There’s nothing like the feeling of getting your first apartment. Finally, you’ve got your own space to live your life and express yourself. And for many people, a big part of the excitement of self-expression is the ability to decorate as you see fit and customize the vibe of your space.
But before you grab that hammer, nails and oversized boho tapestry, read these 10 tips. From using peel and stick wallpaper to creating beauty in the in-between spaces, these tips will help you develop a fun look for your first apartment that doesn’t sacrifice practicality and versatility.
Before you start decorating, you need to know what you’re actually allowed to do. Thus, assuming you’re renting, you should read your lease carefully and note which kinds of decorating are prohibited. Activities such as painting or putting nail holes in the walls for hanging pictures are some of the most commonly prohibited, and they can result in a painful loss of your security deposit when you move out. Utilize damage-free wall accents such as removable hooks and custom wall decals that peel off the surface easily.
The secret to making a room’s colors work together is starting with a neutral base color that gives the colors room to interact. One great way to achieve this is to start with a big piece (such as a couch or a rug) that’s a neutral color such as grey, beige or tan. Then, find some other large pieces in complementary colors to pair with it. Use a few distinctively-colored accents here and there to create an attractive visual accent, and keep the colors consistent for best results.
Most apartments have at least one or two transitional zones such as hallways or entryways. Don’t write off these spaces! Instead, find a way to make them your own, such as adding a small painting to a hallway or a table and a vase to an entryway. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but a small number of well-chosen pieces in your transitional areas can make your home feel more put-together and consistent.
Speaking of spaces that sometimes go ignored, let’s talk about your bathroom. It can be easy to never quite get around to decorating your bathroom, but you’d be missing a big opportunity. Adding a few basic decorative touches to your bathroom, such as one or two small framed prints and possibly a plant, can make it feel much homier.
Do you want to be one of those stereotypical people who sleeps on a mattress on the floor in their first apartment? No judgment if that’s how you roll, but your apartment will look much more grown-up and sophisticated with a good bed frame. A good bed frame will do a lot of the decorating for you in your bedroom. Just add a few wall pieces and a dresser and you’re basically done.
If you’ve already got perfect matching sets for your bedroom, living room and dining room, that’s all well and good, but most first-time renters don’t—and that’s OK, too. Most people furnish their first apartments out of a collection of things they already had, gifts from family members and starter furniture or thrift store finds. Don’t drop a bunch of money on a brand-new set of furniture unless you know you can afford it because your tastes may change as you refine your decorating style.
Secondhand furniture stores are a great way to score a deal on a nice piece of used furniture. You’ll find all kinds of treasures you might never have expected to fall in love with, and they’ll be very nicely priced compared to buying similar furniture new. The two big caveats? Inspect everything carefully for signs of bedbugs or other hitchhiking pests and don’t ever buy a used mattress.
Keep some extra seating around for when friends and family come to visit. A couch and a loveseat is a standard living room combination that provides enough seating for small gatherings. But if you think you’ll frequently be hosting more than two or three other people, or you have multiple roommates, make sure to grab some extra seating. A four-chair dining room set is a great way to get versatile seating that can be called into service when there’s company.
That shag carpet might look (and feel) awesome now, but think about how not-awesome it’s going to look (and smell) when it’s accumulated spilled food, tracked-in mud and all kinds of other nastiness. That’s not to say that you necessarily shouldn’t buy something just because it’s annoying to clean, but know going in that you’re going to have to spend some time cleaning it and commit yourself to keeping it presentable.
An ottoman that opens up to store games and books. An entertainment center that doubles as a bookshelf. And, of course, the classic couch with the pull-out bed. All of these are awesome options for a first apartment because they serve multiple purposes. Built-in storage is a particularly useful feature to look for in furniture, and there are lots of awesome furniture options available today that include cleverly designed storage (some hidden, and some on display).
Getting your first apartment is a major milestone in many people’s lives, so enjoy it and use the experience to learn more about your personal style. When in doubt, go with what’s simple and gives you joy. You’ll have plenty of time to craft your perfect aesthetic.