11 Apartment Therapy Editors Share What They Wish They Knew as First-Time Decorators

published Feb 28, 2022
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Are you moving into your first-ever apartment and wondering how to even begin to fill it with furniture and decor you love (and won’t regret a few months from now)? Make your way through our starter pack. This content was created independently by our editorial team and generously underwritten by the Toyota Corolla Cross.

Decorating your first apartment can be an intimidating process. Lots of questions are likely running through your mind: What do you want for your place, versus what do you absolutely need for your place? How exactly do you find your decorating style? And what’s your budget for furniture?

The thing is, there’s no real right or wrong answer to any of these questions, and you don’t have to arrive at the answers overnight. Your best strategy is to take your time and learn from the experiences of others. I asked a handful of my coworkers what they wished they had known when putting together their very first apartments, and I put my own two cents in as well. Hopefully, these kernels of wisdom will help to demystify the design process you’re about to embark on. 

1. Don’t forget to work your walls.

“In my first New York City apartment, we had such high ceilings so we had so much wall space, and I never thought to work vertically. I would tell myself to use that space more — not just for storage possibilities, but it’s also a nice way to display sentimental items instead of keeping them in boxes in a closet. It would have made a world of difference for both storage and design purposes.” —Nicoletta Richardson, Entertainment Editor

2. Be realistic about how long a project will take you.

“I’d tell myself to manage project time! The first time I did a big painting project on my own, I split it into multiple days. Rather than doing the first coat in one day, I did half the room in one day. It turned out fine, but there were definitely moments where it was looking uneven. I had to do a third coat in some spots because it dried looking different in some parts. So yes — managing project time!” —Megan Baker, Home Projects Director

3. Nothing is permanent.

“Not everything has to be set in stone. I went into decorating my first apartment thinking every piece of furniture and art was permanent, and I had to have it for a long time because I thought it’d be expensive to get replacements down the line. In retrospect, I’d tell myself you can change things, get new art, a nightstand, etc.” —Blair Donovan, Shopping Style Editor 

4. Go bigger when it comes to rugs.

“Little rugs aren’t going to cut it! I didn’t know rugs were supposed to be bigger, like an 8×10! I had one that was just big enough to put a coffee table on. Now I know that a room will look bigger, cleaner, and better when your rug is bigger, particularly in a living room and bedroom.” —Savannah West, Assistant Home Editor

5. Take the plunge and hang stuff up.

“Just put stuff on your walls! Even if you just do it with Command strips to test it out.” —Terri Pous, Managing Editor

6. Don’t worry about chasing trends.

“Buy the stuff you like, and take your time with purchases. Decorating isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon.” —Danielle Blundell, Executive Home Director

7. Talk to your landlord before making fixes or customizations. 

“It never occurred to me to ask permission to paint stuff. I painted all these wild things over the walls, and then my landlord came in, and I got in so much trouble. Look at your lease before you start going wild! No one taught me that, and I had to learn the hard way.” —Adrienne Breaux, House Tour Director

8. Add more light.

“Don’t forget about lamps — especially in a rental with crummy light and boring fixtures. Buy ones you love, and you can easily reuse them in different spots and rooms whenever you move.” —Alison Goldman, Special Projects Director

9. Rugs really anchor a space and are worth the splurge.

 “Every room I like or pin has a great rug. Rugs are expensive and an investment, so save up money to buy one, and buy one that goes with a lot of things and is timeless.” —Sarah Everett, Staff Writer

Credit: Samara Vise

10. Be patient.

“When I moved into my first apartment, I was against waiting to buy things I loved. I wanted it all to be perfect immediately and have it ready to go. Everything won’t come together after the first week of living there, no matter how hard you try, and that’s okay.” —Madeline Bilis, Real Estate Editor

11. A grown-up apartment can look different for different people. 

“When I moved into my second apartment (but the first one I decorated), I wanted it to look grown-up. It was boring compared to my taste now (rainbows and unicorns); it was very sage green and generic tea light holders — not me. I was trying to ‘be an adult.’ Find your own style, and that takes time to work it out, but trust your own judgment because there isn’t only one way to decorate.” —Tara Bellucci, News & Culture Director