While sometimes it's totally worth it to make an investment in a nice piece of furniture or art, most of the time I say the cheaper the better. And it doesn't get much cheaper, or better, than free.
I was walking home from work over the summer and noticed four fairly large framed canvasses sitting on the sidewalk. People are often leaving things out that are totally trash (a futon that's been sitting out in the rain for three days; a giant flat screen tv with a shattered display; a desk with two legs), so usually I eye things suspiciously and then keep moving. But these caught my eye - though they were four totally banal matching green and white abstract prints, I thought at the very least I could put them up in my office on some empty wall space. That's kind of why banal art was invented. So I stuck two under each arm and shuffled home.
Then they sat in the den for a few months while I procrastinated at the thought of having to carry them to work. They're pretty unwieldy, it's over a mile, this was August in Boston, and it's a bummer showing up for work drenched in sweat. But I'm glad I delayed so long, because one day I thought: hmmmm, maybe I should actually keep them here because I have some empty space on a wall in the den, and maybe I should do something really colorful because the den is kind of eclectic-rainbowy unlike the rest of the rooms in our place that have more defined color schemes (bedroom = gray and yellow, living room = turquoise, brown, and green). So I decided to embrace the themes of "color" and "free" and raid the paint chip section of the hardware store. I was of course very smooth about it, definitely not glancing nervously over my shoulder while stuffing hundreds of paint chip strips in my purse.
Next I spent several hours gluing the paint strips to the canvasses (after playing around for a little bit trying to figure out how to trim and space them so they'd all fit evenly), just following the exact order they came in. I let the glue dry for a bit, leaving the canvasses on the floor to confuse the cat. Then I screwed a pair of triangle hooks to the back of each frame, got methodical with a ruler, pencil, and level, and hung them up over my desk. Instant love.
Basically, each canvass has three rows of paint chip strips, with the second and third rows just increasingly more muted versions of the colors in the first row (ie the top row was, say, colors "A-30 through A-45," the middle row was "B-30 through B-45" where B has a little more black mixed in with each base, and the bottom row was "C-30 through C-45" which was a little darker still. The numbering made it really easy to arrange things perfectly). [Note: a few of the strips ended up looking a little uneven in terms of how they line up next to one another, so I actually ripped those ones out and replaced them after I took the photos because it was driving me crazy.]
From the side. I like the depth of the frames.
The day after I made them, my dad and Joss came to town to see a Sox game with us, and brought us the magazine rack my dad had been building for me. He's super talented in an actual "craftsmanship" way - making furniture is pretty impressive. I'd suggested I would love a magazine rack a little while ago, so he took some measurements and then voila, turned up with a beautiful magazine rack (it can be disassembled really easily, which is great for us when we anticipate moving at least a few more times in the coming years). I put it in the den, right next to the lovely book shelf he made me a few years earlier. What a dad! Also note the sewing machine, from my mom. What a mom!
I love the color it adds to the room too. You can see the corner of the turquoise dresser along the adjoining wall, and the wall to the left that you can't see is where my desk and paint chip art are. Next to the dresser (out of the picture, but shown below) is our white IKEA Expedit bookshelf, where I rearranged all the books by color (the picture is just the top half of the bookshelf - purple and some more blue and white are on the bottom). Fun fact: green books seemed to be the least common in our collection. Second fun fact: color is not the most convenient way to organize books. But it's so pretty!