How can we best plan upgrading within our new apartment?
March 18, 2010 5:15 AM   Subscribe

How can we best plan upgrading within our new apartment?

My girlfriend and I just signed a lease starting in May for our first apartment together and an upgrade from the place that I/we were living out of before. We have gone from living in a tiny bedroom (she lived there half the time, the other half at her parents' house, mostly because there wasn't enough space at my current spot for all her stuff) to a larger bedroom, an office, a big, open concept living/kitchen area, a nice wooden deck with a view and a lot more room. It's a big upgrade for us.

We're in the process of figuring what stuff to bring with us/what stuff to avoid. The majority of our furniture/kitchenware/possessions are a mish-mash of hand-me-downs and furniture snagged from the passing of relatives. We're both of the opinion that we're going to upgrade the majority of it in the long-term, but I'm looking for ideas on strategies for doing so.

When I read Apartment Therapy, I get a lot of great ideas but in order to "makeover" an apartment, we'd need thousands of dollars at a time (I know it probably didn't happen that way, it just looks like that when you see a "finished apartment.") We'll have that money, but it'll come in slowly, rather than in a lump sum. I find it tough to decide whether to cover the walls or cover the couch first.

My question is this: assuming you've got a clean slate (walls and windows bare, no plants, basic lighting, furniture there and a functional set of usable items in the apartment) to work with, how do you slowly update an apartment? Our style is modern-ish with an earthy twist (we like the idea of real green plants/trees in every room.) I like a little less clutter, she loves photos of friends and family on the walls/tables. Assume a budget of about $250-400 per month.

Any tools, designer tips or just anecdotal information welcome on how you would go about this long-term task. I can imagine this is a really common problem (not everyone can TLC their home in 48 hours). We have the will and ability to DIY a lot of it. Thank you in advance!
posted by Hiker to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Even if you had the cash to buy a ton of "things" right now, there would still be some delay while you set everything up, installed your shelves, repotted your garden center plants into your cute IKEA planters, arranged your wine and glasses into your new bar cart, etc. There kinda is no such thing as "all at once". Even if there were, the fun part is making progress and watching things develop - stretching that out for a long time is actually a great idea.

- decide together what you want: use something like Amazon's Universal Wish List to keep a scrapbook of things you've seen that you like, or if you're magazine types, keep a physical scrapbook
- make a list of priorities and prices and time available: maybe you'd love to have plants in every room, but the living room is feeling particularly bare, so a ficus to go by the sofa is a high priority.
- Learn how to use all the Craigslist add-ons. You can set is up to send notifications to your email or phone when something that fits your criteria posts, or have it display images on the search results page. There will be some things you don't want second-hand, but some things that are fantastic (after buying our house, we've bought light fixtures, dining furniture, planters, a kitchen faucet, and a futon frame, as well as lucking into the tall boy-dresser version of my wide girl-bureau, a discontinued IKEA line).
- Similarly, we're going into yard-sale season. Set aside a Saturday, know your budget, and go looking for stuff you like, especially in neighborhoods that are trendy and/or wealthy.
- When planning out colors, always buy the least flexible things first, then match towards the most adaptible. Example - you've got an item you love (painting by her brother, rug you bought while traveling, most cozy throw pillow evar that you found at Urban Outfitters one day, whatever) It's not changing, so pick colors/ideas around that. Now the medium-adaptable stuff, like curtains, other wall art, ceramic planters, etc, have a range of things that could work, just keep an eye out shopping until you see what could work. Only THEN does it make sense to do your final pass: you can match paint to literally any shade and fabric stores have a very broad selection of colors, so making a pillowcover, painting the end table (or walls), recovering the seats on the kitchen chairs, etc, should wait till the end.

You can kind of choose between 2 prioritizing methods - doing a layer of fixing up all over (i.e. this is windows month, let's get curtains or shades for every room) vs attacking it room by room (i.e. this is dining month, let's re-cover our chairs, get new placemats, hang a $20 floating shelf by the table and find a coordinating artsy glass vase/pitcher to put on it)

We went with a blend of those - in that example, the problem with doing it room-by-room is, what if you find the perfect placemats 2 months early, have your eye on a shelf, but can't find a good artsy thing to put on it? This is where it's a blessing to be in no rush at all. Take your time, and don't go buying mediocre art just because you want the walls covered.
posted by aimedwander at 6:32 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hiker,

I think you can transplant the major furniture as a stop gap and do the acoutrements quite nicely on your budget. We recently bought photo frames from bed bath & beyond on the cheap, got some photos blown up/printed online and covered our walls with decorative frames. We plan on tackling the bigger stuff more piece by piece. The walls are cheap and make a big difference.
posted by Hurst at 6:34 AM on March 18, 2010

Best answer: From my experience, the way you are planning things is the right way to go. Don't rush. Live in your apartment for some time before you make major purchases or paint walls. Watch where the sun comes in, where do you end up gravitating unconsciously. How do you move around the apartment? Spend the next while deciding what you'd really like to bring with you from your old 'lives' - an old loved chair can be recovered one month, a piece of art can be framed in another month. I tend towards ruthlessness, but that may not be you.

Start making a mood board of things you see that you like and add to it over the next six months. Notice any trends that emerge [you could use image spark or similar web thing to collect images if you prefer, but I like the paper versions] in your favourites. Take your time to get to know your space. Apart from your bed and a few big floor cushions, a tv, a desk and some kitchen stuff, the rest can wait awhile.
posted by honey-barbara at 6:43 AM on March 18, 2010

Best answer: Apropos yard sales, Ikea, etc, one thing we've done to great success is to make careful line-drawing sketches of our space and what's in it along with accurate measurements. This room is X feet by Y feet, this window is 44" off the ground and 60" wide and there's 32" between the walls on both sides, that sort of thing.

Put them into a computer, print out a copy. Buy a cheap tape measure and throw them both in the glove compartment of your car, or just by the door so you have them handy when you're out yardsale-perusing, whatever.

The great thing about this is that if you see something you like, that might fit in that spot in the corner, you know for sure; you never have to wonder if it's too tall or wide and you never buy something thinking it might fit, to find out it won't.

It saves you a lot of hit-and-miss decorating effort.
posted by mhoye at 6:57 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're buying carpets, they're a good place to start. They occupy a large amount of the visual field so they're a good place from which to draw the color palette for a room; they're also key in defining areas within a room, which will inform your furniture purchases. And of course they go under stuff, so it's more work if you buy them last.
posted by kprincehouse at 7:19 AM on March 18, 2010

Also on yard sales, thrifting, Craigslist, the curb, etc., you should carry a tape measure with you at all times. Do not leave home without it. Really.
posted by jgirl at 7:19 AM on March 18, 2010

Slipcovers for your current sofas would be a great way to change the look quickly, if need be.
posted by JauntyFedora at 10:02 AM on March 18, 2010

Best answer: My boyfriend and I have been in the process of doing the "slow upgrade" you describe for the past year or so. Here's what we've done thus far:

- We started by finding a couch we loved. This is the major object in our smallish living room (ours is a sectional), and we spent LOTS of time trying everything out to find something that looked and felt right. This set the tone for the rest of the space.

- We chose dark wood for our furniture, so it's been easy to buy things piecemeal. We made an "entertainment center" out of three matching bookcases (2 tall on the outside, 1 short on the inside for the tv), so we were able to buy them one at a time. A few months after that was done, we found a great matching coffee table from Ikea. Eventually, we'll both get nice desks for our office area.

- Our wall art was super cheap and simple. I wanted to get something up so the apartment didn't feel bare, but knew that we'd eventually trade up when we found the right pieces. I made some simple 4'x4' wooden frames and stretched fabric with a graphic print over them - instant dramatic couch art. I also found some smaller picture frames on sale and bought 12, which I arranged in a grid on another wall. The result has a lot of presence, and I was able to fill them inexpensively with photos I printed myself.

- I occasionally scout around for smaller things - prints, vases, objects, pillows, candles - to add little pops of color. I keep a color/material scheme in mind for each room, and I've been adding things slowly as I find them. I like this kind of incremental decorating because it gives me a chance to live with things for awhile and see how they work together.
posted by Fifi Firefox at 3:10 PM on March 18, 2010

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