Five Things to Do Before You Buy Your First Piece of Furniture

Whether you are starting from scratch in a new apartment or just sprucing up the space you are currently living in, being hasty can result in purchases you end up not wanting to use. After rushing the process myself and buying an area rug that won’t work, I have learned that there are five steps that will save you from making a decorating mistake.

1. Measure everything yourself

It is extremely important to measure every inch of your apartment yourself. Why is that, if you have a floor plan? Because the floor plan may not show the windowsill areas, heating and cooling units, and the support beams that run up the building like chimneys and invade your apartment space! These will really mess up your layout if all you use is the floor plan. You don’t want to estimate that you have six feet for your bed, just to realize that much of the space is taken by the air conditioner.

2. If possible, go see your space again, at a different time of day

Don’t be ashamed to get in touch with the leasing agent or landlord at your new building and ask to see the apartment again before moving, even a couple of times. Maybe you saw it in late afternoon and want to see how it looks in the morning light. Or you feel like you need to be reminded on how a certain area looks before deciding if the futon fits. Part of the building agent’s job is to help make your move as seamless as possible, and they should never give you hard time about pre-move visits. It’s trickier if you are moving to an apartment where the previous tenant is still living. You could just ask nicely for a permission to take another look, but they may not agree. (This is why you always take lots of pictures when you are able to visit!)

3. Choose a color scheme and interior design style

It is important to choose a color scheme and style before you go shopping for anything. To me this rule is the key. I wouldn’t even purchase a bed before having a style in mind. Do I want a traditional look with a headboard or more modern platform bed? Will it be IKEA or some funky flea market find? If you already have a specific style in mind, then you are ahead of the game. For most of us, it’s hard to decide! And, of course, budget plays a big role in that decision.

A good way to decide on a color scheme and style is to look online for inspiration. Searching online for interior design styles introduces you to a whole new vocabulary: Modern, Contemporary, Classic, Vintage, Victorian, Baroque, Shabby Chic, Traditional, Eclectic, Asian.

Now, choose an image of an interior that has a color scheme you love. Pull three colors from your image and create swatches of each color. You can even pick up color samples from your local hardware store. The colors your pick are the three colors that you will stick to when choosing your initial furniture pieces, bedding, wall colors, couch, etc. Every major appliance or piece of furniture should be one of these three colors, or coexist very well with them.

For my apartment, I chose to mix two interior styles, resulting in a “Classic Contemporary” look. This is a pretty popular mix of styles. Mixing styles is fun, maybe I will post about different mixes in the future. Leave me a comment if you’d like to see that!

As for my color scheme, I chose black, red, and white. I am being really strict with myself and not purchasing anything unless it is one of those three colors. I like the way my contemporary furniture will contrast with the classic bold colors!  This is the image that I am currently using for inspiration.

4. Set maximum furniture sizes for you space

It’s too easy to fall in love with the look of a piece that will never fit  in your room, so decide before you shop on the maximum size and number of pieces you can comfortably fit in your apartment. And don’t forget to measure doorways, stairwells and elevators to make sure you can get even the largest piece into your apartment.  When you go to the store, ask the sales person to assist you in finding only the things that match the size you need. And remember, furniture stores are often very large, which makes the individual pieces look way smaller than they really are! Be sure to get the measurements of every piece you intend to purchase.

5. Make a rough floor plan

Just one more step before you make your first purchase! You have to decide exactly where each piece of furniture fits best. Have fun with this! Create a floor plan scale model where 1 centimeter equals 1 foot of apartment space. Or if  you prefer use 1 inch = 1 foot.  Do this for each room of your apartment. Cut out rough shapes for furniture out of paper (like a rectangle as a sofa), scaled down to the scale you are using, and play around positioning the furniture. This will give you a bird’s eye view of the room and will help you see how well the furniture fits and where.

Another fun way to plan is to use online planning tools. One easy to use free tool is Or if you are more tech savvy, Apartment Therapy shows how to use Google SketchUp to create customized plans. Then have your friends or family play around with the model you created, and take their advice into consideration (or not, it’s your apartment, after all!)

You are now almost ready to shop!
But don’t buy online yet. Using the Internet and online stores will help you decide what you like and where you want to shop, but I wouldn’t order major pieces online before seeing them in person. How the piece looks close up and feels is very important.

Invest in your large pieces first. Wall decorations, rugs, centerpieces and end tables can wait. These are additions that are very important for your décor and ambiance, but wait to see how the furniture looks in the room, before adding the smaller items.

Which one of these steps did you find most useful? Has anyone already completed furnishing their place? I’d love to get to know you guys and learn where you are with your decorating, so please leave me a comment!

Can’t decide between a futon, bed, sofa, or both? My next post will help you decide which type of bed is best for you and your space. I will be discussing the features of every sleeper option, as well as their drawbacks.

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Author My First Apartment

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I am the type of person who likes to get involved in everything I can, which keeps me endlessly busy! I moved into my very own apartment in Manhattan after graduating college, and every day has been more exciting than the last. Furnishing my apartment is just one of the many ways I satisfy my shopaholic tendencies; I especially enjoy finding cute one-of-a-kind items that fit my style. Most recently, I created, a New York-centric blog dedicated to the best addition to my home: my little puppy named Minnie!

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Comments (5)

  1. Avatar Don

    One solution for number 4 is furniture that disassembles to go through narrow door ways, elevators and stairwells. Just make sure the furniture is made of solid hardwood and not particle board. Particle board or Pine will not hold up over time. is one option to consider for smaller scale furniture.

  2. Avatar Tracey

    This is great advice! Buying furniture can be intimidating and I love your step-by-step plan to avoid decorating disasters. You make it sounds so simple and I will definitely pass this post on to other people. Thanks so much for sharing it.

  3. Avatar msdb

    I can vouch for number 1, I remember my first apartment and bought the furniture first and nothing fit.

  4. Avatar UCF Apartments

    Great post! I have moved 4 times in the past five years and have had my fair share of trouble with furniture, room sizes, etc. After the first time, I wouldn’t make that mistake again. This article should really help others out there!