Prettyin' up the joint...
June 5, 2005 6:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving from a small, really nice place in a sweet neighborhood to a larger, less swank place in a considerably less sweet neighborhood. There are no trees on my street, a lot more trash, and it's noisier. Any tips for making my apartment prettier, a place that I'm just thrilled to come home to? I have a very low budget.

I have never really done much to consciously make an apartment that I live in livable or coordinated. I have always just acquired the furniture that I could from the street or salvation army, threw it in there and kept the place fairly neat. But in the place I live now, I got to a point where I was just not happy to come home -- my apartment was cluttered and dark and small and not very pretty.

Now I would like to actually try to make the place nice. Any advice you might have on how to do this with a tiny budget?
posted by jennyjenny to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
paint is pretty cheap, so clean the place and paint it light colours. check whether you have wooden floors under whatever is there now - if so, pull up what's there, sand the wood and varnish. put curtains up to obscure the view and deaden the noise. use small, cheap, floor standing lamps rather than a central light. get rid of clutter. buy some fresh flowers. put up some good, colourful posters.

cleaning, painting and simplifying will do wonders, really. the floor is a lot more work, but worth it, if possible.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:44 PM on June 5, 2005

How about some nice curtains in a color or pattern that makes you happy? Target and Ikea both have some great colors and prints (often in that gauzy cotton that still lets the light in, but still gives you some privacy and brightens your rooms). Also, a few cute vases (again, can be found cheap at thrift stores or the ever-handy Target/Ikea) with fresh flowers make a surprising difference. And of course, flowers needn't be expensive -- some daisies or carnations from the grocery store more than suffice.

Also, don't forget artwork -- make your own (or ask your artsy friends!) or pick up some affordable prints, then get a few inexpensive ready-made frames for 'em. Same thing with snapshots -- get a bunch of cheap 3x5 or 4x6 frames and put them all over the place.

Andrew's mention of paint is a great one. If you can't paint the walls in your new place, though, how about painting some furniture? You can use your existing thrift-store stuff or pick up some new pieces to experiment on -- even just a couple of pieces in a color you really like (maybe even to match those curtains!) can really brighten up a room.

As for the neighborhood noise, you might want to consider running a white noise machine (or even a fan) to help neutralize it.
posted by scody at 6:52 PM on June 5, 2005

There's got to be lots of good web resources, but I can't think of any right now. Plants, if you have a green thumb, are nice to have: they're living bits of hope. Plants that will flower for you add to the "fresh flowers" idea. Even if you're not good with plants, there are hard-to-kill varieties around.

I definitely second the idea of painting the walls--soothing, pleasing, fairly neutral tones. Right now, I'm liking a lot of sand-coloured shades for walls. Light a grouping of candles for soft light. Scented candles (a few, more can be overwhelming) are nice.

If your furniture isn't the nicest, you can get neutral fabric and cover it, then add bright pillows to accent. A few pictures are great, but lots and lots of stuff on the walls can add to 'eye clutter' and make it less soothing to be in.

Display your favourite objects; things that make you happy. Buy fewer, but nicer things, as your budget allows.

Light neutral colours with accents are pleasing to me, but your taste may be different. The more thought you put into your place, in making it homelike and appealing to you, the more you will enjoy your space.
posted by Savannah at 6:55 PM on June 5, 2005

On santuary: Creating a sanctuary is as individual as you are, so this is what works for me. I have no idea what will work for you.

Color: Start getting/painting things in your favorite color to scatter throughout. It's amazing how a red blanket, a red candle and a red picture frame pull a room together without getting a new couch, etc. Paint=cheap. IKEA ready to paint picture frames or an end table you can sand and paint from Salvation Army = cheap. Don't think about color in one specific room or area. Start to think of the color scheme as holistic. Sure, it evolves from room to room, but it basically all works together.

Hang things up. Places that look rental-like have no art hanging or a single poster in a frame on one wall. Load the walls up with things that interest you, but are harmonious enough to not be overstim. (Me, I collect minature gold-framed mirrors. The wall looks like a gypsy fortune telling parlor.) If the neighborhood noise is audible inside, hang up cool blankets, throws or tapestry-style things (Cost Plus=cheap) and the soft goods will soak up sound. I took some fiber board and covered them with a cheap but elaborate upolstry fabric I found in the fabric store discount bin, stapled it to the back and hung them up. It gave me a little more acoustic privacy, looked like art and sucked up any possible echo in my place which did a lot to calm my nerves.

Low light. Forget the direct, bright light. The less of the place you see, the more calm, the more the little quirky details don't stand out. So use low watt bulbs, lots of small lamps or dimmers to mellow the atmosphere. Also, candles that are mildly scented with an aroma you like. You say cluttered and dark, but with lots of small light sources, it'll feel warm, rather than just dark.

Plants. If there are no trees on your street and you like that sort of thing, cluster a lot of plants near your light sources. They'll chill you out, give you a little routine when you come in and they'll make everything feel nice. Get drought tolerant plants so you don't feel so bad if you skip a day. I, myself, can't seem to kill a rubber tree or my minature banana tree.

Smells. Incense, candles, flowers -- aroma plays a huge part in enjoyment and relaxation.

Create a place to put everything. A hook for your coat, umbrella, place for your shoes. It's amazing how the simple act of creating a routine and feeling like everything belongs can make some place feel like home.

A pet. A fish (Chinese minature catfish or similar that just refuses to die), a hermit crab, a gecko or something that strikes your fancy that doesn't take too much maintainance might brighten your trip in the door.

And, well, get rid of stuff. If you hate it, ask yourself how much you need it. If you can't paint it, recover it (even with just fabric and safety pins where no one can see) or throw a neat table cloth or runner on it, ask yourself if it serves any real purpose. After all, you can hang all your clothes and keep your underwear in a nightstand if you hate your dresser. And open space is always more welcoming that a parlor of bricabrac.
posted by Gucky at 7:03 PM on June 5, 2005

There are some good tips here, especially on the boards.

Also, how handy are you? A $100 sewing machine might be a good investment if you think you might be able to make, say, drapes (very easy) or a shower curtain (also easy) or slipcovers (less easy).

If you have hard-sided furniture or storage elements that you've found on the street, you can give them a huge aesthetic boost with a simple coat of spray paint (just to continue on andrew cooke's point above).

And here's a tip from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy that I've actually used: if you have empty frames (or find some cheap at a garage sale or whatever), you can fill the space inside the frame with a bit of wrapping paper (or fancy artisanal paper, or fabric). I did this with wrapping paper covered with a design of wet river pebbles and I think it looks pretty cool.
posted by GrammarMoses at 7:05 PM on June 5, 2005

Is there stuff you could clean up outside your building? We had a really junky backyard full of weeds and trash, and just recently the downstairs neighbors ripped a lot of it out and started a garden. It makes the place just a little bit nicer.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:06 PM on June 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

You don't even need a sewing machine to make drapes, just an iron and no-sew binding or fabric glue. Buy any fabric that moves you and iron in a hem with Stitch Witchery or another brand no-sew binding, or just glue your ironed hem down. You can hang a curtain rod if you want to go that far, or just use some cool thumbtacks (or glue, beads, and plain flat thumbtacks), which make easily-spackled holes. Since most apartments don't let you paint, even if you'll paint it back before you go, you can make wall panels from fabric basically the same way.

I agree that light makes all the difference. I have a friend with a fantastic sense of style who makes $2 aluminum work lights (the kind with a metal dish, light bulb, and clamp) work perfectly for her. There's also thrift shops and dollar stores, where a little $5 table lamp can be decorated any way you like (and many stores have very reasonable swanky-looking lampshades you can replace drab ones with). Lamps are cheap to make, if you're inclined.

Sofas and chairs can be spruced up with fabric with a few tucks and pins. Mirrors create fake windows in rooms without much light (see thrift stores for big mirrors off dressers). Glass also amplifies light - store your wine glasses out where they can be seen, and hit the thrift stores for cut-glass candle holders and vases.

It's kind of a no-brainer, but worth mentioning: I have a horrible, closetlike bathroom with a gray tile wall and hideous curling linoleum floor that was miraculously improved by a brightly-colored shower curtain and a soft fluffy rug. I think that plus a bright purple bathtub mat and a strongly-scented jar candle cost me $20 total and made $100 worth of improvement.

I redid an awful particleboard TV stand with gray star wrapping paper, polyurethane (a pint will last you through many home decor projects), and a little spray paint for the legs. Check out the forums for a zillion funky furniture and home-decor projects, many born out of a need to spice up rented apartments and dorm rooms.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:52 PM on June 5, 2005

I was tired of my place, too, so I did something about it.

I started with my living room because I spend the most time in it. It's also the room that you see when you enter the apartment, but that was less important.. my apartment should make ME happy. What other people think is less relevant.

I tried to think in terms of layers.. function determined location which determined lighting, etc. Decoration was my last concern.

1. I rearranged the room in a way that made sense--the chair became a reading/crocheting area, the couch was a tv/napping area, and the desk was a work area. Most of the furniture is away from the walls to avoid that "lined up around the room" look. For instance, my bookcases are up against the wall and the back of the couch faces the bookcases. There's plenty of room to select books and it removes a lot of dead space I'd have if I just lined stuff up around the room. I kept outlet locations in mind, but I wasn't slavish to them. My desk is far away from the ethernet cable attached to my cable box, but I just dropped a rug over the ethernet cable to cover it up.

2. When I despised my couches (floral prints from the mid 80s) I covered them with Surefit covers. I used cut PVC piping to keep the covers fitting nicely by stuffing the piping deep into the bowels of the couches, but they have new slipcovers that shrink to fit furniture like those stretchy bookcovers, which might be a better option.

3. When I got new hand me down couches that I hated less (subtle dark navy, pumpkin, burgundy, and forest green plaid) that were in better condition, I dumped the covers and bought accessories to match the colors in the couch. I got several cheap pumpkin color chenille pillows from Target to go on the sectional and a burgundy chenille throw. I wouldn't pick out a new plaid couch, but since it was Ethan Allen in fairly good condition, I figured I should embrace and work with what I had.

4) I added task lighting to various areas of the room. A light by the couch, a light over the chair/ottoman, a light on the computer desk. To do this I gathered lights I already owned and repositioned them. I also placed a couple of mirrors that I alread owned to reflect light as well. In the evening I can put on the hallway light and this entire room is softly lit by the reflection of the mirrors.

5) I wandered my apartment and selected items that I already had laying around that matched the colors of the couch and accessories and used those items to decorate the room. It doesn't have to be a perfect match. For example, I had an old quilt that had lots of warm colors in it. If you held it up to the couch it wouldn't be identical in color, but it had the right types of tones in it, so I folded it up and laid it over the back of the chair. Ditto pictures, candle holders, etc. I set up "collections" of things, too. I put all my LOTR books, DVDs, and my leatherette edition of The Hobbit together on top of one of my bookcases, for instance.

6) I ruthlessly cleaned. Romance novels from 1992? Off to the Used Bookstore for credit. VHS tapes of my appearance in the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee? Trash. A movie that someone gave me that I hate? Freecycled.

7) Plants.

And a general tip..

While I am living in apartments, all my shelving is white. I can stick it against the usually white walls of apartments and they look like builtins. They blend into the wall and highlight the contents rather than their own cheapness. And if anything happens to them while I move for the 100th time, I don't care because they were 50 bucks.
posted by xyzzy at 7:55 PM on June 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

jennyjenny: do you have a blog or Flickr account? I'd love to see some before/after photos of your apartment.
posted by sbutler at 8:40 PM on June 5, 2005

here is a little feng shui info you may be interested in
posted by hortense at 9:51 PM on June 5, 2005

If you have a housemate (or obliging friends), get someone to help you move furniture around whenever you get the urge 'til you find an arrangement that makes the room look interesting. Have seating away from the walls and arranged for socializing rather than tv-watching.

Also, since you're on a budget, besides just ikea, don't forget to hit up thrift stores, yardsales, vintage/antique shops, flea markets, etc. Even if the antique shops are out of your price range (& they often are for my budget), they'll give you ideas of what you *could* use, & you can work from there...
posted by soviet sleepover at 10:05 PM on June 5, 2005

For the noise, you might think about one of those little store-bought waterfalls, or something along those lines. The sound of a trickle of water can create some pleasant sonic interference from the other, less desirable noises.
posted by wsg at 10:59 PM on June 5, 2005

Many great ideas upthread for the inside. Re: the outside: it sounds like the neighborhood is oppressive. Google the "Broken Window Theory", then become a good neighbor. Every day, pick up a little trash. Try to get to know the neighbors. Encourage the neighbors who take care of their homes by noticing and complimenting them. If there's a neighborhood organization, join it.
posted by theora55 at 12:12 AM on June 6, 2005

one thing i did was re-think what rooms i spent time in. i had an apartment with a really weird layout, so i ended up relegating my annoying bedroom to being pretty much a big walk in closet, and moved more stuff into my living room and started doing my reading/computing/etc in the living room with my favorite chairs/lamps/pictures in there. i really liked concentrating on the one room and it worked well with my meager budget.

i also managed to get some cool free peices of furniture from some family members and friends when helping them move.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 7:26 AM on June 6, 2005

Now that most of the inside is taken care of ... :-)

Dress up your (outside) entry way. Get a nice welcome mat, add a few pots of colourful flowers, paint your door (if you can), shine up the door handle/knocker/numbers/mailbox.
posted by deborah at 8:34 AM on June 6, 2005

Don't know if this will apply to where you live, but Michael's craft supply store runs a 40% off a single item coupon nearly every week in the Sunday paper. My latest project is buying chrome "floating" frames to frame old calendar pictures of French architecture for the bathroom. I buy one a week for under $5.00-- pocket change.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:38 AM on June 6, 2005

I am, once again, stunned by the generosity and brilliance of mefites. Thank you all. I'll see what I can do about before and after pics.
posted by jennyjenny at 8:33 PM on June 7, 2005

« Older Scripted video editing tools?   |   Name that (old pop classical) tune Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.