Whether you’re living in a studio apartment by necessity or by choice, there are many steps you can take to spruce up the space with cheap decorations. Each studio apartment is different, but they all feature a common component: one large room where you’ll be living, sleeping, and eating. Because a studio apartment is an intimate personal space but also your “public” home, it’s important to get the decorations just right. If you’re on a budget, fear not. Decorating your studio can be cheap and fun. These twelve ideas will help transform your studio apartment into someplace spacious yet cozy, as written by Ivy and Wilde.
1. Choose dual-function items. The best way to save space and money on decorations is to choose items that have more than one purpose. For example, a chest can serve as a coffee table and a storage space for bedding. Rather than paying for (and cluttering your space with) two different pieces of furniture, you can benefit from items that have multiple uses.
Another example of dual functionality in a studio apartment: Let’s say that you need a workspace for your computer as well as a place to eat dinner. Rather than spending money on a cheap desk and a table with two chairs, combine the two functions into one. A simple, broad table with two sturdy chairs can function as a desk for a laptop computer, but it can easily be cleared off for a romantic meal with your significant other. Just designate a second home for your laptop on a bookshelf, and your desk becomes a dinner table without taking up extra room.
2. Consider wire/metal shelving. Sold cheaply in stores like Target, these easy-to-assemble shelving units have several advantages. Typically coming in black, white, and silver colors, they’re strong enough to hold small televisions, books, and all kinds of other items. At the same time, they have a lighter, open feeling compared to their wood and laminate peers, making your little studio feel more spacious. Rather than hiding your things in cabinets and drawers and then decorating with additional items, let your stuff be exposed (neatly). That way, your belongings actually become the decorations. This works well with books, CDs, kitchen items, and even some clothing. I’ve found black wire shelves to be especially funky-looking when coupled with inexpensive black-rimmed picture frames on the walls.
Example: Instead of a heavy, expensive dresser, buy a cheap wire shelving unit and roll up all your sweaters, sweatshirts, and t-shirts into tube-like shapes. Stack these rolls into colorful pyramids, and then you won’t need to shove all of your clothes into your closet because some of them are functioning as cheap décor.
3. Buy a few cheap stools. At stores like Ikea, you can get cheap, colorful stools for as little as $5 apiece. If you have a studio apartment, chances are that you won’t be hosting huge parties due to space limitations. On the occasions when you do have people over, a few low stools will accommodate everyone. Besides serving as makeshift seats, stools further the concept of dual functionality because they can become footrests for a futon. They’re also modular: easy to stack and easy to move. The two $5 stools I picked up on a whim at Ikea have been indispensable in my own colorful studio apartment.
4. Find some rag rugs. It amazes me that more people don’t love these colorful, super-cheap rugs as decorations. If you’re unsure what I am talking about, visit your local dollar store, Wal-Mart, or thrift store and you’ll see mat-sized rugs made of strips gaily colored scrap fabric threaded together for as little as $2. They’re light and very soft, especially if you wash them once before placing them on the floor. After a washing, rag rugs take on a pleasing tattered look that actually adds some texture and character to a hardwood floor. I’ve used them as bath mats, shoe-driers, kitchen mats, and even bed-side rugs. For more unusual, dirt-cheap wall “art,” try hanging a few of these rag rugs on the wall side-by-side. They can be found in all kinds of colors, but I have tended to see lots of blue, white, and brown strips with accents of reds, yellows, and greens at odd intervals. Search around town a bit and you may even find larger versions of these rag rugs for about $10, though it’s hard to find any that are big enough to cover a whole room.
5. Post a bulletin board. I am not just recommending a bulletin board because I was a resident advisor in my college dorm who was forced to decorate a giant corkboard every month. Bulletin boards make cheap, useful decorations, especially if you cover them with buttons, stickers, and assorted doodads. A friend of mine keeps a small corkboard on his studio apartment wall where he posts amusing headlines from The Onion in between metal bottle caps and a few well-chosen bumper stickers.
6. Find wooden crates. We’ve all seen milk crates made of wire and plastic, especially common in college dorm rooms. But if you search for them, you can find wooden crates too. And I’m not talking about store-bought crates designed to look authentic and kitschy. I’m talking about the real deal. If you’ve got a friend with liquor or grocery store connections, or if you want to go dumpster-diving, these cheap storage devices can also be conversation pieces. If you’re lucky, you’ll find something with a nifty logo on the side. Use them to hold CDs, records, clothes, and even shoes.
7. Don’t buy conventional curtains. First of all, good curtains can be expensive, and cheap curtains tend to be corny instead of cool. You’re also stuck buying rods and screwing stuff into walls. If your studio apartment comes with blinds or a shade, consider letting the sun-blockers stay on their own. If that’s too spartan for you or if your windows are totally bare, you can fashion cheap curtains yourself out of everything from national flags to the aforementioned rag rugs. I hung the flag of Slovakia in my window such that the reds and blues in it tint and soften the natural light without darkening the room excessively.
8. Paint the walls! If your rental company or landlord allows you to paint the walls, consider a cheap change of color. White walls, though a little boring, do make rooms look bright and airy, especially if you don’t have a lot of natural light penetrating your windows. Soft, cool colors can also enlarge and lighten a room that feels small. My personal favourites are light greens, yellows, and blues. When selecting a color, think about how much sun you get, the colors of your major items (chair, futon, rug, wall art, etc.), and your personality. Paint is quite inexpensive, and it can totally change the feeling of a space. If you’re renting a studio apartment, the good news is that it won’t even take that long to roll over the walls. And if having all four walls the same color seems boring, consider an “accent” wall for contrast.
9. Paint something else! When you visit a thrift store looking for cheap furnishings, remember that even really ugly, scratched-up wood can often be spraypainted to match a color theme or to just cover up flaws. Should you locate a chest, table, desk, or any other wood (or even wicker) item, you can usually spraypaint it to create something more kitsch. Since spraypaint will only run you a few dollars, you won’t bust your budget decorating this way.
10. Buy some cheap mirrors. Even if you’re not a self-admiring beauty, mirrors are generally inexpensive and practical decorations. They have the added advantage of making spaces look larger when they’re well-placed. Thrift stores are excellent places to hunt for mirrors, but you can get wall-length mirrors at discount stores for as little as $5.
11. Cover walls with record covers. If you can’t afford to frame a bunch of prints, stop by a thrift store that sells old vinyl records. Even if they’re scratched or worn, you can use the album covers (or the records themselves) to decorate the walls. Whether you find Al Jarreau, Jackson 5, Madonna, Styx, the Beatles, or something more obscure, you’re bound to come across music that will impress guests while reflecting your personality. I’ve been holding onto a Genesis album cover forever just because it features some yellow objects that look like geometric pieces from the popular 1980’s board game Perfection!
12. Try colored light bulbs. Friends have accused me of loving odd lighting, and so they weren’t surprised when I swapped out the clear bulbs in my otherwise ugly ceiling fan for red bulbs. Like many studio apartment dwellers, I never relied on the overhead light provided by my rental company anyway because it’s so harsh and sterile. For about $5, you can pick up several colored bulbs that will cast a pleasant glow when combined with other indirect white lights.