Help me make my apartment not look like I am still doing my undergrad
March 27, 2010 10:42 AM   Subscribe

Decorating Filter: I'm moving to a new apartment and finally want to rid myself my cheap, student cultch and want to have a more modern, adult decor. Problem One - I don't know what I need to avoid/get rid of to keep my new place looking professional rather than studenty. Problem Two - I don't have a giant amount of money to spend on new items to decorate with.

I'm a 28 year old working professional and am embarassed to admit that my apartment looks like a student apartment despite not being a student for almost 5 years. A couple friends have even commented on it, and I 100% agree. Where I'm moving next month I thought there would be no better time to redefine my style. Clean slate and all that.

Part one of my problem is that I'm having difficulty identifying what items are making it look so undeniably studenty. While packing for my upcoming move I've already rid myself of old posters from my university years, keeping only properly framed or frameworthy items. What else should I be looking out for?

Part two is that I don't know how to approach getting the clean, modern, but somewhat unique look I'd like to have in my new place. I won't have a lot of money to spend on new decor (lets say 250$ max), and I live in rural Canada so my access to items is limited regardless. I would love some ideas/suggestions for how to achieve a fresh, modern, quirky look on the cheap and/or DIY. Ideas like this tickle my fancy (not the design, but the method), are inexpensive and I think potentially pretty cool.

NOTE: I will NOT be painting my apartment (they JUST repainted the whole thing in a lovely mossy green colour that I really like), and everything has to be removable/non-permanent.
posted by gwenlister to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
You should probably post photos of your current setup and furnishings.
posted by amtho at 10:50 AM on March 27, 2010

Response by poster: I would, but my current setup isn't representative since it is all torn apart and semi-packed. I doubt there would be much to glean from how it looks now.
posted by gwenlister at 10:55 AM on March 27, 2010

Is all your furniture mis-matched and differently colored? Like, do you have an easy chair that's upholstered in red flowers, a couch that's upholstered in blue squares, two bookcases that are light-colored wood, one that's painted white, and four different chairs for your table? It's probably not that drastic, but you get the idea.
posted by cooker girl at 11:12 AM on March 27, 2010

Best answer: My place looks fairly unstudenty for cheap. I used Craigslist and yard sales to get cheap mid-century modern style furniture (I'm sure not all of it is actually from the era, but it's in that style), Target and IKEA have some good stuff, too, but it's not very durable. CL is good because you can get sturdy older furniture for cheap. You just might need to put a coat of paint on it or restain it.
But for $250, I'd suggest focusing on getting maybe a couple of small pieces of furniture (coffee and end tables, for example) and keeping whatever couch(es) and chair(s) you may have. If they look shabby, add some cool slip covers.
For decorations, if you have mostly posters and stuff like that on the walls, that can be pretty studenty. Cut back on posters, get the ones you keep framed, and get some paintings. You can get paintings for cheap at a thrift store, or if you have an artistic friend who can paint you a few things for cheap, that's good too. They also sell some generic-type paintings at Target and IKEA. Even better, if you are artistically inclined, you can make your own decorative paintings. Big graphic paintings or geometric designs can be easy to do without actual technical painting skills.
I would also try to buy an area rug, even a small one. Also, things like cool mirrors like this (which I swear I've seen cheaper in the actual store), or a cool design-y clock, could also make your place look more professional.
So, as a summary: Craigslist and yard sales for furniture, Target and IKEA for small furniture that doesn't need to be too sturdy, as well as things like curtains, bedspreads, small area rugs, wall decorations, etc., yourself, thrift stores, or a friend for paintings.
posted by ishotjr at 11:12 AM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you have cable, I would suggest watching HGTV shows (or the equivalent Canadian channel, I think half the shows on the US channel are actually Canadian anyway), because they are actually really helpful in learning some basic ideas for decor and design.
posted by ishotjr at 11:14 AM on March 27, 2010

Best answer: Fabric panel wall art is usually a pretty cheap and easy way to add some interest to your walls. All you need is access to an art store or fabric store. Big pieces of art -- or a few smaller pieces arranged in a visually interesting way -- tend to look a little more adult than things like photo collage frames of you and your friends (I had a lot of those in my early 20s).

Oh, and I'd avoid floor lamps like the one in the example I linked to above. Those torch lamps look pretty college. Decent table lamps with proper shades can make a huge difference.
posted by awegz at 11:15 AM on March 27, 2010

Check out blogs like Apartment Therapy for ideas, it made a huge difference for me when I was trying to figure out what could work, and on the cheap.
posted by smitt at 11:26 AM on March 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you are in Canada, you can watch Peter Fallico's shows "Home to Go" and "Home to Stay." I envy you for that!!! I tried never to miss him back when HGTV still had him on in the U.S.
posted by jgirl at 11:33 AM on March 27, 2010

Response by poster: My furniture is most definitely mismatched. It is funny, that didn't even occur to me but now that I look that is one of the biggest tip offs.

I really like the fabric panel wall art idea, I'll definitely look into do that. And good call on the craigslist for furniture.
posted by gwenlister at 11:36 AM on March 27, 2010

Best answer: Nthing Craigslist as an excellent resource - I'd just like to add that from my own experiences, you often need to keep checking back over a period of weeks until the right piece comes up for you, especially if you have something specific in mind or are on a tight budget. Figure out what sort of thing you're looking for and don't give up if no one is selling it right away.

Also, I don't know if you're a bookish person or if you have a lot of shelves, but for me one big difference between how adult and studenty homes look is the quality of bookshelves. If you have mismatched shelves that look like they are made of twenty-year-old pressboard or could be disassembled in five minutes with a screwdriver, that would be studenty. If your books are doubled up in stacks because you don't have enough space for everything, that also looks studenty. If this sounds like you, keep your eye out for some substantial, matching shelves - I like solid wood, but other materials can look very good too with a nice finish and clean design.
posted by unsub at 12:20 PM on March 27, 2010

I'm also in the process of redecorating like an "adult" and I've gotten a lot of inspiration from Apartment Therapy. Every year they hold a Small Cool contest to feature small abodes with interesting design elements or layout, and they usually provide a lot of options for make the most of a small space. AT also has frequent DIY features on how to make or arrange wall art, how to use color to tie together a room, how to think outside the box on the placement and use of furniture, etc.

Also - random mismatching can look cheap and sloppy, but intentional mismatching can be stylish. In my opinion, the look of a living room filled with an assortment of carefully-chosen and restored thrifted items is a lot more cozy and interesting than a living room where all furniture was purchased together as a set. The home tours on AT that I find most inspirational have a mix of elements, and are not too matchy-matchy. Here are some bits on mismatched dining room chairs, frames, bedside tables...
posted by illenion at 12:21 PM on March 27, 2010

Seconding Apartment Therapy. They show a lot of things that are salvaged, home-made, hacked, repurposed -- and many are dirt cheap. Also, they pay a lot of attention to color... your green walls provide a great opportunity for adding other colors here and there. I've learned a lot just by looking at the pictures on the site.

Also, Apartment Therapy will often direct you to other good decorating sites.
posted by wryly at 12:33 PM on March 27, 2010

Get rugs. One for in front of the kitchen sink, in front of the shower/bathtub, in front of the bathroom sink, for the entryway, and for the living area. Look for photos to see what types/styles there are. Get some kind of surface for the entryway -- a small table or bookshelf. Get mirrors.

Some "student" furniture (although they can work in certain settings): papasan chairs, futons, folding card tables instead of real tables, the press-board bookshelves mentioned above, mattress on the floor, mattress on a frame without a headboard.

Remember that just because you like something or it's functional doesn't mean it's right for your apartment. I might love the look of a pair of hard-core studded biker boots, but they don't fit my overall wardrobe or my lifestyle. Think about each thing you're going to buy, or going to consider moving from old apartment to new, and think -- is this going to contribute to the sense of style of my apartment, or is it "just a chair." "Perfectly good" or "perfectly functional" or "comfortable" or "dirt cheap" are not sole reasons to own something.

It's really hard go beyond that without seeing what you have. Do you have any old photos that happen to have been taken in your apartment?
posted by thebazilist at 12:54 PM on March 27, 2010

The best decorating advice I ever got was to wander around in high-end shops (or websites, as the case may be) to get a sense of what looked good to me, and then once I had some ideas about the kind of stuff I wanted, to go and find cheaper versions of those things in thrift stores, etc.
posted by colfax at 12:58 PM on March 27, 2010

Best answer: Things that make an apartment look student-y:

* No matchy-matchy. Not everything has to 100% match everything else, but you want to have some kind of coherence. Choose a color (nothing you'll get sick of quickly) and a wood finish. Whenever you buy something large-ish, make sure it's within either that color range or that veneer shade.

By the same token, buy one whole set of plates, bowls, cups, glasses, and silverware. It doesn't all need to be from the same set, but each kind of thing should match. You only need 4 of each. 4 matching plates, 4 matching bowls, etc.

* Things which are broken, or haphazardly repaired. If anything is being held together by duct tape, or has to be handled just right lest it collapse, any chairs you'd warn visitors "Don't sit in that," etc - get rid of it.

* Things which are in visibly used condition. Chairs which are threadbare or losing their stuffing, tables which are badly scratched, chipped plates, etc.

* Things being displayed which are not meant for display. Everything people see should be a thing that is designed for people to see. Look at each thing which is visible to a visitor and ask yourself, "Would a grown-up be displaying this for company?"

To be displayed: books, collectibles, artwork, relevant tools (spatulas in the kitchen; pens on a desk).

To be retired from display: bottles, cans, stuffed animals, a wine bottle with melted candle wax down the side, promotional items (like a Budweiser clock).

To be used in very small amounts only: that thing you found on the street that looks really cool, anything you like strictly for its ironic or kitsch value, artwork which is somehow inept but which you find charming (outsider art, the clay elephant your niece made for you for Christmas, etc).

* Prints, framed or not, which have something other than the painting. A Van Gogh print is fine; a Van Gogh print that says "Van Gogh" or "Such-And-Such Gallery, 1986" need to go.
posted by ErikaB at 12:59 PM on March 27, 2010 [17 favorites]

Best answer: I'm always amazed at thrift store furniture transformations (as often profiled here).
posted by dino might at 3:09 PM on March 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Why not try looking at the projects at Readymade? I think their aesthetic is similar to the one their after and the projects all have a sidebar that lets you know the general price and level of difficulty. Good Luck!
posted by FakePalindrome at 4:00 PM on March 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: SaucyDwellings is a fantastic Livejournal community to get inspiration. Be sure to check the tags and memories, there is a ton of stuff there.

I find a lot of fun, quirky art & knicknacks for cheap at thrift stores like Goodwill or Salvation Army. Ebay can be good source also, especially for finding specific items or types of items, like items from a specific era: 60's, 70's, mid-century modern, antique, etc.

Not to be all-LJ, all the time or anything but there is a pretty cool community for thriftshoppers there as well: Thriftwhore, where people can show off their awesome thriftstore finds. A lot of posts have to do with clothes but there are also a lot of fun finds in terms of accessories, figurines, cameras, typewriters, etc. which can be inspirational and also give you an idea of what sorts of things are trendy to collect and display.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:50 PM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and decorating books are fantastic for how-tos and inspiration. My local used bookstore has a TON of decorating books for cheap.

One book I particularly liked (that I paid full price for) is the Apartment Therapy Presents book (related to the website mentioned above.) Gorgeous DIY-decorated apartments, lots of ideas and inspiration.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:56 PM on March 27, 2010

Don't feel like you have to throw away everything all at once. You can move it all now and gradually start replacing things as you find a Craigslist deal. Also, let people know what you are looking for and you may be surprised at what you find. My mom was downscaling at around the time I moved so I got many nice, grown-up framed prints from here. A few are not quite to my taste (and one is nice but too small for where it is right now) so I am replacing them as I get the money (and will put the small one into my apartment's included storage locker for possible use in a future house). Also, my stepbrother had a very large, expensive area rug he was not using which matched perfectly with my living room and has really made it look much nicer.

Another advantage to not throwing anything out just yet is that sometimes items can be repurposed in ways you might not expect. For example in a past apartment, I had six bookcases in a row along one wall. In this apartment, there is only room for five BUT there is a very large closet. So I too the shabbiest-looking of the bookcases and repurposed it into a closet organizer. It really helps me maximise the space in that closet, saves me from buying further items to use for that purpose, and is hidden from view.

Overall, I still feel like a lot of my stuff is hand-me-down and if I were starting from scratch I would choose differently. But it does look grown-up and well put together, so I am happy to make small changes over time.
posted by JoannaC at 10:03 PM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

-Curtains or another "window treatment"
-Plants - even just one or two makes a big difference. The trick to keeping them alive is not to water too much.
-Hide the cords for your electronics (since this makes it look like your arrangement is more permanent)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:19 PM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lots of little bits look clutter-y. purge the knick-knacks, and resist the urge to but them, even if it "matches" perfectly. One nice piece of furniture makes a big difference. It's hard to find a good sofa used, so shop for one you love. Take your time. Shop at the nicest furniture stores in your area, to get ideas.

Having a headboard makes the bedroom look much nicer, even if it's not a full headboard & footboard.

Having a microwave, toaster, coffeemaker in the same color scheme is a nice touch, as opposed the red toaster, white microwave, stainless coffee maker & Mom's old harvest gold blender.

Hanging artwork in a coordinated way helps.
posted by theora55 at 1:57 PM on March 28, 2010

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