Stealing style

When it comes to room decor, the cheaper the cuter – even outside of Bethel University.   

Story by Maddie DeBilzan | Photos by Carlo Holmberg

When she’s working on a home, interior designer Charla Melby doesn’t look for decor at Pottery Barn or Williams Sonoma.

She shops at Target, Hobby Lobby and TJ Maxx. Shamelessly. Some of her clients ask Melby not to tell them where she gets her material because it’s embarrassingly inexpensive.

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Melby creates wall ornaments using iron and wood. She uses the rack for storage and decor. “Mixing iron and wood are big trends right now,” Melby said.

Melby is the founder of “Frugal Design.” She’s a bargain-hunter whose mission is to find stylish decor that reflects the personality of her clients. Students at Bethel University have no idea that their prudent mindsets align with a revered Twin Cities designer.

Residents of Wingblade 13 at Bethel University are addicted to rustic simplicity. When they can’t handmake their decor, Target is their dealer. Their walls are kept to a minimal. Only mirrors, homemade crafts, and a couple posters cover the living room walls.

“We don’t intentionally buy stuff,” Erin Levahn said.

Senior Hannah Johnson doesn’t know much about interior decorating, but she knows what looks good. Scattered throughout her room are vintage window frames converted into picture frames, painted bottles used as vases, and photos clipped on twine.

“I don’t spend a lot. I usually find what I can around the house and fix it up,” Johnson said. “If I do go buy something, it’s different materials to help renovate the item.”

Resident Director of Edgren Katie Delgado doesn’t fall far from Melby’s design palate and budget. She never spends more than $30 on a decoration.
“If you’re patient, you can find things at really reasonable prices,” Delgado said. “I see something that I really like and try to find something cheaper or make it by hand.”

And she makes a lot of things by hand.

On her wall hangs a handmade world map that she glued onto three separate canvas frames. On her coffee table sits coasters that she made using old scrabble letters and cork. The centerpiece of her living room is a quote framed by a floral design. Her brother, a graphic designer, made it.

Melby gawked at Delgado’s map idea. She loves repurposing vintage materials. Her house is garnished with her grandpa’s reading glasses, repainted tables, and vases holding wooden sticks. She says  HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” has impacted interior trends. The show features a couple in Texas who renovate homes to create barn-style, old-timey
spaces by using repurposed material.

She encourages Bethel students to continue looking at materials differently. If your grandma gives you a

“They probably already have basic things that other people have given them. If they don’t like it, they should be creative. Paint it a different color,” Melby said. “If your table is broken, go to Home Depot and buy new legs to fix it. Don’t look down on anything cheap, free, or donated.”

Melby’s house is a museum.

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Interior designer Charla Melby’s living room features old-timey pieces replicated from the HGTV show Fixer Upper. She buys her pieces from discount stores like Target and Ikea, and she repurposes her tables to save money and stay stylish. “A lot of places I shop are not typical for interior designers,” Melby said.

Her living room is freshly painted light grey. A mirror hangs above a couch so white, Jesus must have died for it. A woven basket holds her blankets. Watering cans sit beside an oversized lounge chair that looks like it belongs in Beauty and the Beast. But for Melby and her clients, it works. An old tin mailbox rests on the bottom shelf of a repainted antique desk. White lamps ornament each table. A torn-up rollerskate holds a picture of her grandmother. Gaping windows allow natural light into the spacious area.

She got the lamps at Target and the couch from Ikea.

So next time your grandma gives you that old, oversized dresser you never wanted, take a closer look at it before you sell it to an antique store. Squint, even.

Maybe pull out a drawer and use it as a bookshelf on your wall. Or tear the back of the dresser out, polish it and put it in your room: your not-so-new headboard. Or nail the drawers unevenly on top of each other and use them as a coffee table next to your couch.

Because — luckily for us — the less money we spend, the cooler it is.