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How to Decorate a Small Apartment

How to Decorate a Small Apartment
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I’ve discovered that a part of adulthood, is this thing I like to call “nesting syndrome.” By definition, nesting is the inborn instinct to settle down and make a new place your home. This means you have the urge to make the space your own.

This also means it’s now extremely exciting to enter stores like Bed Bath and Beyond and HomeGoods. I specifically remember walking into the home section of a T.J. Maxx while in college thinking…Why am I so excited about these rugs and lamps? The nester was coming out in me.

Making your very own home is an exciting freedom that declares to the world, “this is my house and it’s a reflection of who I am and who I want to be!” I mean, let’s be honest, starting in our early twenties, we find ourselves creating Pinterest boards overflowing with idyllic pictures of our future home, perfectly planned down to the paint color we want on the walls.

Having a Champagne Taste On A Beer Budget

Then comes the realization that we’re but mere youths in the world who can’t yet afford a single lamp from our current furniture collection obsession. We’ve developed a taste for the world of interior design, but not the budget that goes with it– yet.

*Puts fancy bookend down after checking the price tag.* Take a breath ladies, it’s all going to be okay.

Whether you’re still in college, recently graduated, or just starting out in the career world, chances are you’re living in a “cozy” (aka tiny) space. Maybe you have a roommate; maybe you’re braving the adult world in a new small apartment all by yourself. Consider this training wheels for your future forever home. Until then, however, there are some definite tips and tricks to utilizing the small space you’re working with. You can nest in a way your budget allows.

At this point in our lives, hand-me-down furniture and random yard sale finds largely make up our, ahem…shabby chic collection. But keep your chin up because there ARE a lot of little ways we can utilize cozy spaces and add personal flare without breaking the bank. It all has to do with smart spending, a good eye, and knowing what pieces are appropriate for your home. So, where does one begin?

The When and Where

I love Pier 1 Imports as much as the next gal, but their prices aren’t something I can justify in my budget. I find places like HomeGoods and T.J. Maxx provide just as many decorating options for a fraction of the price. In fact, I happen to know they get their new shipments in on Thursdays, and by Friday, their shelves are restocked. This may vary depending on your location, so you’ll want to ask your local store. This knowledge is helpful because good finds are usually snatched up as soon as they hit the racks.

Consignment stores and antique shops are also great places to find quality items for a reasonable price. Typically, these pieces have been lightly used or are somewhat dated. In this case, you’ll want to find something that appeals to your personal aesthetic and make small alterations once you’ve purchased the piece.

I’m a crafter, so I love giving pieces a second life by updating them with new knobs or a fresh coat of paint. Viola! Cheap and unique.

The What

So what exactly we should look for to maximize a small space? I have one word for you: mirrors. They’re a simple and inexpensive way to make a place seem larger when you don’t have a lot of square footage to work with. If possible, place the mirror somewhere that reflects a good amount of light — preferably by a window because reflecting natural light will give the appearance of a bigger and brighter home.

How to Decorate a Small Apartment

Sunburst Mirror | Pink & Gray Rug | Black & Copper Coffee Table | Gold Nate Berkus Mirror | Accent Side Table | Shelf Floor Lamp

Window treatments are important too. They make a huge impact on the interior of a room as far as making it feel welcoming; try a sheer or light option to optimize the amount of light your windows allow in. (Remember, the more light, the better).

When natural light is scarce, table lamps, standing lamps, and hanging lights are miracle workers for spaces that seems cramped and cave-like. Rugs should not be overlooked either. They make a place feel warm and inviting.

Dual purpose furniture is always a great idea: Futons or pull-out couches that can turn into beds, ottomans or tables with storage beneath, and book shelves that can double as makeshift entertainment centers. With the right staging, these options can look just as chic in a modest space as their full-blooded counterparts. Practical is what we’re going for, after all.

Proportions – Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Small spaces need small décor. I’m not suggesting you go out and buy a Little Tike’s table set; I just mean keep the proportions in mind. If you’re saving up for a piece — say, a bookshelf — try to keep it in line with the average size of all of your other furnishings. If you buy a giant shelf, it may look a little funny next to your 24” TV stand.


How to Decorate a Small Apartment


Teal Chairs | Chair Cushions | Round Drop Table

If you have a dining area, be sure the size of the table and chairs allows room to walk around. This prevents an overcrowded look that bulky pieces can bring. I personally love big furniture, but until I find my forever home — which will hopefully have more than 800 sq ft — I know I can’t buy huge pieces. Again, be practical.


Most home décor stores can be a bit overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to go in with a game plan. I personally like to budget for one item at a time. I call this a goal purchase — maybe it’s a rug, a big mirror, or a stool or decorative piece. Go in knowing what you’re  looking for. Otherwise, you’ll end up like a little raccoon reaching for every  shiny bauble on the overstocked shelves.

Beware of the checkout aisle, too. As long as you have a dollar amount to stick to, you’ll be reminded to keep your focus when wheeling through the checkout lined with goodies you don’t really need. When exiting, you should think to yourself, “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

Pinterest Play

Last but not least, there’s always Pinterest. You can find home décor you like AND almost always a way to re-create the look for much less than the market price. Depending on the level of effort you’re willing to put in, you can make some pretty great pieces. For example, one of my old roommates used pallets to make a “pallet bed.” You can even string lights beneath them to give a glowing effect!

Another fun way to make the place feel homier is by hanging your own art — whether it’s a canvas you’ve painted, a photograph you took, or even an arrangement of old picture frames you’ve collected over the years. Often, there are plenty of items you already have to work with. If you’re into the recent metallic trends, for example, you can always spray paint to match your desired color scheme.

How to Decorate a Small Apartment

Brit + Co Kits | Picture Frames

If you’re not quite the artist but would like a personal touch, consider buying some stencils from your local Hobby Lobby — and don’t forget to use your 40% coupon!

Follow The Golden Rules And You’ll Be Home Free

Décor items don’t have to be pricey pieces straight out of an IKEA magazine. When shopping for your home, just remember to maintain a practical mindset. Be aware of the space you have to work with and buy things that are appropriate for it. Follow these golden rules and you’ll end up with a Pinterest-worthy abode.

Last modified on April 2nd, 2020

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