A friend recently asked me for advice on how to arrange a new apartment. I’ve gotten similar sentiments from different friends over the years and thought I’d organize my thoughts a bit around the subject.
Some guiding principles
Only for you. Similar to travel, you can make your space instagram-friendly but at the end of the day you’re the one using it (just like you’re the one spending money to go on the other side of the world). With that said, figure out what is important to you (and / or) whoever is living in that space. All of the opinions I express are purely my own and what has worked for me. So figure out what works for you.
Pretty and practical. It is possible to create a space that is aesthetically pleasing but also practical for you. However, practicality should always rule (and we can try to make it cute later).
Your style. I am definitely partial to a certain style and aesthetic in all the places I’ve lived in. It’s Scandinavian with splashes of vivid color. This may totally not be your aesthetic and that’s ok, but stay true to what you like rather than following instagram trends. One thing to think about is what is your favorite color? Now would you want your bed that color? Depending on the answer, you might want to find a different accent color for your apartment. Only because I’m partial to it and market trends, it’s probably not a bad place to think of your apartment as entirely neutral (think whites, grays, tans, little bit of black) with color added in necessary places. Having color is not a bad thing by far but if your apartment is your retreat, having a lot of color in the house can be stimulating, detracting from its goal.
I could write a whole post about how to find apartments (having moved 4 times in the last 5 years), but let’s assume you’ve found your perfect apartment.So let’s get started. The first question to ask is:
What do you need per room?
- Side table / Nighstand
- A place to put your clothes (think about what needs to be hung vs not, what is seasonal and could be put away)
- Desk (potential)
- Books, paperwork and the like
- Place for toiletries (day-to-day brush, toothpaste, toilet paper)
- Place for jewelry (could go in bathroom)
- Place for makeup (could go in bathroom)
- Storage for sheets and towels
- Dining Room
- Dining table
- Living Room
- Sofa (how often will you have guests? need a pull-out couch vs non?)
- Coffee table
- TV Stand (or could this be a book shelf that you actually turn sideways to have more storage?)
- Storage for large pots and pans
- Storage for cutlery
- Storage for dishes
- Storage for food / pantry
- Storage for alcohol (do you want to buy a bar cart?)
- Other questions:
- Does this place have heating and air conditioning? If not, do you need supplementary appliances for that?
- Does the space have a washer / dryer?
- Do you have in-built lighting in the space? Or is all the lighting connected to outlets that have switches (aka you might need floor lamps)? One thing to keep in mind here is that any kind of desk lamp, can be used as a table lamp and vice versa. Don’t get stuck on its label. I highly recommend Brightech lights that I’ve purchased off Amazon. They have amazing shapes, great durability. The only down side is that you can’t put smart bulbs in them because they are so custom, but I really find them wonderfully designed. Below is an example of the circular one I have that provides great light but is great for photography too.
Look at this list as the bare essentials. Plants, decoration, and other accessories can come later.
With the list of essential things in mind, let’s start breaking it down room by room.
Now the bedroom is likely where you will spend most of your time (either that or the living room), so it’s an important space. Making the bedroom feel larger than it is usually helps create a more soothing environment.
Things that make a space feel larger:
- Lighter colored furniture (aka bed frame), chest of drawers, etc
- A mirror in the corner of the room (I recommend a full length mirror either here or in the bathroom behind the door to save space)
- I used to be a real skeptic of putting one side of a bed against a wall, however I fully concede that it creates more space in the room. With two people sleeping on the same bed, this makes it difficult if one is against the wall but do consider if only one person is occupying the bed.
Other tips for the bedroom:
- Adjusting the orientation of your furniture so that you wake up to sunshine peeking through the blinds to reset your circadian rhythm (I’m not huge on feng shui but I like this principle).
- Having a small rug / carpet at the foot of your bed creates an illusion of space. Example here.
- Take a good think about your bedframe for the bedroom. Should it be upholstered so you can lean against it when you read? Should it have under-the-bed storage if you are lacking space in the room (or be a gaslift bed)?
- Please seriously think about NOT purchasing a chair / small sofa / ottoman / bench in your bedroom. Everyone thinks that a chair will allow someone to curl up with a book (rather than on your bed). 9 times out of 10 it becomes an apparatus for clothes to be dumped on it.
- Choose a simple thin side table. Many people want to go nuts with storage in their side table, but it should really only serve to hold the items for your nightly routine. The less the number of items in that side table, the more you’ll be able to concentrate on getting them done! Having an open side table isn’t a bad idea but reduces the privacy of the items.
- Example: I purchased a very thin Nordli table from IKEA that I put contact paper on top and purchased a fancy knob from Anthropologie to make it come together. The side table also has a power strip built in so you can charge your phone (think about practicality!).
- Example: Built in night stands / side tables are pretty amazing. And you can make your own too. Floating ones are nice and fun too.
- Having some open space in the bedroom (with nothing on the floor) is great. My rule of thumb is to have enough space to make a carpet angel on the floor. The larger the human then the more space they might need to move about the room.
- As you’re organizing clothes, books, etc in your room, use vertical space. I can’t emphasize this enough.
Example: You can use the sides of a chest of drawers to hang necklaces.
- Example: Use door hangers for hanging clothes or bags, even if they’re inside a wardrobe.
- Example: use the sides of shelves to put up your calendar or important reminders.
- Vertical storage (on top of wardrobes, etc) is also great but make sure those are things you don’t need more than once a quarter.
- Where does your laundry go? Where do you have to take it to get washed? Think about carrying a basket vs a massive structured bag.
The Dining Room
Dining tables that are circular can squeeze more people onto them than your normal rectangle. They also give the entire space a more homey feel.
I’m also a fan of buying chairs and tables separately rather than as sets. it actually allows for more customization and changes up the color palette in the space. I’m a big fan of these upholstered chairs. Of course these are the low-end version but for the price, they work very well.
I also recommend these (slightly expensive) placemats that are dishwasher safe, heat-resistant, very grippy, and can even be used as a desk mat!
The biggest thing to prioritize in the kitchen is counter space. What do you really need on the counters? That spiralizer that you use once every 2 weeks? No. Really focus on putting out only the things you use on a regular basis (or you want to create a serious habit of using). You will never complain about having too much counter space, always never nough.
When buying things for the kitchen, also think about multi-functional gadgets. One of my favorite simple buys is this spatula that is double sided with two sizes so I can cook simultaneously two different dishes.
Other little gadgets I’d recommend are
- A really nice chef’s knife. I took a knife cutting skills at Sur La Table to be able to learn techniques on chopping but also to try out different knives. This is the one I have and have never regretted investing in: Global Chef’s Knife.
- A scraper for moving food from the chopping board to the pot.
- A chopping board. Wood ones absorb juices from meat and plastic ones have studies linked to trace amounts of plastic being found in food over time. This is the one I’d recommend.
- Pots and pans that are either steel or if they are non-stick coated, you should be replacing them ever 3 months. My most recent (and favorite pan) is this Ozeri one. Also put pot protectors between the storage of your pans to stop them from getting more scratched up.
- Olive Oil sprayer to stop you from overpouring oil.
- Ice cube trays that are easy to pop out, are small for cocktails, and come with a lid.
- Spice jars that are consistent and have different kinds of openings for different dishes.
- A Y peeler because it makes it joyful to peel things now.
- For environmentally conscious folk: Bee’s wrap to save cling wrap and foil, resusable food stage bags to save Ziploc bags, steel straws to save plastic straws.
With regards to cutlery and plates, find things that bring you joy! I bought this IKEA cutlery that I use everyday and brings a smile and a sense of luxury for every meal for me. Also think about how you will be eating each meal. Will you be eating with your partner on the dining table? Or curled up on the couch? I personally love eating on the couch, curled up while watching TV, so I’ve invested in several kinds of cute bowls and bowl cozies to allow myself to do so. These mini ones are some of my favorite.
Having matching sets for cutlery and plates / bowls is nice but I guarantee you will start to get tired of them. So maybe invest in a night set (Corelle all the way) and leave some room for playful things that you might find when you go to wholesale restaurant stores!
Similar to the bedroom, think about vertical storage in the kitchen. The fridge can be a great place to put magnetic strips and use vertical space.
Example: I’ve put my pot holders on the fridge for easy access and to be out of the way. You can find the magnets here and trivets here.
Example: Spice racks on the side of the fridge are a great idea. You also don’t have to invest in super expensive spice jars, just add magnetic strips to them!
Another very small thing but DO NOT STORE THINGS IN THE OVEN. If you’re using the oven for storage because there isn’t anywhere else for it to go, you’re probably living in the wrong space.
The Living Room
The living room is the other room in the house where you will spend a decent amount of time. The goal of this space is to be relaxing and homey. For some that don’t have a guest bedroom, a pull-out couch might be a good option here. One of the best ones I’ve found is the Friheten IKEA couch. It has great storage underneath, pulls out into a queen size bed, and the chaise is great for stretching out your feet. The only thing drawback is that the coffee table fit for this couch gets a bit difficult, so have patience. I also like putting in little ad-ons if you just need a place to put your glass.
Personally to me, a coffee table is at the center of the home. I spend a lot of on the couch and around the coffee table so find something that really appeals to you. Also be mindful of the practicality of it. For example, getting a glass table does mean you should wipe it up often. Or getting a rectangular one might mean that someone in the home will hit their knees on it and curse you (and maybe that’s the intention… who knows). Coffee tables with storage are great for housing games, magazines, etc. I’ve recently become a fan of fold out coffee tables as well although they are a pretty penny.
TV stands in the living room area can serve as storage as well. I love the Kallax series from IKEA and think they function very well as TV stands. Bonus here is if you can leave a shelf completely empty. The Happiness Project recommends doing this to create space for inspiration and new things that may come into your life.
The living room space is also often the place where residents want to show off their decorations, travel adventures, etc. I would highly recommend starting off with only a few decoration items and trading them out over time. It will keep you more engaged with the decor and something different for people to see every time they come visit.
People want it in their bedroom but consider taking it outside and making it simple. I’m a huge fan of in-built desks if you have a little alcove. Hayneedle, Wayfair, and World Market.
Make sure you think about ergonomics of your workstation (raised monitor, comfortable seating, desk space for drawing, etc). I’d also recommend thinking about the storage needed. Yes you’ve thought about a place to put your papers and keyboard, but have you thought about where you’d put your headphones if you’re working from home each day?
One of the main things to remember about the bathroom is to have storage that you can wipe down easily because of the amount of moisture in the air. I am such a huge fan of these Variera IKEA boxes for the bathroom because they can be easily wiped down.
If you have one bathroom, think about how to hide some of your personal things if guests are going to use that bathroom. I thought this was a neat idea to just keep the necessities out of sight and mind but there when you need them. Also keep an extra toilet paper roll always within reach.
As a female, having personal hygiene supplies also within reach has been a blessing. I love these organizers that you can hang on the inside of your cabinets in the bathroom to make things reachable.
Using ice trays for jewelry storage also works very well!
Now comes some of the fun stuff – decoration! I’m sure you have some things you’d like in frames to be hung around the house. I can’t emphasize how easy and cheap IKEA frames are and they look great! Hanging things up in a perfect line is pretty difficult, so try to do a kind of offset design.
I also am a huge fan of accent walls.
Lack floating shelves are also great for showcasing small things but having frames and other decorations mixed in. Shelves for corners also do a good job of utilizing space.
As you could see from the contact paper on the night stand, it can do a lot to transform a space. I’ve also put vinyl as wall decorations for the times I couldn’t paint or drill holes into the walls.
I love create a getaway space within a house. Whether that’s the outdoor area, a little alcove, or just a simple area with all your favorite things.
Remember that chair you wanted in your bedroom to be able to sit and read? Why not put it in your “getaway” space? The goal of the space is to be able to relax, read, meditate or do whatever you want to. Candles and mood lighting is encouraged. There’s lots of examples on Pinterest!
I would recommend finding something at furniture stores. I found this amazing little piece at a Furniture Gallery (didn’t get sold anywhere else and thus is super discounted).
Having a space for everything. After a lot Marie Kondo-ing, really think about how each item has a place and belonging. When you walk in where do you put your keys? When you get up in the morning, where do you pajamas go? Allot a place for them so you know what “clean” mans to you (things in their place).
Home automation + technology. While crucial, make sure that it is not inhibiting your curbing your natural habits. For voice assistants, make sure they’re placed in the house where they can catch sounds easily.ps into the next and what is the goal of each.
Out of site, out of mind. Really make sure that whatever you are using (or want to use) is something you see everyday. Things that are kept in storage are rarely taken out and properly used. I keep my iron within reach everyday because most of my blouses require ironing. I have a place right inside the closet that is easy to access (has a designated space but is easily retrievable).
Some of my personal favorites:
- Shelving. I’d love a wall full of the Kallax shelving from IKEA (mostly for the square shape) because you can put some much in each.
- DIY. I love DIYing so many things. I’ve made coffee tables, storage, all kinds of things. Simple hacks can go very far.
- Night lights. I love having nightlights in the bathroom so you don’t have to turn on the lights and ruin your sleep. I originally saw these at an Airbnb and loved them.
- Cable management. It’s a real art.
My Apartment Pinterest Board covers a range of ideas and you can tell that I Pinterest with purpose (as should you to not go down the black hole of inspiration).
Happy Nesting 🙂