19 Ideas to Steal for Your Apartment

Living in a small space is tough, especially when your decorating options are limited by rental rules and landlord laws. Let these ideas inspire you to make the home (and space) you want.

By Joanna Smith

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living room facing sofa
Open-Air Furnishings

    It's tough to maintain openness in a crowded apartment room, but choosing armless furniture helps create an airy, unfettered look, giving the illusion of more space. Armed with an appropriate sofa, try these room-arranging tips that make the most of your space without limiting traffic patterns:

    -- Place a rug in the middle of the room. The rug will act as an island, anchoring your furniture.

    -- Let the sofa "float" in the middle of the room (front legs on the rug, back legs off) so the room can be accessed from all sides.

    -- Place a coffee table or two in front of the sofa and a TV stand against the wall beyond that.

Back Up Your Furniture

    "Floating" furniture makes for a great floor plan, but it leaves a wide expanse of boring sofa-back in the open. Use that dead space to your advantage:

    -- Slip a slim glass-top console behind the sofa for a small home office area.

    -- Search thrift stores or flea markets for a chair that slides easily beneath the table. (Hint: Paint it a vibrant color.)

    -- When entertaining, stash the chair against the wall and use the desk as a food buffet.

Curtained Bookshelves

    One thing apartments often have going for them is open wall space. Rework a pair of sturdy bookshelves into an attractive storage wall:

    -- Cover them with curtains that match or complement your window treatments (for an extra touch, try pinning a wire sunburst or other lightweight art to the fabric, like we did here).

    -- Place the shelves side by side, or use a floor-length mirror to separate them and give the illusion that the room expands past the shelves.

    -- To make your ceilings seem taller, hang the curtains from the ceiling rather than from the top of the bookshelf.

Find Versatile Furniture

    Can't find a spot for extra pillows and throws?

    -- Go low with scootable ottomans that seat and store. They can pull extra duty as a side table, too, with a tray on top.

    -- When shopping for accessories, look for pieces with texture to make up for the lack of architectural detail in most apartments.

Exploit Your Kitchen Walls

    Prevent crowding on less-than-roomy kitchen counters by looking to the walls for storage.

    -- A magnetic strip mounted on the wall provides a resting place for knives. (Use common sense: Make sure the magnet you use is strong and out of reach of children.)

    -- Hang a line of hooks close to the ceiling to organize space-hogging pots and pans.

    -- Perch rarely used small kitchen appliances or large pots above the kitchen cupboards.

Hide Unattractive Storage

    You might be lacking a dedicated home office, but you probably still have a set of unsightly steel file cabinets that need a home. Cover them up (and gain a convenient side board) with this easy technique:

    -- Measure fabric to the length and width you need for whatever you're covering.

    -- Use hook-and-loop tape to attach the fabric to the cabinet.

    -- Try skirting tables and small bookshelves for an instant storage or eyesore cover-up.

Keep Loose Paper at Bay

    Sometimes there's just not room for everything. A small apartment requires you to get serious about organizing, starting with space-consuming paperwork.

    -- Dig out all the boxes of paperwork and piles of bills (both paid and unpaid) you've been hoarding and start to purge.

    -- Separate items into three categories: "toss," "keep," and "maybe." Then think about storage.

    -- A simple Parsons table leaves plenty of room for color-coordinated storage boxes underneath and office supplies up top.

Smart Home Office

    Living room? Yes. Large home office? Yes. Is this really an apartment? Yes, and you can steal these great ideas to make your own rooms pull double duty:

    -- Mount open shelving the length of the room all the way to ceiling.

    -- Rest a glass top or melamine sheet over short file cabinets, then cover with fabric and hook-and-loop tape to create a long desktop.

    -- Coordinate boxes, binders, and files with your overall color scheme.

    -- Hide printers, faxers, and other electronics beneath the desk.

Undersink Know-How

    Think above and below for finding extra storage: above bookcases, cabinets, and shelves, and below sinks, countertops, and tables. Keep all the stuff organized with these tips:

    -- Slip discount store plastic shelves where they fit to separate dish towels, washcloths, and cleaning supplies.

    -- Find a diminutive file cabinet and use it to store house records or take out the folders and use the cabinet as extra kitchen drawers.

    -- Put numbered labels on everything and write a coordinating list. Example: "1: Washcloths, 2: Extra utensils." This way, if you ever switch out drawer contents, you don't need to relabel, just rewrite.

Best Use of Awkward Corners

    If your living room must double as a home office, don't let the work space overpower the room. Get rid of your shaky college desk and try this instead:

    -- Top spacious file cabinets with an inexpensive sheet of melamine for lots of storage space and minimal impact on the rest of the room.

    -- Help the area blend with the rest of the room by adding accessories, such as a thrift-store lamp with a new shade.

Original Bookshelf Use

    Co-opt small spots of empty wall for attractive storage.

    -- Find (or build) a bookcase that fits the wall space.

    -- Fill with matching baskets or containers. We used canvas bins and dropped in numbered labels (a coordinating "key" tucks into the first basket).

Space-Conserving Seating

    Most apartment living rooms have space for a sofa, coffee table, and maybe a chair -- definitely not enough seating for hosting a group of friends. Solve the problem with fabric-covered cushions that make sitting on the floor not a big deal. When they're not needed, the cushions can be stacked and stowed.

    -- Purchase foam cushions of the thickness and size you need.

    -- Search remnant piles and discount stores for pretty fabric that matches your decor.

    -- Wrap the fabric around the cushion and hot glue in place.

Be Storage-Savvy

    Extra cabinets and closets are a rarity in apartments, so make do with your own storage shelves. To make them as pretty as they are functional, try these five tips:

    -- Group books and dishes by size and color for artful impact.

    -- Corral thin, busy-looking items, such as papers, magazines, and CDs, inside stylish boxes.

    -- Start filling shelves at eye level, a natural focal point. Add punch with colorful accessories.

    -- Don't cram shelves full -- it's not attractive. Leave some breathing room between objects.

    -- Mementos add your personal style. Tuck in photos, shells, souvenirs, and other trinkets you adore.

Bare Wall Cover-Up

    Dingy white walls are a trademark of apartments and rentals. Cover them up and create a neat picture display with this DIY idea:

    -- Staple fabric over a piece of corkboard (available at office supply stores).

    -- Hang on the wall and pin pictures, swatches, or clippings to it.

    -- Rim with ribbon or paper for a framed look, or just leave as is.

No-Hole Art

    It's a common dilemma among renters: How do you include art in your home without losing your deposit money because of holes in the walls?

    -- Art doesn't have to be the framed, put-a-hole-in-the-wall variety.

    -- Collect objects that highlight an interest, such as this surfboard, and use them to add oomph and color to a room.

Craft Hideaway

    Projects in progress can really mess with your orderly living area.

    -- Group all your supplies in one shelving unit and tuck it into a corner.

    -- Cover it with a cut-up coverlet and hook-and-loop tape (cut an additional piece to wrap around the shelf).

    -- Use the top as a side table and accessorize it to match the rest of your living area.

Focus on Details

    It's the little things that make a white-box rental a home. Try these easy ideas to send the message that the space belongs to you, not your landlord.

    -- Add graphic accent pillows to the couch and any chairs.

    -- Invest in several rugs to cover up standard apartment flooring.

    -- Place a table lamp on top of a stack of books to show your home is anything but cookie-cutter.

Make Your Own Coffee Table

    Apartment-standard, cramped kitchen and dining areas don't leave a lot of room for entertaining. Enlist the living room when guests knock on the door:

    -- Shove a pair ottomans together to make an impromptu coffee table.

    -- Top with a piece of glass (or a large mirror) to create a place to spread food when entertaining.

    By the way, don't overlook the power of accessories. Here, a simple white birch branch in the corner stands as an unusual, but surprisingly modern, accessory.

Light Fixture Fix-Up

    Standard apartment dish light fixtures leave much to be desired. Temporarily replacing them with your own looks great, but then you have to store the originals and risk breaking them. Try this unbelievably easy cover-up instead:

    -- Tack a scarf or square of neat fabric to the ceiling over the light fixture. The fabric hangs far enough down that it won't heat up or scorch, and the pretty colored light shines through below.

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