Apartment Decorating for Dummies
August 30, 2016 11:44 AM   Subscribe

I just rented a new apartment and am basically furnishing it from scratch. One big issue that I am having is that I have no experience decorating etc I have a real refined vision of what I want aesthetically and plenty of pictures, but I am having a hard time achieving it. I also don't always know what things "go" together and what things don't etc I also see something that I like and can't find it in stores. Are there any resources that are inexpensive or free that I can take advantage of? Thank you in advance

I just rented a new apartment and am basically furnishing it from scratch.

One big issue that I am having is that I have no experience decorating etc

I have a real refined vision of what I want aesthetically and plenty of pictures, but I am having a hard time achieving it. I also don't always know what things "go" together and what things don't etc

I also see something that I like and can't find it in stores.

Are there any resources that are inexpensive or free that I can take advantage of?

Thank you in advance
posted by kbbbo to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
This is exactly what Pinterest is good for. A lot of postings have information on where to buy stuff, but at the minimum, you could tag items that you like and keep an eye out for things that look similar.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:51 AM on August 30, 2016

While it's sometimes a little too-too, I like to look at Apartment Therapy for ideas.
posted by xingcat at 11:57 AM on August 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm a grown-up working professional and really value having a nice looking home, but I'm also pretty frugal/cheap. I'm not ashamed to say that Dollarstores are where I get a lot of my decorations, though you have to be choosy. Baskets, glassware (vases, etc). A lot of the stuff at the dollar store is the same as they have at expensive places. They just aren't staged as nicely.
- I got this large white hanging thing at a dollarstore (2$!) and I think it looks fabulous in my fairly hoighty-toighty home in our hoighty-toighty neighbourhood.
- I bought 3 super inexpensive square mirrors at the dollarstore (I think they were 2$ each) and hung them side by side in our guest room to make a sort of pseudo headboard type thing. (not so yellow in real life. And haven't had a chance to paint that room yet, so ignore the beige.)
- ALL of my christmas decorations are from the dollar store and I have had people ask me where I purchased my decorations and I am always proud to say the dollar store. People are always shocked.

Other tips:
- For making things go together, your first step needs to be to pick a colour scheme. For me it is "blues and greys". That's it. Pretty easy to match stuff that way.
- And remember that clear glass (vases etc) are a pretty safe bet. You can fill them with different things for different seasons, as well as candles. very versatile. Get them at the dollar store.
- Kijiji/Craigslist for furniture. Pay attention to quality materials and the shape, less about the colour because you can ALWAYS paint. I bought a pretty hideous headboard for almost nothing, but it is solid wood and well made. Painted it white. Now it looks awesome.
- See something you like but can't find it in stores? Consider making something like it yourself. Pinterest is an amazing resource for DIY decorations, and you'll almost always pay a lot less than you would have if you purchased it.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:16 PM on August 30, 2016

Also, getting a decoration and then spray painting it white can really make something that had been ugly now very nice.

One final thing: Plants. Not true for everyone, but for ME plants are the difference between "the place people sleep" and "home". If you have good natural light, definitely get some plants in there. And if you know someone who already has houseplants you very possibly can get a cutting off of theirs and make babies from it. Spider plants in particular are easy to grow and EXTREMELY easy to get babies from.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:25 PM on August 30, 2016

Agree that Houzz/Pinterest are a great place to start assembling things that you think will work well together.

One thing that paradoxically freed me up a lot was to realize that house/style bloggers and real designers mess stuff up fairly frequently. They get something and it doesn't work in the space, or the color doesn't quite go, or they get something new and the old thing doesn't work anymore, or they decide they want a uniform color palette. They just don't live with it that way. They return stuff, or they put it back on Craigslist/eBay where they got it, or they slipcover it, or find somewhere else to use it. Obviously this works a lot better for a vase than it does for a custom sofa, which is one of the reasons they tell you to choose your big pieces first.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 12:29 PM on August 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of blogs on various aspects of decorating that will help you make sense of colours, scale, etc., it's worth doing a bit of reading on that stuff. (Really, just google "choosing a paint colour" or "how to hang pictures" and reasonable pages will come up. 2nd Apartment Therapy, though.)

As far as what to get - if you have precise ideas for things that are a little unique, and you're on a budget, it's a long-term game. It means hunting every weekend or every other weekend. Scanning online options and your local trade site (Craigslist if in the US or Canada) for deals, going to second-hand stores, stores that change unused but out-of-season stock frequently (e.g. HomeSense, in Canada), auctions, flea markets... always with your core list in mind, but keeping an eye out for special things that might work with your idea. As you purchase an item, you may find it either constrains your options (if you commit to a certain colour) or widens them (if a new colour or texture is introduced). And then the next things you get will play off what you have. If you're patient, you can slowly build toward the look you want.

Maybe you'll have to compromise on a few things, and aim to replace them later. I've done that, but also tried to not introduce anything I don't at least like a fair bit (even if it's cheap), because I either end up not throwing it out and hating looking at it, or replacing it sooner than I probably should (and wasting money).

You need a decent bed, wouldn't skimp on that. Everything else you can build towards or compromise on.
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:08 PM on August 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

My half-assed decorating process involves coming up with a set of colors and/or a theme for each room. The studio is mostly white with several variable-colored lights, several blue accents, and a few low-key Googie touches. The living room is mostly purples, with some rectilinear accents going on with the coffee table that hides the subwoofer/receiver/consoles and the columnar light perched atop it. The bathroom is bright yellow/orange/red. And the bedroom is "a French cathouse infested by vampires", which has accreted a general color scheme of grey, black, red, purple, and a hell of a lot more dense patterns than the rest of the apartment.

What kind of story do you want to tell with your rooms? Should they be empty and spare, or dense and cluttered? What kind of character would live in each of them? How would, for instance, a supervillain's bedroom differ from a dog breeder's? Having a narrative to hang decor off of can help unite things at a higher level than "do these colors harmonize". Not that color harmony is to be sneezed at.

I live in a typical white box of an apartment, and can't paint. I've got about a half dozen LIFX bulbs in various lamps. (They're similar to the Phillips Hues, but have a better color range - Hues are terrible for blue and green.) This creates a lot of mood, which I have changing throughout the day to give me a sense of time passing without having to check a clock.

You could consider making little drawings. Here's the space you have to work in. Here's the furniture you have, or what you'd like to have. Doodle those, then doodle some other stuff that goes with it. Then make another drawing with the same starting point of the space and one or two starting points, and doodle something else that goes with it.

Don't be afraid to take time. Finding the right pieces can take a while. If you're okay sitting on the floor for a few months, you can find the Right Chair without having to find a place to store the Functional, Boring Chair it replaces. Add one or two things at a time, see how they feel, think about what you need next.
posted by egypturnash at 1:36 PM on August 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Depending on the asthetic you are going for, there's a subreddit that might be helpful: https://www.reddit.com/r/DesignMyRoom/
posted by quaking fajita at 2:41 PM on August 30, 2016

To me, one of the details that really determines if a room looks nice is not relying on overhead lighting (except in kitchens and bathrooms). I HATE overhead lights in a living room. I use table lamps and some floor lamps in my living and dining rooms (though a nice hanging light over the dining room table is definitely a good thing). You can buy lamps ridiculously cheaply at Target, on Craigslist, wherever. Forget about some kind of design standard, just choose whatever you like. And, if you feel inspired, you can mix and match lampshades--no need to stick with one that comes with the lamp if you don't love it.
posted by primate moon at 5:08 PM on August 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

There is the school of thought that if you furnish and decorate with things that you really sincerely and honestly love, then it works, no matter what it is. That's been my approach -

"I like maps. I'll put some on the wall."
"I like 1930's WPA poster art. I'll put some on the wall."
"I like this couch. I'll get it."
"I need to cover the couch with a slip cover becasue it's dirty, and I like this color."
"I need a couple cushions for the couch, and I like this cushion."
"I need to do something with the collection of Irish stuff I've got. I'll hang it all on the wall in a group."
"I love this lamp. I'll put it somewhere in the house."
"I love this candle. I'll put it somewhere in the house."
"This is an awesome vase. I'll put it somewhere in the house."

It's not instant, and sometimes there's trial-and-error and at first you get some things that are more "eh, I need an end table and that one's okay", but if you use your own self as the yardstick rather than trying to follow some arbitrary rules, it can still look coherant because you are the element that ties it all together.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:56 AM on August 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

I recommend visiting Emily Henderson's blog: https://stylebyemilyhenderson.com/

She does a mix of mid-century modern and traditional furniture with extra whimsy. Even if that's not your style she does the following kinds of post you might find useful:
Round-ups and 1 Room 3 Budgets
-The round ups will be especially useful for you, I think, because everything is linked to where you can buy it.
How To Style A . . .
-This would be good for the issue of "how do things go together," which I happen to think Emily and co. do very well.

Apartment Therapy is also very good, and they have a book which you may find more useful than the website.

The best advice I have seen on Apartment Therapy is to take it slow. Don't feel like you need your apartment to look like a showcase, or even very nice at all, right away. I've lived in my apartment for a year and a half and it's still evolving. It took about a year before I looked around a really liked what I saw. If you take it slow, it's a little more fun because you are only buying things you like.
posted by Mouse Army at 5:22 AM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Design Sponge is great, a wide variety of styles. I prefer it to Apartment Therapy. Don't be put off by expensively decorated places. Just look out for things you think fit that aesthetic. Design Sponge also released a book a few years ago and I absolutely love it.
And my big tips for decorating, rugs and plants everywhere. They make a house a home.
posted by shesbenevolent at 7:24 AM on August 31, 2016

(Also - get a comfortable couch. Something you'd be happy to hang out & watch movies on. I regret getting one that's cute or whatever and that fit through my door [which was my main concern] but isn't super cozy to actually sit on. If you have space constraints, go with an armchair + chaise longue or loveseat. Better yet, something modular.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:31 PM on August 31, 2016

Also - get a comfortable couch. Something you'd be happy to hang out & watch movies on.

Oh my god SECONDED. The couch I have is something I inherited from my down-the-hall neighbors when I was about 30; they were a pair of frat-boys-who-grew-out-of-it and were each moving into different apartments, and there was some furniture neither one wanted and they offered it to me. One of them pitched the couch as "it's a really great 'lying around on the couch all day' couch", and he was so right - and that is why I still have it despite the fact that it is probably about 15 years old now and the stuffing is coming out of one arm where my cat scratched it to hell and it actually sheds if you use the foldout bed, is because it is so comfortable. I just have a slipcover over the thing that I wash regularly so you can't tell how beat-up it is.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:43 AM on September 1, 2016

What worked for me when we bought a house was to look at the pieces of furniture and art that we already had and loved, and come up with a silly theme that encompassed them, in this case "1930s adventure club" because we had two chairs with Art Deco lines, a large photograph of one of the entrants into the 1908 New York-Paris Road Race, and several tchotchkes from various countries. When I was shopping for other stuff for the room, I'd ask myself "would it fit into the theme?" and if it did, I got it.

It's not a capital-T Theme--you're not going to walk in and say "This looks exactly like a 1930s adventure club!" But it did guide me to purchase a leather couch that was an updated version of a classic club couch, a wingback chair, lamps that were vaguely industrial, and several other things, all of which seem to go together in a way that makes me happy.
posted by telophase at 2:26 PM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

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