of all New York studio amenities—an elevator. No fourth floor walk up for me! My current apartment is a walk up and does not have granite countertops or new bathroom fixtures like my New York apartment. Neither apartment, however, had a dishwasher. In fact, my college apartment did not have a dishwasher either, so I have been washing my dishes by hand for the last three years!
My decorating style has stayed relatively consistent in the sense that it is very vibrant. I do not shy away from color, and I like incorporating classic pieces as well as more experimental ones. I would say my style is part Hollywood Regency, part Frances Elkins classicism, and part Midcentury Modern. Most everything that I had purchased for my New York apartment has been utilized in my Chicago apartment, and the way I make my current apartment feel fresh and distinctive from my previous one is by creating vignettes and arrangements different from those in my New York space.
What was the first “investment” piece you acquired in your home? How did you choose which pieces to splurge on and which pieces to save on?
My two first investment pieces were my sofa and dresser for my New York apartment. I purchased a sleeper sofa from Home Decorators Collection, as I wanted to make sure there was always a place for visitors to stay. I was very wary of the sleeper sofa stigma, but I actually think my sofa is not bad looking. It is incredibly comfortable, and the neutral color means that it can be used in a variety of ways for years to come. I wanted a neutral white dresser that was classic and versatile. I saw one from Pottery Barn Kids and fell in love with the bead board detail. It is also a piece that can be easily updated at a later date with fun knobs.
When it comes on deciding which pieces to splurge on and which pieces to save on, I think it really depends on what is important to you. If you are a big art lover, an original piece of art may be something to splurge on. One of my general rules is that if I find something that seems pricey, I will at least look for it at a lower price point. Often times, you can find something similar at a better price. This particularly applies to lighting, rugs, and pillows. This premise, after all, is what Frugal Finds is all about!
What key items did you consider “must-haves” in terms of furniture and accessories when decorating your home? What is the most unique piece you found while decorating?
A comfortable couch is a must-have in my book. Also, high-quality sheets. Clearly, comfort is a priority to me. A great place to find unique pieces is your parents’ house! Things you may have overlooked or thought were dull while growing up can be some of the most interesting things with which to decorate. For instance, I found a silhouette of my mother at the age of one, a photograph of my Canadian great-grandmother, and a picture of my grandfather in uniform with his plane in the Air Force. I also came across a variety of vintage books that I probably wouldn’t have given the time of day as a child but have now made their way into my apartment.
Tell us about your favorite budget friendly piece that you incorporated into your space! Where did you find it?
Some of the best finds I have ever come across are two pieces (coral on vintage pedestals) from artist Jamie Dietrich. I found them on major sale at West Elm on New York’s Upper West Side. They usually retail for upwards of $1,000, and I got each of them for $49. They are very delicate and awkwardly shaped, but I was determined to get them back to my apartment on the Upper East Side unharmed. I was worried about shipping them from New York to Chicago, but luckily they arrived relatively unscathed.
What are some of your favorite stores where you found affordable pieces for your home?
I am a big flash sale site shopper, so I am constantly scouring One Kings Lane, Joss & Main, My Habit, Gilt Home, Open Sky, and many others, particularly for accessories. I also love flea markets, estate sales, and antique shows, such as Randolph Street Market in Chicago in the summer and the Lake Forest Antique Show in the fall. I have a variety of local resources that I depend on for items both big and small, such as The Painted Lady in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood, Heritage Trail Mall in Wilmette, Valentina in Lake Forest, Elizabeth Grace in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, and Millionaire Rejects in Lincoln Park. I also frequent the big name stores such as Target, TJ Maxx, Homegoods, World Market, and Pier 1 Imports. Etsy, eBay, and Amazon are online essentials for me. I have also found some amazing things at charity thrift stores, such as Housing Works in New York and Mount Sinai Hospital Resale Shop in Chicago. Bottom line—you never know where you’ll come across your next treasure.
You have a lovely and colorful assortment of textiles in your apartment! Fabric and pillows can quickly eat up an Everygirl’s budget. What sources did you use to find such great pieces?
I do indeed love anything colorful, textured, and patterned! As I mentioned, I am a huge flash sale site shopper. One thing these sites are great for are pillows. I am often wary of buying final sale items online, but pillows are fairly accurately represented on these sites. Etsy is an amazing source for fabric and pillows as well. Many of my pillows are also from C. Wonder, West Elm, Target, and Homegoods.
How would you describe your decorating style? Where do you look for inspiration?
I feel as though inspiration can be found most anywhere. I like to pick up trinkets whenever I travel. By the way, trinkets can be free! I have a collection of beautiful seashells from Martha’s Vineyard that I picked up from the beach and now have displayed in my apartment. I also take a book of matches from my favorite restaurants and bars, and I now have quite an extensive collection displayed in a clear glass vase. I am always on Pinterest and Instagram to gather inspiration from some of my favorite tastemakers, such as Lauren Santo Domingo, Aerin Lauder, Alessandra Branca, Kelly Wearstler, Joe Ruggiero, and Celerie Kemble. Yes, I am very active on social media.
What are your current career aspirations? Where do you see yourself in five years?
Currently, I am focusing on my freelance design work and growing Frugal Finds to include other aspects of a budget-friendly lifestyle. Stay tuned! In five years, I would love to have a product line that ranges from furniture to accessories that is, of course, affordable and accessible. It would be classic with a hint of whimsy and would be ideal for the Everygirl! There is also a chance that I will have gone back to school for either architecture or historic preservation. That seems like a deviation from the aforementioned, but I am a girl of many hats.
Tell us more about your blog! What inspired you to first start Frugal Finds?
I started Frugal Finds about a year and a half ago when I was living in New York. I remember seeing an adorable enamel dish at C. Wonder that looked extremely similar to my mom’s Hermès ashtrays. My mother was not about to give me her treasures, and I certainly wasn’t in any position to purchase my own. It was at that moment I realized that there were many young professionals who, for lack of a better term, were living with “champagne taste on a beer budget”. I had done quite a bit of freelance design blogging, so fusing my knack for sniffing out budget-friendly décor and creative writing experience seemed only natural.
It is a thrill for me to create a narrative about budget-friendly design and remove the “cheap” stigma. Just because the price tag has fewer zeroes does not mean that it is any less worthy of your home. I love finding untapped design resources and sharing them with my readers. There are so many incredible small businesses that deserve recognition. As an entrepreneur myself, I like to pay it forward.
You currently offer freelance design and architecture services. Tell us about what kind of projects you work on. How did you get involved with freelancing?
I am currently working on projects on the North Shore and in the city, mostly for young professionals like myself. I have worked for very high-end residential interior design firms in both New York and Chicago, but I find it more challenging and more rewarding to work on projects that do not have unlimited budgets. It’s amazing to see what can be accomplished on a shoestring. I got involved with freelancing simply because I had readers of my blog asking for design help! A piece of advice here and there has turned into multi-room projects.