Before & After: A Dull Dorm Apartment’s Remarkable Makeover Cost Less Than $1000
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Name: Erica Massey and my dog, Deacon, a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois
Location: Gunnison, Colorado
Size: 1000 square feet
Years Lived In: Only three weeks, renting
Fresh out of grad school, I’ve just moved from Texas to Gunnison (near Crested Butte), Colorado to begin a visiting professor position at Western Colorado University. It’s a gorgeous town and a fantastic university, but housing is difficult to find. I was lucky to secure a faculty-in-residence position, meaning the university provided me with a low-cost two-bedroom apartment in one of their dorms.
The good: Location! (a three-minute walk from my office and the building I’ll be teaching in, as well as within a mile walk from all the necessities on main street), the building also hosts the community garden (shout out to the @westernorganicsguild), and all my windows have a garden view. The windows are, themselves, quite lovely. They are all big and easy to open to let in mountain air. Basically, the place has great bones.
The not-as-good: It’s a furnished dorm apartment, meaning the aesthetics are utilitarian, if not austere. I need my space to be cozy and cheerful. Thus, my goal was to transform the apartment into something that looked a little less like a dorm and a little more like a home without making any permanent changes and spending as little money as possible. My goal was to spend less than $1000 decorating and furnishing the apartment. And I came in under budget! As a breakdown, I spent on each room:
- Bathroom: less than $50
- Kitchen: less than $200
- Bedroom: less than $250
- Living Room: less than $300
- Yoga/library space: less than $175
Total: Less than $975! You can see more of her home’s makeover on her YouTube channel.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: I’m not sure. I lean toward a sort of cozy industrial aesthetic, unless it’s a bathroom where I prefer minimalist, but colorful, decor. Whatever makes me feel comfortable, really.
Inspiration: I just arrived, looked at the space, considered the few furnishings I’d brought with me in my car from Texas, and then started making plans. I’ve always had a vivid imagination, so the planning is the easy part. The “finding things that fit the plan in budget” is the hard part!
Favorite Element: The “sectional” sofa! The apartment came with a green couch that honestly wasn’t that bad for furnished dorm furniture, but I still wasn’t a fan. So I used a cover (Amazon, $40) to transform it. I also found an ottoman on Facebook Marketplace for $5 and used a matching cover ($20) to make it look like the couch was a sectional. A few of the pillow covers I already had, the rest I found at the thrift stores here in town (shout out to Boom-A-Rang and Six Points!), at garage sales, or on FB marketplace, and I filled the covers with cushions or inserts from the thrift store (after sanitizing of course!). All those cute pillow cases are harboring a lot of clashing florals. But they were florals that cost $1-2 a piece! It’s such a nice cozy place now (with a view of the garden) and I imagine I will do most of my grading tucked under a blanket on that sectional.
Biggest Challenge: The kitchen had very little counter space. For most students that wouldn’t be a problem, but I’m a baker, so at the very least I needed a few feet of prep space. I also wanted it to feel more modern/industrial, and I wanted to do it for less than $200. I used concrete-look contact paper on the floor (with a coat of Polycrylic over top to seal it), black wood contact paper on the cabinets, brown wood contact paper on the counter, and press and stick tile on the back splash. Then I went to Home Depot and got some lumber to make the little kitchen island. I asked if I could get a discount for any lumber that had visible defects, which they were kind enough to accommodate (they also cut the wood for me for free), so I was able to make the island for less than $20. Thanks to Walmart (the soap dispenser) and thrift store finds I was able to pick up all the other kitchen wares and decorative items I needed and still stay under budget.
Proudest DIY: I’m really proud of the hexagon shelves in the living room. I made them with my dad before I left Texas and they traveled in the car with me to Colorado. In general, I’m also proud of the art that I made or DIY’ed (which is most of it!). The painting in the kitchen I got for $3 from the thrift store; I then used a chalk marker to write my favorite John Steinbeck quote on it. The fox and rabbit, do no harm but take no shit, and the Hemingway quote I made using permanent marker and thrift store frames. I’m also pretty pleased with how the bookcase turned out (the wood, black spray paint, and cinder blocks totaled just under $100); it’s very sturdy and doesn’t look out-of-place like I’d feared. Oh and the lamp in the bedroom! I picked up a gigantic hanging seashell… thing… at a garage sale for $5. I shortened it by about three feet, added a lamp cord, and turned it into hanging a lamp. Big fan of that one.
Biggest Indulgence: My vision for the living room required a wicker chair. After two weeks of searching thrift stores, Amazon, and FB for a cheap option, I decided to purchase one from Target for $140. I still managed to stay under budget thanks to all my thrift store art-finds, but that chair got me close to the cap. I think it was worth it.
Best Advice: When laying down contact paper, always use the Windex+squeegee method: Spray the area with a light coating of Windex (which will allow you to reposition without a headache) then use a squeegee to smooth out all bubbles/squeeze out any remaining Windex at the end. It will save you so much time and frustration! Also, if you’re putting contact paper on the floor, make sure to put a coat of Polycrylic on top to seal it.
What’s your best home secret? Don’t spend money you don’t have. I know that’s probably lame, but I made a very firm budget call and I stuck to it, even when I found cute things that would have been perfect for the space. I still ended up with an awesome home and I have money left over that I can now use for gas to go on a hiking adventure and zero guilt or concern about paying other bills.
A good portion of the things I used for decoration came from thrift stores, garage sales, and Facebook Marketplace (or I made it). Everything else I’ve listed below: