Furniture… and Other Stuff You’ll Need


First Rule of Buying Furniture:

Decide if you plan to keep the furniture for one year or for the rest of your life.

Many people opt to take the low-cost route (IKEA, Target, etc.) when furnishing their first apartment, knowing that it may not pay to take the furniture along in their next move. But if you’re looking for a little more class or stability in your new set-up, you may want to invest in — or “appropriate” from willing relatives — at least a couple of pieces of furniture that don’t require assembly.

If you decide to shell out on the good stuff, keep in mind you’ll have three choices next time you move:

  • Take the furniture with you, which could be very expensive if the move is long-distance
  • Sell it, which takes time and energy to do and inevitably brings in only a fraction of what it cost
  • Donate it to friends, neighbors, or charity — which can be surprisingly difficult and thankless, since people are apt to see through your magnanimity to the hassle behind dealing with the furniture
  • Haul it to the curb and leave it to the elements, the sanitation department or another first time renter, whichever comes first.

As you can see, it pays to plan your purchases carefully.

Second Rule of Buying Furniture:

Measure twice, buy once.

Before anything, measure hallways, stairs, and elevators and draft an accurate floor plan to make sure that whatever you buy can squeeze into your apartment. (If you know the dimensions, use this handy tool to guide you: Better Homes and Gardens: Arrange A Room) And if your geometry skills aren’t up to Euclid’s standards, familiarize yourself with the furniture store’s return policy before signing on the dotted line.

TIP: Take especially careful measurements of any kinks or turns in your staircase if you have to haul large pieces of furniture up to your fourth-story walk-up.

Furniture... and Other Stuff You'll NeedBudgeting for Furniture

You finally have a place to call your own, but after paying the first month’s rent and security deposit your funds are too tapped out to even cover a futon sofa for the living room. Meanwhile, your job is taking all your time and you have no time to shop around for bargains. Luckily there are several cheap and easy ways you can go about furnishing your new home, depending on your level of interest in décor and how much you’ve got to spend.

See our Basic Furniture Checklist to furnish a one bedroom apartment.

Budget $0-250

When your budget is minimal, don’t be ashamed to get as much as you can for free. If you have relatives living in the city where you are moving, you are in luck. Check out the reclining chair collecting dust in your uncle’s garage and rummage through the musty treasures in grandma’s basement. If your family really loves you, someone may even deliver the stuff to your new place just to get rid of it, but the rule of thumb with free furniture is that you usually have to pick it up, which requires access to a car or van.

If you are moving to a new city where you have no connections, you might be able to scavenge enough usable furniture from the street by checking out the more posh neighborhoods the night before the garbage truck comes by. Street finds are okay when it comes to furniture you can clean and Lysol thoroughly, but you should avoid anything with upholstery or cushions that could harbor small living things, like bed bugs. (By the way if you’re not already terrified of bed bugs, you should be. You don’t want this to happen to you.) The best thing about street finds is that when you move, you can just put them back on the curb and pass them along to some other desperate soul.

Craigslist, EBay, local second-hand stores, and the Salvation Army are other places where you can get really low-priced finds, but they require some sort of transportation, or at least several friends willing to lug stuff across town. An Aero mattress or a futon thrown down on the floor makes a cheap temporary bed.

Budget $250-500

Now, in addition to the cast-offs and street finds, you can add Ikea or Target to your list. You can easily furnish one room for $500 with Ikea, as long as you have access to a car and are handy enough to put together the furniture kits.

(Check out if you are a true IKEA-phile)

TIP: If you need a desk, a chair, or a couple of bookcases but don’t have a car, check out Staples, Office Max, and Office Depot. They offer next-day free delivery on purchases over $50.

Budget $500-1000

Now you’ll have enough room in the budget to buy a decent mattress and still have money left over for Ikea, Target, and Office Depot. Also, check out Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie for furniture with a little more personality.

TIP: Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie have some great sales at the end of each season — we’re talking $10 curtains and $5 rugs — on anything left over, and the floor models can usually be purchased at a sharply reduced price.

Budget $1,000-2,500

At this level you can actually have enough furniture that your guests won’t have to sit on the floor. You can furnish both your living room and your bedroom. Most of your new furniture may still require some assembly, but you can start checking out sales at major department stores. And don’t forget Craigslist — unless you’re too snobby for that now, big spender.

Budget over $2,500

You are now getting into a territory where your furniture arrives fully assembled, possibly smelling of rich mahogany. Why not add Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, or Restoration Hardware to your list of stores and web sites to check out?

Finishing Touches

Now that your apartment has some furniture, you’ll want to make it look good. In this area, a small investment can make a big difference, with $200 going a long way and even $50-$100 allowing you to give the apartment your personal touch. Even when you only have the change in your pockets, there are treasures to be found in the 99-cent stores if you have a good eye.

If your lease allows you to paint, you’re in luck. Nothing changes a room faster at a reasonable cost than a fresh coat of paint. Warm, darker colors make the room feel cozier. If the room gets limited light, light colors make it seem brighter. But don’t just rush out to buy gallons of paint. First, ask your landlord what kind of paint you’re allowed to use — using a verboten variety is an easy way to get a hefty fine when you move out. Then pick up some color samples and test them out on the wall. For example, Benjamin Moore gives you small jars of paint that cover a two-square-foot wall area. You’ll be surprised how different the color looks on the wall from a sample in the paint store.

TIP: If this is your first paint job, water-based paints will make for easier clean-up and retouching.

To finish the bedroom, you’ll definitely need a fresh set of linens on the bed. Martha Stewart’s Everyday line at K-Mart can provide you with a set for well under $100. You can also find great bedding bargains on the internet from sites such as the Company Store or Keep in mind that good sources for linens are also convenient places to get towels, shower curtains, and other bathroom items.

TIP: When you buy bedding make sure that the fitted sheet is deep enough for your mattress — otherwise it’ll look like your bed is wearing a shower cap.

Lamps, window curtains, shades, and pillows will round out the necessities. Now its time to deck the place out with your favorite posters, photographs, and art work. Ikea and Wal-Mart are good places to pick up cheap picture frames that will give your apartment that necessary post-collegiate feeling.

For great decorating tips, check out decor8 – fresh finds for hip spaces.

TIP: For a more personal look, check out flea markets and yard sales. Not only are they full of inexpensive finds, but visiting them makes for a cheap, fun date.

Little Stuff You’ll Need

If you’ve bought your furniture ready-to-assemble, you probably have already found out that you’ll need some tools. A few basics — a hammer, screwdrivers (flat and Phillips head), a flashlight, and a tape measure — should do the trick. Every neighborhood has a hardware store, and places like Sears and Home Depot have plenty of tool sets to choose from.

There is a whole list of other little stuff you’ll need, starting with:

  • a waste basket
  • a laundry hamper
  • a mop
  • a broom
  • some sort of a vacuum cleaner

Our Starter Equipment Checklist has all the basics and more. Even if you don’t buy all this stuff now, over time you’ll probably accumulate a surprising amount of furnishings for every room in the apartment.

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Comments (4)

  1. Avatar CorpGifts

    Sometime you have to measure a few more times before buying, or you can use a tape to tape the floor with the length and width of the furniture and visualize the final look and space taken.

  2. Avatar Jasper Whiteside

    It would be really cool to be able to paint the walls of a new apartment. I agree that it would be a good idea to ask the landlord about it first. Being able to make your home your own is a dream of mine and I like the idea of being able to do a big thing at such a small price.

  3. Avatar kel

    Cort furniture also rents but also has CLEARANCE items and they do “Apartments to go” So entire bedroom, living and dining for 1300-2000 it’s a true steal! they even disinfect everything and some items can not even make it back bc they are too dirty. Shows they really care about what they are selling and renting! lovethe styles and they ship and assembly for 125-150! Also doc 86 is a great place too :)