The Easiest Ways To Create A Chic First Apartment On A Dorm Room Budget

Large Editorial Image


February 2, 2016

Show your first solo place off with pride by incorporating these tips for budget-friendly artwork, furniture and accessories.

By: Laura Gaskill, Houzz Contributor

So, you have your first place. After the initial excitement fades, the enormity of furnishing an entire apartment on a next-to-nothing budget can seem pretty intimidating. Luckily, we are here to help. Read on for 19 ways to stretch your dollars and create a cute and cozy pad you can be proud of.

Teach yourself about making vignettes. The best way to learn about what works in your space is simply to spend some time experimenting. Move furniture, rearrange stuff, edit and just have fun playing around. Often, I find that the most ingenious space solutions and display ideas come only after months of living in a space, so try to be patient.

Mix and match your bedding. Rather than buy a complete set, keep your eye out for sales on solid-color sheets, printed duvet cover, and pairs of cool shams. A good rule of thumb when mixing prints is to use one large scale (such as the leafy print on the duvet cover here), one small scale (like the pattern on the pillowcases), and one solid (as on the round cushion).

Keep it sweet and simple. Focus on keeping rooms uncluttered and centered around a clear purpose. Don’t fret about not having exactly the pieces you want right away. In the breakfast nook shown here, for example, a simple table and set of chairs looks cozy and inviting when centered on a soft rug, and accented with a tin of flowers and a display of thrifted dishes on the wall.

RELATED: 10 Ways to Maximize a Small Space

Learn to love the vintage hunt. If you want to save money and still create a unique look, there is no substitute for spending some time on the vintage trail. By choosing to spend a little of your free time hunting at yard sales (or on Craigslist), you can be rewarded with quirky finds like the vintage yellow school chairs shown here.

Tips for your vintage treasure hunt:

– Authentic midcentury sideboards and coffee tables with great, clean lines can be found at reasonable prices at vintage shops — often for around the same price as a new piece made from particleboard.

– No cool midcentury pieces to be found? Paint any funky old garage sale dresser with high-gloss white paint for a thrifty chic look.

– Think (and inspect) carefully before picking up an upholstered piece from the sidewalk or a yard sale — bedbugs and pet stains could be an issue.

Upgrade your dorm room bulletin board. Use burlap, linen or canvas to cover your basic dorm room bulletin board. If you have a local coffee shop that roasts its own beans, you could ask to have (or buy) one of their old burlap sacks — or pick up a cheap canvas drop cloth at the hardware store. Use a staple gun or finishing nails to affix the fabric to your board.

RELATED: Create a Dream Gallery Wall With New Frames

Don’t scrimp on hooks! It can be tempting to pick up those stick-on plastic doohickeys from the drugstore, but please don’t. Go for a more permanent solution — it’s nothing a little spackle and touch-up paint can’t cover when you move out.

Personalize the bathroom. Rather than heading right for the “bath” section of Bed Bath & Beyond, search your own apartment for items to repurpose as quirky bathroom accessories. Glass jelly jars, teacups, dessert plates and decorative trays all make excellent containers for toiletries. Mismatched mirrors can be scooped up anytime you see one on sale and clustered on a blank wall for a cool effect.

Make use of those candid snapshots. What’s the use of taking all of those digital photos and using Instagram if they never leave your computer? Print some out and tape them in a grid with colored masking tape to make personalized wall art.

RELATED: Add Trendy Lamps to Brighten Up Your Space

Use old things in fresh ways. Vintage suitcases, for instance, can be stacked and used as a side table, and filled with off-season clothing to boot. Trunks make great coffee tables, and a spare chair can stand in for a bedside table. Look around at what you already own and see if you can’t think of a new way to spin some of your old stuff.

Shop Ikea … but know where to draw the line. We all know Ikea is a wonderland of budget-friendly finds, but if you don’t want your home to look indistinguishable from a page in the catalog, you will want to have a plan. If you’re going to move again in the near future, you may want to avoid some of the larger, more complicated shelving units, for instance. While they are sturdy enough when left alone, they don’t tend to last through multiple moves. Solid one-piece items like chairs, lamps, rugs and smaller tables are safe bets and can easily be mixed in with more “permanent” pieces down the road.

Keep things neat with white. Budget finds like paper storage boxes and simple lamps almost always look better in white. Plus, there is something really neat and orderly about having a whole stack of all-white anything. You can always add in more color with your artwork and accessories, but it’s harder to go back once your flat is a jumbled mess of prints and hues. Start safe and small, and build it out from there.

Learn a few space-saving tricks. Solid upholstered cube stools are a fabulous pick for a first apartment because they can be used in so many ways — paired up as a coffee table, tucked away as extra seating, or within reach of your favorite chair to put your feet up on. If space is really tight, consider hanging your TV on the wall above your computer, letting your desk do double duty as an entertainment center. Whether your TV is up on the wall or set on a console, hanging art above and around your TV will help it blend in.

RELATED: Stylish Furniture for Small Spaces

Fill an art wall for less. Mix a jumble of different-size art prints, photos and printed quotes, all in black and white, on a single gallery wall. Cut-up art books, postcards and snapshots are all very affordable ways to build this look, and the simplest frames will look cohesive in black and white.

Learn to say “yes” to hand-me-downs. Grandma’s piano? Aunt Samantha’s cane armchair? Yes, please! It can’t be overstated how much having one or two nicer, older pieces mixed in will elevate everything around them.

Know what to look for in budget furniture. If you are looking for a sofa and can’t find a hand-me-down, keep in mind that choosing a smaller-scale piece will be easier to reuse down the road than an oversize version. Also note that budget sofas with tight backs and seats (like the Urban Outfitters couch in the space shown here) will stand up better over time than similarly priced sofas with soft, squashy cushions.

Consider swapping out a light fixture. Do look up proper instructions and do not attempt this unless you can confidently shut off the electricity while you are working, but those caveats aside, you would be amazed at the difference ousting an ugly light can make for your whole apartment. Plus, these days there are so many chic options for well under $100 that replacing a light is certainly within reason. I love this cool brass number from Urban Outfitters — it’s a steal at $64, and you can take it with you to your next place when you move.

RELATED: Browse Millions of Photos for More Design Ideas

Cover up icky carpeting. If you have ugly wall-to-wall carpeting in your rental apartment, it can work wonders to layer fun area rugs on top. A solid natural-fiber rug or a crisp geometric print like this charcoal-gray and white version are foolproof choices.

Upgrade one thing. Choose a detail that matters to you to upgrade — bath and hand towels, for instance, or coffee cups, or salt and pepper shakers. It doesn’t really matter what it is, just that you love it and it makes you feel good when you look at and use this special item.

Shopping tip: Anthropologie, while not known for being easy on the wallet, is actually filled with a surprising number of stylish finds for the budget decorator. Colorful bowls, stemless glassware and towels are just a few of the things I have scooped up for under ten bucks at my local Anthro store.

Don’t forget the houseplants. If you could buy just one thing for your new apartment, it should be a plant. Fresh, green houseplants make a place feel more like home. If a room in your apartment seems like it’s lacking something, try adding a green plant or a potted orchid and see the difference it makes.

Tell us: Do you have any first-apartment decorating stories to share? Share your tales and tips in the Comments below!

[Photo: Dabito]

 

Shop iphone cases

More iphone cases | 3 of 4235 »

New York Silicone Cheetah Cat iPhone 7 Case / 8 Case by

Kate Spade

Buy Now

Robinson Hardshell iPhone 7 / 8 Case by

Tory Burch

Buy Now

Piña Colada iPhone 6 / 6s / 7 / 8 Case by

Sonix

Buy Now




  • These Cute Bun Hairstyle Ideas Are Perfect For Mornings When There's No Time To Blow Dry

    These Cute Bun Hairstyle Ideas Are Perfect For Mornings When There's No Time To Blow Dry

    Beauty

    today

  • Nordstrom's Bestselling $19 Leggings Are Back In Stock--Grab A Few Pairs Before They Sell Out Again

    Nordstrom's Bestselling $19 Leggings Are Back In Stock--Grab A Few Pairs Before They Sell Out Again

    Style

    1 day

  • Weekend Project: Make Your Own Cleansing Facial Wipes

    Weekend Project: Make Your Own Cleansing Facial Wipes

    Beauty

    1 day

  • The One Hack That Will Forever Change The Way You Shop At Zara

    The One Hack That Will Forever Change The Way You Shop At Zara

    Style

    1 day

  • Hurry! This $39 Tunic Sweater Is Selling Like Crazy At Nordstrom Right Now

    Hurry! This $39 Tunic Sweater Is Selling Like Crazy At Nordstrom Right Now

    Style

    1 day

  • This Is The One Hand Cream You Absolutely, Positively <em>Need</em> For Winter...

    This Is The One Hand Cream You Absolutely, Positively Need For Winter...

    Beauty

    1 day

  • Nordstrom's Super Popular Peacoat Is Now Available In Red... And It's Only $37!

    Nordstrom's Super Popular Peacoat Is Now Available In Red... And It's Only $37!

    Style

    1 day

  • 5 Ways To DIY Eyelash Growth For Longer, Stronger Lashes

    5 Ways To DIY Eyelash Growth For Longer, Stronger Lashes

    Beauty

    1 day

  • Drop Everything - Here’s How To Win Free Lush Products RIGHT NOW

    Drop Everything - Here’s How To Win Free Lush Products RIGHT NOW

    Beauty

    2 days

  • Score A Gorgeous Leather Rebecca Minkoff Bag For Under $100 With Our Exclusive Promo Code

    Score A Gorgeous Leather Rebecca Minkoff Bag For Under $100 With Our Exclusive Promo Code

    Style

    2 days

  • Upgrade Your Fall Look With These Creative Ways To Wear A Scarf

    Upgrade Your Fall Look With These Creative Ways To Wear A Scarf

    Style

    2 days

  • It's Trench Coat Season! Shop The Best Styles For Fall RN

    It's Trench Coat Season! Shop The Best Styles For Fall RN

    Style

    2 days

  • 5 Beauty Products Sephora Can’t Keep In Stock Right Now

    5 Beauty Products Sephora Can’t Keep In Stock Right Now

    Beauty

    2 days

  • First Look! Check Out LG SIGNATURE's Stunning Collection On Display At Bloomingdale's

    First Look! Check Out LG SIGNATURE's Stunning Collection On Display At Bloomingdale's

    Style

    2 days

  • This Is The Best Maybelline Foundation For Oily Skin

    This Is The Best Maybelline Foundation For Oily Skin

    Beauty

    2 days

  • Chip & Joanna Gaines' Target Home Collection Just Made Your Holiday Shopping Super Easy

    Chip & Joanna Gaines' Target Home Collection Just Made Your Holiday Shopping Super Easy

    Celebrity

    3 days

  • Forever 21's Plus Size Line Just Got a Fabulous New Makeover

    Forever 21's Plus Size Line Just Got a Fabulous New Makeover

    Style

    3 days

  • A Beginner's Guide To Using Crystals To Relax & De-Stress #WellnessWednesday

    A Beginner's Guide To Using Crystals To Relax & De-Stress #WellnessWednesday

    3 days

  • 5 Target New Arrivals To Shop Before They Sell Out

    5 Target New Arrivals To Shop Before They Sell Out

    Style

    3 days

  • Here Are The Best iPhone X Cases For Every Kind Of Person

    Here Are The Best iPhone X Cases For Every Kind Of Person

    3 days

  • Get A Sneak Peek Of MAC's Holiday 2017 Collection (You're Going To Want It All!)

    Get A Sneak Peek Of MAC's Holiday 2017 Collection (You're Going To Want It All!)

    Beauty

    4 days

  • Here's Why Those Urban Decay Vault Combos Are TOTALLY Worth It

    Here's Why Those Urban Decay Vault Combos Are TOTALLY Worth It

    Beauty

    4 days

  • This Is The One Blouse You Need To Purchase For Fall

    This Is The One Blouse You Need To Purchase For Fall

    Style

    4 days

  • Once And For All, Here's How To Take Off Eyeliner Without Scrubbing Your Eyelids

    Once And For All, Here's How To Take Off Eyeliner Without Scrubbing Your Eyelids

    Style

    4 days

  • Sale Alert! The Best-Selling Tarte Shape Tape Concealers Are 25% Off Right Now

    Sale Alert! The Best-Selling Tarte Shape Tape Concealers Are 25% Off Right Now

    Beauty

    4 days

  • Use Our Exclusive Promo Code To Score The Best Rain Boots Ever For 20% Off

    Use Our Exclusive Promo Code To Score The Best Rain Boots Ever For 20% Off

    Style

    4 days

  • 5 Things You Need To Know About Nordstrom's Return Policy

    5 Things You Need To Know About Nordstrom's Return Policy

    Shop

    4 days

  • This eBay Hack Will Help You Get Some Serious $$ From Your Old Purses

    This eBay Hack Will Help You Get Some Serious $$ From Your Old Purses

    4 days

  • Drop Everything--These Are The New Launches Our Editors Are Shopping Now

    Expect To See A LOT Of This Hat In Your Social Feeds

    Shop

    4 days

  • Gift Alert! All The Beauty Products Our Editors Want This Year

    Gift Alert! All The Beauty Products Our Editors Want This Year

    Beauty

    5 days

  • These Are The Best Collaborations You <em>Need</em> To Know About Now

    Style Bloggers Love This 'Elevated Athleisure' Line That Dropped TODAY

    Shop

    5 days

  • Hold up -- Did Kendall Jenner Photoshop Her Latest Instagram Pic?

    Hold up -- Did Kendall Jenner Photoshop Her Latest Instagram Pic?

    Celebrity

    today

  • Target Booties Our Editors Love (And Are On Sale!)

    Target Booties Our Editors Love (And Are On Sale!)

    Style

    1 day

  • Are Gwen Stefani & Blake Shelton Having A Baby Together?!

    Are Gwen Stefani & Blake Shelton Having A Baby Together?!

    Celebrity

    1 day

  • The Best Coats Under $100 This Season

    The Best Coats Under $100 This Season

    Style

    1 day

  • What's In The Gigi x Maybelline East Coast Glam Collection? Here's Everything You Need To Know About Gigi Hadid's New Makeup Line

    What's In The Gigi x Maybelline East Coast Glam Collection? Here's Everything You Need To Know About Gigi Hadid's New Makeup Line

    Beauty

    1 day

  • Sophia Grace from Ellen Looks SO Different Now

    Sophia Grace from Ellen Looks SO Different Now

    Celebrity

    1 day

  • The One Drugstore Powder You Should Stop Using, According To A Dermatologist

    The One Drugstore Powder You Should Stop Using, According To A Dermatologist

    Beauty

    1 day

  • Everyone Thinks Joe Jonas And Sophie Turner Are Expecting & We're Freaking Out!

    Everyone Thinks Joe Jonas And Sophie Turner Are Expecting & We're Freaking Out!

    Celebrity

    1 day

  • 7 Things Every Fashion Girl Over 30 Never Wears

    7 Things Every Fashion Girl Over 30 Never Wears

    Style

    2 days

  • Um, Did Jennifer Aniston Not Realize Her Top Was Completely See-Through?

    Um, Did Jennifer Aniston Not Realize Her Top Was Completely See-Through?

    Celebrity

    2 days

  • The Ultimate Guide On What To Wear To An Office Holiday Party

    The Ultimate Guide On What To Wear To An Office Holiday Party

    Style

    2 days

  • The One Drugstore Cleanser You Should Stop Using, According To A Dermatologist

    The One Drugstore Cleanser You Should Stop Using, According To A Dermatologist

    Beauty

    2 days

  • 5 Pairs Of Leggings That Don’t Actually Look Like Leggings

    5 Pairs Of Leggings That Don’t Actually Look Like Leggings

    Style

    3 days

  • Your Ultimate Guide On What To Wear To Thanksgiving Dinner This Year

    Your Ultimate Guide On What To Wear To Thanksgiving Dinner This Year

    Style

    3 days

  • Ashton Kutcher Explains Why He'll Never, EVER Post Pictures Of His Kids

    Ashton Kutcher Explains Why He'll Never, EVER Post Pictures Of His Kids

    Celebrity

    3 days

  • Kylie Jenner Just Showed Off Her Baby Bump On Snapchat & Everyone's Freaking Out!

    Kylie Jenner Just Showed Off Her Baby Bump On Snapchat & Everyone's Freaking Out!

    Celebrity

    3 days

  • Move Over 'Damn Daniel,' Here's How To DIY A 'Ciao Ryan' Halloween Costume

    Move Over 'Damn Daniel,' Here's How To DIY A 'Ciao Ryan' Halloween Costume

    Style

    3 days

  • The One Drugstore Product You Should Use For Thinning Hair, According To A Dermatologist

    The One Drugstore Product You Should Use For Thinning Hair, According To A Dermatologist

    Beauty

    3 days

  • Here's How To Get The Sold Out Gigi x Maybelline Jetsetter Palette

    Here's How To Get The Sold Out Gigi x Maybelline Jetsetter Palette

    Beauty

    3 days

  • 5 Target Skincare Products With Incredible Reviews & Reputations

    5 Target Skincare Products With Incredible Reviews & Reputations

    Beauty

    4 days

  • This Nail Trend Is Really Tough--Literally! Shop Fingernail Rings Now.

    This Nail Trend Is Really Tough--Literally! Shop Fingernail Rings Now.

    Style

    4 days

  • How To DIY A Kendall Jenner Pepsi Commercial Halloween Costume This Year

    How To DIY A Kendall Jenner Pepsi Commercial Halloween Costume This Year

    Style

    4 days