I feel like one of the biggest design dilemmas that people face here has a lot to do with trying to figure out whether it’s worth spending the big bucks on your house or not. Ideally, you want a very comfortable space that feels like a home away from home, but the setting up process can be overwhelming and super expensive. Finding the perfect store is half the battle, and then trying to get over the price tag is another. And if you find a large item in Bahrain and Dubai for a reasonable price then you have the hassle of trying to figure out how to get it here without costing an arm and a leg…
So to help you become a smarter shopper, I thought I’d put together a little guide for you so that you can figure out what’s important to spend on and what’s not.
Some of you may totally disagree with this list because of your personal circumstances or because you may have picked up a cheap and high quality item at a random store, but just keep in mind that this is a guide and that there are always exceptions – especially when IKEA’s a factor! And I also think that this list is very much dictated by Saudi life. It’s a unique experience, so there are many other factors that have to be taken into consideration!
Worth it: Original Artwork
Living here, we have direct access to many unique artists who are known for their depictions of culture and life in Saudi. I think having a piece or two of their work will not only bring oodles of character to your home, but will always be a part of your memories of your life abroad. So next time, consider picking up a painting, ceramics or glass items from a gallery like Arabian Collections Gallery or Desert Designs or at an event showcasing local artists.
When framing, please make sure that you spend the money to get quality framing done as well. It really sucks to have beautiful pieces, that you paid a lot of money for, glued on to a cheap board only to find out later that you may have to rip your painting to get it off the board. Cleary, speaking from experience.
Save: Wall Art
So even though I’m encouraging you to spend some money on original artwork from here, that doesn’t mean that I think you need to splurge on what you put on your walls, in general. There are many ways to save money on artwork and framing. You can put up your own photos, pick up gorgeous and very reasonably priced prints through sites like Etsy or Minted, and then get frames from IKEA. Custom framing can also be an option if you pick a lower-priced frame. And if you really can’t afford the original artwork, you can sometimes even buy a print of a piece that you love for a reasonable price.
Worth it: A good quality Mattress
Nothing beats good sleep. And because this place can really test your patience, I suggest buying something that keeps you and your family healthy and happy. The frame, however, is a different story…
Save: Bed Frame
So like I said, a good mattress is necessary, but that doesn’t mean your bed frame has to be expensive. You can either buy a cheaper frame or buy a headboard. I even think you could have a headboard made by a local upholsterer! This is a great way of saving a little bit of money especially if you spent a lot on your mattress.
Worth it: Statement Pieces
Sometimes a room is in need of a piece that takes it from compound housing to pure character. If you think you’ve found it, but can’t seem to commit, spend the money if you think the item is timeless, you love it, and you think it has serious potential to transform the vibe of your room. We’re lucky that we get to see so many great products that come from all over the Middle East as well as South and Southeast Asia. So next time you see that antique Omani window frame, and think that it would be the perfect piece for your formal living room… Buy it!
I have heard the occasional “But I can get it cheaper from xyz country,” however, unless it’s easy to ship or it fits in your suitcase, spend the money here and be grateful you avoided the hassle.
Save: Storage items… unless they’re in your garage
As much as I love OXO containers for cereal, pasta, and rice, they can be a tad bit pricey if not on sale. The ones at Home Center are cheaper (at times) and work just fine. I also think that the spice jars from IKEA are so perfect and are so cheap that you can change them out all the time. I’ve found great ones at Hazzaz as well, but they’re not as consistent with bringing in the same stock. However, the garage is a little bit of an exception to this rule since no one wants mold and creepy crawlies in their stuff. If your storage boxes are going in the garage, make sure to spend the money to ensure that they’re airtight and waterproof.
Worth it? Probably: Rugs
OK so this one is a little complicated. I feel like a rug can be a worth it or “let’s save our money for when our kids are older” kind of purchase. If you have little kids, you may want to wait on splurging on that beautiful rug that you’ve been eyeing. However, if that beautiful rug is a statement piece or a high quality piece that is not sitting in a high traffic area, it probably would be worth spending the money on. I’ve even noticed that spills and stains don’t really show on a rug with a more complicated pattern as well.
If your perfect rug is too small and you just can’t let it go, buy a less expensive large jute rug in a neutral color to fill the space and layer the smaller rug on top.
Save: Outdoor Furniture
If you spend big, make sure you get a good cover for your set, reupholster your cushions in outdoor fabric (if needed), store away the cushions when not in use, don’t let any water touch anything, and spend the time cleaning it when it needs to be cleaned. If you don’t want to do any of that… then just buy something cheaper, maintain it as well as you can, and then go out and get another cheap set after a few years. The problem is that most stuff gets destroyed here. I’d like to say that you can maintain really nice outdoor furniture, but it’s hard. The summer sun is unpredictable and has a way of annihilating everything in its path. The good news is that if you wait for the Ramadan and Eid sales, you can get a good deal on an outdoor set. I also highly recommend spending some money reupholstering your cushions in outdoor fabric – I ordered mine from fabric.com for $8 a yard. Amazing.
If you missed it, check out my post from last year on my yard. It hasn’t changed much since then, but I’ll post up more updates soon!
Worth it: A good sofa
I think a good sofa can give you the best bang for your buck when you live in Saudi. If it has great bones, you can literally keep reupholstering it for reasonable rates until you don’t want it anymore. I mean, come on, you’ll hate yourself if you have to spend your weekends sitting on something that is super uncomfortable. If you want to make the best out of your purchase though, make sure you pick a neutral sofa in a classic style. That way you can always change up the look with a couple of accent pillows. And when it looks tired and needs a new color, get it reupholstered!
Save: Window Treatments
This one’s a tricky one. Curtains can make or break a room depending on which room they’re in. However, if you’re not looking for a super custom look or heavy drapes to fit a monster window, you may be able to get away with cheaper options. If you’re looking for something simple and in a neutral color scheme, you can pick up IKEA’s ready-made options or pick up some fabric from there (or Al-Guthmi) and have them made for the same price as a ready-made set in the States. I mean, you can even buy blackout curtains for cheap from IKEA… I actually bought my linen fabric for my roman shades in my living room from IKEA for SR 12/meter, and the Damask patterned curtain fabric from Al-Guthmi on sale for SR 15 a meter. No joke.
Worth it: Lighting
Nice lamps are usually pretty hard to find (unlike North America), and with the classic 110/220 V problem, it becomes a really stressful item to shop for. But the right light fixture can totally change your space and add great ambient lighting. This doesn’t just mean table and floor lamps by the way. If you vary up your light sources (recessed lighting, track lighting, pendants, chandeliers, etc.) with your table and floor lamps, you can easily create the mood that you’re looking for. The wrong lighting can actually make you feel depressed!
While some low-budget lamps can do a decent job, I just don’t think they compare to the ones that you’ve spent a little bit more money on. IKEA is an exception since they have some lamps that are just amazing, but this doesn’t always hold true for some of their models. I bought my Zara Home lamps for half of the price of the Pottery Barn ones, and the Zara Home ones have already started looking super crappy. So take the stress out of shopping and spend good money on lamps – they totally last!
I didn’t realize how cost effective it could be to get a mirror made here until my Pottery Barn mirror broke. To get my new one, I went to Flame Gallery (behind Zamil) in Khobar (with my still intact frame) and not only did they replace it with a high quality mirror, but were also able to bevel it beautifully for under SR 500. And if you don’t pick the high quality mirror (which is not necessary) it’ll be even cheaper! Keep in mind though that it’ll get more expensive or cheaper depending on the frame that you pick for your mirror.
This might be a good opportunity though for some of you more ambitious folks to get something like a wooden frame made by a carpenter, and then get a mirror put in by Flame. The possibilities for reasonably priced customizations are endless!
FYI and game changer… West Elm is now open in Bahrain and they have reasonably priced mirrors that are large, super pretty, and may price out to about the same as a customized one. So check there before you have something made!
Worth it: Classic Styles, NOT Trends
This is more of a general rule, but try not to spend a lot of money on things that are considered trendy. Just because banana leaves are on trend, doesn’t mean that your armchair should be reupholstered in a banana leaf pattern. Neutrals and classic styles are always easier to work with and can easily be updated with inexpensive trendy accessories. Spend the money on a classic style that may seem boring to you, but will end up being the perfect background to a banana leaf patterned pillow!
Save: Decorative Accessories & Accents
Your decorative accessories can change depending on the trend, your mood, the season, and any other factors, so this is not something you want to spend too much money on. I love H&M Home, Zara Home and IKEA for most of my decorative accents (including little side tables) as they are usually pretty trendy and are cheaper to buy. I even love buying my bathroom accessories and rugs from these spots.
Hope that helps folks! Happy shopping 🙂