I left home to live in my own apartment the weekend I turned 18, and though it has been nearly 10 years (and six different apartments) since then, the memory of my first bachelorette pad still haunts me. It isn’t the pink dishes, gold, crushed velvet couches (handed down by a friend who worked for a funeral home) or particleboard bookshelves that stay with me, but the lack of imagination, style and enthusiasm that went into outfitting my space. Looking back now, I can see that I didn’t have the resources or guidance that I needed to make my space habitable.
The truth is, the typical single person doesn’t automatically come equipped with the knowledge of what makes a sensational apartment, much less the budget to afford the more obvious options, like turning your entire place into a Pier One showroom. What hipster wants his or her apartment to look like everyone else’s, anyway? True style is all about form, function and thrift—the little things that make living in your own space enjoyable, while making you the envy of your friends. All it takes is determination, a little cash and these four essentials to turn your space from stale to swell:
[PLAN YOUR SPACE EFFECTIVELY] If the apartment you’re renting is 650 square feet, trying to fit two full-size couches, two end tables and an entertainment center into your living room probably isn’t a good idea. No matter how cool the art on the wall is, the end result will be a room that looks cramped and cluttered, negatively impacting the atmosphere of the entire space. It’s a good idea to draw out a simple plan on paper before you start to move things around. That way, you’ll have plenty of time for change before settling on one arrangement, which will save your back and knees from the stress of moving heavy objects too many times.
The key is to create the illusion of a larger room. This can be accomplished by using light shades in the fabrics covering your furniture, as well as painting the walls a light color (check your lease to see if this is possible). Another way to create the illusion of space while keeping things cozy is to arrange your furniture into a “conversation area”; that is, have your couch facing a chair with a small coffee table in between. Be creative! Ultimately, you should plan your space in a way that makes you feel relaxed and comfortable.
[GARAGE SALES, THRIFT STORES AND CASTOFFS ARE YOUR FRIENDS] Low and no-cost treasures abound, if you know where to look. Pick a weekend to hit the garage and yard sales in your neighborhood. Wake up early (this is important if you want to beat the crowds of weekend yard-salers), grab a friend and a cup of coffee (donuts optional) and take to the streets. If your local newspaper publishes garage sale listings, then keeping a copy handy will facilitate your navigation from one sale to the next. You can find anything this way, from accessories like lamps and candle holders to heavy-duty items like beds, couches and tables. If you see something you really want, don’t be afraid to haggle for the best price! People who have garage sales are often willing to lower prices in order to sell, especially if you’re buying more than one item.
Thrift stores often offer the same fare as garage sales. The difference here is that at a thrift store, you’re likely to pay slightly higher prices for better quality items, which you’ll find in less time than you might spend looking driving around looking for the same things. Thrift stores can be a bit disorganized, so be proactive and dive in—often, the best item can be found at the bottom of an unmarked bin. As with garage sales, don’t be afraid to negotiate prices. Many thrift stores are privately owned, and salespeople are usually more than willing to make you a good deal, as long as it benefits the store as well—and to a retailer, any sale is a good sale!
Ah, castoffs. You’ve seen them plenty of times before, and you’ve often wondered, “Golly, who would toss out such a fantastic couch?” Castoffs are items that can be found A) on random street corners and B) in front of houses. In the case of items on street corners, prudence is important. Inspect the piece carefully for breakage and unpleasant odors before putting it in your car—most of the time, these things are merely left out because the previous owner replaced them and did not have the time or inclination to have it removed otherwise. However, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so be careful.
Items left in front of houses are a better bet than those on street corners because you have the option (in fact, better make that obligation) to knock on the occupant’s door and ask about it. They can tell you why they’re giving away such a great ’70s era floor lamp with matching paisley chair, and chances are, they’ll even help you load it into your car.
It’s important to be picky when shopping garage sales, thrift stores and street corners. Look for sturdy, enduring pieces in classic styles that can be re-covered, refurbished or refinished easily and inexpensively. Revamping old pieces can make a great weekend project, but be sure that the object is basically sturdy, and that you’ll use what you’re taking rather than taking it just because it’s available and cheap. You want to make your apartment into a home that reflects you and your style, not one that has people asking, “What’s that smell?”
[DON’T BE AFRAID TO INVEST IN HIGHER TICKET ITEMS] Low and no cost finds are great, but one essential of a single person’s apartment is style, and your style can’t always be reflected in the schwag found at thrift stores. This doesn’t mean emptying your bank account, however! You can find the right piece at the right price virtually anywhere if you look hard enough. Do remember that value is relative, and you should expect to pay a little more at a trendy downtown retailer than you would at Target (which can be a Mecca of style for the single guy or gal). Look for basic, well-crafted pieces that will last a long time, and be willing to pay for them, but make sure that they’re perfect for you. After all, these are the things that will travel with you throughout a good part of your life, so it pays to be picky.
[SURF THE INTERNET FOR IDEAS AND RESOURCES] There are plenty of sites on the net that want to help you discover your hidden apartment dweller! One, Digs Magazine online is a “Home and living guide for the post-college, pre-parenthood, quasi-adult generation” that offers hundreds of helpful articles in sections such as home, food, entertainment and entertaining. Give it a chance! You never know what you might find.