How can I give my London room some personality?
July 14, 2010 3:58 AM   Subscribe

Where in London can I get nice, cheap things to decorate my room?

I've been living here for about 9 months but my (fairly small) room is still quite bare. The furnishings I have are pretty horrible -- they're that sort of shiny veneered plywood that is common in cheap housing -- and I'd like to give my room a bit more personality.

Where in London is a good place to get things like bedsheets, throws (to cover the horrible furniture), curtains, plants, and things for my wall that are nice without being too expensive? I'm not too pushed about them being old or in a worn condition, so long as they make the room somewhere I won't feel depressed about spending a weekend writing in. In the back of my mind, I would love new furniture but I guess that that's going to be out of my price range. I can definitely live with covering things up.

I've thought of markets but the only one that came to mind for stuff like this is Portobello Market, which is pricey. I've also considered skipping (ie, dumpster diving) but I have no idea where I'd do that. All the charity shops I've been to in London are pretty bad.

I'm in North London (Islington), but travelling is fine. I don't have a much to spend, and I'd really appreciate suggestions that take account of this, but I'm sure there must be places and things out there for someone without a lot of money. Thank you!
posted by cloudbuster to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Ikea is cliched but better than nothing (and is especially good for things like plant pots). I would also try pound shops, when I lived in London I picked up some really nice and cheap prints and frames in those. Sometimes the prints are awful but the frames are nice and you can easily change them out for a print or photo that you like better.
posted by rubbish bin night at 4:04 AM on July 14, 2010

Gumtree is how a friend snagged a cowhide rug and a solid teak dining table for practically nothing.

Charity shops in relatively upscale family home areas tend to be more useful (think Hampstead, Primrose Hill etc). But you'll probably find interesting knick knacks rather than actual decorative stuff -- I scored a vintage art deco glass jug for 5 pounds in Chiswick, but have never seen anything better.

For throws, try going to areas where they have fabric shops catering to African, South Asian etc shops. Eg those around Whitechapel, Brixton, etc. I don't know your taste, but if you want reams of colourful material that's not Camden Market, they may be your best and cheapest source.

For things to put on the walls, keep an eye on print shops and exhibitions. Brick Lane often has little exhibitions where you can pick up street art style prints for under 50 pounds. I recently bought this from a gallery near Old Street, have bought some cheap but nice Japanese prints from the Japanese Gallery near you.

An even cheaper option, but a step up from pound shop art, is to go to places like Magma in Covent Garden or Clerkenwell, and pick up books of interesting postcards or wrapping paper to frame them. Magma also has great art and design magazines -- leaf through them and you're sure to find something under 15 pounds with several pages you can rip out. Also, if you're handy at all, you can use them to turn Freecycled furniture into decoupage masterpieces.
posted by tavegyl at 4:16 AM on July 14, 2010

My apologies if my suggestions are out of your price range. The Magma/ postcard idea should be extremely affordable, and all the others should be 20-50 pounds each. Also don't underestimate how great flowers are to make your workspace less dismal. My weekly 3 pounds spent on a bunch of flowers for my desk kept me going through all the winter months.
posted by tavegyl at 4:22 AM on July 14, 2010

Matalan and Primark are very cheap with homewares sections, however, you will have to wade through slightly more crap at Primark! Argos is also good on a budget, and if you find big enough branches of Sainsbury's and Tesco they both sell affordable home stuff.
posted by ellieBOA at 4:28 AM on July 14, 2010

The fabric shops of the Goldhawk Road are a good place to pick up a metre or two of cheapish fabric to drape over chairs, the headboard of your bed, etc. My personal favourites are Classic Textiles and A-One, but shop around.

Shepherd's Bush Market, near there, is another good source of cheap shiny things (and excellent falafel for lunch.)
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:49 AM on July 14, 2010

Some ideas:

There's a car boot sale every Saturday and Sunday at Princess May Primary School on Stoke Newington Road in Hackney.

The Matalan at Dalston Junction (in the Kingsland Shopping Centre)

If you want to go a bit further, at Tottenham Hale there is a retail park which has an ASDA Home, Argos Extra, a pound shop and B&Q among other things.

There's probably lots of places on Holloway Road but I don't know the area too well to recommend places.
posted by Helga-woo at 4:54 AM on July 14, 2010

A vote for Muji, which has some very cute stuff. There appear to be a few stores scattered about London.

Ikea is very good for frames and very reasonable- if you don't want it all to be photos, try framing some postcards or even nice pieces of fabric or wallpaper if it strikes your fancy. (I love the box frames too- fill them with a sort of collage and some bulkier bits and voilá!)

And for a little inspiration, the DIY category on Decor8 is often very good (though it might be skewed towards the girly side a bit).
posted by psychostorm at 4:56 AM on July 14, 2010

Ikea and Muji are quite expensive new - you want to check out the amazing bargains to be had on Gumtree and Freegle. Camden market is affordable for throws.
posted by turkeyphant at 4:59 AM on July 14, 2010

Your local freecycle group is a good source for larger stuff like furniture. It's a cliché, but if you are prepared to upcycle something then ebay works.

Beyond the stuff that's been mentioned already: there is a big market every weekend at Vauxhall, where you might find some bits and pieces - but there is a lot of tat/dodgy and fake stuff so caveat emptor. There is also a good list of markets here. I'd also consider Roman Road market, which is pretty cheap normally.

There are some car boot sales in London, although most are outside. This is a good list. The golden rule is get there as it opens, when the good stuff and bargains are there. It's when the dealers go.

For posters/pics, one strategy is to find vintage magazines - which are often cheap - and make your own. I haven't done this yet, but I have bought some relatively rare "prints" in the past that sell for £25-£30 when mounted and cost a fraction of that to buy if you know where to source them. If you go to Paris, for example, there is a huge trade along the banks of the Seine in nicely mounted vintage magazine ads from popular magazine of the 50s and 60s. They sell for next to nothing. In London, I always like Cecil Court for a good rummage.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:00 AM on July 14, 2010

Do try skipdiving, and if you like to walk, take a walk around residential neighbourhoods looking for people having clear-outs.

My SO and I do this quite often - we've found nice pieces of aged wood, now shelves and a cupboard, really nice old planks which we glued together and made a tabletop, with the underneath being an old bass drum, a plant I am rehabilitating, a nice wooden fold-up chair... there's good stuff other folks don't want which you might!

As a side note I live quite near to you in London, give me a shout if you want someone to go shopping with!
posted by greenish at 5:03 AM on July 14, 2010

Skip diving is, if I recall correctly, technically illegal. It might be worth you speaking to the person whose skip it is before you take anything. The chances if you being arrested for it are vanishingly small, though.

If you want new stuff, have a look in your local branch of Wilkinsons. They do some nice stuff and it's pretty cheap.
posted by Solomon at 5:44 AM on July 14, 2010

Second MuffinMan on FreeCycle - the IslingtonNorth group is particularly good if you're local.

For throws, jazzing up blinds/curtains etc. there's a great cheap fabric shop on Seven Sisters Road, just up from the intersection with Holloway Road - Rolls and Rems - if you're comfortable with a bit of sewing.

Also worth keeping going with the charity shops, particularly around Hampstead and Highgate sorta areas. They're patchy but you can often get really nice things for next to nothing.
posted by girlwonder at 6:49 AM on July 14, 2010

try going to areas where they have fabric shops catering to African, South Asian etc shops. plus Matalan
equals Dalston in general, Ridley Road Market in particular. There are tons of colourful African wax fabrics to be bought for your curtains or furniture covers; some of the cheaper stalls will give you six metres for a fiver. Inside the Kingsland Shopping Centre is a Matalan for the cheap bedding, mugs, and Peter Kay DVDs.

Speaking of pop culture trash, the Vintage Magazine Company in Soho has lots of stuff that can quickly turn a bland flat fun. I'm particularly fond of their postcard frames, which retail for less that £2 last I checked.
posted by Chichibio at 7:42 AM on July 14, 2010

Please don't use Freecycle in the UK - use Freegle as I recommended above.
posted by turkeyphant at 1:01 PM on July 14, 2010

Response by poster: There are loads of great suggestions here, thank you! I won't mark any best answers because I'm going to try out quite a lot of the advice given here.

Turkeyphant, why not Freecycle?
posted by cloudbuster at 1:02 AM on July 15, 2010

See here:
posted by turkeyphant at 5:10 AM on July 15, 2010

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