My apartment needs a tune-up.
November 12, 2008 12:23 PM   Subscribe

What makes a living space go from good to great?

As the days get shorter and darker, I tend to take a little bit of time about this point in the year to try to improve my indoor life. Last year I took up a hobby, this year I think I need to concentrate on the living space.

I like my apartment. It's a good apartment, but I want it to scream "This apartment is awesome!" I'm not really sure how to do that. The furniture generally follows a theme, there are pictures on the walls, and it's kept in a reasonably clean state. I think there's enough lighting, but even if there wasn't I don't have anywhere else to plug in more lamps.

So, I guess the question is - what are some small, subtle things that one can do to/add to/subtract from a living space to give it just that extra, undefinable zing that makes living there extraordinarily satisfying and has guests wondering who your decorator is?
posted by backseatpilot to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 86 users marked this as a favorite
you might get some ideas at
posted by lockestockbarrel at 12:41 PM on November 12, 2008

Also,, love that site.
posted by Brittanie at 12:42 PM on November 12, 2008

I think it boils down to three things. If you're a renter, you have control over one of them.

1. Architectural design
2. Quality of construction
3. Personality

You have control over the personality. That's extremely vague. But you can get the same "wow" from minimalist zen fantasies and ornate steampunk confections, so it's hard to be more specific. Perhaps you should guide yourself by answering the question "what can I do to my place that only I would do?" When people walk in and see your extensive collection of antique trepanning tools mounted in rococo frames, I guarantee, they'll say "wow!".
posted by adamrice at 12:42 PM on November 12, 2008

Best answer: Start editing. Get rid of (or hide) anything that looks cluttered, out of place, or just plain ugly. Remove about half of your books off your shelves and rearrange them so each shelf is a little different and more open. Then take stock of what you have and begin to create a palette. If your home is pretty nice already, you're probably already doing this unconsciously. What colors or styles predominate? What doesn't fit in? Can you renovate or replace the things that don't fit your palette? This can be as easy as painting an old dresser or replacing your bedding. Don't get too matchy-matchy... the place should still have a personal, lived-in vibe.
posted by jrichards at 12:44 PM on November 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Paint the walls!
posted by iguanapolitico at 12:46 PM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite] is doing the "8-step Cure" and is at week 4. Jump into those posts, including for past weeks. Pick up copies of the two AT books; one details the Cure.
posted by jgirl at 1:02 PM on November 12, 2008

Exactly, iguanapoltico!

Strip your walls and paint 'em smooth! Quickest/cheapest room makeover.
posted by alice ayres at 1:08 PM on November 12, 2008

Best answer: Plants! The right plant for the space you're in can make a huge, spectacular difference in how the room feels, and more importantly, how you feel in the room. Happy, healthy plants make me feel happy and healthy too and I always think they seem to brighten up the room and make it more ALIVE.
posted by HeyAllie at 1:12 PM on November 12, 2008

Plants and color. Hands down.
posted by at 1:26 PM on November 12, 2008

Cable management. No matter what you've got going on, bad cable management will make it ugly, so after you declutter/paint/whatever, get some velcro straps and organize your cables!
posted by 8dot3 at 1:43 PM on November 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Careful lighting. I'm obsessed with well thought out, variable lighting - think about the tone you want to create and buy cool lamps to create moods for different times of day. I loathe overhead light, particularly fluro.

These Candela Lamps are going to be my next purchase.
posted by lottie at 1:55 PM on November 12, 2008

posted by Wet Spot at 2:01 PM on November 12, 2008

Look at each room and pretend you're a decorator. Could you paint it a fabulous color(s)? Is there a mix of soft & brighter lighting for different uses? Is it comfortable to move around in? Does it express your personality?

I love to watch Changing Rooms, and its American version, Trading Spaces. Many, if not most, of the rooms would be awful for me, but there are often great ideas. There are certainly color schemes that I would never have considered.

Read decorating magazines, and develop a tearsheet of rooms you love, for any reason. Then review, and see what you want to steal. A few big changes will matter more than a lot of little things.
posted by theora55 at 2:12 PM on November 12, 2008

Original art has made a big difference in my apartment. I dabble in photography, and having an entire wall devoted to 8x10 photos spices the place up quite a bit.

I like to have the things that I very much like an use often on display. Good kitchen knives. My stereo. My bikes. Then I try to de-clutter everything else.

In addition to plants, I like fish. Having other things living in your space can be comforting.

I also like having plenty of blankets about. It's often rainy and dreary where I live, and some lamps and blankets go a long ways.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:13 PM on November 12, 2008

a saltwater aquarium with corals and tropical fish
posted by Large Marge at 3:45 PM on November 12, 2008

Good window treatments, so many people use the cheap stuff from a box store and don't think in terms of layers. Window treatments can make a room without being overdone, they just need to be done well (start by ironing them before you put them up). Rule 1: Make sure it's good fabric, cheap fabric is like a hooker on the corner, you can't help but notice it. Rule 2: Either hide your curtain rods behind fabric or get simple ones, because the hooker example applies to rule 2 as well.

Three small pieces of some bright color to accent (pillows, vase, table, etc.). These can also be switched out when you're tired of the color or for the season.

Something funky, but not crazy, something with a little character. If you don't have much home decor character (it's ok), check out Jonathan Adler. He's a tad modern, but also has appeal if your a traditionalist.

Catalog & web pages are wonderful for ideas of the well done room and they have pages and pages of examples! There are so many that can match your style (whatever it is). My favorites are Crate & Barrel, CB2, Room & Board, West Elm, IKEA, other ones that are popular are Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Pier 1, Ethan Allen.
posted by pokeedog at 8:10 PM on November 12, 2008

Best answer: My rules of a good house are:

1. Lighting is the number one thing that makes a room comfortable. I think it's best when:
All light sources should be below shoulder height- overhead lighting makes rooms feel cold.
Light sources should be near to walls or shining down onto tables- you want light to bounce off of warm-coloured surfaces and gently make the room glow. You do not want to see pathetic little photons meandering sadly through expanses of empty space. If a light source is more than a yard away from a wall or tabletop, it will provide a cold, icky light. Never use the overhead lights unless you're vacuuming. And if you use fluorescent bulbs (yay environment!), put them in lamps with warm-coloured shades (cream, beige, off-white, brown, red, pink, yellow, or orange- colouted lampshades) to balance out the greenish colour of the light. Otherwise it'll look like an orphanage.

2. Put mirrors on the walls opposite the windows to bounce the daylight around.

3. A couple of plants in nice simple pots will really warm things up. Pothos, Jade, Mother In Law's Tongue, Spider Plants, and Ficus trees are all easy. Forget ivy and ferns, they die slow sad deaths.

4. In every room of your house, there is a natural focus wall- usually it's the wall you see immediately upon entering that room, or the wall opposite the door. Do something cool to every focus wall- paint it a different colour from the rest of the room, or put a big piece or artwork or a cool mirror on it, hang your guitars on it, put up nice simple shelves & display your collection of antique Boba Fett models, whatever. But put something nice there, because that wall's gonna be a focus no matter what, so, there should be something interesting to focus on.

5. When you buy decorative items for your home, think "few and large" rather than "many and small". Pick stuff that makes a statement from across the room. Small items usually just look cluttery. If you must have lots of small items, group them so they become one large item, like a school of fish.

6. Keep the horizontal surfaces clear: no junk on kitchen counters, coffeee table, dining table, desk, and make the bed. Clear horizontals make the room instantly feel calm and tidy.

7. Open the curtains every morning- sunlight makes rooms awesome. Plus it keeps your plants alive.

8. Have friends over a lot. It will encourage you to keep the house tidy, the fridge stocked, and it makes winters much more bearable.

9. Play music you like, through good speakers but not too loud, whenever you can.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:27 PM on November 12, 2008 [42 favorites]

Also, never paint all walls in a room the same colour! A red room is "too much". A white room with one red wall is "awesome".
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:31 PM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

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