The dilemma of decorating while renting is shared by millions of people. If you're tired of bland, generic rooms, Kimberly M. Stone can help. As the owner of the interior design firm Adore Your Décor and author of the FabJob Guide to Become a Home Stager or Redesigner, she has worked with a number of clients interested in tips for apartment design.
Apartments tend to be quite small, especially in larger cities. However, small spaces hold a lot of potential when you make a plan to maximize your square footage. "The first step is to pare down what you bring into the space, so that excess items are not clogging up your design," Ms. Stone said. "Surplus items can generate some extra decorating cash, benefit a local charity, or be put in storage. Next, you should create a floor plan on graph paper of the available floor space. This will allow you to play with different furniture arrangements and ideas. Use all of your room, not just the perimeter of it."
Choose Furniture Wisely
Basic furniture pieces serve as the foundation for the rooms in your apartment. Many renters postpone buying "real" furniture and end up sitting on folding chairs and using milk crates for tables. Ms. Stone recommends that you take a different approach. "Investing in a few key pieces - such as a sofa, an armchair, accent tables, and a dining set - will help you feel at home," she said. "For budget friendly items, shop at garage sales, thrift stores, or retailers like Ikea. Arrange the furniture to follow the architecture of the space and meet the room's function."
Versatile furniture is a necessity when decorating a small space such as your first apartment. "Choose ottomans and end tables which have storage capacity inside," Ms. Stone said. "If you need a space-saving bed, try a Murphy Bed or one of Inova's multipurpose furniture pieces. Another great source for affordable, adaptable furniture for small spaces is Ikea. Their store locations and catalogs have displays of fully furnished studio apartments and other efficiently decorated rooms."
If storage is a problem in your apartment, think vertically. Ms. Stone recommends that you utilize wall areas with modular storage units, shelves, built-in furniture, and cabinetry in order to provide enough space to store books, DVDs, collectibles, framed photos, and other personal items.
Add Color with Fabric and Textiles
To add rental-friendly color and texture to your apartment, use fabrics on the walls, furniture, and floor. Visit your local fabric store and find a fabric with a hue or pattern that appeals to you.
"Buy several yards and tack up columns of fabric along your walls - this is a great alternative to painting," she said. "If there are no walls between your rooms, bring in a see-through bookcase or a folding screen with a sheer fabric to separate the spaces without blocking light."
If you're on a tight budget and searching for fabric, remember that flat sheets, throws, Indian saris, and shower curtains are economical pieces of fabric that you can use anywhere.
Showcase Your Personality with Stylish Accessories
Show your personality with art and other portable objects which can go with you when you move. Art prints, sculptures, lamps, mirrors, folding screens, and plants will enliven your rental space. Create blocks of color by painting blank canvases with wall paint or covering with fabric, and then mounting them wherever color is needed. Another non-permanent way to add interest is with peel-and-stick wallpaper products.
Accessories and wall art should be substantial, but also be the right scale for the wall or table on which they are placed. In a small space, it is better to have a few interesting pieces than a curio full of small figurines.
If you need inspiration to get your plan started, Ms. Stone recommends that you check out the HGTV library of 100+ small space projects. Although you'll still want to add your own special touches, these designs can provide a good starting point for creating an apartment you'll be proud to call home.