4 of the Best Decorating Tips I Learned From My Grandma

Large gallery wall of vintage art.

Ashley Montgomery Design

My 88-year-old grandma, Rhee, is just like my 20 and 30-something friends: seriously. She’s recently navigated merging households with a partner, is always eager to spruce up her apartment, and can never turn down a trip to browse the aisles of HomeGoods.

But, one thing she has that my peers don’t is decades upon decades of decorating experience. Because my grandma has always been a pro when it comes to all things design, I turned to her to gather some advice that will serve readers of any age.

Read on for Rhee’s four top decorating tips.

01 of 04

A Little Revamping Can Go a Long Way

As an artist, my grandma is quite talented, and her home is full of unique pieces, both on the walls and off. That said, even beginners like me can majorly transform their spaces with a bit of DIY.

“When I was younger—your age—I used to build stuff and hack found items," Grandma says. "So, I painted things and papered and had a grand time."

When I was younger—your age—I used to build stuff and hack found items. So, I painted things and papered and had a grand time.

Start small by spray painting pieces in need of a fresh pop of color, or finally tackling that IKEA hack you’ve been admiring for years. Spending extra time at home in recent months provides the perfect opportunity to devote a few hours to that potential furniture makeover that’s been in the back of your mind for awhile.

02 of 04

Compromise is Key

Bedroom that is a mix of boho, traditional and midcentury styles.

Burchard Design Co.

My grandma was married for over 60 years and, in the homes she shared with my grandfather, decorating was solely her domain. Today, she and her current partner have made compromises about which of their pieces will live in which spaces.

“Six years ago, I met Peter, who likes old battered things and paintings of ducks. So, he gets a study filled with his things,” Rhee notes. “Our big bedroom is eclectic, but the living room, dining area, and kitchen are mine.”

Compromising on décor is just one component of sharing a space with a significant other or roommates, who may wish to play a role in the design process. However, deciding who will tackle which room or nook will allow each member of the household to have some agency.

03 of 04

Quality Pieces Can Last a Lifetime

“My style was midcentury modern—and that’s where I was, midcentury,” Grandma explains. In fact, she’s the one who first taught me about this type of furniture, which I now spot everywhere.

My style was midcentury modern—and that’s where I was, midcentury.

It turns out that she was onto something when she made her purchases over 50 years ago. “I still have much of the furniture, all of it reupholstered and even sanded and greyed down,” Rhee says. This goes to show that quality pieces will continue to serve their owners for decades upon decades if maintained properly.

While it can be tempting to give into trendy, mass-produced pieces, investment items will last the test of time. And not to mention, today’s furniture just isn’t made like it once was—solid vintage items are true gems.

04 of 04

Shopping Secondhand Will Lead to Unique Finds

Vintage art above antique dresser.

Ashley Montgomery Design

It’s clear where I get my passion for thrifting and secondhand finds—my grandma has been frequenting yard sales and antique shops for as long as I can remember. In preparation for an upcoming apartment move, she said, “I’ve been going to thrift stores and buying things that are blue—vases, goblets, and the like—and they now line my window sills, which look out at water."

Thrift shopping can be overwhelming, especially if you’re a beginner, so visiting shops with specific items in mind—pertaining to a color scheme or theme—will make the process less daunting. Sometimes, it’s the smallest accents that make the biggest impact.