As the lease on my first apartment winds to a close, I’m really looking forward to finding a new space and making it feel like home. My good friend Shelly is moving into her first place in Connecticut and I’ve been living vicariously helping her source a few furniture pieces… Decorating is truly one of my favorite hobbies. I thought before I move out of my current spot I’d share a little advice for decorating with what you have. Feel free to share your tips in the comments!
1. Make a list of everything you have and everything you need.
For instance, I already had a bed frame and mattress from my college dorm room that just needed to be transported into the city. My mom had also given me the antique quatrefoil mirror above my sofa (similar shape here and here) and the CB2 acrylic console table for my college graduation. So I knew I still needed bedding, a desk chair, dining/packing table, dining chairs, end tables, shelving, and a sofa. I didn’t have space in my current apartment for a coffee table or nightstands so your list might look a little different depending on how much space you’re working with!
2. Decide what look you’re after.
I wanted most of my furniture to be white or neutral so I could bring in color with accessories, books, and throw pillows. I highly recommend creating an inspiration board and a shopping list on Pinterest (here are some bedrooms and interiors that inspire me). Rounding up my favorite rooms helped me make big decisions about which furniture to buy and which colors I tended to come back to for bedding, upholstery, and even wall color (which I decided not to change).
3. Figure out where you can afford to spend and where you’ll have to save.
I let myself splurge a little on bedding from Serena & Lily (which I bought during one of their 20% off sales) and I haven’t regretted it for a second. I also fell in love with this desk chair from Society Social which was a great purchase since I spend so much time working from home. Both of these purchases meant I had less money leftover to spend on my dresser and tables throughout the apartment — and that I had to wait a little longer before buying other pieces and making the apartment feel totally finished.
4. Hit up Craigslist, estate sales, and flea markets for furniture purchases.
I’ve purchased a ton of dressers and tables on Craigslist since college and it almost always results in a good deal and an even better story. Use CraigsEasy to search Craigslist in pictures (hello, timesaver!) for styles you like (I use search terms like campaign, chinoiserie, lacquer, and lucite). Don’t worry if a wooden piece isn’t in great condition — look for great lines and know that a coat of paint can work all kinds of miracles. If you’re game for scouring estate sales and flea markets, make a day of it, go in with measurements of your space, and be patient. My mom, brother, and I found the mirrored end tables in the picture above for $20 apiece at Brimfield! Sold.
5. Peruse flash sale sites — but don’t buy just because it’s on sale.
Sites like Joss & Main and One Kings Lane are a treasure trove for furniture savings as long as you know what you’re looking for. Stick to the list you made in the beginning (99% of what you see won’t work for your space so don’t get distracted!) and search every couple of days. I stalked Joss & Main for weeks before finding my sofa, a tufted linen number that I’ll have for years and that only cost me around $400 (the cost of a comparable Ikea piece!).
6. Speaking of… there’s always Ikea.
I hate the look of an apartment decorated entirely at Ikea but there’s a reason it’s the affordable go-to for twenty-somethings everywhere. I used the Docksta as a dining table and the Expedit as shelving for books and inventory. Mix them in with pieces that have more character to avoid looking like you furnished your apartment in one afternoon — decorating is a process and a fun one at that!
7. Make it feel like home.
Whether it’s painting your walls (a project that will take you a weekend but won’t break the bank) or hanging real window treatments (my parents and I made mine following this tutorial), design is in the details. Accessorize with art (we carry affordable prints in the boutique and I also love Etsy and Society 6) or blow up family or travel photos to cover wall space — a landscape photo for above your sofa will run you about $75 at FedEx. And bring in books, whether they’re childhood favorites from your bedroom at home or coffee table books you find for sale online. They say don’t judge a book by its cover — but you can tell a lot about people by their bookshelves!
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What decorating projects are you tackling at the moment? Any advice you’d add to this list?


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  1. Where’s your favorite go-to place for frames for your gallery walls? I”ve seen some ok ones at Ikea, Pottery Barn, and West Elm – but is there somewhere I’m missing? Thanks!

  2. Hi Mackenzie!

    Love love love your blog and style and advice and I could go on…
    Anyway, I’m about to move into my first real apartment (e.g. not college housing, blech) and have started thinking about decorating (something I totally love too!). OKL is wonderful, but I worry about buying sofas and chairs, basically any seating, without being able to test it and sit in it. Any advice for this? Your couch is adorable and a great price, so did you just decide to sacrifice comfort?

    Hope to hear from you!

  3. I’m still decorating my new (ish) apartment and it’s hard to wait till I find the right pieces because I just want it to be done! I found my sofa on Joss & Main, too and it’s getting delivered this weekend. LOVE your tufted one—I originally fell in love with one that was over $2,000 (and gorgeous) and it was so hard to find something else after that!

    Emily, The Glam Files

  4. Thank you so much for these tips! My husband and I have been in our apartment for about seven months now, and I’m ready to start really switching things up and decorating now that i have an idea of what we want and need in our first home.

  5. I just moved from a one bedroom to a two bedroom in an old mill building. This post spoke volumes to me. As I am trying to take from my old apartment the major pieces I want and sell the ones I don’t (in order grow in the new place). With the exposed brick it also brings in a new color tones and transforming items has been a fun challenge.

    Love reading the blog & shopping in the boutique!

  6. This is so awesome! My boyfriend just bought a house, and I’m moving in (eek! in the best way), but I definitely don’t have a ton to spend on decorating right now and he could care less. I love the look of your place and hope I can create something half as beautiful!

  7. I’m not going to lie – when I saw this post title, I thought, “What does she know about decorating on a budget?” but lady, you proved me wrong! I love your tips and can’t wait to check out CraigsEasy. You should open up an interior styling part of Design Darling, because your place looks like a million bucks!


  8. Love this! I’ve been in my first real adult apartment since August and have yet to actually buy anything for it…your tips help break down the overwhelming process into something manageable!

  9. Pinpoint what will last as your styles change. My first apartment was all shabby chic and luckily I didn’t spend a ton of money b/c that look lasted about 2 seconds. I also got married, which altered my decor and as we’ve “grown up” so has our style. Our bedroom is 100% Ikea and Target and while I now hate it, we’re waiting to invest for our next home & live w/this for now b/c bedroom size may change.

    Love your diy suggestion- our hand me down dining room table was free so I thought we’d just deal w/it. A darker stain and now I love it so much that we’ve kept it! Cheap!

  10. I am about to take on a diy linen upholstered/nail head headboard for my master. I have been planning this project for a couple of months…super excited!
    I am in love with antique/vintage furnishing and prefer them over anything new. [except for beds/sofas etc. ;-)] I think your advice there was spot-on. Especially to look past the imperfections!…Be patient when shopping vintage/antique! Don’t buy unless you love!
    Can’t wait to see what you do with you new space!

    love from sc!

  11. This is so great! I’m moving in a couple of months and need to constantly be reminded not to stray from a list and be tempted by things like flash sales. Everything is so pretty it’s easy to get carried away! And THANK YOU for the CraigsEasy tip 🙂