How to Decorate Your First Apartment

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So you’ve signed a lease and are getting ready to move into your first apartment in the fall—now what? For those collegiettes who previously lived in dorm rooms, decorating several rooms of a new apartment in a way that will create a mature and comfortable living space may seem a bit daunting. As you graduate from dorms and move on to the world of apartments, keep in mind HC’s decorating tips to help ensure your new space doesn’t end up looking like a step back into your past.

Color scheme

There’s a chance your landlord will allow you to paint the walls (but many don’t—make sure you double check your lease!). Painting is a fantastic way to transform a room that you couldn’t do in a dorm. Give a room a warm feel by painting it in soft yellows or oranges, create a calm and cool look with grays and blues, or go bold with a statement wall in red or black.

To come up with the perfect color scheme for your new space, celebrity design expert Kelli Ellis, a resident interior design expert for who you might have seen as a featured designer on TLC’s Clean Sweep, HGTV’s Takeover My Makeover, or Bravo’s Real Housewives of Orange County, suggests going through your belongings and picking out your favorite item. Ask yourself what color or colors are in it. “Pull a color out as your bold accent, then add grey, beige or white to it and voila—instant color scheme,” Ellis advises. She says that it’s important to stick with this scheme throughout your apartment: “Each room can have its own accent, just be sure there is one color that carries throughout.”

When you have an idea of which colors you want to use for each room, consider playing around with online simulators to get an idea of what the colors you picked might look like. Sherwin-Williams has a great online tool where you can upload your own photo and virtually paint your room yourself.


In your new apartment, you’ll find that you have more space to fill than you did in a small dorm room. Sophia Zhang, a 2011 graduate, says that “if you lived in on-campus, furnished housing for your entire college experience, you’ll find yourself needing to fill a lot of space. A real bed, sofa and tables were the essentials for me.” It’s important from the get-go to look at the space you have and plan what kind of furniture you’ll need since it’s likely that you don’t have much of your own furniture already.

IKEA, west elm, Pottery Barn, HomeGoods, and of course Target are a few great places to find inexpensive yet stylish pieces. For those willing to put in a little extra effort to find chic furniture for low prices, get your thrift shop on by perusing yard sales, Goodwill, and craigslist.

“You don’t realize how much money you spend upfront to get an apartment – realtor’s fee, moving trucks (if you don’t have friends with cars), security deposit. So I had to get a bit thrifty,” says Sophia. “My first craigslist acquisition was a 50”+ brand new Samsung plasma—top of the line and it only cost $350.” Sophia also used craigslist to purchase a dining table and a couch.

However, when shopping around, make sure you don’t just go for the cheapest option available; Ellis says it’s important to look for pieces that are inexpensive and wear well.

If you find a cheap but ugly couch in your thrift shopping adventures or simply want to reuse the futon you’ve had since sophomore year, try Etsy for some unique slipcovers.

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About The Author

Irene graduated from Boston University College of Communication in May 2014 with a degree in journalism. In addition to writing for Her Campus, during college Irene interned with Boston Magazine, Wicked Local, BU Today and In Madrid. Her hobbies include traveling, running and watching How I Met Your Mother on repeat. 

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