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34 Apartment Decorating Ideas to Make Your First Rental Look and Feel Like Home

Your housewarming party will be picture-perfect.

By Hadley Mendelsohn and Medgina Saint-Elien
david frazier nyc apartment living room with limited space in this new york city apartment, designer david frazier divided the living room into two distinct zones lounging and eating paint simply white, benjamin moore dining table eero saarinen, knoll chairs lee industries slipper vintage french rattan vintage kaare klint safari pendant isamu noguchi bookcase scott antique markets ram’s head vintage, high point market
Gieves Anderson

Decorating your first apartment is a roller coaster of emotions. From accepting moving out of the house you grew up in or to a new state with friends, there are so many unknowns in your journey to feeling at home in your new space. What better way to shake off the nerves than decorating your apartment to feel and look like somewhere you can stay awhile? There are so many stylish apartment decorating ideas to help you make the most of your space. As you wait for the new living room sofa to arrive, plan out the layout of your tiny but mighty home.

There's so much to learn about decorating your space, so we tapped small-space designers to share projects that'll inspire you to think big even when you're low on room. With clever styling and storage hacks, you can fit everything you need without feeling cluttered, even if your kitchen can only seat two. Just be sure to triple confirm what you can and cannot do to transform your apartment for the better with your landlord before you pick up a hammer. Your parents will be in complete disbelief!

Below, you'll find gallery walls for displaying your memories from home and a genius minibar made out of a closet. We gathered 34 must-see apartment decorating ideas, ranging from low-lift upgrades to major makeovers that will grow with your evolving style. Here's proof that your first apartment can be design forward, unique, and filled with your personality. Cheers to your first housewarming party!


Don't Overlook Your Books

bookcase in room
Paul Raeside

A built-in bookcase, a comfy chair, and good lighting officially designate this whimsical corner as the perfect reading nook. Designed by Andrew Flesher, the white shiplap and butterfly print surrounding the bookcase offers a whimsy feel. Arrange the books by color and play around with the setup so there's always something fun to look at.


Mirror the Walls

green olive living room
Lisa Romerein

Putting mirrors on all your walls to bounce light is one of the best apartment decorating ideas to make a room feel twice as big. Choose a soothing color for a monochromatic theme, as designer Benjamin Dhong did here. The green monochrome approach prevents the room from looking busy while the distressed fireplace mantel treatment and rich velvets warm it up.


Lean Into Period Details

paris living room
Heidi Jean Feldman

Find inspiration in a Parisian apartment designed by Lichelle Silvestry, where luxe, warm, and texture-rich velvet seating further enhances the period elements. "I adore using materials that add character and authenticity to my interiors," Silvestry says. "It's a sensory feast."

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Organize Your Frames

apartment with art on walls
Jonny Valiant

See your wall art gallery from a new perspective! This Chicago apartment living room by interior designer Devin Kirk is a charming example of well-proportioned pairings. Mix frames of different colors and borders around your couch to encourage conversation and add personality.


Convert a Closet

bar in living room
Robert McKinley

Here's the ultimate party trick: Use a tiny coat closet as your living room's designated bar area. Your guests will be impressed as you step back to reveal a well-stocked bar. This one by Robert McKinley adds depth and intrigue, especially with the color-blocked hues.


Commit to Tile

black tile kitchen
Chris Mottalini

The galley kitchen in this New York City apartment designed by Nannette Brown is an absolute showstopper. The window floods the space with light that reflects off the black tile. Plus, it proves you can maximize your dining arrangements with a built-in bench.

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Keep Flowers Fresh

fresh flowers in bathroom
Anna Spiro Design

Nothing uplifts a room like a vase of fresh flowers! Even if you're the only person who will see them, keeping an arrangement in each room will make you (and the space, of course) feel ready to tackle the week ahead. Take a note from this bathroom by Anna Spiro Design, and opt for flowers that speak to a print used in the design.


Upgrade the Lighting

david frazier nyc apartment
living room
sheer curtains in fabricut acreage linen bathe
the main room in soft light sofa lee industries,
holland macrae in riva white fabric pillow
fabrics mokum in alpaca velvet gold zakfox
expedition plaid chair antique, laurin copen
antiques art from left mike rachlis, spencer
herr rug antique lamp workstead
Gieves Anderson

Designer David Frazier wanted to warm up and personalize the more generic bones of this New York City apartment to make it feel more like a home. He accomplished that by customizing the window treatments and installing a modern sconce, both of which add dimension to the walls and cast a more flattering light.


Approach It Holistically

living room with barn doors
Mylene Fernandes

Many railroad apartments have a windowless room at the center that connects the front and back rooms and relies on them for natural light. If you want to create separate zones or extra privacy, try a solution that doesn't create the extra problem of blocking light and flow. Here, Shari Frances did just that with frosted glass sliding barn doors. They're definitely not sound-proofed, but they won't block light like a solid door and will enhance your privacy.

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Pay Attention to Scale

small living room ideas
Heidi Caillier

In this open kitchen that's also the main living room and dining room, Heidi Cailier carved out distinct zones that still visually flow nicely together and don't overcrowd the room. She didn't sacrifice a dining table, but she did shrink it down to ensure that it doesn't cramp the living area's style.


Make Sure Everything Has Its Place

small bathroom
Shawn Henderson

Simplicity in layout and color scheme can often be best in smaller spaces, as proven in this tiny New York City bathroom designed by Shawn Henderson. This formula (pretty shelves, matching hardware, and simple, high-end accessories) is also always an easy win in a rental. High-end brackets that match the hardware and other surfaces will keep it feeling consistent. Oh, and a fancy room spray is always a plus too.


Split the Room Another Way

bedroom with curtain diving room

If you don't want to install sliding doors or it just isn't feasible in your apartment, consider placing a rod from wall to wall and then hang a curtain, as ETC.etera did here. In a studio, dividing your living and sleeping areas is the best way to make the place where you crash feel more like home. Get creative with room separators, opting for screens, benches, or even a tall bookcase.

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Set Up an Entryway

small apartment entryway with hooks and chair
Tamsin Johnson

You can make a small apartment work harder with just a few stylish items. And this is especially useful in a tiny entryway. Here, Tamsin Johnson Interiors chose two sculptural hooks for coats and bags, a slim and stylish basket for umbrellas, a chic accent chair for sliding in and out of shoes, and a mirror that dresses up the wall and also allows for last-minute touchups.


Prep It for Entertaining

chicago, il apartment of devin kirk, vp of merchandising at jayson home pantry bar wall paint hague blue, farrow  ball fabric road to canton, robert allen light vintage enamel from france glassware vintage and beldi from jayson home
Nicolas Gourguechon

In this Chicago apartment, designer and occupant Devin Kirk built a home bar in a small closet niche. He made it pop by painting it Hague Blue by Farrow & Ball, adding and a fabric skirt to conceal extra storage, and hanging matching wallpaper on the back cubby wall. Being ready to entertain and prepping your space accordingly is an easy way to make your apartment feel all grown-up.


Install Window Treatments

bedroom with orange pillow and window

Nothing shows you're adulting like window treatments that aren't made of paper or plastic. Design firm ETC.etera opted for striped Roman shades, but flowing curtains could also do the trick. Either way, the right window treatments will make your space feel more polished (and enable you to sleep in!).

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Personalize the Bathroom

bathroom with gallery wall
Alexander Reid

To make a rental feel more personal and homey, make your mark with a monogramed shower curtain, towels, or robe. Then add artwork and decor to polish it off. Alexander Reid used a garden stool and filled all the blank surface space with a gallery wall.


Spruce Up the Hallways

hallway with console florals and mirror
Danielle Colding Interiors

Your entryway might also be your kitchen, living room, and, well, basically everything but the bathroom. Or you might have a few awkward transitional zones like landings and hallways throughout the apartment. Either way, don't overlook those little little corners and nooks. Here, Danielle Colding chose a perfectly sized dresser and styled it with artwork, a vase, and a mirror, all of which reflect the colors featured in the rug.


Think About How You'll Use It

colorful home office
Bjorn Wallander

The biggest mistake you can make while furnishing your first apartment is not thinking about how you actually want to live in it. If you work from home, for example, establish a layout that prioritizes a home office, whether it has its own room or a designated corner by a window, like this one in designer Krsnaa Mehta's home. Do you like to cook and eat in or host dinner parties? A big dining table that can double as a workspace during the day might be better for you.

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Stock Your Kitchen

white kitchen with espresso machine
AP Design House

A home isn't quite a home without a well-stocked kitchen. The basic essentials include cookware, a coffee machine, a toaster, and fruit bowls, to name a few. If you have limited storage space and need to display appliances, consider investing in appliances (how pretty is this espresso machine in a kitchen by AP Design House?) that get the job done while also beautifying your countertops.


Splurge on a Headboard

bedroom with red and orange headboard
Arent & Pyke

Not only will a headboard and/or bed frame serve as a focal point in your bedroom, but it'll be a major upgrade from putting your mattress directly on the floor. You'll never have to rest your head against the wall again! For some guidance, take notes from this space designed by Arent & Pyke. The curves of this headboard along with the warm, deep colors ground the room and fill it with an edgy intensity, while pink linens soften things up.

Headshot of Hadley Mendelsohn
Hadley Mendelsohn

Hadley Mendelsohn is the co-host and executive producer of the podcast Dark House. When she's not busy writing about interiors, you can find her scouring vintage stores, reading, researching ghost stories, or stumbling about because she probably lost her glasses again. Along with interior design, she writes about everything from travel to entertainment, beauty, social issues, relationships, fashion, food, and on very special occasions, witches, ghosts, and other Halloween haunts. Her work has also been published in MyDomaine, Who What Wear, Man Repeller, Matches Fashion, Byrdie, and more.  

Headshot of Medgina Saint-Elien
Senior Market and Partnerships Editor

Medgina Saint-Elien covers everything your home needs. She writes about exciting new product launches, hands-on reviews, and the "lightbulb" moments in every maker's story. In overseeing key HB editorial franchises, including the Live Better Awards, Saint-Elien champions the work of BIPOC entrepreneurs in the design and beauty industries. In addition to House Beautiful, her work has been published in Byrdie, Snapchat, and more. Outside of work, the writer and poet can be found documenting her travels on social media and saving memes for future use.

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