Chic on a shoestring

Author Alexandra Campbell has a budget smart home - even her dog Benji was recycled from a rescue home
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The days of ripping out your house and starting afresh with spanking new fitted kitchens and bold decorative schemes are over, according to Alexandra Campbell, whose well-timed book, Thrifty Chic: Interior Style on a Shoestring, is here to suppress the tendency to spend and to encourage imagination.

"Even a year ago, before the recession had started to bite, we were all starting to get more interested in recycling, both for financial and eco reasons. But I believe there's a growing taste for investing our homes with personality, which can only happen if the interior has a history of its own," she says.

Home for Alexandra and her husband David is a pretty red-brick Georgian town house on the edge of Faversham in Kent, which they bought in 2003. Alexandra moved from London, leaving her life of beauty and interiors journalism to write books. David works as a management consultant for a big IT firm.

"We wanted a more rural and less stressful existence and I loved the idea of embracing a completely different lifestyle," she says.

"With our two children, Freddie and Rosie, about to start secondary school, we thought it was now or never."

In exemplary style, she admits they spent almost nothing on doing up the house and sourced all the furniture on a budget. Her top tip to anyone redecorating on a tight budget is just to start by repainting the house. "The house was in good condition, so we just repainted from top to bottom; just a couple of coats of Farrow & Ball everywhere and it was instantly fresh and clean."

Alexandra Campbell and Benji
Alexandra Campbell and Benji

Change the chintz

She turned her grandmother's vintage chintz curtains into cushions and reupholstered sofas and chairs, resulting in old family furniture that looked fashionable with new fabric. To find more furniture, she went to work on the local paper's small ads and websites and found some sofas for £50. With the chests and wardrobes she bought, she removed the beading and fretwork and changed the handles. Ebay was the source of smart Anglepoise lamps for next to nothing, plus 14 metres of Sanderson chintz in perfect condition, which cost only £56.

"The trick with Ebay is knowing which brand names you want and to keep putting them into the search engine until you find them." Car-boot sales are useful, she says: "People are struggling to raise cash by clearing out the family clutter, and the quality of goods is going up." Another of her tips is to transform high-street furniture by painting it in soft, chalky heritage colours: she points at two metal chandeliers and a slim console table she transformed from dark brown to grey and creamy white.

Staircases can be smartened up with a striking paint design
Staircases can be smartened up with a striking paint design
"Years ago I let many of my mother's possessions go off to a house-clearance sale but now I'd say hang on to things, really look at them and see what you can do. It might just be a matter of having them professionally cleaned.

Her long oak kitchen table was made by a local carpenter out of Victorian pews their church no longer wanted, while a collection of blue-and-white plates goes perfectly with her deep-blue Aga. Even the dog, a friendly Saluki called Benji, is recycled - he came from the rescue home.

Her book is a series of case studies of homes in London and the country. It covers the cosmopolitan and rustic, the French shabby chic and the minimal and and modern, and is filled with good ideas.

A good trick is to transform your stairs: paint a striped runner form top to bottom in fashionable and fresh colours. But blankets are out of fashion, so she suggests you back them with pretty fabric and use them as throws. And if you are loitering down by the plumber's merchant (looking for a cheap and reliable handyman), buy copper piping cut to length to hang your utensils form. Don't discard bottles that can be used as flower vases, and mismatched china is the latest thing, so go to those car-boot sales and create a striking display.

Pictures by Simon Brown

Buy old china at car boot sales for a colourful display
Buy old china at car boot sales for a colourful display


Bermondsey Market: Bermondsey Square, SE11, Fridays 5am to 2pm

Kempton Park Racecourse: twice monthly on first and last Tuesday of each month. Visit www.

Portobello Road Market: W11, Saturdays 8am to 5pm

Online auctions: Ebay:

Local auctions: look under Auctioneers and Valuers in Yellow Pages. Cheaper furniture is usually sold at general sales.


Thrifty Chic, by Alexandra Campbell and Liz Bauwens, is published by Cico Books at £19.99. To buy it for £17.99 including p & p, call 01256 302699 quoting GLRIVE.

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