Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dwelling On Sprucing Your Dwelling? Thrifty Tips.

Decorating on a budget.
The conventional wisdom that apartments should be minimal, temporary-looking spaces is in no way an absolute - they can easily be made to have the feel of a well lived-in home. Apartment living is a great way to save money and allow for freedom of mobility. Sprucing up your abode cheaply will brighten your mood when you have guests, or simply let you enjoy it better on your own. Here are some ideas and resources to help decorate your apartment nicely on a budget, while also reducing your negative impact on the environment.

Sales and collecting: Yard, garage, and discount stores are the best place to find home furnishings for cheap. Furniture, wall art, and storage items don’t need to be bought brand new. You can find beds and couches and revive them with mattress covers and slip covers. Décor doesn’t even have to be purchased. Do you collect classic vinyl records, movie posters or have a collection of vintage bottles? Why not use them as décor in your apartment? Put them on display walls, in shadow boxes, or on a shelf to bring instant personalized home furnishings to your apartment. You will be surprised how collections can be an innovative focal point for a room.

A friend of my wife was on the Today Show this morning because she represents ranks of people called "hoarders." A lot of Americans seem to be holding on to sentimental things more today than ever, and not necessarily as the result of some newly declared nationwide neurosis. I use more sensitive sounding terms like "enthusiast," or "preservationist," or "collector" to describe them, especially since I'm married to one.

Websites and classifieds: Websites like Craigslist, Backpages, and other free online classifieds are a great resource for finding home furnishings. Not everybody can hold on to belongings these days. People are often moving out of their homes and need to get rid of items fast and cheaply. Here in Philly, one can find online "swap" groups like Philly Freecycle, which is part of a nationwide Freecycle Network started in Tucson in 2003 to promote waste reduction in Tucson's downtown and help save desert landscape from being taken over by landfills.

Other resources such as Estate sales are published in online classifieds as well. Estate sales often sell items from someone who has passed away, but they can also be from those who can no longer financially afford their belongings. Take advantage of these because you may discover one of a kind bargains.

The diy planet: It's quite likely that you and some friends may be able to assemble anything you put your mind to. Do it yourself tables, chairs, and entertainment centers can save you money. Ikea, for example, has décor and storage ideas for every budget, and every assembly skill level. They also claim to be eco-friendly because they use a certain amount of recycled materials and less toxic binding agents.

But if you're truly interested in saving the planet's dwindling resources, keep in mind that it requires energy to recycle, so the idea that a cheap, toss-away, recycling culture will get us all off the hook from further degradation of our environment is somewhat misleading. Recycling is good, but Re-use, re-appropriation, and swap is my recommendation, whenever possible. I often shop for antiques, vintage pieces or go to thrift stores, I bring my own re-usable cup to the coffee shop, and use an aluminum water bottle over recyclable/disposable plastic ones... Perhaps, someday, we'll see the return of the milkman and his refilled glass bottles at our doorstep, just like on Leave It To Beaver.

Nicely balanced palette of blues, browns, and neutrals.
To acquire pre-owned furniture, vintage shops like Vintage Modern here in Philadelphia offer a great assortment of quality home furnishings that haven't hit the often pricey 100-year antique mark.

If you prefer something new and can afford more than the Ikea variety, consider investing in furniture that will last for generations - I still utilize my father's beautifully crafted, hand-me-down Eames era desk from the 1950's. Places like Pompanoosuc Mills with its local showroom in Manayunk are great examples of new, built-to-last furniture - and their prices are not off the charts. They make good solid wood pieces, custom made from Vermont Forest Stewardship Council wood sources. They've been at it since 1973, and green before the term was ever conceived as a marketing ploy.     

Add and coordinate color: A fresh, nicely thought out color scheme is likely to give to the most prominent indication that you've done a makeover. Adding color to your apartment with bed and bath accessories can change the atmosphere immediately. Coordinating bed linens, curtains, and an area rug can pull together a dull space with minimal effort and expense. Matching towels, bath rugs, and shower curtains will help you feel and look good in your bathroom.

Ikea space saver.
Efficient use of space: If you're downsizing from a larger space, or taking on guests - a reality of these tough economic times - there are several ways to help make the best use of those spaces. Loft beds are a cheap way to accommodate several people in a small space. Loft beds are reminiscent of bunk beds, which take advantage of vertical space. The items can be bought at furniture stores, garage sales, or check college dorm and apartment bulletin boards for quick sales. Even if you don’t have a lot of people in your apartment, the beds can be utilized to straddle a desk area beneath to save valuable space in your bedroom.

Under-bed storage and multi-purpose furniture, such as sofa-beds, or coffee tables that expand and convert into office desks, with filing chambers and more, are great for small space situations. And many of these can be found at affordable stores such as Ikea. A nice series of convertible coffee table/desks is sold through local American Signature Furniture stores.

Likewise, while visiting my mother recently in Chicago at her quaint, efficient condo, she demonstrated how her sunlit kitchen table could easily become an improvised office desk, when needed. This I found especially beneficial because it allows natural light onto the workspace, and brings the office into a generally uplifting environment - the hearth. It also solves the problem of her traditional office desk, as beautiful a piece of Chippendale style furniture you could imagine, from facing a blank wall. She prefers the kitchen table instead because it allows for a variety of seating focal points from which to choose.

There was a time when designers often drew distinct boundaries between eating, sleeping, and work environments. To some degree, events of the last few years have made us rethink those psychological aspects of space planning and proxemics - at least I have.

With the use of the right resources for quality items one can decorate an apartment without having to peel off a lot of Ben Franklins. There is always someone moving in and out of apartments and homes, perhaps more so than ever. These tough times have created many money saving opportunities and resources, as ironic as that might sound. You might as well make use of them to help your wallet and help the environment at the same time.--D.A. DeMers

Coming soon to designer in exile - the magnificent landscape design of Chicago's Botanic Gardens. Would Daniel Burnham be proud? 

And be sure to visit my new site, Home Science, for professional energy saving advice on your digs.


Image credits: Top dining room, share alike license, owner does not necessarily share opinions on this page. Classifieds, share alike license. Craft room, share alike license, owner does not necessarily share opinions on this page. Contemporary room, share alike license. Loft bed, share alike license. Ikea, share alike license. Eco-smart dining table, share alike license.

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  1. Hi Douglas! I agree that good furniture selection and efficient space management are the best means to decorate one's loft. Long term or short term apartment rentals (NYC and other cities) are quite common. Some leases have only limited space so it is up to the tenant to creatively decorate the room to make it appear spacious and cozy. My brother is renting a pad with his friends. They are still re-modeling the place. I was trying to find some tips that can help them when I came across your article. Thanks!

  2. I welcome the addition of any other helpful ideas or resources regarding this topic.