Making the old new: Veteran interior designer Sandra Mangel provides tips for reinventing rooms on a budget

Uptown- area interior designer Sandra Mangel is no stranger to making old things new. Her nearly 100-year-old home has been redone time after time, with antiques and pieces from thrift stores that have been reupholstered and painted to match each remodel.This passion for giving old pieces new life has been a trademark of Mangel’s career and experiences with interior design.

She said her love of design was sparked when she worked for the old Dayton’s department store and helped prepare model rooms. In 1974, Mangel opened a design and gift shop with her mother, Eleanor Mady, called Two’s Company at 46th & Bryant. The shop started out in a tiny 200-square-foot space and later moved into an old Standard gas station next door, which they remodeled to house their business. Mangel took over the business two years ago and rebranded it Sandra Mangel Interior Design.

With more than three decades under her belt, Mangel has made a lot of connections in the neighborhood.

"Design is about creating relationships," she said.

Mangel mainly works with residential customers, but has also done commerical work for coffee shops and other retailers.

Mangel said an important part of her design style is to find the personality of her client and make the designs fit that.

"My work is not a cookie cutter design," she said. "My client is really my inspiration. Design is really about creating an intimate relationship — you really have to get to know the person."

She has become a leader in her field. She served as president of the American Society of Interior Designers from 2004–2005 and in 2006 the society honored her with a "designer of distinction" award. Her home has also been featured in several local and national design magazines.

Mangel’s most recent redecorating project in her own home was aimed at making it less feminine and more suited to both her and her husband’s tastes. She darkened pink paints and added tailored, simple pillows to more feminine designs. Their one big project, she said, was turning her grown daughter’s bedroom into a master bathroom.

Mangel said she really started transforming old pieces to save money after she got married. The first piece that got her hooked was a $25 antique desk from the Goodwill. "That’s what really gave me the bug," she said.

Since then Mangel has been working with antiques and thrift-store finds, both in her home and in her design company. Not only can those pieces add character, Mangel said, but they can also have classic lines and be updated with paints or fabrics.

She’s also a big supporter of the Twin Cities antique furniture stores, including Coe & Channel, 2727 Hennepin. Ave., and J Oliver Antiques, 2730 Hennepin Ave. in Southwest. In the Downtown area, she’s a fan of Antiques Riverwalk, 210 3rd Ave. N.

Thrifty design tips

In these tough economic times, many people are looking for ideas on how to save money without compromising style.

Mangel said the most important thing to remember is to stick to your own personal style, and to look at pieces in a new way.

Here are a few more of her standby tips on how to make designs and furniture look new without breaking the bank.

Paint the walls

"This is the biggest bang for your buck," Mangel said. She said a lot of people are afraid of color, but a new shade can make a room look completely different. And after all, "it’s just paint. You can always change it if you don’t like it."

Think outside the box

"When you see a piece, don’t necessarily think of it in its present state," Mangel said. "Instead, picture what you can do with it. Imagine it painted, reupholstered or used in a different capacity that its original purpose."

Shop antique and thrift stores

"When my husband and I got married, we just couldn’t afford new furniture," Mangel said. "I bought an antique desk at the Goodwill for $25, and that’s what really gave me the bug." She said shopping at antique stores can also help with decorating small homes, since modern furniture is just too big for the small spaces, but older furniture is the perfect size and proportion.
Buy a designer’s time

Many designers are available for hire by the hour to offer some ideas or to go fabric or furniture shopping with you. "A designer can give you a new perspective, and help you make big decisions like what color to paint a room," Mangel said. "In the end you save money because you get a design that’s lasting." Mangel charges $150 an hour, and said that is a pretty standard rate for certified interior designers.

Give your room a new use

Rearranging furniture or changing the use of a room is a great way to freshen up your house. Mangel and her husband converted their grown daughter’s bedroom into a master bathroom, but kept the original architecture and hardwood floors. Also, you can add "mobile" pieces in your rooms, such as light chairs or benches people can move around to join a conversation or watch TV.

Paint or reupholster furniture

"Reupholstering is always cheaper than buying new, and you get to keep the furniture you love," Mangel said. Paint and fabric can help alter the look of the room without having to buy new furniture or change the proportions or shapes of the pieces you already have.

Tips for redecorating:

Keep it cohesive: If you do decide to remodel or redecorate a room, keep it in style with the rest of your house. "Of course you’ll want all the modern conveniences, especially in a kitchen or bathroom, but it needs to seamless with the rest of the home," Mangel said. Otherwise, she said, the room will stick out as new, but not in a good way.

Use oil-based paints: When painting furniture, especially wood, use an oil-based paint.
It adheres better to the wood and is easier to clean. But keep in mind it takes longer to dry.

Buy what you love: If you buy things you like, you can find a place for them somewhere in your home, Mangel said. Also, focus on the shape and scale of the pieces — you can always reupholster or paint something, but you want the design to stay the same. "A house should reflect your personality and lifestyle," Mangel said.

Keep it classic: "Traditional pieces were good yesterday, and are going to be good tomorrow," Mangel said. Classic pieces are easier to fit into any room, and you can make them more contemporary with fabrics or accessories.

Sandra Mangel owns Sandra Mangel Interior Design located at 4601 Bryant Avenue South. Call 827-5395 or visit