How can I make my future apartment more festive?
July 14, 2010 1:04 PM   Subscribe

Help me figure out how to make my furnished, but spartan/box-like apartment more pleasant to live in.

I'm moving abroad into a university-owned furnished apartment meant for international visitors. This means that while it's furnished (fantastic and convenient for me!) it's also ugly and spartan according to a friend already living there.

This question had some good suggestions as far as buying plants, nice area rugs, "fake" curtains, and mirrors. Since this place is furnished, I have no control over the big furniture, but I can add smaller stuff. I'm also thinking local outdoor markets will be a good source of fun house items.

But what do I add? Pictures, general ideas, and creative suggestions for making a drab apartment more festive are welcome!

Additional details: I love colorful things. I won't have a car to transport unwieldy items. I could potentially be living there for two years. I'm assuming I'm not allowed to paint walls. I can't bring the stuff/art/tchotkes I love from home because of baggage restrictions.

posted by franc.o.bolos to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I maintain an ongoing "curiosity" collection. Mostly it's odd rocks and bits of sticks, hood ornaments, and other ephemera I find while walking around the city. When I can I organize it semi-chronologically - it's fun to see the how types of things I pick up change as I change, or my location changes. I usually display it in a windowsill or on a dresser. Anyway, it adds a bit of randomness to the decor*

*Apologies to the girlfriend, who would like nothing more than to gather my precious curiosities up and toss them in the garbage like the junk that they are.
posted by Think_Long at 1:09 PM on July 14, 2010

*insert obligatory warning to be careful about picking up old fleamarket items that might have bedbugs*
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:28 PM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites] has some cool crafts to decorate a space for not much money, and they also have a blog with more ideas and links. always has nice prints. You could also gather artwork from friends, either through the mail or in your new area. If it's a small space, it's easy to go from nice to cluttered, so be careful with how much you do. You might even want to wait until you get there and decide how bad it really is, what you need/et cetera.

If you can find a large piece of metal to hang or display someplace, maybe even put it in a frame, Magnetic Poetry looks cool and it's a fun diversion. You could also get some wall-clings that are finished so that they can be used as chalkboards: it requires no painting, and it's pretty cool. You can find them online and at teacher supply stores.

In school, I had a teacher that built/found a window to use as a picture frame, and would put different landscapes in to change the view every so often.

You might just want to wait and check out resale shops in the area. Maybe you'll make some friends and see what they've done, too, or ask for help in special projects.
posted by tillie at 1:30 PM on July 14, 2010

Throw pillows
posted by vincele at 1:36 PM on July 14, 2010

Best answer: How about plants? If you have a window you could grow flowers.

Also, colorful textiles really help. Rugs, throws, bedspreads, pillows, and curtains can help bring coziness.

If it's VERY small, be careful with bringing in tons of colors or you might end up in visual chaos and feeling claustrophobic.
posted by funfetti at 1:38 PM on July 14, 2010

I suspect this is tacky, but I really like fake plants. Last time I was in a tiny apartment, I got a few sprigs of fake ivy from the craft store and tacked them to door frames, hung them from top shelves, etc. Lightweight, durable, cheap, and really brightened up the place.

A colorful shower curtain in the bathroom goes a long way - preferably a translucent one so light can get through.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:46 PM on July 14, 2010

Apartment Therapy.
posted by dfriedman at 2:05 PM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'll second textiles. If you have mediocre furniture and want to hide it, throwing a blanket over it can do wonders. I recently threw to scarves on the back of a chair at random and I actually really like how it looks.

If you can put up a bulletin board or a French bulletin board (I think they look classy), you can have some pictures or random posters and signs that you like with minimal effort.

Also, refrigerator magnets are fun small souvenirs of places you go and they immediately make a place look more homey. I end up putting all sorts of stuff on our fridge (Christmas cards, bumper sticks) so once in a while I have to clean it off and start over but it's still fun, nice, and cozy. You can also put up pictures on the refrigerator (there are some frames specifically for magnetic surfaces) if you don't like the bulletin board idea. It might not work if you have stainless steel appliances though.
posted by kat518 at 2:07 PM on July 14, 2010

If the furniture turns out not to be to your taste, Surefit slipcovers are not a bad choice for the price. I don't recommend the cotton duck ones... although they look nice, they rip easily and it is difficult to keep them wrinkle-free. I was forever mending mine until it ripped beyond repair. Granted, we are not people that perch delicately on our furniture, so YMMV.

I replaced it with one of the stretch covers and I'm really happy with it. I folded a blanket over the seat and added a bunch of colorful throw pillows, and it really looks cozy.

Creating a gallery-style art wall is a fun way to display an eclectic bunch of pictures and other wall decorations. Thrift shops can be a good way to find odd little tchotchkes and unusual artwork cheaply.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 2:17 PM on July 14, 2010

Sorry, here is the link to the Surefit website.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 2:19 PM on July 14, 2010

Best answer: The things that turn a blah apartment into a lived-in apartment are:
- One or two largish things (art, or wallhangings, or framed photos) on the walls (Taped up posters, or little teeny framed things just look sad).
- throw pillows on your couch that don't match the fabric on your couch
- A couple big potted plants
- Area rugs that 'define a space' (if your apartment is open-plan, especially. don't be afraid to put a throw rug on top of wall to wall carpeting, if the wall to wall is particularly blah).
- Candles and photos and nick nacks on a shelf
- Curtains in a warm colour, especially if your walls are that generic industrial beige
posted by Kololo at 2:51 PM on July 14, 2010

Best answer: Nine out of ten times, the difference between a "sparse" apartment and a lived-in comfy apartment is the presence of textiles.

This can be a lot of different things, depending on your taste and price range. Rugs, curtains, throw pillows on the couch, a blanket neatly folded on the back of a chair. Obviously in the bedroom good bedding will make all the difference. Even in the kitchen and bathroom - hang a tea towel to dry your hands, get a good bath mat, etc.

The textiles don't have to be "colorful", necessarily (though that can help if everything in the apartment is beige), or any other specific stipulation. They should, however, be something that you like and that reflects your personality. Really it's just the psychological effect of "softening" the space, as well as introducing a mix of textures that makes the space seem a little more complex.

Art can be good, but I'd stick with things that have personal meaning for you. Hotel rooms have art in them, and yet never look "lived in". You can come up with craft projects till the cows come home and frame the fronts of cereal boxes, and if that doesn't mean anything to you it will still look empty.

I'm also a big fan of lamps rather than those harsh ersatz overhead light fixtures, but that's a judgment call and will obviously depend on how said apartment is set up for that sort of thing.
posted by Sara C. at 3:46 PM on July 14, 2010

Response by poster: thanks, guys! great ideas so far!

i guess i never considered the importance of textiles, but indeed, they seem to add a lot of homey-ness to an apartment.

i'm feeling much better about the upcoming situation with this arsenal of ideas.

i'd love more if anyone has them...
posted by franc.o.bolos at 4:32 PM on July 14, 2010

What country are you going to? In the U.S. and many other countries there are huge industries devoted to producing cheap crap for the purposes you describe. Any large city will have IKEA, Target, World Market, Fred Meyer or other similar places that sell tons of stuff.
posted by mmmmbobo at 7:20 PM on July 14, 2010

Response by poster: I'm heading to Israel. There is an IKEA there, so there will likely be a visit early on...
posted by franc.o.bolos at 7:38 PM on July 14, 2010

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