Ideas and Stories
10 Tips For Designing Your Apartment Like A Pro
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Renovs Team

Decorating an apartment definitely has its challenges; spaces are usually small, and many apartments are rentals that don’t allow major changes. Older apartments often have awkward angles and wasted space, making furniture layout even more difficult. No worries – the Renovs community includes many apartment dwellers who’ve overcome small-space challenges, and come up with creative solutions. We’ve gathered our ten favorite tips here:

1. Leave Clutter Behind

Before you even move into a new apartment, give your belongings the Marie Kondo treatment and get rid of everything you don’t need. Be ruthless about toiletries, clothing and kitchen gadgets (we see you, potato ricer!) and keep only the items you’ll use frequently. Then pat yourself on the back come moving day.

2. Be Realistic About Your Daily Routine

Start with a list of wants and needs that will help you stay organized and relaxed – and then see how many you can incorporate into your space. Ask yourself the following questions to get started:

- Do you work from home?

- Do you have a roommate or partner that keeps different hours from you?

- How much wardrobe storage do you need? List hanging items, folded items, and shoes.

- Do you need storage for sports equipment or craft supplies?

- What sort of personal items do you own? Plan enough storage for books and collectibles.

- Do you cook, or order in meals most of the time? 

Be honest about the lifestyle you’re currently living, not the one you aspire to! If you rarely cook, save space by donating that pasta maker you’ve been hauling around for the past five years. If your previous apartment was cluttered with books and work files, tall bookshelves with cabinets at the bottom will tidy things up.

If you expect to work from home frequently, try to create a dedicated work space. A small desk in the bedroom isn’t the best idea – you don’t want to spend 16 hours a day in the same room! If your apartment has a dining area, a large table placed against the wall makes a perfect desk, and sets up quickly for the occasional dinner party. (You probably eat dinner on the sofa most nights anyway, right?)

3. Smaller Furniture, And Less Of It

In a small apartment, gaining even a few inches of space in your floor plan can make your room feel much larger. Ditch that overstuffed chair from college – you can probably fit a loveseat in its place. Modern, low silhouettes with small arms are ideal for apartments. Maximize the seating with a chaise lounge at one end of the sofa, and you won’t need bulky chairs at all. Measure carefully before shopping – taping off the floor with masking tape is a great way to see what size furniture fits best.

Large coffee tables can take up the entire living room, so it may be time to let that hand-me-down table go. Replace it with two or three mini cocktail tables that you can rearrange easily, or a narrow trunk for extra storage. Acrylic furniture is a chic, modern accent that makes a room feel larger:

4. Make Your Furniture Work Harder

With space at a premium, every piece of furniture should be doing double-duty. Complement your dining table/desk with folding chairs that can store in a closet, or use a storage trunk as a seating bench. Side tables should have drawers or a lower shelf with a basket for remote controls or magazines. In the bedroom, save closet space with a small chest of drawers on either side of the bed. (Ikea’s famous Malm chest is the perfect size, and easy to customize too!)

Malm Chest custom stickers, Etsy

5. Choose Leggy Sofas And Chairs

Seating pieces with longer legs (and no skirt) make a room feel much larger. How? Because they show off more floor space. That's why mid-century modern furniture fits so well in small apartments. Homes were smaller 50-75 years ago, so mid-century sofas and chairs have trim silhouettes and taller legs to create an open, uncluttered look. 

Choose a chest with legs and a platform bed (with no bed skirt) to make the bedroom feel larger too.

6. Add Vertical Storage With Case Goods

Make the most of your square footage with tall storage pieces (also known as Case Goods). Bookshelves can be a stylish addition to your home office/dining area, or use a vintage china cabinet to hold barware and office supplies. Avoid scattering tiny shelves around the walls – they add visual clutter, while your goal is to create calm and order. When it comes to shelving and storage, think “fewer and bigger”. One or two large furniture pieces can store a lot of life clutter. Make craft supplies, photo albums, seasonal decor and electronics disappear behind closed doors. 

7. Set The Mood With Lighting

Proper lighting design includes a few table or floor lamps to create inviting pools of light. If you have a pair of side tables, keep things looking tidy with a matching pair of table lamps. A modern floor lamp can tuck into a narrow spot alongside a chair. Never rely on overhead lighting alone – it’s just too depressing!

Floor lamp, Jonathan Y

8. Accent With Bold Colors And Patterns

Personalizing your apartment with color and pattern isn’t easy when you’re renting. Most landlords won’t allow paint or wallpaper. However, there are still plenty of ways to make a statement. If you’re planning to stay for a few years, you may be able to get permission to paint an accent wall. The landlord will have to repaint your apartment before the next tenant anyway, but offer to repaint in a neutral color before moving out. A single wall can have an amazing impact on your space:

If painting isn’t an option, hang a large printed fabric panel or vintage textile instead.

Removable wallpapers are an awesome apartment design solution, with thousands of patterns to choose from. They’re easy to install and remove without damaging the walls. Cover a small area (like the kitchen backsplash or an entry wall) for a big impact on a small budget.

Havana removable wallpaper by Tempaper

9. Collect Statement Furniture Pieces

If paint and wallpaper aren’t possible, choose bold furnishings instead. Statement pieces like a buffet with graphic details or a colorful accent chair add personality to your space. Create a private corner or hide exercise equipment with a beautifully upholstered room screen. 

Functional pieces that create a focal point are well worth the investment, since you can take them with you and repurpose them again and again. Check online marketplaces for interesting vintage and up-cycled furniture; you’ll find artisans doing high quality work that fits easily into your budget. 

10. Decorating Is Fun!

To quote style icon Dorothy Draper, Decorating Is Fun! There has never been a better time to create your own design style – these days, it’s all about the mix. Just remember to keep your needs in mind, look for quality pieces that are built to last, and have fun with it!

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