Design Secrets for Small Apartments

Apartments. They are the bane of existence for home decorators. Most apartments have rental guidelines and landlord rules you agree to abide by, when you sign a lease agreement. So, what can you do to give that small, generic space some personality?

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Believe it or not, there are a number of tricks you can employ to bring your apartment to life. Let’s take a look at the most common issues facing apartment dwellers and solutions for each. Accomplish most of these fixes with little or no out-of-pocket expense. Great for those of us on a limited budget.

White Walls

I was lucky enough to find an older apartment complex that was in the midst of renovations to compete with newly constructed units. The walls are painted a neutral, sandy beige. Most apartments, however, come with unappealing white walls.

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Some new apartment communities offer tenants the option of choosing custom accent wall colors. There’s also a chance you’ll find a benevolent landlord who will agree to let you personalize your walls with paint.

If a new paint color is out of the question and you are stuck with white, you can still get creative without the risk of losing your deposit.

Fabric Magic

Fabrics are a great way to add color to bland apartment walls.

One solution is to purchase lightweight, decorator fabric and apply it as a wall covering using liquid starch (do not use regular wallpaper or fabric adhesive). If you are DIY challenged, enlist the help of a friend with wallpaper hanging experience. Test a swatch of fabric for colorfastness before proceeding. Apply to the walls just as you would hang wallpaper. Dampen the fabric with a wet sponge to remove. Your landlord will be none the wiser.

Easy On, Easy Off Fabric Walls

Upholstery, bedding, pillows and area rugs add an injection of color and personality to your apartment. Colorful textiles serve to neutralize wall-to-wall white.

Artwork to the Rescue

Another way to add color to your walls is with artwork. A few well-chosen pieces will give your stark walls new life. Try these personal design secrets to decorate your walls with things you may already have on hand:

Create a Collage

All it takes are a couple of inexpensive French memo boards decorated with cards or photos that coordinate with your color scheme. I own two natural cotton memo boards. I selected paint chips and images from my local home improvement center to go with the pastel bedding.

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Plates as Art

Pull those decorative dessert plates out of the cupboard. If you don’t have any, they are relatively cheap and easy to find. I chose to hang four plates from Anthropologie in the bedroom above my headboard.

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I found these fabulous plate hangers—they are adhesive-coated discs that attach directly to the back of plates. If you decide you want to use the plates again, simply soak them in warm water to dissolve the adhesive. Look for them at area hobby retailers.

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Minimal Storage

When shopping for apartment storage options, look for textural pieces to add interest to bland rooms. Use decorative baskets to organize books, magazines, closet, bedroom and bath items. Check out my Hub, How To Organize Your Life With Baskets for more inspiration.

Purchase lidded plastic bins as under bed storage for off-season clothing and seldom used items—inexpensive bed risers will give you extra space under the bed to store your bins.

Lack of Furniture

I did not have a coffee table or nightstands when I moved into my apartment. Unfortunately, my budget would not allow for a major expenditure. I came up with creative solutions for less than $20. Here’s how:

Cheap Chic

While snooping around my neighborhood discount retailer, I stumbled upon black wooden TV trays for 9 bucks apiece. I didn’t require drawer storage, so they were the perfect choice for bedside lamps, an alarm clock and phone.

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Instant Coffee Table

The coffee table idea came to me while flipping through a decorating magazine. I saw a photo of a round, skirted coffee table and immediately thought of the 30-inch round particleboard table I had stashed away in my storage unit. I also had an accompanying glass top protector and tablecloth. I am very pleased with the end result. The size doesn't overpower the room and gives me a spot for my morning cup of coffee and a few magazines.

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After the better part of an hour of careful measuring (remember, measure twice, cut once) and sawing the legs to length, I had the perfect coffee table. I trimmed the excess length off the tablecloth and hemmed it, using iron-on hem tape. If you purchase a tablecloth and don't want to go to the trouble of hemming, cut the legs on your 30-inch round table to a height of 20 inches. A 70-inch round tablecloth is the perfect length for these dimensions.

Dreaded Mini Blinds

We all know about standard window coverings in apartments. Most have mini blinds on windows and vertical blinds on sliding doors. Today, I will focus on mini blinds.

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In a former life, I owned a curtain/drapery store, so I have at my disposal plenty of curtains (which BTW, are stored neatly under my bed in plastic bins). However, I didn’t want to go to the trouble of installing curtain hardware or run the risk of damaging the walls.

An Idea Is Born

After a bit of pondering, I came up with an idea for hanging stationary curtain panels on either side of a window using common picture wire and small nails. (Note: another set of hands will come in handy for this project.)

How To Do It

Gather a rod pocket curtain panel onto a 20-inch section of picture wire. Partially hammer two small nails (spaced approximately 15 inches apart) into the wall above each side of the window. Wrap the ends of the picture wire onto the nails, pulling it taut. Hammer the nails into the wall to secure the wire and clip off the excess. You will not only have curtains that disguise the mini blinds, they will also frame your windows beautifully.

The mini blinds alone weren't enough to block the bright light just outside my bedroom window. So, I purchased inexpensive, thermal-backed curtains, hanging them on a tension rod in front of the mini blinds. The rod fits snugly just inside the window frame and doesn't interfere with the mini blind mechanism.

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Tiny Kitchen

Apartments are notorious for having less-than-roomy kitchen work surfaces, drawers and cabinets. Once you put a toaster and coffee maker on the counter that leaves little room for anything else. Likewise, cabinets and drawers can easily become overcrowded.

Clear the Counters

Free up counter space by setting your sights higher. An under mount paper towel holder and spice rack leaves more room for food prep. Your knife block is carving out too much of your counter space. Install a strong magnetic strip on the wall to keep kitchen knives within easy reach (out of the reach of little ones, please).

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Find a Perch

Take advantage of empty space above kitchen cabinets. Large pots and the collection of small appliances you had to have, but only used once, will fit perfectly atop upper cabinets. Here, I have a large soup tureen and a hand blender stored neatly away. All I need is an inexpensive step stool to reach them.

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Display Cookware

A wall-mounted pot rack (whether store-bought or homemade) opens up valuable under cabinet space. A heavy-duty towel or curtain rod is a cheap alternative to a fancy iron pot rack. Simply install the rod on the wall (unfortunately, you will have to use wall anchors for this project). Hang your pots and pans from S-hooks.

© 2012 lindacee

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Comments 21 comments

rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

Nice job of making do with what's at hand! Loved the fabric on the wall idea.Very unique! Voted up and useful!


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 4 years ago from Canada

I have lived in small places for most of my life. These are great ideas! That table is adorable. Voted up, interesting, awesome and useful.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Thanks for reading my Hub! I am a firm believer of using what you have around the house...especially in this economy! I appreciate your votes and support!


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

prairieprincess, I've lived in big and small places, and I have to say, I prefer the smaller ones! Glad you enjoyed the ideas. The table is definitely my personal favorite! Thank you for the lovely comments and votes!


Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 4 years ago from Hawaii

Awesome tips! I have been living in small spaces for years and decorating them, while abiding by apartment regulations, is very difficult.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

snappycanvas, yes, the personal touches make all the difference in the world! Thanks for the comments and votes! cheers


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Natashalh, landlords and management companies make creativity a challenge for us apartment dwellers. I'm glad you found the tips helpful. Keep on decorating!


jenniferg78 profile image

jenniferg78 4 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

Great ideas and thank you for including so many photos! I love the green wall and how it matches everything in the room and pulls it all together.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

jenniferg78, thanks! So glad you found these design secrets helpful! Yes, it amazing how much impact one wall with accent color can have in a room. It's one of the easiest and cheapest ways to breathe life into a small space!


midnightbliss profile image

midnightbliss 4 years ago from Hermosa Beach

Nice hub! I enjoyed learning about the many ways in which to decorate walls to create a more appealing atmosphere. Thanks!


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Thanks midnightbliss for the nice comment! Yes, there are some relatively easy ways to make a small space comfortable, efficient and beautiful. I'm happy you stopped by my Hub!


Efficient Admin profile image

Efficient Admin 4 years ago from Charlotte, NC

I love the idea of using the particalboard tables with a tablecloth thrown over them, and then use the space underneath for storage. I've been doing this for years! The tableclothes are inexpensive to change out every few years if you want a new look.

Also love the wall fabric idea - never heard of it but like it a lot! Voted up and all that.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Efficient Admin, those tables are an absolute lifesaver, in my opinion. I couldn't afford a "real" coffee table, so repurposing my particleboard table was the perfect solution! Thanks for the vote, comment and read! :)


Arachnea profile image

Arachnea 2 years ago from Texas USA

very interesting. i wish my appartment didn't disallow covering the walls with fabric. that's such a great idea. great hub. i'd not seen the disk plate hangers here in the USA, but they are available on Amazon, so I'll be checking them out.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 2 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Arachnea, glad you enjoyed this Hub. Yes, apartments pose definite decorating challenges. But as you can see, there are ways to infuse your personality into a rental home without breaking any of the rules. BTW, those dish hangers are the greatest. I've been using them for several years on the same plates and they're still holding strong!


Arco Hess Designs profile image

Arco Hess Designs 2 years ago from Kansas City, Kansas

You have some good ideas for a small apartment. I have a similar article, I'm glad to see that our ideas are actually pretty different.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 2 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Thanks! I will check out your article. That's the great thing about home decorating and space planning--the possibilities are endless and each person will have a different point of view and design ideas.


Amber 24 months ago

Any idea what the paint color on that green wall is?


lindacee profile image

lindacee 24 months ago from Southern Arizona Author

Amber, the green color looks very close to Sherwin Williams 6194 Basil.

http://www.sherwin-williams.com/homeowners/color/f...

Hope this helps!


amber 24 months ago

Thank you! I compared that color to some valspar colors (I don't think we have a Sherwin Williams here). We are going with valspar lush sage. It is gorgeous. I'm actually painting some grasscloth with it on my accent wall. The grasscloth has a slight sheen, and with a layer of paint over it, it makes the color change depending on the angle. It's pretty interesting. I appreciate your help!


lindacee profile image

lindacee 24 months ago from Southern Arizona Author

Amber, I took a look at lush sage. It looks like a great match. The painted grasscloth is a wonderful way to bring in texture and depth. Sounds like your room is coming together quite nicely. Have fun!

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