How a Trading Spaces Designer Makes Inexpensive Décor Look Luxe

Updated 06/22/18

If there's one person who knows how to design on a budget, it's Sabrina Soto. She's an interior designer on TLC's reboot of the hit home renovation reality TV show Trading Spaces, but she's been honing her thrifty décor skills on a variety of HGTV shows like Real Estate Intervention and HGTV Showdown for years. "All of my HGTV shows were very budget-centric," she tells MyDomaine. "You have to be flexible and you have to make quick decisions."

The Trading Spaces team has $2000 to makeover one room, but these limited funds are no match against Soto's budget-friendly renovation experience. On her first TV interior design gig, she had just $3000 to redesign an entire house, making her an expert on finding affordable and innovative solutions to small space problems and budget constrictions. Ahead, Soto shares nine game-changing interior design tips to help you give your home the summer refresh it deserves without breaking the bank or needing a team of professionals. 

Sabrina Soto
Courtesy of Sabrina Soto

1. Go Gray

According to Soto, finding the best paint color for a small space depends on the natural light in the room. However, there's one paint color she recommends for a safe, small space choice: gray. "I think a nice neutral, lighter gray is the way to go," she says.

Benjamin Moore Gray Cloud $40
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2. Take Your Time

When it comes to choosing paint in general, Soto admits it's a difficult task. "It seems like it should be easy, but then you get to the hardware store and you're like Oh my god, there are so many choices," she says. Sound familiar? Her solution is to bring home sample pots. They shouldn't cost more than a few dollars and can keep you from making a major decorating mistake.

Once you have a few different samples of paint at home, Soto suggests painting pieces of foam core and placing them on different walls in the room you're thinking of painting. "That color is going to look completely different on those four walls in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night," she says. Take some time to see how it reacts to both the natural and artificial light of a room before you commit to painting the walls.

Pacon Foam Board $13
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3. Find the Light

An abundance of light will make any small space feel larger, according to Soto."You should have three sources of light, if possible, to a room," she says. Small changes like removing heavy window curtains and adding more artificial sources of light are simple ways to brighten up a room. 

In addition to making sure your small space is well lit, you'll also want to invest in multipurpose furniture. Look for coffee tables and ottomans that double as storage containers to minimize clutter and keep the space looking as open as possible.

Rejuvenation Folk Tripod Floor Lamp $799 $639
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Sabrina Soto of Trading Spaces
Courtesy of Sabrina Soto

4. Embrace Mood Lighting

"I honestly feel like everybody needs to have their lights on dimmers," Soto says. According to her, it's a quick, and affordable upgrade that's completely doable no matter how DIY-savvy you may be. The simplest way to upgrade your lights to a dim at your command is with a plugin adapter that fits right into your light, but you can also put your actual switches onto a dimmer with a bit more time and effort.

Lutron Credenza Plug-In Dimmer $13
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5. Add Embellishments

Adding embellishments to furniture you already own is a quick and affordable way to upgrade pieces while making them look unique and more expensive. Soto suggests repainting wood with high gloss paint and looking for new hardware to adorn your dressers and nightstands. She swears by Anthropologie's decorative knobs to upgrade any piece of furniture, even her own plain white nightstands originally purchased from Overstock. "I got these two Anthropologie knobs, so for $16 this otherwise generic nightstand looks really nice," she says.

Ocean Crater Knob
Anthropologie Ocean Crater Knob $10
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6. Shop Thrifty

If you're looking to buy new furniture altogether, but want to stay on budget, Soto suggests shopping at stores like CB2, Article, West Elm, All Modern, and IKEA. These are the retailers where you'll find modern, affordable furniture that you can either dress up with new embellishments or enjoy as they are.

Wire Frame Dining Chair Platinum
West Elm Wire Frame Dining Chair Platinum $179
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Interior Designer Sabrina Soto
Courtesy of Sabrina Soto

7. Mix and Match

Decorating a space exclusively with pastels is one trend Soto says is on it's way out. However, that doesn't mean you need to ditch all of you light-toned home décor. "If you have pastels, combine them with richer colors like an emerald or olive or more jewels tones, and metallics, rather than other pastels," she says.

Montecito Outdoor Pillow Cover
Serena & Lily Montecito Outdoor Pillow Cover $98
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8. Hang Art Like a Pro

The biggest decorating faux pas of them all? Hanging art incorrectly. Soto says that it's easy to hang art too high or too low, but in general, you should place a piece of wall art at eye level, which can be anywhere between 5'5" and 5'9". If you're hanging art above a couch, you can also follow Soto's rule that the piece should be about 10 to 12 inches from the top of the sofa.

When it comes to designing a gallery wall, Soto picked up a foolproof trick from her time on Trading Spaces to easily get the look you want. Simply lay a piece of butcher paper on the floor and arrange all of your art on top of it just how you like it. Then, trace the shape of the art directly on the paper before removing the art and taping the paper on the wall. This way you can clearly see where everything will go and place nails accordingly.

Marleigh Culver Algae 01 Diptych $140
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9. Find Your Signature Scent

"Scent is so important to a room," says Soto, but it's one aspect of a room that people often forget. "They have the furniture and the right paint colors and everything on the wall and they forget to also add that other layer of your own personal scent." Use a signature candle or essential oil diffuser to create the final touch to your perfectly designed room.

Air Wick Essential Oils Diffuser $10
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Sabrina Soto
Courtesy of Sabrina Soto

Follow Soto's interior design tips and tricks to solve any small space issues and affordable décor woes you may have. If her experience on Trading Spaces is any indication, you don't need a massive budget to create a beautiful space.

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