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‘Farm’-fresh design tips for the budget-conscious

Blogger Jennifer O’Brien urges her readers to take their time and to be wary of trends.

Jennifer O’Brien — the woman behind the blog City Farmhouse — has found that time helps sort out challenging house projects, from picking paint and furniture to even starting a website.

The homepage of City Farmhouse.

“I did research, looked at other blogs, made sure that I had something to offer people,” O’Brien said.

It seems she has a lot to offer: She’s been writing the successful City Farmhouse for four years and has stuck with her goal from the outset: to be a resource for people trying to furnish and decorate a home on a budget. She shares her journey decorating her home on Long Island, things she’s seen online elsewhere that she loves (knockoffs of items from expensive home stores), and a lot of DIYs, from dyeing napkins to making pillows.


And she wanted to do it in a way that doesn’t say “Look how perfect my house is.”

“I’ve always been upfront with my readers that if my living room looks great, my dining room is probably a mess,” she said.

I talked to her about writing a blog, why trends can come back to bite you, and why being patient when decorating your home will serve you well.

How did you determine what you liked and then start integrating it?

I have always loved rustic. [While] decorating our family room, I was trying to bring a new perspective with my style with all of my old furnishings. I didn’t have much money. I usually start off low: I look for the biggest pieces I can find for the cheapest amount of money, maybe a chair that needs to be reupholstered. I gravitate toward vintage furniture because it’s very well made compared with what you’ll buy today. Sometimes I refinish it, and then I’ll splurge on accessories: throw pillows and art. A lot of the art I made myself, too. I splurge on Etsy because it is also one of a kind, which gives a designer look.


I’m a big believer in combining all sorts of materials: I have some high-end things that I got on clearance and an IKEA sofa. My TV table? I got it at a vintage store. I also have a mix from HomeGoods and Target and some sentimental things.

What tips do you have? Mixing and matching can be hard.

First, trust your instinct. Usually, when you love something right away, that’s a really good sign.

Second, be careful with trends. I never commit to trends with bigger pieces, like furniture or upholstered items. I did do curtains in an ikat pattern because I love that, but typically I do trends with throws or wall art. That way, if you realize you’ve made a mistake, it’s easy to undo.

Third, have a plan and take your time. Don’t go into the store thinking: That’d be great here and that’d go great there.

It seems like a blog would be a great way to curate how you define your style. Is that how you learned this?

Yes, and trial and error. We bought our house when chevron [patterns were] big. I bought two very large chevron rugs for the front porch. It was great for the first year, and then chevron felt so overused. I didn’t want to spend another $400 on rugs. I should have waited or bought something neutral, and ultimately I did end up getting something more neutral from Dash & Albert. Now I take my time.


It sounds like being deliberate with all your home choices is your top tip.

When you take your time, your choices are more deliberate. I love to have a cup of coffee in the morning and scroll through Instagram. I follow food and travel feeds. I’m inspired by color and texture and design, but I don’t jump in. I have loved indigo for decades, but have also seen it come and go; I started loving navy about a year ago. I was nervous to go bold with them. At first, I used indigo sparingly to be sure it was a hue I needed in my home, and it was.

I painted my dining room “Stormy Sky” by Benjamin Moore. I was so nervous to do it. Even though it’s paint, it’s still a lot. So I created a mood board. The [color] was the best decision I made. I knew I loved it, but I took my time. It’s important to take those risks, even if they’re small.

Photos from

This interview has been edited and condensed. Heather Ciras, a features producer for, can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @heatherciras.