De-Un-Pimp My Apartment!
October 26, 2014 12:57 PM   Subscribe

What can I do to turn a modest, sparse apartment into a living space that's delightful, useful, impressive, and comfortable? Assume I am starting very nearly from scratch. Extra points for cheapness, easy installations, things which I can move with me, and tips that will make my life easier and happier rather than just flashier.

I'm no stranger to apartment hunting, having moved to three new places in the last five years. Apartment DECORATION, however, is a new beast for me entirely. I've just started my first decently-paying job, and obviously intend to go hog-wild and spend vast but reasonable sums of money creating a truly satisfying place for me to live. I've got a couple things that I love, but in a lot of ways I'll be starting from scratch.

What I'm looking for is to get a sense of all the ways I can make my new apartment more amazing. New showerheads, non-sucky trash cans, curtains that actually block light... suffice it to say I've gone mad with my reasonable amount of power. Help me do this, ye who are wise in the ways of responsible hedonism!

I'm also looking for advice as to what makes sense to splurge a little on versus what I ought to be going reasonable-but-functional for. Obviously there're all sorts of tempting money-traps, but I don't know if, say, that lavish circular mega-couch is really gonna be worth the expense. (Though it might be!) I want things to buy to last me a while, I am comfortable NOT owning things while I save up for really nice things, and I prefer things that actively make me happy to things which merely don't make me hate myself, but obviously there's a lot of ambiguity involved to defining all those values.

Extra bonus points: I like elegant, well-designed stuff (total sucker for Dieter Rams); I looove things which are smaller and easier to fit into a space than I'm expecting; and I am super drawn, I think, to "respectable" possessions, like a nice couch or couch-bed instead of a futon, or, I dunno, respectable adult things to kill off my college ways of doing things. So long as it's not too pricey, of course.

I'm open to anything! Knock yourselves out. :D
posted by rorgy to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
It's very costly unless you have hookups, but get your art professionally framed. The frames should work with each individual piece, not with the room, although if some pieces work well with each other consider the frames' coordination too. As for the art itself, it can really be anything, as long as it speaks to you and you haven't picked it up just to cover a blank wall.

Framed art absolutely makes the difference between temporary living space and home, for me. Most of my art is nicely framed; we joke that we moved to a house to get more wallspace but it's kind of true. I always get compliments on it by friends who are visiting from afar. Once one of them said it was "like a real place where people live! It's so different, where's the stickytack?"
posted by Mizu at 1:25 PM on October 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Things I've appreciated:
1. Good lighting. Get tasteful lamps or light fixtures so that all rooms can be brightly lit or dimly lit.
2. Good quality furniture. Buy it used on Craigslist so you can get real wood quality for the same price as new Ikea.
3. Wall hangings with frames. Choose tasteful pictures (personally meaningful photos, or fine art).
4. Keep everything clean. (If you have more money than time, consider hiring a cleaner.)

To take it to the next level after this, display some personal mementos (souveneirs? awards? musical instruments?), and buy (used) full sets of matching dishes, drinking glasses, and cooking pots. And continue keeping everything clean.
posted by sninctown at 1:31 PM on October 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I love this question! It's possible to make any living space comfortable and classy with a few key components:

1. Lighting is critical. Invest in lamps/other light sources that match your aesthetic. Pay attention to the types of bulbs that you use. Soft white bulbs will give your space a feeling of warmth and depth. Lighting is one of those things that can cause someone to respond positively or negatively to a room/space without necessarily knowing why they feel that way.

2. Rugs can pull a room together. Even if your space is already carpeted, a great rug can give your rooms a richer look.

3. Like Mizu suggests, artwork is important. In addition to pieces that you love, think about enlarging, framing, and hanging personal photos. I have done this wherever I lived and it always takes my place from "empty space" to "home."

4. Even if you're not a plant person, something green can liven up your living space. A favorite of mine is bamboo/lucky bamboo - particularly a tall stalk in a tall, narrow vase. The sleekness adds simple beauty to an otherwise empty wall.

5. Think about your use of mirrors. A well-placed mirror (depending on your decorating choices you can do a simple or elaborate frame) creates an illusion of a larger space. Plus, you can check yourself out before you leave home!

6. Have fun! Making a space your own is a brilliant experience.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 1:37 PM on October 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, get a decent shower head! (I love the Speakman Anystream.) Spring $2 for a roll of that Teflon tape (I still have the roll I got to fix a leaky shower head when I moved into my first apartment back in 1996) and some channel lock pliers

Remove your shower head with the pliers (it should just screw off), clean any gunk out of the threads, wrap the threads (two or three times around) with the Teflon tape, and screw on your new shower head. You are awesome!

Stash the old head and reverse the process when you move out so you can take your excellent shower experience with you to your next place. Seriously, this is a really easy upgrade and was literally the very first DIY I ever did when I moved into my own place.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 2:45 PM on October 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

Also, on preview, about artwork. Yes to all of the above re: decent framing. BUT! Most people hang art WAY too high. Unless it's a giant painting or wall hanging, or you're hanging something over your sofa, most things should be hung between 56 to 60 inches on center. 90% of the art at the museums where I work gets hung at 58" on center. That's lingo for "the vertical center of this thing should be 58 inches up from the floor."

So, for instance, let's say you have a piece of framed art and the overal dimensions are 24" wide by 36" tall. The vertical center of that would be at 18". So, measure 58" up from the floor, then add 18" (So 76"). 76 inches up from the floor would be where the top of your frame should be. Yay for art!
posted by mon-ma-tron at 2:57 PM on October 26, 2014 [11 favorites]

Best answer: If you like modern/Mid-Century designed furniture, I can't recommend enough. I recently ordered a couch from there for not much more than some Ikea ones cost. It looks amazing and arrived in one piece, no assembly required, which is always a tell of a quality piece for me.

(One caveat: They do something slightly cheesy on their site which is to try to trick you into pulling the trigger by showing a clock counting down to when the "sale ends." It's fake. Everything is always on sale.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:31 PM on October 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Do research and get the best bed for you and the highest quality sofa. Now we just got an Ektorp from Ikea and we love it very much. We got the L shaped one and it was $1,000 delivered and assembled.

Things that are going to get a lot of daily use, should be higher quality than that little table that holds up a lamp.

Storage with doors is always a good idea. I have credenzas and drawers. Better than tables for holding up lamps because I can throw a stack of mail in there if someone drops by.

I don't spend a shit ton on electronics. Our next big purchase will be a 42" or 48" TV. I found that my 32" Vizio for the bedroom at $198 on Black Friday has stood me in good stead for quite some time.

I also recommend trolling thrift shops/antique stores/consignment stores for 'case goods.' The wooden drawers, credenzas, etc. If you like the shape, it's very easy to prime and paint in a nice color.

Before you spring on curtains, Get blinds. Cheap blinds are under $10 per window and relatively easy to install. This buys you time to really get good deals and things you LOVE, rather than just anything that blocks out light.

Get a good drill, an electric screw driver, a regular screwdriver set and a small hammer.

Happy hunting!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:11 PM on October 26, 2014

I have a beautiful large hand-woven rug my mother bought when I was a kid. I've taken good care of it and and it's the one furnishing I've lugged around with me for decades. No matter how sparse the room the rug makes it warm.
posted by mareli at 5:11 PM on October 26, 2014

Best answer: SimpleHuman makes a fine trash can, endorsed by mathowie himself because they allow you to take out the trash and replace the bag without getting "garbage hands." I thought $70 was a lot for a trash can, but it comes with a 10-year warranty so that amortizes to $7/year. Pas mal.
posted by carsonb at 5:37 PM on October 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe this is obvious to most people, but it took me a while to realize that the color of curtains really matters in terms of how much light they block. A set of purple curtains will darken a room much better than a set of cream curtains of the same fabric and weight.

Also, I have an Ikea floor lamp -- very similar in design to this -- and it is just awesome. I've lived in 6 different apartments over the past 11 years and it has been the first thing I set up and the last thing I take down in every one. Very durable, practical and good looking.
posted by RingerChopChop at 6:24 PM on October 26, 2014

Best answer: If you're in a reasonably large city, let me put in a plug for Craigslist. You can either browse through stores that you like (say, CB2, West Elm, whatever) and then watch for the thing you want to show up, or search for classic furniture with keywords like 'midcentury.' Personally, I love midcentury furniture and would far prefer to have a classic chair or table than something from a chain store, however high end it might be. Whatever you get on CL will be cheaper. Plus, if it's pre-owned, it's better for the environment.

I recommend playing with a tool like Floorplanner to get a sense of how differently-sized pieces could fit in the space. You might end up deciding you want a much smaller or larger sofa, for example. It's also helpful to browse through home design blogs like Apartment Therapy if you haven't already, and start taking notes about what you like. The 8-Step Apartment Therapy Home Cure (a book) is also surprisingly helpful in explaining how to best arrange a space.

For some specific product recommendations, you might like Sweethome.

Nthing plants, artwork, and rugs to help make a barren apartment feel like home.
posted by three_red_balloons at 6:40 PM on October 26, 2014

Best answer: Everyone's already said lighting, but remember that lighting doesn't just mean table lamps. It's shockingly easy to replace existing ceiling lights, and a beautiful chandelier or pendant lamp is going to do wonders for a room.

Apartment Therapy is legitimately practical for figuring out your tastes and some practical tips, though it does have a fair amount of filler. Some of my favorite tips there have been:
you're hanging curtains wrong!
how to hang art off-center
design truths for renters
how to measure for curtains, shades, and blinds
what to look for when buying sheets

Also, seconding The Sweethome. I read their sheets article and it just kept going.

And finally, if you're in a major city, architectural salvage stores have great stuff. Be careful there and on craigslist, though — a lot of major cities have had a resurgence of bedbugs in the last few years, and you really don't want to deal with that.
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:10 PM on October 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

I recommend against the expensive circular mega-couch. It might fit beautifully in this apartment, but for all future apartment searches, it'll be like having a needy roommate. Nope, this living room isn't big enough! Nope, this living room is just too rectangular! Nope, this living room has too many doors and windows! Unless you can imagine exactly how it would have fit in all 4 of your previous apartments, don't do it.
posted by aimedwander at 10:17 AM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you don't like the look of your cabinets, an easy fix is switching out the door pulls. Works on drawers and closet door handles too. They're usually just screwed in from behind. You'll find a wide assortment both online and in stores.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:02 PM on October 29, 2014

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