Big style in a small space

Decorating Your First Apartment on a Dime

by Shaunna Privratsky


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Apartment living is great, but sometimes decorating your small space can be a nightmare. Yet with a plan and a little ingenuity, you can have a fabulous flat for less. There are a lot of clever ways to visually expand your space and make it feel like home.

First, decide on a theme. This could be an architectural style, like Mission, Contemporary or the old standby, Eclectic. Or you could choose a color theme with one or two accent hues to complement it. Or base your room on a favorite collection, a treasured art print, or a funky old couch your grandma gave you.

Keeping your theme in mind, there are about seven areas you can work on in your small space to give it that designer look without the designer price. Walls are a good starting point. Neutral or light walls will expand the space visually. Yet don't be afraid of color.

Paint is the cheapest, fastest way to start your look. Check with your apartment manager; oftentimes they will appreciate an "upgraded" decor. You could paint one wall your focal color, like cranberry red, and then paint the other walls a pale cream. If the answer is no and you are stuck with beige or white walls, you can still bring in color with dramatic art, accessories, and furniture.

Art doesn't have to be expensive. Look for sales on poster and picture frames or shop at thrift stores. You can paint the frames a unifying color like black or gold, and then fill with favorite photos, magazine pictures, artwork, or even beautiful wallpaper. A simple but elegant idea is to frame a beautiful piece of fabric that ties in your color scheme.

Related: Thrift Store Home Decorating

Next, check out the floor. If the existing covering leaves a lot to be desired, consider area rugs. Late summer is the perfect time to score an extra big rug at super savings. Choose a pattern that will coordinate with your theme and colors and one that you like. Medium tone colors and patterns hide stains the best.

Window coverings don't have to cost a fortune. You can easily sew your own out of sheets. Find a pattern you like, measure the window, and cut in half. Hem the cut edges. Then fold over the top to form a pocket for the curtain rod. You can use two sheets for extra-large windows. Let them puddle on the floor for a dramatic effect. Another inexpensive alternative is a fabric shower curtain. An easy no-sew alternative is using curtain rings. Simply attach the rings to your fabric and slide them onto the curtain rod.

The hardware is easy as well. A slim closet rod works well with drapery brackets. Find these at home improvement stores for mere pennies a foot. They will even cut the exact length you need, so measure your window first.


Your furniture should be scaled down to fit the space. An eight-foot sofa would overwhelm the room, so a six-foot one would be great. Or try a loveseat or two recliners. Consider the uses of the room. A futon can either be a couch or a bed for two. Sturdy bookshelves can double as a television stand. Ottomans or benches can hide storage space for extra blankets and pillows.

Related: Furnishing a First Apartment on the Cheap

Lighting is an often-overlooked area but can make a dramatic difference. Many times, the overhead light is not adequate. Adding a lamp or two or a slim floor lamp will provide extra light and add warmth to your room. Shining light upwards also draws the eye up and makes the room appear taller.

Next comes the most fun part, the accessories. Remember that less is more. You'll have less to dust and more drama. This can really cement the theme you choose. For example, if you are going for a Contemporary look, choose sleek vases with a single flower, shiny metal platters with patterned balls, or chunky black candlesticks.

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Don't overcrowd your surfaces; it will over-emphasize the small space. Groups of like objects make a dramatic display. Keep in mind the rule of three. In very formal rooms, use sets of two: two candlesticks, two vases, or two pictures. Look for inexpensive and unique items at thrift stores or second-hand shops.

Have fun and don't be afraid to make mistakes. Walls can always be redone, furniture can be recovered or rearranged, and you can change your theme. Decorating should be fun. Make it sparkle with a touch of your personality and your small space will be big on style.


Shaunna Privratsky became an expert in personal finance out of necessity. Between writing, reading and gardening, she is always on the lookout for bargains. Please sign up for the free newsletters at The Discount Diva. You can also visit Shaunna on Google+.

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