This is another post that stemmed from a reader request. I’m hoping this one is especially awesome for those just beginning their home journey or first-time homeowners. I also think it might be insightful for those of you who plan to renovate someday, but are saving and embracing your home as-is in the meantime. Click through to read the initial message that sparked this post, and check out my tips for making a temporary living situation feel like home. After all- we all want our living spaces to reflect our interests, personality, creativity, and lifestyle.
First, I’ll share the inquiry I received from a reader, which prompted this post…
“My husband and I are newlyweds– all this to say, we have been and will continue to live in an apartment for the next couple years. While we are in this transition phase, I find it difficult to express my own personal style in cookie cutter, awkward, cheesy, plain, or poorly designed apartments. Do you think you could write a post on how to overcome some of these boundaries presented with temporary living spaces? The last apartment we were in felt like a temporary space we were passing through, and I really want to put my efforts toward making our new place a comfortable and inviting place to live.”
I remember our younger, engaged and newlywed days… it was such an exciting chapter in our lives! I also remember not having a permanent place to call our own. Emmett and I spent time as apartment dwellers for a bit. We even had to move back in with family for a few months while renovating our first home. During these transitional periods, it can certainly be difficult to embrace “home”- whatever that looks like at a given point in time. I’ve moved quite a bit over the years… 5 times during design school / college, and 5 times during my adult life. Each place I landed, I put in effort to make those cookie cutter spaces feel more like me. I think that’s the key. I’ll share some tips that come to mind below. The images you’re seeing here in the intro is the kitchen in our our very first home, by the way.
Commit to Enjoying the Space While You’re There
To me… in addition to design and aesthetics, home FEELS like home because of the people (also pets) and memories made under that roof. Cook in the kitchen, have a candlelit dinner, plan a movie night with awesome snacks, start a new routine (example- listening to music and making craft cocktails on Fridays), and try to adjust your mindset. Instead of thinking of this place as “a stop on your way to a better, more permanent living space”, make small efforts to enjoy what you have currently have. I lived in an apartment during school for many years and lots of my friends didn’t take the time to personalize or make their spaces their own. I asked some of them why and was always met with a similar response: it’s too much work if we’ll be moving on someday. I believe a space will always feel temporary if you don’t commit to loving it the best you can while you’re there. That means claiming it and making it your own. Obviously this won’t look like a full-fledged renovation, but you could definitely paint, hang art, and style furniture & decor that fits your personal aesthetic.
Spend Money on Things That Can Grow and Move With You
Over the years, I’ve realized the pieces that mean the most to me are the items that have moved with us time and time again. Seeing them moved into a new house with us always helps me feel more settled and brings me a sense of familiarity. Those are the best pieces! I’d encourage you to spend your money on things that can grow and move WITH you… timeless furniture and art are among the things I cherish in our home. Some pieces have even been with me since the days I inhabited an apartment.
Look At Your Environment in a Different Light (Literally)
Instead of flipping on your harsh overhead lights in the evening, turn on lamps and light some candles for a soft, romantic light instead. Nice lighting can truly change the way you feel about a space. These secondary fixtures are also ones you have control over, that can move with you to your next place (lamps, plug-in sconces, art lights, etc). These also help to offset the existing builder-grade lighting and make your home feel more intentional and lived-in. Try styling a tiny lamp on your countertop or vanity, enjoy the flickering of a candle while you watch your favorite TV show, and embrace light leaks during golden hour.
Incorporate Vintage or One-of-a-Kind Items
Given your space is about as basic as it gets, try inserting some personality with vintage or one-of-a-kind items to make your home feel more special and unique. Thrift shopping is another great way to save money and score high-style pieces! It’s my number one recommendation for adding interest and really making a space feel personal. Insert some conversation pieces that beg to be noticed, before the “boob lights” scattered around your apartment. If you style interesting pieces throughout your home, they’ll be the first thing you lock eyes on instead of fixtures and materials you can’t change.
Layer and Style Things You Love
I’m a big believer that you can make any space beautiful… even dated, cookie cutter, builder-grade, average apartments. I like to think the items that FILL a space are equally as important as the architectural elements and finishes. That’s all part of design! Even without renovating or updating finishes, if you lean into layering and styling- you can make any room feel inviting and designerly. I’ve found that against the most blah looking backgrounds or finishes, a little styling goes a long way. Layer, layer, then layer some more. Let’s use a countertop for example… layer some cutting boards, treat yourself to a KitchenAid mixer if you’ve been eyeing one, prop up your favorite cookbook on a stand flipped to your go-to recipe, bring in some fresh florals or greenery, add a lamp to your countertop if you have the space, DIY a kitchen cart as an improvised island, hang some art, gather some pretty wooden spoons in your utensil organizer, and buy some fresh kitchen towels. All of these small items add up to make a big visual difference. What would you like to see in your space? What items make you smile? What do you enjoy doing in this space? Ask yourself those questions and find ways to insert more things you enjoy to create that cozy feeling of home.
Splurge on Little Things That Make You Happy
For me that is luxe textiles, fragrances, and kitchen items. Buy the more expensive bedding, plush bath towels & robe, high-end candle, pretty cutting board, or countertop mixer. If these things make you happy, having them in your home will make you smile. I have a bathroom decor memory I want to share… in my college apartment, I splurged on what I used to call “fancy products” which doubled as decor. I also hung a waffle weave shower curtain on the rusted bar, and installed floating shelves in my very basic bath. These were small things I had control over. I bought the best smelling candle, soap, bath salts, and they all nestled into a marble tray I thrifted. They were packaged beautifully and even looked good against my off-white plastic 80’s or 90’s builder grade bathtub surround… it felt like a nice moment to me. Having spa time and seeing those pretty products made me love and appreciate my tiny, builder-grade bathroom. Though dated- I had a clean, functioning bath to enjoy, and the items I brought into it from that point forward, were ones that helped me embrace, appreciate, and love the space. I began looking forward to going home to have that time to relax. Think about what makes you smile IN your home and make a conscious effort to do more of that. Bring more of those little things into your space and remember you have the control to make your home homey (even without renovating or a huge budget).
Does anyone else have any tips for this reader? I know they’d be much appreciated! Please drop them in the comment section below. I think this year has really helped us all to appreciate home more than ever. No matter what your home looks like and no matter how long you’ll be there, I’m a big believer it should be a place you love spending time in!