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10 Design Tips to Make Your First Apartment Feel Like Home

Meet Alessandra Wood, the Director of Style at Modsy. With a PhD in Design History and an M.A. in the History of Decorative Arts and Design, she is a bona fide design expert. Today, we’re picking her brain on how to decorate your first apartment on a budget! Here are her best tips to help you get started.

So it’s finally happened. You just signed the lease for your first apartment. Congrats! But once you get the keys, the excitement may start to dwindle. What are you going to do with this space? How will you decorate it – and on a budget, no less?

Well, it’s time to flex your decorating muscles and make a space that reflects your style (and doesn’t feel like a college dorm room). Don’t worry – it’s simpler than you think! Use this post as a “first apartment checklist” and you’ll have a space you feel at home in and are proud of in no time.

first apartment1. Size Matters

Make sure your furniture is the appropriate scale for your space. Don’t try to cram a big sectional into a tiny space or fit a tiny futon in a large sitting area. Many furniture brands now have apartment lines, designing sofas at a smaller scale to fit the constraints of an apartment.

For smaller spaces, I also recommend looking for floor lamps that have big design impact but smaller bases – like the one pictured here – so they don’t take up too much floorspace in your room.

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2. Find Furniture that Pulls Double Duty

If you’re in a smaller space, look for dual-purpose furniture to stretch your dollars and maximize your space. Pull-out sofas are a great way to have guests over without worrying about inflating and deflating an air mattress.

And it’s not just sofas that can pull double duty. If you work from home or are working extra hours out of the office, dining areas are an easy solution that can double as a work-station, so you don’t need to worry about cramming a desk into your space.

studio apartment3. Add Sneaky Storage

When it comes to smaller spaces, storage is a must! Only have one closet? No problem. Look for beds that come with built-in storage or that have space underneath to place storage bins. Bring in bookshelves that match your style to keep books and knick knacks organized.

I love finding cool baskets or ottomans with hidden storage for hiding clutter, my dog’s toys, and things you don’t want to put on display.

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first apartment4. Show Some Personality

Bring your personality into the space through art and decor. For your first apartment, don’t worry about spending too much on new prints or expensive mirrors. Instead, consider putting photos of friends and family into new frames and hanging your diploma and other accolades front and center.

And add in any art or decor you’ve collected on trips and travels! Then, sprinkle in a few smaller pieces to round things out – whether it’s a throw pillow with personality, a special print, or a sculptural knick knack that caught your eye.

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5. Beware of Freebies

When you’re on a tight budget, it’s tempting to just take free items from family or Craigslist. But I’d encourage you to be picky with hand-me-downs so your space still feels like a reflection of you. If you can’t afford a new sofa, instead look for new pillows and throws that can freshen up the one you inherited and cover up any wear and tear.

The same goes with other key pieces like bookshelves or coffee tables. A new coat of paint can often make something feel like new – and you can cover any dents or scratches with fresh flowers or small decor pieces.

first apartment6. Layer On The Textiles

Make your space feel lived in with layers. Pile pillows and throws on the sofa for a comfortable feel. Layer rugs to bring in color or texture to the floor. Add a curated gallery wall to bring in pops of color. Mixing different textures and materials will make your space feel designed and well thought-out.

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7. Add Cozy Lighting

Is your space window-less or just feeling kind of drab? Use lighting to make it feel more homey. Combine task, overhead, and table lighting for different intensities. Lamps are also a great way to add some style and personality to your space. And, you can layer in candles for mood lighting, too!

first apartment8. Make Impermanent Changes

Often times landlords aren’t keen on tenants painting walls. But a bad wall color can really negatively impact a space! My favorite (and affordable) way to freshen up a room is to use removable wallpaper. This can add a pop of color and pattern to a room, and showcase your personal style in a bold way. I’d recommend just doing a single wallpapered wall as an accent to your room.

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first apartment9. Add Natural Elements

Bring life into your space through greenery! A boho style – which majors in greenery and natural textures – is perfect for all budget types and design styles. Place plants on shelves, bar carts, or even hang one from the ceiling to add texture everywhere you look.

Plants improve the oxygen quality in your home and add brightness and color to your space. Just make sure you look for plants that are suited for the types of light you get in your apartment. And if you’re afraid of killing your leafy friends, faux succulents and fiddle leaf fig trees are affordable way to get the look without the effort.

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10. Make Smart Investments

If your budget allows, invest in a piece of furniture that can be a statement piece for your space. What do you want to be the topic of conversation when guests enter your home? Is it an inviting velvet sofa for wine and cheese nights? A well-styled bar cart or a luxuriously cozy-looking bed?

My design philosophy is all about investing in one high-quality piece that you can take with you to your next apartment and beyond. And, if you’re really unsure where you’ll be in a few years, pieces like this often have a high resale value so you don’t have to stress about moving it!

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