TBT: Apartment Decor, Not Dorm Room Style

Folks are spending a lot more time at home these days. Even before the pandemic--and presumably after it ends--millennials are choosing to stay in more often than other generations do. Whether you're quarantined or just introverted, it's a lot more enjoyable to pass the time at home when your habitat is beautiful and cozy. Back in the early years of the century, during the last recession, when my husband and I still lived in a dirt-cheap apartment on a low income, we used creativity--and one small theft from a Wendy's--to feather our nest in a way that made us and our guests feel comfortable and grown-up. The post below is for anyone on a tight budget who's ready to settle in and turn whatever living space they have into a real home.

For fresh ideas on how to make a tiny, cheap apartment feel luxe and personalized and youthful, check out Alexandra Gater's wonderful YouTube channel.

Apartment Decor, Not Dorm Room Style

Your apartment may be tiny, plain white, and cheap, but it doesn't have to look like a dorm.


We did our best to make our one-bedroom, under-$500-a-month apartment in a seedy part of downtown Lansing into a peaceful and chic home. After having parents and friends drown us in generous, though often peculiar, hand-me-down housewarming gifts, our greatest challenge was finding storage for all our stuff. Organization and downsizing are essential to living in a small space. Clear out all the junk you don't need to have in each room. Then pack it away in a storage unit, sell it, or donate it to the thrift store.


For items that are too precious to give away or entrust to a storage unit, stow them in hidden spots around your apartment. Our Buddha shrine was made of a plastic storage box covered in a twisted and draped bolt of fabric. Many of our "end tables" hid secret collections of things that were not immediately useful. When it came time to move, these boxes were already packed and ready to put in the truck.


You can easily find all the furniture you need for your tiny apartment at the nearest thrift shop. If everyone you know hasn't already offered to give you an old couch or recliner, you can pick them up used, in good condition, for $20-$50. Hide worn spots with blankets or furs that coordinate with the room.


The same goes for carpet--apartment floors can be nasty, so rugs are important. We eventually placed rugs in every room of our apartment. They were given to us by friends and family or purchased at the American Eagle Superstore--$40 for this large, pretty living room rug!


If you live in a plain white apartment that you cannot paint, collect colorful fabrics and artwork. Don't hang posters, or your home will end up looking like a teen bedroom or a college dorm. Create your own decorative paintings, as I did here, or scout thrift shops for interesting prints and frame them. Ugly, shabby, or boring walls and furniture can be made beautiful by layering things on top of them. Our tablecloth was made from an old, torn duvet cover. The objects arranged on the shelves are old dishes, pottery made by friends, and seashells found on the beach.


Our apartment came with those standard yucky, dust-collecting, white plastic blinds. The lease agreement did not permit us to hang the hardware for window treatments, but customized drapes are a requirement for an attractive, comfortable home. So we bought spring-loaded shower curtain rods and wedged them into the window frames to hang curtains. We chose breezy, sheer panels for the living areas and dark, velvety fabrics in the bedroom for privacy and light control.


Speaking of light, place lamps in every room to reduce the need for unflattering overhead lighting. This inexpensive plastic-jeweled lamp from Target gave us another way to add color and interest to a room without painting the walls.


Ditch the movie posters, but you can still decorate with paper. We created a faux wallpaper border around the dining area by cutting colorful rectangles from the bottom pages of a butterfly calendar and affixing them to the wall with removable putty. You can make very nice "fine art" from old calendars with classy prints such as Chinese watercolors or vintage pop art if you put them in frames. Save a lot of money by finding frames at thrift shops and doing it yourself.


For custom designed dishes, gather your friends and have a party at one of those paint-your-own-pottery shops. Choose slip-cast items such as pitchers, cappuccino cups, plates and bowls, sushi sets, and Tuscan style wine jugs, and glaze them yourself to coordinate with your taste and kitchen. Other cheap, easy, and beautiful decorating ideas? Light candles--cheap, bulk, unscented or lightly scented kinds placed in found ceramic or glass containers. Fill your apartment with houseplants from cheap windowsill herbs to hard-to-kill and super-air-cleaning spider plants. We snagged this one as a baby sprouting from the foliage inside a local Wendy's and hung it from a heating duct grate to shade and soften the dining room window.


Have fun designing and decorating your beautiful, grown-up home. Go ahead and string up Christmas lights and tinsel--but only if it's actually Christmastime!


So you can only afford a small, plain apartment. So what? Use colorful and textured fabrics, window treatments, and broken-in furniture to create a cozy hangout for yourself and your friends. Throw a party and have fun!


Happy apartment living!

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