VIDEO PRODUCER CHRISTY Ferer, a Today show style contributor, recalls a "sad" little house she and her family once rented. "It had a booger-green carpet on the floor," she says, and an aura to match. Investing less than $100, she transformed it from a homely habitat to a cheery retreat. First she tossed quilts over couches, then replaced the ugly pictures on the wall with a collection of $1 hats from Kmart. "I covered that gross floor with a painter's canvas, and my kids used it to draw," she says. "They did Magic Marker as they sat in front of the television."
In her first book, Decorating on a Dime (Warner, $14.95), Ferer dispenses tips on how she decorates on (and occasionally even with) a shoestring. In her deft yet frugal hands, a soup can (sans label) becomes a flower container, a cobalt-blue cold-cream jar finds new life holding votive candles, and drab lamps take flight with feather-trimmed shades. "I'm a pack rat," she says. "My philosophy is, 'Never throw anything away.' "
To Ferer, who works wonders with muslin and Velcro, a piece of junk is just an accessory waiting to happen. She developed her style by studying Paris flea markets for a master's degree in urban affairs. "I became diseased, obsessed; it started early on," she says. And it continues to this day: Her Manhattan apartment and Long Island summer house (shared with husband Neil Levin, New York City superintendent of insurance, and two daughters) are filled with objects picked up on the cheap. "My housekeeper thinks I'm nuts," concedes Ferer. "As we speak, she's pasting feathers on a lamp shade."