Furnish a home under $8,000? Resourceful millennial home owners say it's possible

Freelance content creator Hilary See, 27, spent under $8,000 to furnish her dream home, a 53 sq m one-bedroom-plus-study executive condominium apartment in Choa Chu Kang. ST PHOTO: JASMINE CHOONG
Freelance content creator Hilary See, 27, hangs up her hats with hooks she put up herself in the bedroom. ST PHOTO: JASMINE CHOONG
Freelance content creator Hilary See's DIY wall of hanging flowers seen behind the chair in her balcony. ST PHOTO: JASMINE CHOONG

SINGAPORE - A "Good Vibes Only" inspirational lightbox quote sits on a dresser. It is flanked by a gold clothes rack draped in fairy lights. A pink furry rug covers the wooden vinyl floor. It is like stepping into a hipster fashion boutique.

Unsurprisingly, 27-year-old freelance content creator Hilary See's home checks all the boxes for every millennial Instagrammer's #homegoals.

What is surprising, however, is that she spent under $8,000 to furnish her dream home, a 53 sq m one-bedroom-plus-study executive condominium apartment in Choa Chu Kang. She shares it with her husband Krez Hong, 27, a car sales executive. They moved in in July last year, the day after they got married.

How she did it was to shop around - online and overseas - for the best deals. "Affordability is a priority to me but I also wanted to create a home that is cosy and pretty. Unfortunately, local high-end home furniture shops are quite overpriced so I turned to other outlets to source for things that are still nice but within my price range," says Ms See.

Millennial home owners - especially first-timers - are a house-proud generation concerned with creating an enviable home for the 'gram.

Thanks to a wide array of online furniture stores and home inspiration accounts on social media, home owners are getting more resourceful in the way they deck out their homes.

Ms See and Mr Hong make it a point to do homeware shopping every time they go on holiday. They spent the bulk of a recent Australia trip scavenging flea markets and prowling the aisles of giant retailers Kmart and Target to look for cheap homeware items.

Ms See does prior research and bookmarks the items she wants at the stores before flying over. She also brings along a packing travel kit - in it is tape, scissors and big pieces of bubblewrap - to wrap fragile items such as ceramics.

"There's a thrill in searching for the piece in person. Plus I can check the quality of the items, which is something you cannot do if you buy online," she adds.

The couple also go to Ikea, Taobao and Urban Outfitters for affordable yet stylish purchases that fit their home's dusty pink, bohemian theme.

Ms See often replaces the knobs on Ikea furniture with vintage models she "thrifts" from local second-hand furniture shop Hock Siong and flea markets overseas to "personalise" them.

Ms Brillyn Toh, 31, manager at Hock Siong, located in Tai Seng, says she sees more millennial home owners turning to "thrifting" (or buying second-hand) as a way to manage costs.

"Buying vintage or second-hand items is generally cheaper than buying brand new. They also try their luck at finding interesting items such as refurbished cabinets, picture frames and knobs, and sometimes chalk-paint the items in other colours," she observes.

On top of that, online shopping has also opened up a world of possibilities in terms of affordable furniture because of the strong Singapore dollar.

Ms Mickey Xiong, Taobao's South-east Asia country director, says the home and living segment is the Chinese retailer's fastest growing product category in Singapore, indicating a willingness to purchase big-ticket furniture items online, if a cheaper price beckons.

There is also a lot of modification and DIY.

Ms See, who works from home, delves into DIY projects to "exercise her creative brain", as well as to keep costs down. She crafted her own floor-to-ceiling flower wall for the balcony by stringing together over 70 single artificial flowers on a fishing line.

When she couldn't find a minimalist-looking clock she liked, she constructed her own using a Ikea rattan placemat and a clock motor and hands bought off Taobao.

She says her husband supports her and is constantly wowed by the lengths she goes to create the perfect home aesthetic. "People often ask me why I go to all the trouble to hunt down the perfect piece. Because it sparks joy, that's why," says Ms See.

Another house-proud couple who have mastered the art of insta-home styling is regional brand manager Jade Ng, 28, and finance analyst Anthony Chai, 30.

Regional brand manager Jade Ng, 28, and finance analyst Anthony Chai, 30, kept their furnishings under ,000. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

They live in a 116 sq m three-bedroom condominium apartment in West Coast and frequently post photos of their home on their joint Instagram account House Of Chais. They moved in in August 2017.

They kept their furnishings under $10,000, including a wooden bed frame which cost close to $2,000 - the most expensive piece of furniture they own.

"We didn't want to be too excessive with our spending so we tried to be more resourceful in how we looked for furniture and decor items," says Ms Ng, who describes her home as "Scandinavian with bohemian elements".

The key, the couple says, was not settling for second best. They did without a sofa for the first six months and a coffee table for a year, as they did not find a piece with a matching price tag they fancied.

"Some people will just buy all their furniture from one store, which is easy to do but it'll cost more. For us, we like to look for the perfect piece in terms of look and price before buying, even if that takes more time," says Mr Chai.

And when they cannot find it, they make their own.

​DIY table and shelves in one of the couple's rooms. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO ​

A study table and two small side tables were crafted from excess marble left over from their kitchen table top - Mr Chai then installed slim gold table legs which were bought online.

But there are certain things the couple invested in, such as a good-quality sofa and dining set. Ms Ng also bought two unique teardrop-shaped hanging shelves from an Australian brand Stix & Flora for around $150 each, as she felt they would make a difference to her living room gallery wall.

Their hobby has now spawned an interior styling business, which they run on top of their day jobs, to help other young home owners achieve a thrifty but nifty dream home.

"Home decor is something we're really passionate about and it feels good to put in effort to create a home that we both like together," says Ms Ng.

Five tips to furnishing a stylish home without breaking the bank

1. Start with the small things

Ms Hilary See says the first thing she bought for her home was cups with unique designs. She says she often buys a pair of mugs whenever she chances upon interesting-looking ones that might look good in photos. Another small-ticket item to invest in is cushion covers, as they can dramatically change up the look of a living room and sofa.

2. Make use of greenery

House plants bring instant life into a home and have a calming effect. But Ms See cautions not to spend over $25 on a single plant, especially if you are new to gardening.

"Plant nurseries generally have a large selection of plants at affordable prices. Supermarkets like NTUC FairPrice and Giant are great for smaller plants such as succulents and cactus," she recommends.

3. Stick to a colour palette

Try not to overwhelm your home with too many colours. White walls are a great starting point, says Ms Jade Ng. She says it is ideal to stick to neutral colours for big-ticket items such as the sofa and leave the bolder colours to smaller, changeable items such as art prints.

4. Have a customisable gallery wall

Instead of a built-in TV feature wall, Ms Ng suggests opting for a gallery wall filled with art prints, plants and trinkets in the living room. Besides saving money on renovations, it allows home owners to refresh their living frequently instead of having to stick to one static look.

5. Shop around and do not settle

Shop around for the perfect item for the space before making a decision. "Don't be too impulsive when you're shopping for furniture; give it some time," says Ms Ng. The fun part of home decorating is the process, not the end, she adds.

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