How to Make Any Home Feel Like a Palace (No Matter How Much Money You Have)
Illustration by Alex Cabal.


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How to Make Any Home Feel Like a Palace (No Matter How Much Money You Have)

An offshore bank account is not a prerequisite for living with a little opulence.

Welcome back to Luxury Rules, a new life and style column for people of taste who are also on a budget. Today, our resident class act, Dodai Stewart, advises you on one of life's great truths: Luxury begins at home.

Hello lovelies! Dodai here. I’m a writer and editor who aspires to perfect the art of living well… without going completely broke. Previously, I offered some tips for dressing to impress for divas on a dime; today, I’ve got suggestions for making your home more heavenly—even if you live in a hovel.


You don’t need a penthouse with city views and marble bathrooms to feel like a pampered person, and an offshore bank account is not a prerequisite for a little opulence. Below, a few suggestions that will bring elegance to even the most cramped quarters, unkempt rooms, and stained futons.

Splurge on Nice Toilet Paper

Don’t punish your pumpum—spend just a little bit more for the “nice” toilet paper. Not to be your mom about it, but whenever possible, you ought to treat your private parts with respect and tenderness, and let’s face it, cheap toilet paper makes you feel like you’re pooping in a public school. When I first started living on my own in a crumbling studio apartment, I cut a lot of corners and shopped at the 99¢ store, but quickly discovered that scratchy T.P. just isn’t worth the pain in the you-know-what. You may never understand toilet paper math, but trust that an irritated bunghole makes for an irritated personality. Ripples and textures and softness are good.

Hack Your Front Door

This one might not cost you anything (and you should only try it if you feel comfortable and safe doing so): Find a way to make sure your front door only locks if you lock it with a key. That makes it very hard to get accidentally locked out. A lot of entry door locks have a little toggle buttons or a rocker switch where the bolt meets the jamb, so you can set it when you need to. Flipping the switch or pushing the button sets the lock to unlocked—the door will still close, but the lock will unlock with the turn of the doorknob, and will lock by flipping the switch back or using a key.


I like to leave the button in the “unlocked” position when I’m stepping out ever so briefly: I can slip out to throw out the trash or pick up the mail, then slip back in—without taking keys. It’s an awful, heart-stopping feeling when the door slams behind as you leave the apartment and you realize your keys are inside. Yes, 24-hour locksmiths exist, and yes, they are expensive. This trick—to rig your door so that it doesn’t lock unless you lock it—can’t stop you from losing your keys. But at least you’ll never have a locked door with keys behind it. That’s called peace of mind—one of the best luxuries in the world.

Drink Spa Water Daily

Fancy establishments offering massages, body wraps, and skin treatments have one thing in common: spa water. Clean, refreshing, cold, delicious—it feels absolutely indulgent. However. Here’s something you may not realize: Spa water is just regular water with a fruit or vegetable in it.

Slice up a 99¢ lemon or cucumber and turn your boring Brita filter water into a decadent spa water. Just throw a couple of slices right into the pitcher. Voilà! You’re sipping something sublime.

Invest In One Nice Pillow (and One Nice Pillowcase)

You sleep every single day. Even if your mattress is crap, a comfortable pillow can make a huge difference. Sleep itself is a goddamn luxury, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I use an app called Sleep Cycle that’s not only a gentle alarm clock, but also a sleep/mood monitor, and the data proves the obvious: The better the night’s sleep, the better the mood. Also? I LOVE TO SLEEP.


Some people are really into expensive sheets and bed linens—we’re here on a budget. Don’t fret if you can’t afford Frette, but please do get yourself one nice pillow and one nice pillowcase. What constitutes “nice” is up to you—your chosen pillow could be squishy or firm, or you could layer two ten-dollar Target pillows for $20 worth of softness.

You can buy a set of soft, luxurious pillowcases without shelling out for an entire sheet set. The whole thread count thing can be very confusing, and sometimes a high (over 400) thread count doesn’t always mean a softer sheet. It’s really about what you prefer. Personally, I go for a crisp, cool feel (cotton percale, from PB Teen) over a sateen or silky feel (definitely don’t want my dry heels to snag the sheets!) but some people like knit jersey, or flannel. Unsure? Go hit up Bed, Bath and Beyoncé, touch some sheets, and see what you like.

Since some experts claim that quality pillowcases are better for your face and hair, it’s not just a sleep investment, but part of a skincare routine. The thinking is that rough fabric can give you sleep creases and therefore wrinkles; so the smoother the pillowcase, the better. BTW, one weird trick for clearer skin? Change your pillowcases frequently. Once a week! Every night, you’re snuggling up to your own hair/skin oils, and if you sleep on your side, your cheeks are laying in it for hours. Yikes. Surely that’s not part of your impeccable skincare regimen!


Bottom line: Upgrade your pillow and pillowcase for a cheap but a life-changing improvement in the bedroom. Bonus: In the immortal words of Debbie Harry, dreaming is free.

And! Get Yourself One Good Towel

My advice? Make it a bath sheet. A regular bath towel is usually 54 inches long; a bath sheet can be 68 or 70 inches long. Bigger is better: Wrapping yourself in a giant soft towel is one of the best ways to attempt replicating the luxury hotel experience. Just like cheap toilet paper is akin to public school, being forced to reckon with a thin, scratchy, undersized bath towel that doesn’t close around your body is like showering in a zero-star motel. When I step out of the shower, naked, glistening, and vulnerable, I want my entire body to be wrapped in a fluffy, soft embrace—and as a not-petite woman, I need a not-petite towel.

I quite like the bright colors and plush thickness of the Turkish cotton bath sheets at The Company Store, which can be custom-monogrammed, if you really want to level up/make sure it doesn’t get stolen by roommates or partners. (Monogram suggestion: “Mine.”)

Keep Emergency Champagne on Hand

Something will happen. You’ll meet someone. You’ll get promoted. You’ll get fired. Your friend will dump her deadbeat significant other. You’ll pass your STD test. It will be Tuesday. The point is, it (whatever “it” is) will happen, and it will be time to celebrate.

In these situations, you will need a glass of bubbly. Keep one bottle on hand, no matter what. It can be a cheap prosecco! Spa water can’t compete with the celebratory pop and fizz of a sparkling wine. I like to buy Sofia blanc de blancs, which runs around $20 and comes wrapped in festive pink cellophane. Something will happen! That’s the luxe life.


Set The Mood With Candles

This is a no-brainer, but I would be lax in my duties if I didn’t tell you that a drugstore scented candle is a multifunctional wonder. Throw that pile of pants in a corner. Leave the lacy unmentionables out, lying around for a touch of flirty insouciance. Turn off the overhead fixture. Light one (or three?) Glade “Angel Whispers™” candles, and a filthy bedroom can go from smelling like socks and looking like an episode of Hoarders to smelling and looking like a sensual boudoir. The fragrance is gently floral, like a pink perfume, but not too cloying. (The subtle “Clean Linen™”scent also works in a pinch.)

Be careful—do not set anything on fire—but when placed on a desk, a bathroom sink, a side table, candles make for flattering, forgiving lighting while obscuring dust bunnies and under–eye bags. Sure, by all means, do the Le Labo or Diptyque thing if you can afford it. Just keep in mind that you’re literally setting money on fire: Glade offers the same vibes for a lot less. See the light!

Select and Claim Your Favorite Glass

Everybody needs one glass. The favorite. Maybe it’s a mug. Maybe it’s a wine glass. Maybe it’s a champagne flute.

For me, it’s a three-dollar 21 oz. Crate and Barrel large working glass, which holds enough spa water so I can work at home feeling properly hydrated, but also don’t have to get up for refills too often. On a rough afternoon, it’s the perfect size for an entire can of Coke poured over a ton of ice, which is a nice solution to the 4 PM energy lull. After a rough-rough afternoon, it makes for quite a bit of gin and tonic. Cheers.


Always Have Crisis Chocolate on Hand

Again, things will happen. You will never regret hiding a Kit Kat in the freezer and then forgetting about it until that moment you feel you will perish from PMS without it. I really do think that hotels have cracked the code for true luxury—I just feel so taken care of, and there’s no questioning why chocolate is part of that equation.

The words “self-care” get thrown around quite a bit, and lots of “wellness” things like quinoa, meditation, and face masks are mentioned, but when I’m especially fragile and my uterus hurts, I want to be indulged and soothed in a way that only a Ritter Sport will accomplish. It’s possible that your version of this is Häagen-Dazs, or Halo Top, or something else. Just be sure to treat you the way a four-star hotel would treat you: with something (quite literally) sweet.

Frame Something You Love

As an impoverished, struggling person, you may be using push pins and tape to hang posters and pages ripped from magazines and calling it decor. Fair enough! There’s a carefree charm in chaotic collage, and I love having layers and layers of inspiration on a magnetic door or bulletin board. But if you pick one thing you simply adore—a postcard, a photograph, a paycheck stub, a love letter—and stick it in a cheap frame from IKEA or your local drugstore, you’ll be surprised at how nice it looks, and how good it makes you feel. Which is what luxury’s all about.

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That’s it! Go ahead: Wrap yourself in a towel, light a candle, open the champagne, and revel in your life of luxury! Until next time…