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Decking out your first apartment or dorm room—albeit in college or after graduation—is one part thrilling and all parts stressballish. While making something totally your own is one of the biggest joys in life, trying to fill a space stylishly and functionally on a ramen-noodles-and-tap-water budget can quickly take all the fun out of it. Hell, I’m living proof; my first apartment sure was purdy but since I spent every penny on making it look cool, all I could afford to do is eat in it and stare at the walls. Saltines topped with free packets of mustard scored from Burger King to be exact.

Ramen NoodlesTurn Your Temporary Digs into A HomeThe same goes for a teency-weency dorm room; filling a space functionally and decoratively costs a pretty penny and tons of not-so-pretty sweat equity. If it’s your first time at the rodeo of MyFirstPlaces, you’ll quickly notice how quick a run for Windex, a lampshade and new pillowcases results in a receipt with a $230 total. With students shelling out $165 for a single textbook and recent graduates dropping $400 for a decent interview outfit, the money pit gets deeper and deeper; saving is a must. Sure, we all know about the magical wonders of flea markets in reference to keeping things original and on budget; however, there are some less-known tricks out there which may make putting that first place together a bit easier. For example: How do you dress up concrete walls? How do you use 100 square feet of living space as a bedroom, living room and media area? What alternatives are there for people who love wallpaper and paint but can’t change their walls? Lucky for you, I’m out of college eight years now and have some my-first-apartment-life-experience to share with you. Unfortunately, the ramen noodle eating still goes on for a few years—but hey—there’s no reason your place shouldn’t look great while you scarf those noodles down!

Brian Patrick Flynn - Decals Dorms

Vinyl decals, have they been done to death? Yes, oh heavens yes. (So have posters tacked to walls with balls of putty. Save yourself with my post on buying art online.) Vinyl decals are an absolutely brilliant solution to dressing up a temporary space, especially those where painting is prohibited and color choices are dictated by an establishment. The key is staying away from the ones everybody’s seen two-hundred times: chandeliers, the Keep Calm And Carry On thing, and last but not least, overscale damask. SNORE. Decals like this robot from blik are fun and graphic; certain styles made for kid’s rooms are still cool enough for young adults. No DIY skills? No problem. All you need to put these babies up is a burnisher and a steady hand.

Just because you’re no longer watching iCarly or waiting at the bus stop with a bagged lunch doesn’t mean you’re too grown up for a bunk bed. As this 12×12 studio apartment shows, a modern TROMSO bunk bed from IKEA can create a room within a room. And yes, I do understand these make “special relationships” a bit trickier but hey, you’ve gotta sacrifice a lot when you’re just starting out, right? If it’s that big of a deal, buy yourself a puffy sleeping bag and take your adult relations down onto the floor. Safety first! Here, the area below was used as a lounge area to watch TV which allowed the adjacent corner to be used as an eating area.

Warehouse Apartment - Wallpaper on Panels

For those of you who go industrial with a loft or warehouse-ish apartment, dealing with the cold concrete walls can be a challenge. To camouflage the stark white cinder block in this loft, I covered 8X4 sheets of Masonite with graphic wallpaper from Graham & Brown, then screwed them into the cinder block with a drill using a masonry bit.

Pottery Barn Sofas

You know how there’s different size beds, some a better fit for bedrooms than others? For example, a twin is pretty much the only option for a 6X6 room, so you’d definitely not bring home the California King thinking it would fit kinda like square-peg-in-round-whole type logic? Well, many furniture manufacturers make apartment-sized sofas. These are specifically scaled for smaller spaces and are usually pretty darn easy to fit through doorways and move up and down stairs. Later on, when you graduate to a big boy or big girl house, apartment-sized sofas are excellent for other rooms in the house with small lounge spaces. A classic style like the Buchanan Apartment Sofa from Pottery Barn is an uber-wise investment. Its classic lines make it transitional and easy to blend with both traditional and/or contemporary pieces. The piece is 79 inches wide and comes in different colors and fabrics such as the ones I’m personally drawn to the most (shown):  Grade A, Twill Metal and Grade A, Twill Espresso.


Saving the best for last, here’s a small ”my first place” makeover packed with easy to do ideas. If you’re in one of those rare apartments or dorms that allows painting and decide to go all school spirit and stuff with your color scheme, HOLD UP. Instead of using those school colors on your walls, use a contrasting color which works well with those school colors, then stick to the actual school tones for accessories. In this room just off the University of Georgia campus, we at Decor Demon bucked the trend of red or black (UGA colors) walls and instead went turquoise, then introduced red and black everywhere else. Some other ideas seen in this 105-square foot space include: using FLOR tiles to delineate the lounge space from the dining/study space, incorporating a modular sectional inside the bottom of the loft to maximize seating, suspending a plug-in pendant from the ceiling to add ambient light to the dining space, and using a small countertop fastened to the wall as a study space which doubles as ample room for dining.

These are all things I’ve done and had good luck with; however, there’s bound to be tons more out there. Anyone got any other great ideas or insider information on successfully making your first apartment or dorm room your own?

Tell me in the comments below.


Design Inspiration

19 Responses

  1. stylebyladyg says:

    Whoa! I am going back so many years now. Our first home, we moved in straight from our wedding! No lavish wedding presents or honeymoons then! ah the good old days hey! I remember painting the kitchen the colour of a lovely blue sky and making my own curtains from blue and white gingham. Furniture, like most people were hand me downs, including patched up carpet in the main living room. We painted almost everything! It was a learning curve. I havent stopped since, but know my tastes are slightly different. After completely an interior design diploma, I have now the knowledge to put ideas, collections and my own style together. I love home decor more than ever!

  2. Paige says:

    Bunks beds are a legitimate lifesaver. I am currently in a triple, and I have a "nook" under a lofted bed. Yes, fitting three girls into a tiny room is way easier said than done. I've got to work on the window treatment front. http://decorandyouhrwordpress.web11.hubspot.com/m

  3. Anna@HGTV says:

    So true! And how I wish I had been able to do ideas like these in my two years of dorm life!

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