How to decorate my space?
November 14, 2010 2:54 PM   Subscribe

What are your best tricks to make a space feel put together and cozy?

I'm living in a small room (with a roommate) in a foreign country. I want to make my room more comfortable and home-like. I am not able to paint the walls or put any holes into the walls. I have some posters and pictures that I'd like to hang, but I'm not sure the best way to do so.

I'm also hoping to find some organization tips to make best use of my small space.

posted by karminai to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
1. Curtains or other window treatment other than plain venetian blinds
2. Small area rug(s), even over carpet
3. Plants, even just one or two hanging or sitting on the windowsill
4. Keep things tidy, which requires having "a place for everything" even if it's just a few boxes that you can slide under the bed.

The blog Apartment Therapy has frequent features on how to maximize storage and homeyness in a small living space; you can search through their archives to fund tons of tips and photos.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:04 PM on November 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Full-spectrum light bulbs in your lamps. And don't skimp on the wattage.
Comfy, warm-colored pillows and back cushions. A nice throw that's not for looks, but that you'll actually use.
Framed photographs in small easels (the kind that display dinner plates at the department stores) are a nice touch. Watch it with the knick-knacks and doo-dads, though; they collect dust and take up surface areas where you could be putting your books.
And please: no dried flower "crafts."
posted by BostonTerrier at 3:06 PM on November 14, 2010

If you have a bed with four legs, don't let the space underneath get unused. When I was living in a dorm, I had these boxes under my bed for stuff that I seldom needed.

Also, goes without saying, but keeping you stuff to a minimum is key to living in small spaces, so be brutal with purging stuff that are not essential! (unless they're books, in which case I feel you... I had books in every inhabitable inch of the room).

Get a bookshelf. It will offer some storage space and not look as dull as a closet.
Also, a lamp should help.
posted by danburzo at 3:12 PM on November 14, 2010

On the decor front, I will say that there are three things that make a space feel homey and lived in.

1. Textiles. I'd assume you already have bed-linens, of course. But other ideas might be a more attractive bedspread/duvet/what-have-you, curtains, a rug, or (you are going to kill me for this if you're a guy) some extraneous pillows. Upholstered furniture is good, but if you have only hard chairs or benches in the space, you could add some cushions. Choose designs that have pleasant colors, patterns, designs, etc. If you want to take it to another level, try to plan the textiles in the room around a color scheme, or find a way to choose subtly matching pieces that aren't all part of a coordinating set. But honestly, any textiles will do. Totally non-matching is better than "I went to IKEA and bought everything they had in this pattern".

2. Personal items. Your posters and pictures fit into this category. In my college dorm, I used blue painter's tape to stick unframed posters to the walls. Frames are easy to lean against the wall - smaller pieces can be leaned on top of a table, nightstand, etc. Even smaller frames can be placed on a shelf or other small incidental surface. You could also try using other personal items to make a statement. Books are always a good thing, as are souvenirs from travels and reminders of home.

2a. This might tie in to the organization issue: when I was broke and didn't have a lot of budget for decorative stuff, I started saving pretty tea tins and other attractive reusable containers. I used to store small items like bobby pins, office and crafting supplies, matchbooks, condoms, etc. Sometimes I would deliberately choose something because it came in pretty packaging. It made my space look a little more distinctive, helped me stay organized, and cost almost no money.

3. Lighting. Overhead lights can often look institutional. Get a nice lamp for your bedside, and another for your desk or maybe near a chair you like to read in.
posted by Sara C. at 3:20 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Framed pictures on the walls go a very long way. Sticky tack goes a lot farther than you might expect in holding up weight, especially if you put some in the center on each side and on every corner.

Lamps are great. If you can manage it, try to get your space lit entirely without the use of any installed overhead lighting that may have come with the room. For important task lighting, cliplights with adjustable angles are good; attach them to the tops of cupboard doors in your kitchen area, for example, or the tops of bookshelves. Having a bunch of different smaller lamps will give you a lot more control, and help you demarcate where certain "rooms" are. And when you need an extra punch of light you can turn on the overhead, to help you find your keys or something.

This is a personal thing, but I find having a nice matching set of dishes and silverware really makes it feel like home to me. People with mismatched plates and glasses always throw me for a loop - all of my forks are the same size, my colorful ceramic plates all stack neatly, and when I eat off of them I know it's because I'm being a good domestic and am taking care of myself. You might not have grown up with that, but I did, so it's important to me now. YMMV.
posted by Mizu at 3:27 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Use vertical space to the maximum. If you can find a cheap tall bookcase, do it. If you don't have enough space under your bed, consider getting a set of bed risers (we got some from Ikea for under $10, I think).
posted by deludingmyself at 3:29 PM on November 14, 2010

A word of warning: Masking tape, even the blue painter's tape, is not intended to be left in place for a long time. It will release easily and cleanly after only being up a day or two, but after weeks it usually leaves adhesive residue or pulls off paint.

The poster putty / sticky tack stuff works OK for hanging posters; you can find it in the US at least at any Wal-Mart, etc.
posted by teatime at 4:09 PM on November 14, 2010

A word of warning: Masking tape, even the blue painter's tape, is not intended to be left in place for a long time. It will release easily and cleanly after only being up a day or two, but after weeks it usually leaves adhesive residue or pulls off paint.

Which is why you should use Gaffer's tape instead. Don't use blu-tack; it will also leave residue if you leave it up for too long.
posted by schmod at 4:40 PM on November 14, 2010

I'll also second the suggestion of no overhead lighting.
posted by schmod at 4:41 PM on November 14, 2010

I have had a lot of luck with the 3M hooks. I hung a large framed mirror off of two of them for a year with no issues, and have a bunch of pictures now hanging on the picture hanging strips.

Just be warned, *DO* follow the directions (clean the wall, place the hook and WAIT before you hang the full weight) or you might not have as good luck.
posted by cathoo at 4:57 PM on November 14, 2010

No torch lamps! No torch lamps! No torch lamps!!

For maximum coziness rely on a mixture of sunlight and table lamps with a nice lamp shades on them. They seriously give rooms the coziest lighting possible (well, overhead recessed lighting is great for that too but it doesn't seem like you'll be able to modify your current living space to that degree).

Seriously, none of this crap.

Table lamps with this style of shade work amazingly well.
Don't scrimp on the shade either; I've noticed with the nicer shades (they usually have some sort of slightly reflective, taught fabric on the inside, and a yellowish/brown color on the outside) even CFL bulb lights give off a really warm feeling light to the room.

Any lamps you have, stick nice lamp shades on them. You would only need two or three if your space is as small as you say. If possible, try to upgrade your window coverings to something that gives a nice, filtered sunlight as well, like large-paneled wooden blinds or those fancy honey-combed mini blinds.

At the very least follow this simple advice of a cozy room: Avoid stark white. Walls shouldn't be predominantly white, blinds shouldn't be white, lamps shouldn't be white.
posted by french films about trains at 6:31 PM on November 14, 2010

Pick a few key colors and pick your organizational materials, and "comfort" items (like the above suggested cozy blankets, pillows, etc) in those colors.
Since you can't paint walls, one of those colors will be white. This means your other key choices can be quite dramatic.


black/white/red: red candles for the evening, black cover for the bed. Black base for lamps, white covers.

white/brown/blue: baby blue and brown go well together, and will make the white look crisper.

or, go with greyscale and keep most items monochromatic.

For organizational purposes invest in a set of matched containers/storage of various sizes like this or this.

Use mirrors to bounce light around if your room is dark. (hang the mirror near the window)

Keep clutter contained in smaller containers to make it easy to keep your small space neat (get a set of cheap mugs from a thrift store to cull pencils/keys/change/jewelery/tickets/whatever)

Candles are great for cozyness, just never leave them unattended.

If you have budget to spare, add a chair/pouffe for comfortable seating around the room so that you can "enterntain" guests without having them sit in your bed.
posted by olya at 9:20 PM on November 14, 2010

This thread asked about a whole house, but it has lots of good tips that can be applied to a room.
posted by Majorita at 11:32 PM on November 14, 2010

Can't blow the trumpet hard enough for plants. My house wouldn't feel like my home without my little green buddies :)
posted by greenish at 5:04 AM on November 15, 2010

I am in a similar situation - the majority of rented places in the UK forbid painting or holes, and some places I've lived aren't keen on blu-tack or messing about with the window dressing/overhead lighting either. Basically, you're limited to the things you own that weren't already in the room when you moved in. I am hoping to find a bag of Nazi gold just so I can live in a room that's not painted goddamn magnolia.

I'd recommend a good candle, a nice bedspread to make it cosy, and maybe a handmade cushion...or at least quirky looking. Where are you living and how do your tastes run?
posted by mippy at 9:09 AM on November 15, 2010

If you can find Command strips in the country you're in, I highly recommend them for hanging things without leaving behind residue or damaging the walls. the one problem is that they can be difficult to remove from the surface of the thing you're hanging.
posted by you zombitch at 7:56 PM on November 15, 2010

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