Starting to Decorate and Furnish Your First Apartment

New FurnitureWe’d all love to have Martha Stewart’s living room … a splash of color here, a nice piece of  furniture over there …  but for those of us without Ms. Stewart’s experience and budget, decorating isn’t just about choosing the right furniture – it’s a combination of financial savvy, an eye for design, and the patience to figure out the best approach.

The first thing to do is learn the basics. Our blogger Christina has an article on what to do before you purchase your first piece of furniture. Among her tips: plan to purchase large pieces of furniture first and design around them; have a color palette chosen before you go out shopping; and, of course, measure, measure, measure.

Cozy BedsideWhat type of color should you look for? Our friends at have this handy home changes infographic that gives you some helpful tips, particularly in the color realm: approximately 30% of your room’s color comes from your furniture’s upholstery, while only 10% comes from accent pieces – the rest is in the color of the walls. So, if you’re not able to choose the paint color of your place, you should realize that, like it or not, it’s still a color you need to plan around – visually, it’s going to take up about 60% of the color of your rooms.

Likely, if you’re moving into your first place, you’ll be a little cramped. I have some suggestions on how to save space in your bedroom by thinking vertical. Or, you may need some unique workarounds. Christina separated her living room from her kitchen (in her studio apartment) using a curtain – creative, but effective.

Chest of DrawersAnd then there’s the furniture on the cheap: thrift stores are a great option, as is craigslist – but don’t overlook places like Target, IKEA and World Market. If you hunt, you can find good quality pieces at reasonable prices in chain stores. And, of course, keep an eye out for sales.

Finally, if you’re moving to your first place, you’ll need to consider your roommates. Our blogger Sabrina suggests keeping the bathroom and kitchen simple, since they’ll be used by all, and those spaces have a very specific function. And then blogger Dedreanna reiterates the obvious (but often overlooked): talk to your roommates about every design step and make sure you have a consensus. Otherwise, you’re asking for trouble.

This is just a start, but it’s a good one: thinking through what you want, how you want to do it, and discussing it with everyone involved is half the battle. Once you develop a solid plan with 100% buy-in, it’s much easier to execute. And keep in mind that even Martha did not furnish her houses overnight. Take your time, keep to your budget and have fun finding pieces that turn the apartment into a home.

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Author My First Apartment

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Alex has rented in Minneapolis, Queens, Brooklyn, and now Chicago. He can kill rodents and roaches when required, and loves picture-hanging projects. If you're ever in town, give him a shout.

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Comments (2)

  1. Avatar Jared

    I think this is really good advice to start off with if one is looking to buy furniture. What would be the difference between renting a more upscale furniture within a budget. What would be some good things to think about when leasing furniture with the thought of buying it after the lease. Most of these just seemed to have to do with buying furniture. I was wondering if there is any difference in what you have seen leasing/renting or buying furniture.

    • Alex Alex

      Hi Jared,

      Thanks for the great question. We may have a post on the topic soon, but I’ll answer briefly here. Renting furniture generally has one of three functions: 1. You’re a home stager (you own a company that furnishes empty on-the-market homes) and you need some furniture quickly to make the home appealing, but you’ll want to give it back when the place sells. 2. You have a specific need that you want to fill temporarily, such as a large party, or an unfurnished room that you want to make a guest bedroom for a year, before converting to a nursery, or for example, if you’re in a strange city for three months on a paid internship, but you plan on moving to a new city once you’re done. 3. You absolutely, positively cannot afford to pay upfront.

      Generally speaking, though, a lot of furniture rental places charge high interest (if you’re renting to own), have tricky contracts (read them carefully!), and usually the quality of the furniture isn’t great. If you go the rent-to-own route, you can expect to pay 2 or 3 times the value of the furniture before it’s yours. For these reasons, I would not recommend renting furniture. It’s just as cost effective to buy cheap pieces on craigslist, or at garage sales, and fully furnish your place, and then slowly buy nicer “replacement” pieces as you can afford them. The nicer pieces you can keep for years, and the cheaper stuff you can sell easily enough once it’s replaced.