God knows how long it's been since you've lived in a dorm, so why do you still struggle so much with decorating an adult space? We have one (big) guess: money. But there *is* a way to make your digs look chic on a dime. Enter: Caroline Burke.
Burke, 29, helped found the New York-based design firm Anna Burke with her sister in 2014 after living and working in the magazine industry in New York City. As such, she knows a thing or two about decorating (on a budget). Here, her quick and dirty tips to elevate your home's look.
1. When in doubt, paint it white. "The easiest and most inexpensive thing you can do to any space is paint it white! White paint neutralizes the backdrop to allow for existing pieces (that hand-me-down sofa and chair from your old roommate) to blend no matter what the color and pattern, and can also transform a dark apartment into a bright and clean gallery-like space. Plus, white just looks fresh, clean, and cool. I love Benjamin Moore White Dove for walls, ceilings, floors...it works everywhere."
2. Your biggest splurge should be your sofa. "I always recommend allocating the most money from your budget for a great sofa. One that fits your space perfectly, is comfortable enough for a Sunday movie marathon, and you're proud to show off when you have friends over for cocktails. Stick to a neutral palate and shy away from leather. Think white or tan linen, black velvet, gray wool...these classic fabrics will stand the test of time. I love the clean lines of this Apartment Sofa from CB2, and this classic mid century style sofa from Article."
3. Keep the biggies neutral—your color can come from cheap things you swap out. "I tell my friends to keep the entire scheme of their apartment or home neutral—white, tan, cream, black, gray—and add pops of color and pattern with things they can easily change if they don't like, AKA throw pillows, blankets, artwork—even a stack of colorful books can pack a huge punch in a neutral room. You're better off replacing a throw pillow in two years than replacing a whole furniture piece."
4. Don't get a small AF rug and think that it will make the room cozy. "Small rugs that don't fill out a bedroom or seating area scream "cheap." I would rather there be no rug than a postage-stamp-sized rug in a room—it makes the room feel small and unbalanced, and if your goal is to create warmth, you end up with the opposite effect: highlighting the areas of the floor that don't have rug beneath them. I would always recommend measuring the whole room, and seeing how large of a rug you *can* fit, and then arrange your furniture on top of *that*, not the other way around. I love a jute or natural fiber woven rug for a living space, and a wool or shaggy rug for the bedroom."
5. Lighting is key. "Lighting at all levels makes apartments feel warm and comforting. I incorporate as many table lamps as possible into my schemes, and recommend soft white bulbs (no halogens) for my clients to create a golden glow in a room. I love these lamps for bedside or on either side of a sofa—they are a steal and not cheap looking in person (I have them in my own apartment!)."
6. No art? Go for mirrors. "If you don't have the money to splurge on art, mirrors are a great way to fill your walls. Estate sales, antique fairs, and flea markets are also proven goldmines when it comes to wall decor—so hit them up whenever you have the chance!"
7. When it comes to online shopping, think outside the box. "I can't tell you how many items I've purchased for my clients on Etsy—from pillows and small accessories to large furniture pieces, you don't always have to shop at big-name retailers to find something fantastic."
8. Don't buy/accept items that are too big for your space. "Young people tend to always buy furniture pieces that are too big for the rooms around them. You always want to have at least 18 inches between your coffee table and sofa and or chairs, and at least 2 feet to walk around or behind a sofa arm or behind a dining chair. Anything that you're jamming into a space or squeezing to get past is probably too big."
9. Think purposefully about everything you're doing, especially in a small space. "I think young people get overzealous when it comes to decorating and tend to impulse buy (Oh, I love this one pillow...) but then they get it home, and it's too big for the sofa/bed/chair and doesn't go with anything else in the space. When you're young and decorating on a budget you must have a plan in place so things can look cohesive and not haphazard. I'm buying X sofa, need 4 throw pillows for that sofa, using 2 existing tables, and my existing club chair. If you stay organized like this, you won't impulsively buy items that don't work and look random."
Shop Caroline's favorite stores: West Elm, France & Son, CB2, Etsy, Wayfair, Ikea (for glassware, storage, and rugs), Cost Plus World Market, Serena & Lily
1. CB2 Piazza Apartment Sofa, $999; cb2.com
2. Safavieh Lamps, $164; overstock.com
3. nuLOOM Handmade Rug, $170; overstock.com
4. Ceni Article Sofa, $999; article.com
5.Hand-woven Jute Rug, $191; overstock.com
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Samantha Leal is the Deputy Editor at Well+Good, where she spends most of her day thinking of new ideas across platforms, bringing on new writers, overseeing the day-to-day of the website, and working with the awesome team to produce the best stories and packages. Before W+G, she was the Senior Web Editor for Marie Claire and the Deputy Editor for Latina.com, with bylines all over the internet. Graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University with a minor in African history, she’s written everything from travel guides to political op-eds to wine explainers (currently enrolled in the WSET program) to celebrity profiles. Find her online pretty much everywhere @samanthajoleal.
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