Decorating your first apartment is exciting—but it can also be daunting. Where to start? Well, now that dorm life is behind you, you’ll also want to leave pin-boards, extra-long sheets, and mini fridges in the past. Beyond those basics, there’s a lot to learn. So whether you’re a long-term renter who wants to make their apartment feel like a polished home or a first-time apartment dweller, you’re in the right place. We compiled a 20 crucial decorating lessons ranging from low-lift tips to major makeovers, all of which will ensure your first apartment looks 100 percent grown up. But also still youthful, fun, and “you.”
You can make a small apartment work harder with just a few stylish items. And this is especially useful in a tiny entryway. Here, Tamsin Johnson Interiors chose two sculptural hooks for coats and bags, a slim and stylish basket for umbrellas, a chic accent chair for sliding in and out of shoes, and a mirror that dresses up the wall and also allows for last-minute touchups.
Whether your entryway is also your kitchen, living room, and basically everything but the bathroom, or you have a few awkward transitional zones like landings and hallways throughout the apartment, don’t overlook those little little corners and nooks. Here, Danielle Colding chose a perfectly-sized dresser and styled it with artwork, a vase, and a mirror, all of which reflect the colors featured in the rug.
Nothing shows you’re adulting like window treatments that aren’t made of paper or plastic. Design firm ETC.etera opted for striped Roman shades, but flowing curtains will also do the trick. Either way, the right window treatments will make your space feel more polished (and enable you to sleep in more!).
If you start with a neutral base mix in color, your space will feel sophisticated, rather than childish. After all, no one wants an apartment that looks like a box of Crayolas melted all over the place. Take inspiration from this living room designed by Emily Henderson—a perfect example of colorful yet understated decorating.
To make a rental feel more personal and homey, make your mark with a monogramed shower curtain, towels, or robe. Then add some artwork and decor to polish it off. Alexander Reid used a garden stool and filled all the blank surface space with a gallery wall.
Not only will a headboard and/or bed frame serve as a focal point in your bedroom, but it’ll be a major upgrade from putting your mattress directly on the floor. You’ll never have to rest your head against the wall again. For some guidance, take notes from this space designed by Arent & Pyke. The curves of this headboard along with the warm, deep colors ground the room and fill it with an edgy intensity while pink linens soften things up.
In this living room designed by Robert McKinley Studio, the radiator is disguised by a brutalist metal cover and the occupant’s magazine and book collection is neatly displayed on floating shelves. Two apartment decorating solutions in one space!
In this modestly sized powder room designed by Corinne Mathern Studios, the tiny shelf transforms an awkward corner into something chic. It’s just large enough to fit a select few cosmetics or a vase with flowers. Either keep it at the same heigh as the sink, or put it right between the sink and mirror.
When decorating your first apartment (or second, or third, and so on), chances are, you won’t stay forever. And as you hop around, you may find yourself against a variety of backdrops, from modern and bland white boxes to Spanish-style buildings to industrial spaces with exposed brick and concrete surfaces. Instead of starting from scratch each time and trying to match everything perfectly, it’s okay to reuse what you already have and build up your collection gradually. Not only will this help you discover your true personal style, but it’ll also create a real sense of home. If eclectic design scares you, take note from this stylish dining nook by Romanek Design Studio. The modern, casual chairs, sophisticated marble tabl,e and vibrant artwork are a perfectly imperfect team.
Swap out your overhead lights (especially the unsightly flush-mounts you found in the apartment when you moved in) with prettier fixtures and vintage treasures. In this hallway by Heather Hilliard, the blue crystal light makes all the difference.
Even if you’re actually ready to tackle a gallery wall (the anxiety is real), you definitely should swap out your college paraphernalia for some new artwork. You may not have the income to splurge on a statement piece or two just yet, but there are totally easy ways to DIY some wall art. When in doubt, stick to a theme. Heidi Caillier kept it floral here.
Paint can totally impact how large your space feels. A white wall color can help make your (likely) small apartment feel bigger. Or at least give you a blank slate to work with. Bonus: It’s easy to paint over when you move out. You could always paint them another color, too, if you’re feeling adventurous.
When you have neutral staples and a smaller canvas to worth with, choose one statement item that brings in a surge of colorful energy. In this narrow kitchen designed by Romanek Design Studio, the bright and fun runner animates the entire space. Think of it as art for your floors.
Make sure you’re always ready to host by keeping a wine rack fully stocked. In this small living room designed by ETC.etera, the bar unit also livens up an empty corner.
On a similar note, make sure you’re always have enough seating for guests. That doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton on nice dining chairs though. An eclectic array of vintage finds or some simple folding chairs will look elevated against the right backdrop.
Make the best of an awkward and tiny kitchen with pretty linens, floating shelves, and fun wall decor. We’re loving the pop of orange in the dish towel and the fun eagle convex mirror in this kitchen by Emily Henderson.
If you live in a studio, dividing your living and sleeping areas is the best way to make the place where you crash feel more like home. Get creative with room separators, opting for screens, benches, or even a tall bookcase. You could also hang a rod from end-to-end and then hang a separating curtain.
If your kitchen doesn’t have an island and you don’t have a living room that’s separate from the kitchen, don’t give up. Opt for a tall wooden table that can provide some extra counter space for cooking and also function as a two-top dining table. Use this one in a kitchen by Corinne Mathern Studio as your blueprint.
Nothing ruins a bedroom like a bottomless pile of clothing scattered around. We, too, have our own “clothes chair” in the corner, but optimizing your closet with drawers and hangers that make it easy to stay organized will be a huge help. Here, Shapeless Studio opted for a hamper that’s pretty enough to keep out in the open, too.
A home isn’t quite a home without a well-stocked kitchen. The basic essentials include cookware, an coffee machine, a toaster, and fruit bowls, to name a few. If you have limited storage space and need to display appliances, consider investing in appliances (how pretty is this espresso machine in a kitchen by AP Design House?) that get the job done while also beautifying your countertops.