ideas for upgrading a small living space
February 20, 2021 5:55 PM   Subscribe

My move has been postponed for Reasons. I thought I could use the year or so's delay to upgrade my living space a little, to make it feel nicer to stay in for the time being and alleviate the disappointment a tad, but also to make it more attractive to future buyers. What are some things I can do to a small apartment to make it feel fresh and inviting? What would you do? My own existing plans beneath the fold.

I don't really have much of an idea of what I should do to my place. It's a reasonably sizeable one-bedroom apartment. It's perfectly nice - I keep it tidy - but it's a little tired looking and it faces North East and is shadowed by trees so doesn't get a lot of light. I don't have a lot of decorating/architectural 'vision' and I find Pinterest and the like a little exhausting to sift through.

I thought I could do the following:

1) Declutter
2) Minor cosmetic upgrades in bathroom (replacing the exhaust fan, replacing shower curtain with a screen, replacing the bathroom cabinet with a nicer one)
3) Improve the storage in the kitchen - maybe add some open shelving to the one wall that doesn't have anything currently on it, above head height to avoid potential head banging
4) I would love to find a temporary fly screen solution for my windows that doesn't look ugly and temporary - I live on the ground floor and rarely keep the windows open because insects come in but it would be so nice to be able to do so in summer. But my lease (I own the flat) is weird - I am not allowed to make permanent changes to the windows.
5) Frame some art
6) Replace my ugly Command hooks with a nice coat hanging rail

I appreciate you guys don't know what my place looks like, but I'd love to know what inexpensive small things make a small space look more attractive and feel more functional. Or to put it another way: If you had an unexpected grace period that you could use to make your home nicer, what would you do?

Thanks for your help!
posted by unicorn chaser to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I repainted my room with one wall a bit darker than the others. I got a bunch of frames from the dollar store and had pictures printed for them. The part that makes them neat is I used a few different free photo apps to edit them and make them a bit more artistic., I added a runner to my dress and table (mainly because I'm an idiot and dumped half a bottle of acetone on my stained dresser and took of the stain). I upgraded from a regular window shade to vertical blinds. I'm looking for shelving for my closet because the 40+ year old stuff in there is collapsing.
posted by kathrynm at 6:07 PM on February 20

Floors are a lot more important that we think they are. Depending on your flooring you could rent the right kind of gadget to give it a deep clean, and then also invest in some different rugs to make things extra comfy for bare feet. (Then you can take these rugs with you when you move.)
posted by Mizu at 6:10 PM on February 20 [7 favorites]

Your ideas sound good!

-plants (some like shade/are mostly indestructible)
-paint/wallpaper one wall - if you don't get much light, stick to a bright/light color
-what is your lighting situation? If you're relying on overhead lights, I find adding some lamps and using those more can make a space much more cosy.

And I agree with Mizu, a good rug can make a room much more appealing.
posted by coffeecat at 6:16 PM on February 20

A mirror on the right wall can really brighten up a room with low natural light, and make it feel bigger.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:44 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]

If it’s dark, paint all the walls white. Pick a couple of key colours that you like and that work together and use them as accent colours. Say, blue and tan if you like a beach look. Get a white/blue/tan/ slipcover for the sofa if it’s not in your budget to buy new furniture.

Get an inexpensive jute rug from ikea for the floors and throw on some cushions for the sofa in one of those tones. Then use one of those colours and replace your lampshades. Bam, your room looks pulled together for really not much at all.

Use your key colours to as accents for the rest of your house too. If you keep white as a base colour and then use just one or two accent colours throughout, the whole apartment will look cohesive. Oh, and plants. Plants make a huge difference.
posted by Jubey at 7:23 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]

If you have mobile window screen guys in your city, get one in as soon as it's Covid safe. They'll be able to make a screen on the spot that will fit inside the window frame snuggly -- without nails or screws -- which can then be removed quite easily when you don't want it up. We finally bit the bullet and did this last summer and it made such a huge difference in our home!
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:33 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]

Seconding the thing about adding mirrors to brighten up the place and make it feel bigger. IKEA has a great selection of well sized mirrors that look nice and aren’t expensive.
Swapping your TV for a projector on the wall- they make great ones for <> Nice looking privacy films for your windows perhaps? There are even ones that will bathe your room in rainbows when the light hits just right
Add better lighting, whether lamps, hue lights, or fixtures
Plants: pothos, snake plants, peace lillies, spider plants will all do fine with your low light levels :)
posted by wowenthusiast at 8:01 PM on February 20

Decluttering, and making sure everything has a place. Having a few key decorative pieces that you really love and work well together. Having a colour scheme that flows through the whole property.
posted by plonkee at 12:49 AM on February 21

If it was a house I'd suggest things that would improve its 'kerb appeal'. So is there anything you can do that would appeal to buyers/improve your experience before they/you even step into the actual apartment? Painting the door? Plant in a pot? Tidying rubbish (even if it's not your rubbish)?
posted by sianifach at 1:06 AM on February 21

A better shower head?
posted by oceano at 1:53 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

Oh my gosh, yes, a better shower head is a really good idea. It is very easy to swap a basic one for the type with a hose so you can choose between handheld and shower mode, it’s nothing more than screwing the head off and putting the new one in, maybe picking the right kind of washer. And the difference is soooo noticeable! Also you can take it with you when you go.
posted by Mizu at 2:16 AM on February 21

Generally, small apartments need to maximize utility and usually the solution is go vertical. Hang stuff off ceilings, planters, and such, or storage solutions. bookcases or shelves that go a bit higher than normal. Bunkbeds instead of regular beds. Folding shelves and desks instead of regular shelves and desks, and so on.

As for your Window, have you thought about doing a magnetic one? This link off Amazon basically has you measure and cut your own screen and add magnetic strips all around, so you can stick it to your window frame (another magnetic strip). Though I guess it depends on how good the strip will stick to your window frame.
posted by kschang at 3:16 AM on February 21

A more focused place to find ideas and pictures that could actually provide useful inspiration is Apartment Therapy.
posted by eviemath at 4:52 AM on February 21 [4 favorites]

I love my ottomans that contain all of the papers and serve as nice seating and foot rests. New plates make a big difference. You can build furniture that looks like high-end furniture with ordinary lumber, a few tools, and a good wood stain.
posted by metatuesday at 7:00 AM on February 21

You should be able to get a screen insert for your window if it opens upward. These expand horizontally, being basically two screens that are attached and slide sideways. To use them you open the window as far as it will go, expand the screen to fit the opening horizontal and close the window back so that it pins the screen in place. They also sell fans that work this way which would block some of the light but might significantly increase the air flow.

If your place is dark and painting is a permanent or too difficult change you could invest in better lighting and switching out dark items.This can range from making matching white dust jackets for all your books if you have a collection with many dark spines, or painting furniture items white, to changing out dark artwork and accessories for light coloured ones. If your bed has dark bedding you can cover it with a light coloured throw.

Start by going through you apartment and identifying which corners are the darkest and what elements are making them dark, so you know if getting a light for the corner is a better idea than changing accessories.

Mirrors are a good idea but if they don't face light they won't work very well. If they face dark storage they could even make things worse, such as if you put them in the hall facing a coat rack. Then you could end up feeling like you are in a coat cupboard.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:01 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

Curating the visible stuff in your space (what's on the counters/tables/shelves) can really transform a place. That usually means decluttering along with replacing stuff that doesnt look good but is functional with a nice-looking version of itself.

An appropriately sized area rug in coordinating colors / pattern will pull any room together. is a great place to check out.

Art that fits the wall size or space you want to decorate -- no tiny 5x7 photographs on a huge wall!

Painting an accent wall, or an accent wall section is a huge visual upgrade with the right color.

Curtain rods 8" wider than the window, hung between the top of the window and the ceiling, with floor length curtains in a decent fabric. Amazon or IKEA has what you need here.

Have fun with your glow up!
posted by ananci at 8:30 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

Go area by area, and fix things. Loose molding or broken outlet covers, whatever. If the paint is dingy, repaint. If there are dings, spackle them first.

Most apartments are all white and neutral colors, so add color with artwork, posters, plants, and curtains. If you have a pretty quilt, put it over the back of a chair. Scout out a pretty rug. Small, doo-dads don't do much for me, but 1 beautiful larger object makes a difference. I'm not a fan of lots of pillows, but a few really good-looking pillows can add color. Get pillows at a thrift shop(machine wash them), buy fabric, sew covers. I have bought thrift shop clothing specifically for the fabric.

Maybe you have some cool stuff. Cool albums with great covers can be propped up as art. Cool tshirts can hang on the bedroom window. Tension rods will hold a curtain, scarves, and/or a couple t-shirts with great graphics.

You can use adjustable screens in many windows or adapt the magnetic screens (I use these on my doors, they work well for me).
posted by theora55 at 12:04 PM on February 21

The Apartment Therapy before and after section is much less overwhelming than Pinterest. There's usually a budget given, so you can focus on the cheap ones, and you can browse per room too.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 1:32 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]

I have had a lot of luck replacing blinds with cheap IKEA curtains. I do two layers: see through and not see through. They look fancy and let in lots of light.
posted by Monday at 11:33 PM on February 21

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