Cheap ways to improve apartment living
April 9, 2011 11:01 AM   Subscribe

What are some relatively inexpensive things I can order via Amazon Prime to improve the design/quality of life in a studio apartment? I'm a single dude and my place still feels as cold and faceless as a furnished room, but I don't have the cash or the vision to do a full-scale overhaul.
posted by nasreddin to Home & Garden (59 answers total) 94 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: What does your place look like now? What are the things you're missing?

How to make your place feel more homey:
Curtains/window treatments other than generic blinds
Framed art or something on the walls
Hide your power cords
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:09 AM on April 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

seconding plants. a tall one and a couple smaller varieties with different leaf shapes and you're good to go.

and painting a piece or two of your blandwich particleboard furniture with a fun saturated color (a vivid light blue? rich red-orange? both have worked for me) is a cheap way to make your furniture look like a personal statement piece instead of generic Ikea.
posted by sestaaak at 11:13 AM on April 9, 2011

Response by poster: I basically have a bunch of Ikea furniture: lots of woodgrain bookshelves, white coffee table, barely-used solid wood desk, metal futon. I also have a painting and a few framed prints, but I wouldn't say there was any perceptible unity or harmony in the design. It feels very clean and uncluttered, but not really warm or lived-in.
posted by nasreddin at 11:14 AM on April 9, 2011

In addition to the things I listed, would you consider fabrics? Eg, a funky tablecloth?
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:17 AM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

LobsterMitten's on the mark -- you want things to punctuate the space. Lamps, wall art, plants, window furnishings, bookcases. If you want to do it on the cheap, I'm not sure Prime is going to be the best place to look. While you've got the IKEA furnishings, it might be worth a quick trip just to see how they dress up the spaces with doodads to make them feel lived-in. Don't discount thrift stores. (And Apartment Therapy.)

If you want something harmonious and personal, perhaps get some prints made of photos that you like? Or look for cheapish original art from local artists? So much better than Generic Framed Art.
posted by holgate at 11:19 AM on April 9, 2011

This has nothing to do with furniture and accessories, but I think that nothing improves quality of life quite like a good bathrobe. The combination of a relaxing warm shower, thick bathrobe, comfortable armchair, and a good reading lamp does wonders for one's mood.
posted by Nomyte at 11:25 AM on April 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm pretty much covered on the framed-art front--what I have is very personalized and my space doesn't really need any more. The reason I ask for Prime is that I want something I can get with minimal effort and without a car. I don't really have the time or inclination to hunt through endless brick-and-mortar stores and then lug stuff home on the bus.
posted by nasreddin at 11:27 AM on April 9, 2011

Best answer: Textiles will really soften up a place with clean hard edged furniture. A few nice throw pillows, a table cloth as LobsterMitten suggested, rugs, curtains etc... Soft scattered lighting, like small lamps give a nice feel. You can find most of these things at garage sales, ebay and etsy. And plants are always nice.

It sounds like you don't accumulate a lot of stuff. I'm somewhat envious of that. You could allow yourself to purchase a few neat objects in your travels, from antique stores, ebay or etsy that relate to your interests. Maybe a nice old globe? Old maps and cartography equipment? A nifty old inkwell? A ceramic gee-gaw that you find particularly amusing? A vase that you like that you can put flowers in? Little personal touches can make a place more inviting.
posted by ladypants at 11:31 AM on April 9, 2011

Frisbee toothbrush holder? Very cheerful. Bought mine from Target, which has a lot of decent home knick-knackery.

Etsy might be a better venue than Amazon. Filling your space with brand-new mass-marketry will...well, it'll still feel a bit like a box. Etsy does have a lot of junk, sure, but it also has rude cross-stitch, funky vintage lamps, and interesting cushions.
posted by kmennie at 11:32 AM on April 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Nothing makes a cold impersonal space warmer like good lighting. Depending on your setup, you might choose a torchiere for indirect halogen lighting aimed up at the ceiling bathing everything in just a lot more light, or you might choose a few table lamps to add warmth in certain spots around the place. Experiment with lampshade colors. e.g., a one covered in a dark fabric can still let through lots of warm light, and since it's at the same level as your face when you're seated, it's a very humanizing effect.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 11:34 AM on April 9, 2011

What kind of light bulbs does your place have?

Different kinds of light bulbs have different color temperatures - you may find that switching to a warmer color temperature light bulbs makes the place seem a lot cozier and less cold or office-like.

Incandescent light bulbs have a very warm color temperature. The newer CFL bulbs come in a variety of colour temperatures, ranging from very cold (>5000K color temp) to very warm (<3000K color temp).
posted by Diplodocus at 11:34 AM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Organized, well-displayed collections can really personalize a space without needing to fit in or determine a style for your place. They say something about you people may or may not already know, and it gives you a chance to add to and curate them over time. They also express thought, commitment, and time - all of which make a space seem more personal, both to yourself and your visitors. It doesn't have to be anything fancy or elaborate. I collect what I think are well designed "primitive" tools; hammers, plumb bobs, clamps...things whose shape and purpose is the same thing. Display them with some thought and order, and they can elevate themselves beyond what they really are.
posted by nickjadlowe at 11:35 AM on April 9, 2011

Nthing rugs/fabrics. Put a blanket/bedspread/throw over the back of the futon and get some frames or pillow(s) in the same color family as the throw or rug.

And don't underestimate the appeal of a fun gadget or tchotchke, perhaps a tiny guillotine or silly book end type thing?
posted by Glinn at 11:39 AM on April 9, 2011

Best answer: Pro-tip:

Soft pink light bulbs create a much more appealing light in any room. I'm an architect and myself tend to like sparse, white spaces with rustic pieces. These bulbs don't create a pink, feminine light, they just make the quality of the light warmer and more "intimate." I recommend them all the time to clients and friends who are first skeptical of the idea until they realize that they are sitting in a room with them and didn't even notice. Rooms don't look different because of them, they just "feel" different. I have them in our "public" rooms, and use compact florescents in rooms that need more light or are more task oriented.
posted by nickjadlowe at 11:47 AM on April 9, 2011 [13 favorites]

Fabric: rugs, throw blankets, pillows, table cloths, curtains will warm a place up like crazy, and add a design sense if you plan a few colors to complement each other.
posted by SLC Mom at 11:52 AM on April 9, 2011

Sounds like all your stuff is new and mass produced, which can sometimes make a room feel generic and cold. Can you display any vintage items, maybe even use something from your childhood or your family home? A unique old mirror, trunk, print, lamp, suitcase, or personal item (old toy, typewriter, photo) can add a ton of personality.
posted by mochapickle at 12:31 PM on April 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Nthing plants, lighting and fabrics but pictures, we need pictures.
posted by cyndigo at 12:34 PM on April 9, 2011

Best answer: Throw pillows for your sofa/futon... get several in different colors that complement each other and pile them a bit, rather than dutifully placing two boringly-matched ones at either end.

A couple of magazines on your coffee table and a decorative bowl to hold fruit, nuts, candy, etc.

More books for your shelves, if you don't already have a lot. Sparse, tidy bookshelves always look cold to me.


Houseplants. I've never been a plant person, but I've got one hardy live one that has survived a fair amount of neglect coupled with a basket of fairly lush silk foliage, and it really perked the place right up.

A colorful rug or bath mat, coordinating towels and a fabric shower curtain in your bathroom.

Things that smell homey... a pot of coffee brewing, the smell of something baking, dinner in the crockpot.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:35 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Candles. Maybe a tabletop fountain.
posted by lemniskate at 12:52 PM on April 9, 2011

Do you come from a place with an awesome flag? I live in Chicago, which has a totally bitchin' flag, and I have a huge one on my wall. A little studenty, yeah, but it's big and bright and space-filling, and makes it feel like home.
posted by phunniemee at 1:10 PM on April 9, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all for your help so far, and please keep the suggestions coming! Here's what the place looks like right now--as you can see, I'm not making very good use of the space. The main room measures roughly 14' x 14'. (The apartment comes with horrible building-installed CFLs, so a floor lamp is probably a must.)
posted by nasreddin at 1:14 PM on April 9, 2011

Can you paint? One wall in a nice rich color would help lots. Also, something besides the miniblinds, or at least some sort of window treatment over them. You have a bare desk and office chair but your laptop's on the coffee table. Where do you actually work? Because if the desk is unused, it could go away or be covered with a nice cloth and used as a table. Hide those power cords, and move that grey file drawer. (Perhaps next to the desk.) I'd also move the coffee table so that it's centered in front of the futon, rather than shoved against the wall. The floors are nice and a pretty area rug would help, too.

Also, nothing says "home" like a critter. Would you like a cat? We can find you a cat.
posted by cyndigo at 1:30 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: On seeing the place, definitely a floor lamp (with incandescent or warm CFL bulbs), a rug, curtains, maybe a tall plant. If you don't use that desk, could you add some more stuff to it? A cloth runner and a few objects and maybe a lamp could make it look a little happier.

You should also maybe reconsider what you have going on with the coffee table area. Could you move the gray drawers into the corner next to the couch and plug the power strip in there, but put it on the floor so it's hidden? Then, move the coffee table away from the wall. Get rid of the little desk lamp- put a taller lamp on one side of the futon instead (and hide the cords!!).

Also, you don't have much color in the room. An easy way to add some color would be to find one thing you like that has a lot of different and complementary colors in it, like a rug or curtains, and pull your other colors from there. Get rid of the brown throw and black pillows and replace them with some color!
posted by MadamM at 1:30 PM on April 9, 2011

Yeah you really need some warmer lighting. I really think a few larger plants would help too.
posted by smokingmonkey at 1:30 PM on April 9, 2011

Best answer: Curtains or window hangings would make a big difference, as would floor rug(s). You definitely need a floor lamp, and nickjadlowe's pink bulb suggestion is a great one.

I'd also suggest painting the bookcases and interspersing your books with framed photos and/or small artworks and tchotchkes you find interesting.
posted by jessian at 1:54 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I looked at the picture and you are badly in need of a big beautiful area rug with warm colors and better lighting. And tapestries or something on those walls.

And a dozy black cat on a blanket on top of your radiator.
posted by anniecat at 1:54 PM on April 9, 2011

I didn't see cyndigo's comment, but he's right. Your place is aching for a cat. If you're allergic to cats, you should get some stuffed animals that look real. It looks lonely over there.
posted by anniecat at 1:56 PM on April 9, 2011

Best answer: Your lonely desk plant needs company. How about an herb kit? Stack it on top of a neat old wooden box. Maybe put a small, colorful woven mat underneath all of the plants? Add a throw rug? Take advantage of L.L. Bean's new free shipping and go for their braided wool floor rug? I like this surveyor's lamp. Have you inherited any cool tools? Hang them up!

My rule is to get rid of as much plastic as possible and replace it with more natural materials--wood, textiles, glass. If I had antlers and pheasant feathers, I'd put 'em somewhere. Look into books about Craftsman style/Arts & Crafts for a warm style of decorating that's masculine, too.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:06 PM on April 9, 2011

Best answer: Generic furniture while generally cheap, is the bane of personality. Case in point: My husband and I spent a lot of time on that very same futon in a much smaller studio with white walls in college.

Get some throw pillows that are gender friendly (read: not too girly).
Maybe this?

Or this?

Accent throw blanket

Get rid of that kitchen table & chairs and get a smaller high top with two stools.

Organize your books by color to make your library organization more deliberate and less dewey decimal.

And looking at some of those photos, you'll notice that the majority of the mix'n'match artwork is coordinated not by art but by having similar frames. I'd put all your pictures together on one wall, and then start expanding out with new art.

Find some local antique shops and find tacky-but-kitschy and interesting. One of our walls is Accidental Sea Theme, and as of last weekend, features a plate with a crying Viking on it.
posted by santojulieta at 2:07 PM on April 9, 2011

Yeah, space out your color organized books with other stuff of interest, like photos, cameras, glass statues, etc.
posted by santojulieta at 2:08 PM on April 9, 2011

Best answer: OK. You need throw rugs to define space.

Pull your couch out from the wall, and place it more in the middle of the room - it makes it feel like it's part of the room, rather than on the outside of the room.

Get some curtains, throw away the blinds, and get something sheer to cover the window which will let light in, but still give you some privacy.

Buy some lamps - not floor lamps, but table lamps. Don't use the overheads again, unless you need a ton of light because you dropped a contact or something, and you need it back in your eye before the five second rule is up.

Placemats or a tablecloth in the kitchen. You can even keep the table set - it'll look nice.

Get some art up on the walls in the kitchen. Something with color. The room is too monotone.

You have art in the living room, and books, but nothing you can pick up and hold. Pictures, vases, statues, etc. Doesn't have to be over the top, just something that adds character.

All of this is a single Target trip. Nothing has to be expensive. It'll work wonders.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 2:12 PM on April 9, 2011

A bedspread to cover your couch, with a warm color and a rich texture.

A cute kettle to sit on your stove.

Warm metal candlesticks for your table.

A coatstand that your coats, with all their colors and textures, hang on.

Generally just things that make you happy when you look at them.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:24 PM on April 9, 2011

Conceptual answer, to supplement the great specific advice.

Having "vision" allows you to do this quickly. But if you don't, you can do it....just slower than someone else who's into it. Take your time, and buy things that catch your eye as you come across them in your everyday life. In time, it will all come together, as long as you apply some care.

You can follow the advice above, and your place will be fuller, but probably not have much of a vibe. The vibe comes from the injection of your care and taste. Again, if you have vision, you can make it happen quickly. But even if not, apply care and taste gradually and it will come together.

It takes me a year or two to really get a new place together. To someone "into" this sort of thing, that makes me sort of retarded. But once it's together, it really feels cool and comfortable to me, because it's MY taste that's reflected in lots and lots of little choices.

So just make such choices with care over time, and don't get too pushy with yourself. If you just throw in some plants or some colorful furnishings, it's still gonna see sort of disjointed. If you have someone else choose for you, it won't feel like your own place. No way around it. Just go slow. And if you have to ask yourself if a given object/furnishing/window covering/etc is "right", then it's likely not. Go with items which give you a strong impulse to buy. And wait to come across them.
posted by Quisp Lover at 2:29 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Area rug, no question. is the best place online for area rugs on a budget, in terms of selection. Much better than you'd find in person at Ikea or Target and free or very cheap shipping. This will help you define the seating area and make it look more pulled together. It will also give the room a ton of personality if you pick something interesting.
posted by pekala at 2:38 PM on April 9, 2011

Response by poster: Fantastic, thanks everyone!

I just ran out and bought a floor lamp with soft pink bulbs, and the difference is already noticeable. I've ordered a blue tablecloth and bamboo shade for the kitchen, and hope to find a workable curtain solution for the main room. Trying to figure out a way to rearrange the futon area now.

I can't do much with the apartment, unfortunately--certainly no painting. I desperately want a cat, even though I'm somewhat allergic, but I have to travel abroad frequently and for extended periods of time, so I think it would be irresponsible.
posted by nasreddin at 3:25 PM on April 9, 2011

Response by poster: I've also decided that I'm going to break up with my coffee table, but I haven't found what to replace it with.
posted by nasreddin at 3:38 PM on April 9, 2011

Textiles. Textiles are the difference between that cold, lonely "single dude" vibe in an apartment and a comfortable homey place that looks like it might be inhabited by a grownup.

Some ideas:


A great rug. (This can be difficult, though, if you don't have a taste for good rugs - X yards of beige area rug are not going to get the job done here.)

This is right at the heart of the joke about how girls like throw pillows. Throw pillows add textural interest to your space, in addition to color, pattern, etc. They're really a simple and versatile way to turn a cold sad apartment into an inviting place to hang out. Sadly, most guys think they are dumb.

Off the textile issue, you also should look into lighting. Overhead lighting, especially of the old school fluorescent tube variety, is really cold. It's also uninteresting and tends to make people and things look less attractive. Get some lamps.
posted by Sara C. at 3:44 PM on April 9, 2011

I have the IKEA hemnes coffee table in the grayish-brown. I like it well enough. It's largish and real wood (well, that super soft birch stuff that IKEA uses)
posted by ian1977 at 3:52 PM on April 9, 2011

Best answer: My roommate used to say "you don't decorate walls, you decorate furniture." Meaning: When you hang a picture on the wall arrange it to complement the arrangement of the furniture. Don't stick in the centre of the wall just to centre it, place it based on what furniture is around or near the wall.

So in the case of your room, I would start by taking away the small picture above the futon (it's too small to carry the wall above the futon) and put the bigger picture on the side wall above the futon. Note how the grays in both the futon and picture are similar. Then I'd add some colour to the futon. Throw pillows would be a good way to do this, but another option would be replacing the brown blanket with something a little more lively. If I were you, I would take that orange from the pictures for the blanket and/or throw.

Here are some options from overstock:

Solid-Faux-Fur-Throw (in the tiger-lilly colour).

Then (well actually, first, since you'll need the futon in place to hang the picture), I would move the futon away from the SIDE wall (it doesn't look like you have room to move it from the back wall) and put a small end table there. On this end table will go a cool lamp for reading and a plant. If you have room, actually put a side table on both sides. You'll only need a lamp on one, of course.

I like this lamp, but it might not fit the current decore and you might not like it. And it's a little pricey IMO:

I also like this, but it might not bring in enough colour/life:

Make sure you put the plant in some interesting/coordinating container, not just the green plastic pot it comes in. And get as bit a planter as will fit on the table cause the bigger the planter the less you'll have to water it.

Get some colourful coasters for the coffee table and side table. If you want to dress up either the coffee table or side table (this will involve getting a zipcar or friend with a car), get a piece of glass cut to size, put it on the table and put some interesting/colourful piece of paper underneath. Don't do photos, they'll look cluttered and messy.

Get an area rug. This ones has the oranges from the painting and is in a similar style to one of the blankets I suggested (and one of the lamps!)

Take that little file cabinet next to the coffee table and put it next to your desk. Put a plant on it, but not too tall since it seems to be next to a doorway.

And you're already getting curtains, so it's all good.

The one other thing I would suggest is that since your a grad student, it would be nice to see little allusions to your field/area if that's possible.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:52 PM on April 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Mobiles add color and movement to the upper parts of the room. These Flensted mobiles are cheerful. Other companies make less whimsical examples. With this one, you add your own pictures. Not bumping your head into them improves their longevity.
posted by Francolin at 4:13 PM on April 9, 2011

2nding holgate's Apartment Therapy link. I'd start at the winners for their annual "Small Is Cool" contest.

And post-transformation photos, please!
posted by bayani at 4:22 PM on April 9, 2011

I know this isn't what you want to hear, but honestly I think that you would do a lot better shopping in person for home decor rather than trying to order a bunch of stuff from overstock or amazon or whatever.

For one thing, it's really hard to judge things like color, scale, and quality of materials when you shop online. And this is a situation where you really want to know what you're getting - a rug or a bunch of throw pillows that are just slightly... off... are not going to contribute anything to your space.

And for another thing, this approach is liable to leave your apartment still missing a certain je ne sais quoi - it will look canned and devoid of personality, more like a hotel room than a place to live.

The best way to get accent pieces like this is to shop in person. If getting things home is a big deal, I'd suggest going to a store with a web presence, like maybe CB2 or West Elm. You can look at things in person and then go online to order the specific items. This is great especially for heavy/bulky things like rugs or floor lamps.

But for smaller items, why not just shop? You know, like human beings do? In real life? Away from the internet? My apartment feels homey because it's full of things that have a connection to experiences, whether it's art my friends made, small objects brought back from my travels, or something I scored at a garage sale. If you just order everything from overstock, you won't have that same connection to your home.
posted by Sara C. at 5:12 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Some people are great at shopping in person. I look at a piece of furniture or fabric in a store, think "this would look good on the empty white set of a '90s music video, maybe I'll buy it," then I look at the price tag, my fight-or-flight reflex kicks in, and I either force myself into buying junk or I leave empty-handed. I've had better luck with the internet.
posted by nasreddin at 5:25 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So, yeah, definitely places like West Elm that have both bricks and mortar stores and a website/shipping option.

It's my experience that you basically can't shop for things for your home without ever actually seeing them. Because half the point is the fact that you're going to be seeing them every day until they break or wear out. Not to mention touching them, smelling them, using them, etc.

Doing research beforehand can help with this, too. Instead of saying, "I'm going to go decorate my house today", say, "I'm going shopping for a duvet cover today." Think about things like important specifications (needs to be sized for a Queen bed, should be blue or orange but definitely not green, natural fibers, etc.) and price before you go into a store. The internet can really help you with this. Then when you get to the store, look at only the thing you went there for. Keep your requirements in mind (this is hard for me, too). If you don't see anything you like, don't buy anything. Eventually you will end up with stuff you really like.

You also might like shopping at flea markets, garage sales, etc. better than going to a big box store. The environment is a little more relaxed, with more of an eye to buying something if you love it, and leaving empty handed if you don't see anything that works.
posted by Sara C. at 5:41 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you've gotten great advice above, and that a good guiding idea for you to keep in mind will be: draw colors for your living room from your art. Your art is good, and shows personality and warmth, which is the direction you want to take the whole place in. The advice for some orange is good, the advice to get a throw blanket with color (rather than neutral) is good, etc.

I also agree that the arrangement of your art right now seems haphazard or too spread out - and I think 'if I had a penguin' has good ideas about how to improve the presentation of them.

If you want a wall decoration that covers a good size, old maps are great, and can often be had inexpensively at Friends of the Library type book sales, then can be framed in the cheapest frames from a thrift shop or from a craft store like Michael's.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:15 PM on April 9, 2011

Response by poster: Some initial changes (soft pink floor lamp lighting, pictures rearranged, drawer thing moved, look ma no cords). It's already a lot more comfy. (I probably won't be able to put in a side table since I'm only working with about 6-12" of space between the futon and a doorway, but I'm trying to figure out how to finagle it anyway.)
posted by nasreddin at 6:22 PM on April 9, 2011

Wow - huge difference! The larger painting on the wall behind the couch looks so much better in that space.
I wonder with the other three, if you made them into a kind of triangle arrangement rather than a straight line across the top, if they'd look a bit more like an organic grouping?
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:25 PM on April 9, 2011

Best answer: I probably won't be able to put in a side table since I'm only working with about 6-12" of space between the futon and a doorway, but I'm trying to figure out how to finagle it anyway

The kinds of tables that go over magazine racks would work then. I would put it on the non-wall side, if it's going to be that small a table. Just a plant and some coasters since you already have a floor lamp. Get an awesome tea or coffee mug in whatever colour you decide to accent the room with.

Centre the coffee table on the futon. If you feel like rearranging the pictures some more (though I'd wait til you settle the furniture arranging and rug), put the vertically oriented picture between the two horizontal pictures for balance.

Also, you can put a shelf over your radiator and put some plants, picture frames, nick-nacks or what have you there.

I see that your bookshelves have no backs on them. Consider getting a colourful sheet or wall hanging to nail to the back (stretched out, not flowing curtain style).

If you have the space to move the kitchen table away from the window (either out from the window, or against the wall opposite the french door, though not clear if that would look good), consider putting some potted herbs on the window sill. Also, a fruit bowl on the table, but not if the table stays in that spot since a fruit bowl would block the window if the table is there. I hate blocked windows.

Boy, this is really fun when it's someone else's money. I mean it's fun when it's my money, too, but I bet this is still going to be fun (for me, at least) when the visa bill comes in.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:35 PM on April 9, 2011

Much nicer, nasreddin! You might want to try moving the large picture over the futon down a bit ... it looks a little high on the wall to me. Please do a whole photo set as you go along, it will be fun to see the entire transformation!
posted by cyndigo at 6:57 PM on April 9, 2011

Hey while you're up moving pictures and stuff, slide the futon around so it's diagonal between the two walls -- not necessarily 45 degrees to each wall, try different angles. See if it works; it's hard to tell without a sense of size or of the whole room. It looks like right now you have a futon where you can sit and stare at your desk, which is kind of institutional.

If this works, you will have to rethink the picture placement, of course.

If it doesn't work, or maybe if it does, think about getting a small comfy chair to put more or less where the little file cabinet was (but on a bit of an angle). That way people can face each other when you have people over. You want something light, in the sense that it's not going to be a big space-filling room-closing kind of thing.

If you're feeling wealth, how about one of these or these? These are once again over priced, but nice cause they would look ok tucked in a corner somewhere as quasi-endtables and would serve as stools when you have your big housewarming bash.

More realistically, something in a style like these? 1, 2, 3 . Yeah, chairs are pricey. Might want to wait on that. But it's nice when people have places to sit.

I got some nice, unique furniture at the used/antique furniture place on Elm St. behind Porter Square. If you do your grocery shopping there, it's worth stopping in on your way. They always have new stuff and their prices are often good.

If you don't use that desk for working, consider replacing the chair with something more like a vanity bench (but not any of those vanity benches, since they're pretty hideous. You could sit for a few minutes to write something at the table if you needed to, but it would also look nice for pulling out for guests to sit around the coffee table chatting and drinking tea. Everyone likes to sit and drink tea.

I'll stop now.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:30 PM on April 9, 2011

Another thing that would make your space look nicer is to re-frame your art with better frames. Especially look for frames with some heft to them.

I agree with LobsterMitten that making a more visually interesting grouping of the three pieces on that one wall will improve matters.
posted by Sara C. at 7:35 PM on April 9, 2011

Every carpet store has leftover pieces from wall-to-wall installations, available for next to nothing. Pick a colorful piece, have it hemmed and use it as a wall hanging, a cover for the bathroom door, or cut narrow and put up to frame the windows.
posted by KRS at 11:41 AM on April 10, 2011

You might want to try moving the large picture over the futon down a bit ... it looks a little high on the wall to me.

In fact people naturally tend to place pictures too high on walls. The rule of thumb is that the center of the picture should be 57" from the floor. This is a dead-simple way to make a home look less thrown-together.

(The disadvantage of this approach is that once you do it, you'll be annoyed by all your friends' apartments with their sky-high art.)
posted by nev at 4:02 PM on April 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Your bookcases have adjustable shelves, but all the shelves are adjusted the same. I would alter shelf spacing and stack some of the books. Here is a link that may help you arrange your bookcases.
posted by JujuB at 9:55 PM on April 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Reiterating the lighting a few posters up have mentioned;

I LOVE Edison style light bulbs, specifically the 40 Watt squirrel cage. It's dim enough that you can put it raw without a shade and looks great.

Also a big fan of the Amber Candle Bulb. This one sit sin a lamp with a shade.

Both are in my bedroom and give a nice warm amber glow to the room.
posted by wcfields at 10:37 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Check out "The Moveable Nest"
posted by mecran01 at 7:13 AM on April 13, 2011

Put in art that you can't buy at the college bookstore, and can't buy at Ikea.

Buy a spider plant or a snake plant. Both are virtually unkillable.
posted by talldean at 7:46 AM on April 13, 2011

Hit some thrift-stores/second-hand stores near your house. You'll probably be able to find some unique items for cheap. Especially if you want stuff to make it look "lived-in" go for used things!

You might be able to use ebay for this also, if buying over the net is a must for you.
posted by dustbo at 7:34 PM on April 15, 2011

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