Boring Apartment Decorating
January 13, 2010 11:55 AM   Subscribe

I'm moving into an boring, cheap looking, small one-bedroom apartment and I would love to see loads of pictures of how one might decorate a space with no fireplace, large windows, hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, or hanging lights.

I don't want to "overpower" the boringness of the space with bright colors or highly-stylized stuff. I don't like the IKEA look, or the Urban Outfitters college/hipster look. I don't like modern minimalist look.

I believe that couches and chairs should be big and soft. I am poor and would rather buy buy quality used furniture for the large pieces.

Here's an idea of what I'm working with:

The carpeting is light brown (and not new looking).

The walls are white and must stay white (no paint or wallpaper).

White hollow doors.

I CAN hang pictures and objects on the wall.

Suggestions of website images and picture books would be great!

Thank you.
posted by alice_curiouse to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Window treatments can really transform a space. For the carpet, try getting some area rugs w/ color to break up the monotony and cover the "not-newness." Get your pictures/artwork well framed. I've found tons of great stuff on craigslist too.

You might find apartment therapy to be a helpful website (it is somewhat modern-design-leaning though).
posted by melissasaurus at 11:59 AM on January 13, 2010

Best answer: Plants and books really warm up a room. Buy plants suited to the light level in your apartment as dead plants won't do so much for your space as thriving ones.
posted by orange swan at 12:05 PM on January 13, 2010

For inspiration, HGTV's Apartments has a lot of examples and images of small apartment makeovers in different styles, along with the budget breakdown.
posted by PY at 12:20 PM on January 13, 2010

Best answer: It sounds cheesy, but I've seen lots of HGTV shows that make rooms look really cozy and happy with (a) mirrors that increase the sense of space and (b) window treatments with no windows behind them. Granted, I've only seen them on TV, but I really felt like the room was more open when there was even a suggestion of a window being available.

Ditto Melissasaurus on area rugs. I'll try to find a site to go with my comments.
posted by parkerjackson at 12:21 PM on January 13, 2010

Best answer: These might've been the shows I was watching:

And here are some other sites I came across:
posted by parkerjackson at 12:29 PM on January 13, 2010

A specific HGTV show that might be good to watch is Income Property. It's about DIY landlords renovating in-house apartments so that they'll rent quickly. Most are in the basement and so are relatively windowless/low ceilings/cramped, but they make them look pretty inviting.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:29 PM on January 13, 2010

Best answer: is super useful. No pictures of big unrealistically sized apartments, and most of it is stuff you can afford. It does tend to lean toward modernism, but there's lots of variety if you look.

An area rug in a colour/pattern you like can go a long way to transforming a room, as can window coverings/drapes. Both allow you to insert a large amount of colour or mood into a room in a non-permanent way.

Don't be afraid to put a rug over your not-so-nice carpet, i'll help the carpet be less noticeable.

Make sure your curtains go all the way to the floor, even if your windows don't. Long curtains make a room look more pulled together, and bigger, and more 'polished'.

Also, seconding the suggestion for house plants. A couple big ones in big pots can make a place seem nice an homey.
posted by Kololo at 12:30 PM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh my god i'm sorry: i didn't read the other comments and so didn't realise i'd virtually replicated melissasaurus's comment. Oops.
posted by Kololo at 12:31 PM on January 13, 2010

I guess the number one thing I would say you can play with is color.

With color, you want to pick sort of a color group (warm sunset colors, forest tones, cool and crisp shades) and think about it. Without being too matchy-matchy (very important), develop a theme around the color group. Then, as you pick area rugs, couch pillows, window treatments and wall art, you want to look for a common theme among the different things. Again, this is not "they are all red" but might be that they all highlight warm tones and give off a certain feel. And the idea, to be clear, is neutral bases with color accents (i.e. neutral couch, bright pillows or neutral base floor/carpet, brighter area rugs).

I like tones, textures and furniture that reminds me of my conception of an old manor library. I know I can't recreate it, but I can use that as an inspiration for colors and textures. Big bookshelves, deep leather furniture, maroons and purples and lots of table lamps rather than modern overhead lighting, as an example. I am desperately seeking an affordable leather ottoman to really move into and make nice my next apartment.

And then try to personalize it, too - family pictures on a table, pops of brighter color here and there, I totally love some big plants. But I think having a color theme that ties it together is more important than having all expensive designer-y stuff. The last thing I would suggest is to look at each room and sort of make it have a dominant view, like the one place that is really the focus of the room. You can use really bigger art, or a focus of light, or a lot of different ways to do this.

Or at least that's what years of decorating shows on TV have taught me.
posted by bunnycup at 12:39 PM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'll echo Apartment Therapy, and in particular point at their latest Small Cool contest - here. It's organized by square footage; the smallest category is places under 300 square feet, and the second-smallest maxes out at 600. There's definitely a lot of modern looks there, but not exclusively, and if nothing else it's a great way to mine ideas for placement, layout, color, etc, even if you wouldn't want the particular pieces someone chose.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:59 PM on January 13, 2010

Walls: Check out 3M's Command line of products. You can get hook, picture hangers, and wall/shower caddies that will help you add stuff to your walls without leaving holes or anything. I like to spray paint the white hooks so I can have different colors.

Floor: Check out They have great deals on rugs of different kinds for a wide variety of price-ranges. Check the reviews as well to see whether a rug is worth it or not.

Furniture: Keep checking Craigslist for furniture that is slightly used. Don't bother with anything older than three or five. I would buy a new mattress, but that is just me. Use search terms that include popular reliable brands like "Pottery barn" or "Crate and Barrel." Try furniture outlets too. Make sure to have a friend with a truck or something, so if you do buy from an individual, you can carry it back home. Also, MEASURE the furniture. Will it fit in your apartment? Will it fit through the door?
posted by mlo at 1:21 PM on January 13, 2010

I'm with you! We have a house that is small and has zero architectural interest. I agree with bunnycup about color selection. (Wish I'd had that information years ago.) The easiest thing to do is pick either an area rug or a big piece of art that you love, and use it as your shopping guide. Your colors can all come out of that.

You can get a space heater that looks exactly like a woodstove, and that adds a lot of interest. Ours came from Home Depot and is as cheap as we could find. It creates that all-important focal point that you need to really make a room work.

Here's another lesson I learned: Hang your curtains up near the ceiling (about 3" down from a normal-height ceiling) instead of an inch above the window frame. And make the curtain rod quite a bit wider than the actual window if you can, so that your open curtains hang down and hide wall, and you get to enjoy the whole window space; the eye is tricked into thinking that there is more window behind the curtain than there really is.

Apartments often have the disagreeable feature of there being pretty much one place to put your couch. Try to group your furniture in a seating arrangement made for conversation; it looks cozier than pushing all the furniture against the walls for optimum TV watching. Putting a throw rug underneath really brings it together. Since you've got carpet already, you can use any cheap cotton rug for this, you don't have to get an expensive one with nonslip backing.

I like getting magazines from the BHG decorating series. They make all varieties of them, like DIY or Decorating for under $100. Great ideas that are totally accessible to the normal person.
posted by Knowyournuts at 1:54 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite] had a contest for best Home Decorating blogs. Contestants are all here. I'm a fan of DesignSponge. Over time, I've amassed pictures of details or rooms that I love. Well, bookmarks of details. I look though them before shopping.
posted by theora55 at 3:26 PM on January 13, 2010

where you place the lights makes a huge difference to the way a room looks. floor lamps / standard lamps come in pretty much every style. you can move it around to see how it affects the look of your space.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 4:37 PM on January 13, 2010

Best answer: If you hate white walls and really want to add some color, you can buy cheap muslin at the fabric store to create a "curtained wall". Dye the muslin whatever color you want. Buy enough to hang from ceiling to floor. Get an unobtrusive curtain rod (IKEA makes a wire one that would be great) and hang it at the ceiling. Once your fabric is hung, then just put pictures or whatever right on top of it, as if it were a painted wall! Instant feature wall!

Thrift for frames and such, and paint them all the same color to unify them. You can create a grouping of JUST frames, if you want --it's a little kitchy, but kinda fun, too. Or fill them with stuff from magazines, or do silhouettes of yourself and friends/family (which definitely has the old fashioned aspect going for it).

I'll echo the lighting suggestion above, too. Get lamps and such at different heights, whether you use a bookcase with a table lamp up on top of it, or tall fixtures. Up lights are good behind plants and things, and make a great night light. You can also buy dimmer switches that plug in between the wall outlet and the lamp to allow you to control the lighting exactly. Dim = warm!
posted by wwartorff at 6:47 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Forgo overhead lighting as much as possible. A floor lamp and a table lamp in each room, minimum, will allow this. Maybe some of that cool tube lighting if it's carefully placed.

I think nothing feels cheaper than carpet, especially old carpet, so get a big rug. I like the super-size jute ones, they make the floor feel like a natural material instead of plastic and they aren't too expensive.

I actually don't like mirrors, I find them distracting.

In a small space, don't overdo the wall hangings. Or, put a lot all on one wall for a dramatic effect and leave the other walls blank.

Tall bookshelves stacked with books look good anywhere.

I'd recommend a color palette of a bright neutral (white), a dark neutral (maybe dark brown), a warm neutral (tan or beige) to bring them together, then a few bright colors. If you choose accent thingies that have the coordinating bright colors in them but are not uniformly in those colors, it looks coordinated but not matchy.
posted by mai at 8:17 PM on January 13, 2010

How about removable wall decals?

More here.
posted by elisebeth at 7:15 AM on January 14, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you so much, everyone! Great ideas and by looking through all of the pictures I found out that I love 1920's style decor! Lovely, lovely!
posted by alice_curiouse at 11:01 AM on January 14, 2010

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