Okay. So let’s say you bought a house, or signed a lease for a new apartment. Or maybe you’re just over it with your Craigslist–or college–furniture and are thinking that it’s finally time you sold it all (or burned it) and moved on.
I found myself in one of these situations a few months ago. If you’ve been following along my Off Duty exploits, I moved (!!!) into a really cool little apartment with my boyfriend about 4 months ago. And well, the past few times since college that I’ve moved around, I was never able to really sit down and figure out how to make a new space feel 100% like a true expression of who I was or what I wanted my “adult” life to look like. This time, I wanted to spend more time planning out the place I was about to call home. I wanted, above all things, to feel proud of creating a space that I paid for with my own money and decorated without outside help.
I think I did a pretty good job.
Since moving in, I’ve had a few people ask me how I did it. I’ve even been asked if I could help friends (and strangers!) decorate their new spaces too. First of all, let me say YES. I love decorating. I binge-watch shows on HGTV like nobody’s business. Let me into your home and give me your credit card and I will make your space BEAUTIFUL. Or… since most of you probably won’t let me into your homes or give me your credit cards and your wish lists… I decided to write this post instead.
Here is how I transformed my new digs from a cold, empty rented apartment into a cool home that I am extremely proud of (and quite frankly, love showing off).
Decide on a Theme
Back in February when my boyfriend and I first decided to move in together, we knew two things for sure: we are both picky as all hell, and we both have an eye for aesthetics. Choosing furniture, to put it mildly, was not a walk in the park for us. We needed to be a little systematic to help us get through it without wanting to kill each other. So, we had a talk one night about the things we wanted–and absolutely would not be able to tolerate–in terms of a theme. I wanted lots of neutrals and white, Scandinavian openness and design, and gorgeous green plants that I would neglect and that he’d have to water. He wanted a functional, post-modern, Mad Men-esque space where he could sip whiskey and, I don’t know, be a guy. We decided to meet in the middle and go for something that I’ll just call functional Scandinavian. Stay with me here.
The point is not in knowing interior design terms. It’s about deciding what you like and don’t like, and then choosing something to use as your central inspiration point moving forward. Once you figure out what that thing is–whether it’s pops of color, beach vibes, or clean and simple–stick with it. Once you have a focus, it’ll help make the rest of the process that much easier.
Make a Vision Board
After deciding on a direction, I created a Pinterest board and honestly just went crazy pinning pictures of living rooms, bedrooms, and pieces of furniture that I felt “fit” with where I was trying to go–even if only a little. My boyfriend and I spent a week doing nothing but adding to this board. Doing this is helpful because it starts to give you a more tangible understanding of your vision and the pieces that you’ll need in order to bring it to life. You probably don’t know off the top of your head what kind of couch or dining chairs you’ll need to make a “beachy” living room happen, but after finding photos that evoke the style you want, you’ll get a better feel for the types of pieces you’ll need to look for when furniture shopping. When I did this, I was able to really start to pin down the various silhouettes, colors, fixtures, and accents I’d need to seek out when I eventually started shopping (and, it helped me define the kinds of things that wouldn’t belong, so I could skip over them and ultimately streamline my search).
Measure Your Space
The next step is definitely measuring out every inch of your space (if you haven’t already). Grab a tape measure and a friend and write down the lengths, heights, etc. of every little inch of space you have to work with. If you can’t physically be in your space to measure it (like if you’re about to move into a new apartment), ask the landlord to email you a floor plan or print one out from online if your new place is fancy like that). Doing this helps you be more realistic about the things that will and won’t fit, and it might even open your eyes to possibilities you didn’t even know existed. For example, my boyfriend knew he really wanted a desk to go somewhere in the studio, but we weren’t sure where it could go without looking messy. When we measured the place, there was a little 3-foot nook by the windows in my living room that I didn’t think I could fit anything in. But, once we knew how wide the space was, he started looking around online and filtering my desk searches by width until he landed on the perfect desk! And, I mean perfect–there’s only like half a centimeter of space on either side between the desk and the wall, but it works, and it helped us utilize an otherwise unusable area.
Make a Wish List
After I had an idea of what I wanted my apartment to look like and how much space I actually had to work with, I opened up a Google Doc, and we just started listing every single thing we found online that we even remotely liked. I organized the links on my doc by furniture type and price, but at this point, price doesn’t really matter as much as just exploring what’s out there and writing it down. This was one of the most fun parts–because it’s the shopping part, duh–but also because it helped me discover all kinds of furniture brands I never even knew existed! And, while making your list, it’s also a good thing to keep track of sales or deals you come across, too. Sign up for newsletters (you can always unsubscribe later), write down any opportunities to save, take note of when sales start/end, and reference them later when you’re actually ready to buy.
Some Furniture Shops I Fell in Love with During my Search:
- Floyd Detroit
- Urban Outfitters
- Target (Come on. You really can’t go wrong)
- Pottery Barn
- West Elm
- And of course, for some things, there really is nothing like Ikea
Consider the Function, Your Must-Haves, and Your Nice-to-Haves
Especially if you live in a smaller space, you’ll want to aim for things that are both attractive and functional–furniture that does double duty. Part of this is honestly because, if you live in an apartment or share a place with someone else, you just don’t have the luxury of space to waste. But also, what’s the fun of having a bunch of stuff sitting around that doesn’t make your life better/easier/cleaner/or more organized? Some of my favorite functional pieces in my new living room are my shoe rack / entryway console (less than $100 at Ikea) and this cool see-through c table (they are designed to roll right up to your couch and fit over the cushions so you can have a table as close to you as humanly possible when you’re sitting down) that’s both functional and doubles as a statement piece. Not having to put effort into reaching for your wine glass while you binge Netflix? Count me in.
Set a Budget + Make a Spreadsheet
After we made a bazillion page-long wish list of furniture, throw pillows, rugs, and wall art, I started a new spreadsheet, organized by items and price (dorky, I know, but hear me out). Then, I took my favorite things from my wish list that were actually within a price range I didn’t faint at, and I added them to the first tab of this sheet. This helped me clearly map out the actual prices of everything altogether and start to narrow down the things we were determined to buy. This also helped us identify the things we needed to get rid of or hold off on until we saw how much we were spending. On the second tab of my sheet, I transferred over the things that I was for sure going to purchase, and kept a running total at the bottom of my list of how much all of my must-haves would cost.
A quick caveat here on budgets and spending. I had been saving up for a few months before moving, but I didn’t have a huge pile of money laying around to throw at shopping. So, for some things that I snagged for the new apartment, I had to get a little creative. Coffee table? Traded furniture with my friend / old roommate for it! Entertainment stand? Well, my boyfriend actually built one for us that only cost $50. Bar cart? Another trade with a friend.
Before you actually make any purchases, see if there are any resources you can leverage to save some money. Whether it’s trading with a roommate, buying something on LetGo, or building something yourself, thinking outside the box can definitely help when you’re designing a new space from scratch.
Okay, back to the furniture shopping. Ahhhh. Finally. Buying time! I actually didn’t start with the biggest items first when we moved, but I already knew how big the sectional I wanted would be and how much space it would take up. Start with the biggest items first and work your way onward from there. Often times, these pieces will be the most functional and most essential things that you’ll want to add to your space immediately. And, these things–rugs, sofas, beds, dressers–will not only take up the most space, but they’ll also simultaneously help you to define the areas in your apartment! For example, seeing how your sofa breaks up the space in your living room could help you decide whether you can fit a desk or an end table nearby. Understanding how your bed fits in your bedroom can help you determine what kind of accent furniture to buy and where to put it. And, starting with the bigger things will also help you learn what things you can’t fit in your space.
When we got our sectional, I was worried we wouldn’t have a lot of space leftover for a cool dining table. So, I bought what I thought would be a nice, small, square 30”x30” dining table in a wood grain that I felt somewhat resembled the color of my couch legs. I was waaaaay wrong. Not only did it end up looking like a tiny little kid’s table after we assembled it, it was honestly also the color of a Cheeto. I hated it. If you asked me a few years ago, I probably would have tried to keep it. But today, most places (especially online) have increasingly competitive return policies, so as soon as I saw how hideous this dining table was, I packed it right back up and shipped it away. This is where you’re going to be spending a significant amount of your time relaxing, living, and (hopefully) feeling inspired, after all. If you don’t like something, don’t be afraid to return it and start over. Don’t settle for anything that doesn’t make you happy when you look at it. It’s your home, and your money. You deserve 100%.
Finally, when you have all of essential furniture moved in and set up, and once you’ve recovered slightly financially, you can start thinking about all of the little finishing touches that’ll make it feel like home. For me, these things included everything from throw pillows and plants to end tables and new bedsheets. These things are what will help transform your apartment from looking like a cookie-cutter layout in a furniture store to becoming a personalized, unique space that’s entirely your own.