Decorating a rental apartment raises a unique set of questions. How do you furnish an entire living room while still being able to make rent? Should you invest in a sectional at the risk of it not properly fitting into your next apartment? How do you make a space look and feel like your own without sacrificing your security deposit?
To help answer these tricky decorating questions, we turned to Los Angeles–based interior designer, Genna Margolis of Shapeside, to gain expert advice on how to make a rental apartment look luxe on an IKEA budget.
Meet the Expert
Genna Margolis worked with highly-respected designers in New York and Los Angeles before opening business, Shapeside. With her roots in the Southern California sunshine, Margolis merges her love of fan aesthetics and organic elements to create a one-of-a-kind New York style.
Ahead, Margolis gives us a master class in budget decorating, including how to choose a color scheme that looks expensive and the one item you should never skimp on (even when you're on the tightest of budgets).
Keep scrolling to step inside a chic 1600-square-foot West Hollywood apartment that the interior designer updated for under $13,000 as she walks us through the basics of budget decorating. From the living room to the primary bedroom, here's exactly how to stretch your dollar when you're decorating on a dime.
The term "Primary Bedroom" is now widely used to describe the largest bedroom in the home, as it better reflects the space’s purpose. Many realtors, architects, interior designers, and the Real Estate Standards Association have recognized the potentially discriminatory connotations in the term "Master." Read more about our Diversity and Inclusion Pledge.
When you don't have a lot to spend, Margolis recommends opting for furnishings in neutral colors. To make a space to look luxe, "Avoid color first and foremost," the interior designer cautions. "If it isn't expensive, the color will immediately reveal that it's a cheap fabric," warns Margolis.
That being said, if there's one item you should never skimp on, it's your sofa. "It takes up the most space in your living room, is the piece of furniture that's used the most often, and is most likely the first thing you see when you enter your home," Margolis explains. "It will set the tone and design for the rest of your space."
When it comes to furnishing a rental, a little bit of planning can go a long way. "Think about the best ways to design a room with the least amount of furniture," recommends Margolis. "That way you can use your budget to spend a little more on each piece and focus on each item being interesting and different," the interior designer recommends.
Take for example the rattan counter stools in this kitchen, which prevent the white space from feeling basic and sterile. "You want to avoid investing in anything cookie-cutter—it is one of the biggest indicators of a cheaper, poorly designed room," notes Margolis. "The more unique a design, the more expensive it will look," she explains.
In rentals with limited square footage, the bedroom can be particularly challenging space to furnish. To style a room that feels warm and spacious, Margolis recommends layering various textures in a neutral color palette, as she did with linens and pillows in this West Hollywood rental.
This tight bedroom with low ceilings is also the perfect example of how to make the most of a small space with creative furnishing solutions. "Traditional nightstands and lamps were not a fit for this space, so we changed things up with fun side tables and plug-in sconces instead," notes Margolis.
When it comes to shopping on a budget, you don't have to go secondhand shopping in order to find a great deal. "I am not a flea market person," confesses Margolis. "I like every piece to have a purpose, and it can take a very long time to find the right thing," she explains. "Instead, check websites like AllModern; it literally has everything. Overstock has some great rugs, and Urban Outfitters and IKEA are great as well," recommends Margolis.
What's the biggest rookie rental-decorating mistake to avoid? "Don't overdecorate," says Margolis. Rather than placing a side table in an empty corner, add a plant instead, she notes. "The best way to save money while keeping your space feeling designed is bringing the outside in," recommends the interior designer. "There can never be enough plants," she notes.
Finding art on a budget is tough, concedes Margolis, but it's certainly not impossible. "Large-scale art is a really great way to fill space, but it can be very expensive," Margolis points out. "I suggest finding stock images and working with a third-party printer for sourcing and framing large-scale art," she recommends. To create a gallery wall in the office of this West Hollywood rental, the designer sourced artwork from Minted, Society 6, and even printed digital art from Etsy and framed it herself.
Given that art can be hard to source, think outside the box, suggests Margolis. "Don't just hang art on a wall to fill space. Do something different," the designer recommends. "Hanging rugs or patterned throws are a great way to add texture to your space while filling blank walls," she advises.
For this project, Margolis arranged baskets in a unique shape as a statement piece, which makes the living room feel unique and different. It "is possible to design spaces on a budget," stresses Margolis. "The real key to making it work is having inspiration and direction from the get-go and building from there," she says. "A vision is a must!"