I need examples for the mental pictures
August 5, 2011 8:01 PM   Subscribe

Are there any decorating/design blogs that are a little more "realistic" than Apartment Therapy and its ilk? Design resources for the unlucky renter on a tiny budget?

Pictures of peoples houses that look like this don't help me figure out how to fix up my place:
Perfectly quirky architecture, boldly painted accent walls, wildly expensive, extremely shiny and heavily over-designed everything, and looking more like the lobby of Sterling Cooper Draper Price than somewhere I can picture people living. The places themselves are either huge mansions or have stated dimensions that are nowhere reflected in the pictures.

I'm looking for inspiration to make my apartment a little bit more to my liking (for which I will probably be shopping exclusively at IKEA, don't judge me, I like IKEA and am poor). I want to see what people have done with small, non-cool, quirky spaces on a limited budget.

But what I'm finding online seems like it's mostly for the wealthy and their never-ending resources or else some really good luck at real estate and flea markets that I can't duplicate.

When I have an idea for something I'd like to do, the first thing I do is seek out what other people have already done. But I'm not having much luck. Give me your links please.
posted by bleep to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 119 users marked this as a favorite
Have you checked out the Ikea catalogue? One thing I like about it is that they really highlight small spaces and inexpensive decorating tips. (Can you tell I like Ikea, too?)

I don't have website tips for you, and I'll be eagerly watching this thread to see what people recommend. But what I tend to do, when looking at Apartment Therapy and others like it, is try to interpret those designs in terms of what I like or what's possible in my space, with my budget. Like, there's no possible way that I could afford that fancy XYZ you're showing, but wow, so that's what it looks like when you shelve all your books by color, or roll towels instead of folding them, etc.

You may also want to start looking at crafting blogs. I learned to sew my own curtains, for example -- hey, using mostly Ikea fabric! -- and that's an inexpensive way of really prettying up the joint, if I do say so myself.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:08 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately I don't have any links for you either. But I just wanted to second what BlahLaLa said, about using Apartment Therapy for inspiration & ideas... it can help you develop an "eye" for decorating and also help you figure out your taste if you don't already have a vision in mind for your space.

I live in a completely boring, white-walls-beige-carpet apartment complex apartment in the suburbs. Talk about no potential! But I managed to get it quirky and cute (at least to my taste) from studying sites like Apartment Therapy and LJ's Saucy Dwellings community. I didn't buy anything expensive, and while I did a lot of thrift shopping I didn't have any "extraordinary luck" in finding upscale stuff for cheap, either. I don't have a single piece of "nice" furniture in my house. I just learned to embrace the quirk and run with it within my budget.

For example, my couch was pretty solid but the upholstery is trashed. I couldn't even afford to re-upholster, let alone get a new one. I bought a cover from Sure-Fit, generic as hell, but then I added a blanket on the seat, a bunch of colorful off-beat throw pillows and accessorized the hell out of the wall & nearby corners with art & knicknacks I picked up for cheap from thrift-stores and Ebay. It's not going to impress the mid-century-modern-obsessed crowd but I find it pleasing, it's certainly as quirky and fun as some of the stuff in Apartment Therapy.

There are tons of books that have ideas for decorating on a budget, I picked up a bunch of them at a used bookstore pretty cheap.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:31 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm in the same situation! Totally agree that most resources are unrealistic. Quirky architecture? No! How about boring box-style rooms without trim?

Anyway, what I do is go on real estate websites and look at other people's houses. I especially like to match the settings to houses built the same decade as mine, valued in the same price range. Some of the decor is not to my taste, but often I find a similar house done in a modern style, and that's my comparable.
posted by Knowyournuts at 8:33 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding the IKEA catalog. I just got the 2012 in my mailbox today. Target's not too bad for accessories, nor are places like T.J. Maxx and Ross.

As far as luck at secondhand shopping (flea markets/antique stores/auctions/thrift stores/Craigslist/yard sales), it really isn't luck. It's persistence. You can't go out hunting with specific pieces in mind, but instead learn to go with the flow of what you find and make it work in your space.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:40 PM on August 5, 2011

Response by poster: Hmm. I don't have many ideas for my space but I feel like I do have kind of an idea of what my taste is. I feel like the stuff on Apartment Therapy is still really specific to people and spaces who have no limitations so they can do whatever they want. Right now the first image on there is a guy with a bright orange wall and bright orange furniture to match. And a huge, expansive living room that manages to look really clean and bright because it's enormous. OK well now I know that I don't want a bright orange wall, even though I can't paint in here.

Even the post about the grad student's studio wasn't really helpful to me because yeah I could go to Ikea and fill up a studio apartment too if it was just a big square and there were no other limits. Even the IKEA catalog is extremely ambitious with their models. Everything is floor-to-ceiling and it all looks really overdone. It's a small space and I really have no interest in packing it with decorative gew-gaws. I don't see anything that I can use. And believe me I try.

I don't know, is this an impossible thing I'm looking for?
posted by bleep at 8:45 PM on August 5, 2011

Best answer: I like to look through flickrs groups

Ikea lover
ikea in my home

and searching ikea + what ever room your redoing comes up with more ideas.
posted by ljesse at 8:47 PM on August 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

I watch a lot of HGTV for tips; they have a lot of design programs and many show you how to do things on a budget.
posted by NoraCharles at 9:14 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There's a site called IKEA Hackers that should give you some inspiration.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:18 PM on August 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

Have you seen Offbeat Home? The "no damage decor" tag is particularly useful to renters.
posted by Saminal at 10:02 PM on August 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

Things I've learned from stuff on Apartment Therapy, livejournal's Saucydwellings and ourbedrooms communities, blogspot's desiretoinspire & DesignSponge, et al:

- if you have an ugly dresser, paint it a wacky/bright color decorate it with pretty knobs; in fact, paint any cheap furniture the same (shiny, not matte) color
- if you have open shelving, try pasting patterned wallpaper/etc to contrast the paint
- do not clutter: keep as much open space (on shelves, on countertops, etc) as possible; if things are laying around, put them into storage, and then paint/decorate said storage
- use patterns on things like throws, curtains and bedspreads but make the patterns coordinate as part of a color theme
- use shiny white to make any space seem bigger, and combine it with highly contrasty colors for visual effect, like hot pink, black, yellow, etc.; separate spaces (even within the same room) by color theme, so everything in a bedroom/bed-area is subdued or pale (light blues/greys/yellow) and the dining/entertaining area is darker and more vivid
- make use of big interesting/weird objects or fabric: IKEA is especially good for finding swaths of fabric and then just randomly hanging it to delineate a space, so consider a patterned floor-to-ceiling panel behind your monocolor couch, say, or find hooks to hang up something unexpected, like a guitar or your bicycle, or put a row of pretty bottles in the window where the sun shines through them.
- if you can't paint your walls, consider artwork, decals, etc, but also framing random cute stuff (frame your paper bags! frame random pictures from artbooks/architeture books! frame old love letters! frame dried flowers! old keys! etc)
- use weird containers for things, like an old bucket from a garage sale for a flower-pot, an old suitcase as the bed for your cat, etc
- commandeer small spaces for new uses: remove several shelves in a closet, and it's a desk in your "office", say
- make furniture do double duty: say, a bed is also a couch, or an open bookcase is also a room divider
- plants! living plants make everything shinier; also, books; tech, notsomuch.
posted by reenka at 10:25 PM on August 5, 2011 [18 favorites]

Best answer: The Saucy Dwellings community on Livejournal might be of interest to you. It's full of user-submitted pictures of average-folk design projects and furniture finds.
posted by arianell at 11:14 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So there really are no blogs dedicated to the unique challenges of difficult spaces?
I apologize; as usual my question is so vague and misleading because I don't know what I'm even trying to ask until peoples' answers help me narrow it down.
posted by bleep at 11:44 PM on August 5, 2011

Look through the column "Past Events" on Apartment Therapy's site and check out their "Small Cool" contests. Small Cool 2011, for instance, then check the "All Entries" tab. Entries are organized by size group, except for "International" (non-US) homes, which are all grouped together. A lot of the smaller ones are rentals.

I know what you mean about Ap't Therapy in general. They used to be great 2-3 years ago, then they made a big shift, as if "attract wealthy people" suddenly became their motto. Many of us complained and were pointedly ignored. I used to look at it every day, now I only go there when a Small Cool contest is on, and even then...

Someone else mentioned Design*Sponge: their Sneak Peeks are organized by size or location, and their Before and After entries often have great ideas. They can be sorted by difficulty, cost, furniture type, or technique.
posted by fraula at 2:03 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might like Manhattan Nest -- an excellent blog. Some painting of spaces, but definitely also some challenging, small, apartment spaces. And although there are some thrifted finds, there's also some IKEA hacking.
posted by pie ninja at 4:04 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Curbly can be fun.
posted by theora55 at 6:36 AM on August 6, 2011

I really like the style files, because it is not focussed on expensive design but creating a nice atmosphere in your home with a lot of do-it-yourself, natural stuff (branches etc), combinations of IKEA / cheap and some unique items and ideas that can be copied on the cheap.
posted by IZ at 9:39 AM on August 6, 2011

Apartment Therapy *started* as exactly the type of thing you are looking for: cheap funky fun stuff, usually user-submitted. So my suggestion would be to check the archives, as far back as you can go.
posted by jrochest at 12:09 PM on August 7, 2011

Sorry! I just saw Fraula's note -- so 2nding what Fraula said!
posted by jrochest at 12:10 PM on August 7, 2011

Response by poster: Wow, from the astounding number of favorites on here it seems like there's a niche looking to be filled here. This is something I'm pretty sure I want to do. Look for me on Projects soon if you want to contribute!
posted by bleep at 3:18 PM on August 7, 2011

I don't like how the site works - but Normal Home is kind of interesting. Every once in a while I'm reminded of it (like now) and go down that wormhole. It has more variety and more, well, normal than design blogs. But that normal means there's a lot of stuff I don't want to look at too.
posted by peagood at 9:03 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

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