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Five Tips for Graduates on How to Furnish a First Apartment

By Heidi Patalano | April 16, 2014 7:20am
 Local interior designers offer advice on creating a comfortable space on a tight budget.
Top Five Tips for Furnishing Your First Apartment
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SOHO — Moving beyond the confines of a cell block-sized dorm room is a relief for any young graduate — even if that first New York City apartment is likely to be nearly as small.

The challenge comes in trying to make these new digs feel like a home instead of a hovel. Taped-up art prints and a shower caddy will no longer suffice when entering this new phase of adulthood.

DNAinfo New York consulted interior design experts on how to create an affordable yet grown-up home, with a few clever shortcuts. Here are their top five pieces of advice:

1. Mix old pieces with new pieces.
Buying all your home furnishings from Ikea may make your living space look well-coordinated, but a bit of personality gets sacrificed in the process.

“The biggest problem that people have when they furnish a first home, and why dorm rooms look the way they do, is because everything’s brand-new,” said Maxwell Ryan, the founder of SoHo-based website Apartment Therapy.

"People go to Home Depot or Loews or Office Max or Target or Bed Bath & Beyond and they buy all the things they need. They’re very functionally driven and it looks the same every single time," he said.

Both Ryan and interior designer/blogger at “Life in Sketch” Tina Ramchandani suggest shopping at Housing Works, Antiques Garage and other second-hand shops, plus off Craigslist to get a few pieces that look more lived in. Apartment Therapy has its own classifieds that pair sellers with buyers within their region.

“Target things that aren’t upholstered,” Ramchandani said of shopping for second-hand items. “You can change out the hardware if you want to or you can paint them or stain them. Stay away from the upholstered pieces just because you don’t know who has had them before.”

2. Not everything you buy has to be dirt cheap.
“Save some things to spend more on, things that you want to keep long-term, that you really love. In every room, have something of quality, even if it means you buy less for that room,” Ryan said.

The higher expense of a few items will pay off in the long run, Ryan explained. “If it’s more expensive, there’s a reason for it ... It’s going to wear nicely, rather than get worn out.”

3. Spruce up your kitchen with new hardware.
Cabinet pulls, doorknobs and other small fixtures are inexpensive to replace and can go a long way towards changing the feel of a kitchen that may not have seen an update since the Koch administration.

"That will make it look so much better, because often these rentals have awful hardware but you can get really cheap but good-looking new hardware and just change it out yourself," Ramchandani said.

4. Turn to Etsy for your decorative accessories.
“I get a lot of pillows and pillow covers from there and then you can just get cheap inserts from Amazon,” Ramchandani said.

“That way you’re not stuck with the same pillow covers that are at Ikea or CB2 that everybody has. Sometimes if you contact those workrooms there, they’ll make some custom ones for you if you tell them: 'I like this, do you have another fabric or can I send you a fabric?'” she said.

Ramchandani recommends My Pillow Studio and SewOp for decorative pillows and Fortress for customizable home accessories such as wooden trays and cloth doorstoppers.

5. Be smart about sourcing your art.
The Internet can be a source of great ingenuity when it comes to art in the home. Maxwell Ryan recommends Ixxi Design, which prints images (you can select from the company library or provide one yourself) across several square cards in customizable dimensions. Ixxi allows for an image to be blown up, pixilated or collaged across the many printed panels.

“They divide them into panels that come like modular carpets and you can get them blown up. It’s very affordable,” Ryan said. The images cost between about $65 and $165.

Ryan also suggests 20X200.com, which has a carefully curated selection of prints. Temporary wallpaper and decals can also clean up a wall space for a reasonable price, Ramchandani said.

For more tips on home fixes, as well as real estate trends, check out previous installments of our Apartmentality column here.