Monday, May 25, 2009

5 Clever Tricks To Make Your Apartment Look Great On A Budget

decorating on a budget

If you are human being, somewhere between the ages of 18 and 32, living in a sizable city and generally rocking the not-quite-settled-down life, you probably live in an apartment, right? And said apartment is probably a high-ceilinged number, with hardwood floors, looking out over a park, just down the block from work, renting for a whisper and a prayer. No?

Weird. Mine's not like that either.

Like most things in life, apartments require a certain amount of compromise. The big place in the suburbs or the closet in hipsterville. The acres of dingy carpeting or the three square feet of imported cherry wood. Oh, the luxury of choices.

I, personally, would rather live in a wee little place in a neighborhood that I dig, rather than in a mansion in the 'burbs. And by the grace of the real estate gods I found a gem in a neighborhood full of giant lawns and big Victorians and tiny cafes. But said gem? It is very, very much in the rough. Like, hasn't been repainted in years, kind of rough. So I'm summoning all my DIY powers and thrifting talents to posh up my place without going into debt.

Here's are a few budget decorating ideas.

Clean the Sweet Bejesus out of that place
No, I mean like a really epic down-on-your-hands-and-knees kind of cleaning. Shampoo the carpet, dust the ceiling fan blades, bleach the grout. Cleaning supplies don't have to cost a fortune, you can even make your own for a pittance. Little details add up: you can remove paint splatters from hardwood with nail polish remover and return the gloss to dry, faded wood with a $1 bottle of mineral oil. Anne Sullivan, you're not the only miracle worker in town!

Replace and upgrade the hardware
Most of the things that come with an apartment are rubbish, or at least not particularly attractive - those oddly flesh-toned light plates, the dirty blinds, the skinny towel bars. It's easy to replace these things and usally not too expensive. You can upgrade to nice brushed nickel light plates, bamboo blinds and towel bars that don't leave a crease in your linens. And you can even take them with you when you move! I've even been known to replace cupboard knobs and light fixtures. But then don't go by me. I'm the girl who will spend her Saturday night joyfully oiling her floor.

If you are lucky enough to have a laid-back landlord, embrace the power of the brush. Even if you are required to stay with in the confines of "neutral earth tones" a new coat of paint makes everything look clean and fresh. And painting over questionable wood paneling or dark cabinets can make a world of difference. Choosing a vibrant color can overcome mediocre furniture or a weird layout.

Never pay full-price
But then with Craigslist, Ebay and garage sale season, why would you? By the time I'm finished furnishing my new place (love seat, buffet, bed, dining room table and chairs, desk and chair, rug) I think I'll top out at $400. At the most. I also find that buying things on the cheap keeps me from getting too emotionally attached to stuff that is, ultimately, just stuff. It's a lot easier to sell off your belongings and head to Russia when you found your sofa on the curb.

Cover up the ugly
Cheap-o, twenty something apartments usually have character up the wazoo. "Character" meaning windows in your shower, avocado green fridges paired with mustard yellow stoves, or a giant brown 70's air conditioner mounted into the middle of your living room wall. Dude, just cover that shit up. I am a huge fan of obscuring any unpleasant views via a fake stained-glass window (paint egg white onto your window and then layer pieces of white tissue paper over it) and hanging big ol' pictures over unused air conditioners/fuse boxes/bad plaster. I solved the problem of the ridiculous fridge and stove by painting stripes in varying shades of green and yellow onto one wall. And lo! There was matching!
How have you fancified your place on the cheap?

P.S. 4 ways to disguise horrible, ugly kitchen cupboards + 5 storage ideas for teeny, tiny bedrooms

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photo by Emily May // cc


  1. Such wisdom :)
    My new place is still looking really empty and not very wlecoming. Now I have some inspiration to make some cheap improvements! Horray!

  2. This might make you more attached to the furniture, but painting or staining wooden furniture, or even decoupaging it can make a really big difference too. Especially if it's used, beat up furniture.

    These are some really great (and easy) ideas!

  3. I am all about painting and changing out hardware - if your landlord cares, a coat of white is enough to freshen things up to no end and new drawer pulls make everything sparkle. I also agree about the painting of furniture, I have done some ugly bookcases (black makes them disappear and they do their job fine) and chairs (bright colors also help hide beat-up-ness to no end). That and some new linens or pillows makes a HUGE difference without much investment.

    Also, Tar-jay and World Market are great for pillows and accessories (partly because they sort them by color) without breaking the bank. If I am too antsy to repaint I get a couple of new towels or something and it makes a big difference.

  4. My apartment looks over a playground. That's almost like a park, right?

    These are some great ideas!

  5. Thank you for the visit!

    And I absolutely agree: new paint makes a new room xD

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  7. Oh, I love this list. I do it all on the cheap, and I have a weird talent for finding fantastic things on curbs and near dumpsters...

    I love your blog! I always get excited when I see your blog highlighted on my google reader! haha

  8. Omg, you know what I have always wanted to try but don't have a good space for in my apt? That thing where you buy cheap fabric, dip it in starch and plaster it up as (removable) wallpaper! Genius.

  9. First off, thank you for stopping by on my site and leaving a comment! There's definitely days when I feel like dressing up in my most girliest of outfits, or at least looking at photos of people who do.

    When I was younger, I imagined that living downtown meant that I would have to live in some dingy, little apartment and that I would be okay with that as long as I was downtown, in some awesomely hip and bustling neighborhood.

    As for poshing up one's apartment? Clean, clean clean! It makes such a difference to a good scrub down that makes a place feel fresh and ready for a new life.

    Let us see how you've decorated!

  10. agreed! I once spray painted a sketchy shower silver. A true mess, with little ventilation. I am sure that it developed cancer nodes. Unfortunately what I thought was a brilliant plan was not. I could not use my sugar scrubs as the oils made the silver paint come off onto your feet. Lesson learned; spray paint has it's limits

  11. My studio in hipsterville (before life with the boyfriend) was a 1920s hotel with a kitchen shoved into what I think was a hallway and a walk in closet where the Murphy bed would have gone. I *loved* it--but I did cover up the metal-plated front door with a curtain.

  12. 'dude, just cover that shit up' hahaha i love it.
    just found your blog. will probably spend the next hour procrastinating here :)

  13. Ah ha ha ha ha. We TOTALLY found our new sofa on the curb. Looking forward to trying out some of these tips when we move into our new apartment next week! x

  14. Paper lantern lightshades and fairy lights. Low lighting hides all flaws.

  15. I moved about 7 times from 18-23 and took my thrifted picture frames, paper lanters, duvet covers, and throw pillows to every place I went. Those little touches made my place feel like home.

  16. Here's what I did to my rental hovel to make it look like a million bucks:

    1) Mineral oil on the hardwood
    2) Painted walls, trim and ceiling
    3) Swapped out all the drawer and cupboard knobs for something more stylish
    4) Changed all the light switches and plate covers to new ones
    5) Changed all the wall plugs and plate covers to new ones (only on the ones that are visible and not obscured by furniture)
    6) Swapped out all light fixtures
    7) Installed LED strip lighting under kitchen cupboards, can be removed in about 30 seconds
    8) Swapped out kitchen and bathroom faucets for new
    9) Installed a brand new toilet seat
    10) Hung my curtain rods right at the ceiling and not at the top of the window, makes the ceiling look taller
    11) Swapped out the towel rack in the washroom
    12) Applied Feng Shui

    The outside of my building looks kinda ghetto but when people come in they usually all go "Wow! I had no idea these places were so nice and new inside"

    Just make sure you know what you are doing when doing this stuff other wise ask a friend who does. I did it all including the electrical and make sure you hold on to the old fixtures and wall plates etc. They will have to go back in before moving.

  17. Oh and I almost forgot that I also put in all new interior door knobs. Makes a huge difference.

    The only thing I am considering also doing is putting in a few low profile battery operated LED "pot" lights ($6 each) for that "budget" pot light look. Installed with double sided tape. The only thing is I have to turn them on and off individually and will likely have to sand and touch up the tiny spot on the ceiling where the tape is when I take them down but the look they will give is worth it IMHO,

  18. Actually, I'm a landlord and I love these ideas! My apartments are clean and in good condition with new appliances but the flooring, cabinets and fixtures are really dated. I heart the great suggestions from Anonymous on 1/21. I have NO talent whatsoever for making places fancified. I will hold onto that list!