First-Apartment Décor Ideas You Can Actually Afford

Whether you're just moving into your first apartment after college or starting over in a new city, furnishing an entire home from scratch can be a daunting process. You may know what you want your first apartment décor to look like, but your wallet may not be there to support your vision, leading to tough design decisions. Thankfully, there is an easy three-step roadmap to decorating a space from scratch, and it starts three months before the move-in date.

First, start putting together a design board, paying special attention to the prices and lead times of larger pieces and finding alternatives if they don't meet your needs or budget. Start ordering the larger pieces well ahead of the move date (about 10 weeks is ideal). Next, focus on the essential smaller pieces: storage, lighting, and accent tables. Lastly, take your time to put the finishing touches on your space, ensuring that your decorative accents reflect your taste and personality. You don't have to buy everything at once, but there are some first apartment décor ideas you should focus on before the rest.

In the Entryway

First Apartment Décor
Courtesy of Fantastic Frank

Entryways typically serve two functions: making a good first impression and keeping you organized as you walk in and out the door in the morning. At the end of the day, it doesn't take much to make this tiny space feel organized and welcoming. Start by tackling storage with a multipurpose coat rack and a catchall or tray. Add a console table or bench, and finish the space off with a small runner.

Your Starter Shopping List:

  • Coat rack
  • Console table or bench
  • Small runner
coat rack
CB2 Colby Quartz Wall Mounted Brass Coat Rack $70
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In the Kitchen

First Apartment Décor Ideas
Courtesy of Fantastic Frank

First apartment kitchens aren't typically the most appealing. It may be looking a little tired or cheap if the materials were installed with renters in mind. Beyond buying the cooking essentials you'll no doubt need, you can easily upgrade your space with hardware and paint. Add a small dining table if space allows, and adorn your countertop with pretty (but useful) storage containers. You can keep adding to your kitchen with art, herb planters, and pretty linens.

Your Starter Shopping List:

  • Hardware and paint
  • Small dining table and chairs
  • Storage canisters
pulls
Liberty Champagne Bar Drawer Pull $7
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In the Bedroom

First Apartment Decorating Ideas
Courtesy of Brady Tolbert

You may already have a mattress, but that doesn't mean it has to sit on the floor. The first thing your bedroom needs is a bed frame. If you're working on a budget, consider a DIY project like the one interior designer Brady Tolbert tackled in his bedroom. Add window treatments for privacy and darkness, and finish off with a nightstand (or two). Over the next several months, upgrade with new bedding, lighting, and a rug to anchor the space.

Your Starter Shopping List:

  • Bedframe
  • Nightstand
  • Window treatments
West Elm Fabric by the Yard $24
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In the Bathroom

Best First Apartment Décor
Zeke Ruelas ; DESIGN: Brady Tolbert

If your bathroom feels a little retro, work with it instead of against it. Designer Brady Tolbert illustrates this brilliantly in his Los Angeles bathroom, where he was inspired by the turquoise-and-beige scheme to create a tropical oasis. First and foremost, accent your space with pretty but useful items: fresh bath linens, wall storage, and a vanity mirror. You can always keep accessorizing with luxe bath products, sleek candles, and bath accessories, but the mantra here is less is more.

Your Starter Shopping List:

  • Bath linens
  • Extra storage
  • Mirror
Schoolhouse Brake Angle Shelf $149
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In the Living Room

Best First Apartment Décor Ideas
Courtesy of Fantastic Frank

The living room is probably where you'll spend the bulk of your budget, which is why it's important to segment your purchases over multiple months. Start with the things you simply cannot live without: a place to sit, a small coffee or accent table, and a source of light. Once you have that covered, you can keep adding to your space with rugs and pillows, artwork, and accent chairs. Once your bases are covered, you can start splurging a little more on smaller accent pieces (but not the other way around).

Your Starter Shopping List:

  • Sofa
  • Coffee or side table
  • Floor lamp
IKEA Gladom Table $20
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