Just because you rent an apartment doesn’t mean you don’t want it to look good. Whether you regularly entertain friends or just like having your own personal oasis, making a welcoming home space is important to everyone.
But even if prices for Pottery Barn's apartment line or at West Elm don’t fit your renter’s budget, you don’t have to give up on a chic look. If you have a couple thousand dollars to spend on furnishings and decor, or even just a couple hundred, both are doable, says Susie Frazier, artist and author of “Designing for Wellness,” which focuses on creating spaces that invoke emotional well-being.
A do-it-yourself project to upcycle a plain dresser from Ikea or a splash of color and pattern can give your rental the style it needs. With some additional touches you can achieve inside your budget, your apartment can go from a plain box to feeling like home in a few simple steps.
“Be the person that salvages something and turns it into something beautiful,” Frazier says. “That philosophy works perfectly with someone who’s on a budget.”
Here are 12 ways to decorate your apartment on a budget:
- Make small square footage cozy.
- Use mirrors to make the room seem bigger.
- Salvage or buy used furniture.
- Put up curtains.
- Invest in long-term items.
- Update lighting.
- Use removable wallpaper.
- Get double-duty furniture for storage.
- Bring in a touch of nature.
- Take a closer look at the artwork you choose.
- Get reusable containers for items that don’t fit in storage.
- Finish out the space.
Embrace the Small Space
At first, the small square footage of a one-bedroom or studio apartment may seem like a decorating challenge, but the smaller space may be easier to pull together if you're not trying to make it feel like a palace. Frazier points out that current interior design trends emphasize creating comfortable nooks and small spaces.
The smaller your rental, the easier it is to achieve because you don’t have to create nooks or close off spaces in a larger room – the cozy setting is built in. For this reason, Frazier says, “Renters might have an advantage over a big home.”
Use Mirrors to Make the Room Seem Bigger
Taking advantage of an apartment's small square footage doesn’t mean you have to give up on making the room appear bigger. Especially if the foyer or living area feels claustrophobic, add a mirror to create the illusion of more space. Full-length mirrors resting on the floor help make a room feel more expansive, and short mirrors attached to the wall can help a hallway or alcove feel bigger as well.
Mirrors also help light bounce around the room, so if your rental is particularly dark, angle a mirror toward the window or other light source to brighten the rest of the space.
Salvage or Buy Used Furniture
Furniture can easily become the most expensive purchase you make, but it doesn’t have to be. Check out antique stores, Goodwill, Craigslist or other online marketplaces, flea markets, garage sales and even sidewalks on large-item trash pickup days to find used items that are not only cheap – or free – but can add more character to your apartment than a basic black coffee table might.
Keep your mind open for items you can transform. Frazier notes that an old door from a historic building could easily be turned into a table by adding legs to it – and then it becomes a conversation piece. “Now you have a story to tell,” she says.
Put Up Curtains
Windows in rental properties are typically equipped with blinds for privacy, but not much else. Simple fabric curtains can help add texture and color to the room. Window coverings can be a quick and easy DIY project if you purchase curtain rods and curtains, which are available at a variety of stores, including Ikea, Target, Lowe’s and specialty companies like The Curtain Outlet. A few screws in the wall will be easy to patch when it comes time to move, and you’ll benefit from being able to block out sun and noise for added privacy throughout your lease.
Invest in Long-Term Items
Your budget may make an investment piece difficult, but Lauren Cox, design expert for online interior design platform Havenly, recommends paying more for the items you're likely to hold onto for longer. “Invest in core furniture pieces – so your sofa, your bed and things you know you’re going to carry with you,” she says.
To trade off, spend less on the items that aren’t used as often and may not even make the move to your next place. Cox says dining chairs and side tables are items you may not want to spend much money on.
Your home will feel more complete if you focus on brightening it up. “Bringing in lighting makes a huge difference that you don’t have to rely on the standard pieces that come with most rental places,” Cox says.
Before you settle for a basic floor lamp with a plastic shade, explore your options. Ikea, Target, Wayfair and Home Depot are all popular places to purchase lamps, and you can easily find options in different styles for under $50.
Use Removable Wallpaper
Many renters hesitate to paint or put up wallpaper for fear of losing their security deposits. Fortunately, removable wallpaper and wall decals offer a temporary, damage-free solution to the white or beige walls that keep a rental looking plain.
Without having to worry about making a mistake that can’t be undone, renters can experiment more with pattern and color on their walls, says Elizabeth Rees, founder of removable wallpaper company Chasing Paper.
“Most commonly, we find that our customers use removable wallpaper for a single wall – though we have many who also use them for an entire room, as well as DIY projects and smaller pieces of decor,” Rees says.
Get Double-Duty Furniture for Storage
If your apartment lacks closet space, seek out furniture that both provides storage space as well as performs its standard function. Look for a coffee table with shelves underneath or hidden trunk space, for example, a bar cart that can double as a side table or tall shelves for your books that can also separate the bed and living areas in a studio.
Bring in a Touch of Nature
Indoor plants are an ideal way to infuse color and life into a room all at once. But not every renter has a green thumb, and a succulent collection doesn’t appeal to everyone’s personal sense of style.
Stones, pinecones or dry natural plant clippings bring organic patterns and variety into your space at no cost. Frazier has a grouping of smooth river rocks she keeps near the entryway in her home, which she says serves as a tactile stimulant for herself as well as guests. “Whenever anyone comes over, (the rocks are) almost begging you to touch them, and guests immediately reach out,” she says.
Choose Artwork Carefully
Leaving the walls blank in your apartment will make it seem less personal, but so will putting up artwork with no personal connection to you. “Only choose art that goes into your apartment that has meaning to you,” Frazier says.
If you already have your core furniture, Cox says artwork is an excellent option for making a bigger investment. Even if it takes a little longer to fill an empty space on the wall, the choice to spend more on a piece you’ll keep for years has greater value in the long run, whether it's from a gallery, artist website or at a street sale. You may still find artwork that speaks to you at a flea market, but skip the stores where you're most likely to buy art as a space filler.
Get Reusable Containers
If you find your kitchen cabinets overflowing and your counters getting cluttered, consider options for making visible storage a little more attractive. A wooden bowl to hold fresh fruit will serve you better than produce bags sitting on the counter, and matching spice jars can make your regular cooking ingredients seem like a display rather than a cluttered collection in the cabinet. Organization like this can add up in price if you’re not careful while shopping at The Container Store or even on Amazon, so only buy these items when you have a specific purpose for them.
Finish Out the Space
The biggest mistake renters make when decorating, Cox says, is neglecting to complete a room for the sake of easier moving when the lease is up. “It’s really easy to get into this mindset that this isn’t my forever home,” she says.
Matching nightstands in a bedroom, an additional chair in the living space or a rug for the guest room can make the rooms look complete. Cox notes that they don’t have to be investment pieces or focal points, but these finishing touches can provide each room with the complete look it needs.
It may be time to update your decor.
You may not be moving into a new house in 2020, but you can make your home feel new again by taking stock of each room and updating the design. You may want to make your living room more functional by finding a better furniture layout, brighten up a guest bedroom with new paint or go big with a full renovation of your kitchen for a more modern style. To make any design changes a success, however, you’ll want to know what styles will become more popular in 2020 and what fads are on their way out. Here are 10 interior design trends to consider in 2020.
Updated on Dec. 6, 2019: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.Zen dens break up floor plans.
Zen dens break up floor plans.
Open floor plans may be here to stay, but many homeowners are interested in creating a room that lets you separate yourself from the goings-on in the rest of the house. For some people, open floor plans are "too open,” says Tim Bakke, publishing director of online home and design plan company The Plan Collection, based in Scarsdale, New York. “If you have the TV on in the living room, everyone in the kitchen and the dining room is hearing it and seeing it.” Bakke says separate, closed-off living spaces called “zen dens,” are ideal for reading a book or having a more private conversation, and he thinks they’ll gain popularity in the coming year. “It’s not splitting up the house, but you have someplace where you can kind of get away from it,” Bakke says.Master suites expand.
Master suites expand.
As wellness gains emphasis, more homeowners are looking at spaces where they’ll most likely benefit. As a result, master bedrooms and bathrooms are getting more love. “Maybe a little bit of square footage is taken away from other parts of the house and put into the master suite,” Bakke says. Whether it’s to expand the bathroom and add a soaking tub or to make room for a sitting area in the bedroom, homeowners are considering their bedrooms as a space where they can spend more time beyond sleeping and getting ready for the day.Inside and outside continue to blend.
Inside and outside continue to blend.
Outdoor living has been gaining popularity over the last few years, and designers continue to see blurring the line between outdoor and indoor as a desire among homeowners. Gena Kirk, vice president of design for homebuilding company KB Home, based in Los Angeles, describes successful interpretations of the trend as “extending the great room into the backyard,” which not only makes entertaining easier, but also allows you to relax on comfortable seating on the patio when the weather is nice. For homes that experience colder seasons, a fire pit, outdoor fireplace or outdoor heaters allow for snuggling under a blanket while still enjoying the outdoor living space when the weather is chilly.Organic elements are here to stay.
Organic elements are here to stay.
Indoor plants have made a resurgence in recent years because they add life to a space. Meanwhile organic elements are expanding into furniture and decor as designers incorporate more natural wood tables, natural fiber rugs, coral, dried flowers and branches into decor. While these items are no longer living, they offer a connection to nature and the outdoors. Keep an eye out for sisal, jute or seagrass rugs, which can be found at major retailers like Home Depot, Ikea and Wayfair. While it’s easy to find faux coral tabletop decor, you need to read product descriptions carefully to find real coral for purchase.Wallpaper and texture provide depth.
Wallpaper and texture provide depth.
Rather than sticking to traditional eggshell wall finishes and basic cotton throw pillows, design experts are looking to patterns and textures to make rooms feel more dynamic and personal. Interior designers particularly encourage wallpaper in a half bathroom, where you can have a bit more fun without overwhelming the space. Wallpaper is making a comeback in other parts of the house as well. Barbara Kavovit, CEO and founder of Evergreen Construction in New York City, says wallpapering a room makes a great do-it-yourself project, requiring little skill – just the patience to do it right. You can also experiment with texture on walls, whether it means creating a faux stucco look with plaster and paint or incorporating upholstered panels or reclaimed wood.Velvet becomes a staple.
Velvet becomes a staple.
Velvet is becoming a preferred furniture fabric over microfiber or leather, since it offers a soft texture that looks luxurious in bright, bold colors. Expect to see more bedding accessories and throw pillows in velvet, which can provide additional texture in a bedroom or living room. This trend isn’t just for winter, either – if it's the right color and paired with other textures and materials, velvet works in a room year-round. Light pink or mustard velvet pairs well with just about any color.Blue is the color to incorporate.
Blue is the color to incorporate.
Both Pantone and paint company Sherwin Williams have announced that their colors of the year for 2020 are dark shades of blue: "classic blue" for Pantone and "naval" for Sherwin Williams. Dark and navy blues can serve as neutral colors for a room and pair well with lighter colors, bold jewel tones and even metallics for an art deco look. Lighter blues and greens are also popping up more in furniture, decor and paint palettes, which can make for a soft look or a bold statement in different combinations. As a wall color, navy creates a darker setting, leaving room to play around with lighter neutrals and pops of color in the decor. It can also be used as an accent in a lighter room.Say goodbye to gray.
Say goodbye to gray.
If you’ve been watching HGTV renovation shows or have toured homes at just about any point over the last decade, you know that gray has been the go-to neutral for walls, furniture and even home exteriors. But over the last couple of years, other neutrals have been threatening gray’s domination of the color market. “Those very cool grays – they’re dying. They’ve been dying. Everything’s starting to warm up,” Kirk says. Interior designers are seeing a return to shades of brown and beige, as well as navy, to offer a warmer palette. Don’t be afraid of looking outdated if you use gray in your color scheme for a room, but if your entire house is painted in the same gray shade, it’s time to add some variation.Computer rooms are out; charging stations are in.
Computer rooms are out; charging stations are in.
If you’re still dedicating part of your kitchen to house the family desktop computer or it has its own designated room, rethink that space. With everyone using laptops, tablets and smart phones to browse the internet, do homework and pay bills, there’s no need to take up space with a bulky desktop that no one’s using. A family computer room can be converted into the "zen den" your house has been missing, a guest bedroom or another space your family would use more. But there’s still something you can do for the family electronics: “Phone, tablets – all those things need to be charged,” Bakke says. He recommends creating a charging station with enough outlets to plug in multiple devices, located in a common drop zone where people enter and exit the house like the mud room.Minimalism moves over.
Minimalism moves over.
People still like clean lines, but these days designers are seeing more homeowners embrace eclectic decor styles, with modern vases and bowls as well as imperfect antiques that add variety. While a simplistic, uncluttered look is still popular, designers and homeowners now look to "incorporate focal points with an older piece," says Jim DiGiacomo, board member for Olde Good Things, an architectural salvage store based in New York City. Flea markets and antique stores are prime shopping targets. The opportunity to find one-of-a-kind pieces has expanded online as well, as eBay, Etsy and more specialized stores like Olde Good Things offer extensive online inventories, allowing you to find vintage prints, vases and even architectural gems like mantels, doors and ceiling tiles to incorporate in a room remodel or new home design.Interior design trends to keep an eye out for in 2020 include:
Interior design trends to keep an eye out for in 2020 include:
- Zen dens break up open floor plans.
- Master suites expand.
- Inside and outside continue to blend.
- Organic elements are here to stay.
- Wallpaper and texture provide depth.
- Velvet becomes a staple.
- Blue is the color to incorporate.
- Say goodbye to gray.
- Computer rooms are out; charging stations are in.
- Minimalism moves over.
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She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.