The Transitional Apartment

Over the years I have received quite a few messages asking about suggestions for your living space when you are not quite ready to make big investments. We have all been there, whether you are in a college apartment or your first place out on your own – you know your home is temporary, but you still want to make it feel good. Even in a transitional living space, your home can look beautiful and there are so many good options now for more budget friendly pieces. I always recommend going with quality and spending more on something well made that you will have for years to come. However, I totally understand that isn’t always an option and in shorter term rentals, we can just want it to look nice without breaking the bank.

unfinished wood pieces can often be very inexpensive and still look pretty

Transitional apartments tend to be very collected spaces. They typically consist of hand me downs, a lot of Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace (which is great) and impulsive shopping pieces that may not have a home. Let’s get something out of the way – furniture and decor is expensive. Even at most budget shops, it is an undeniable fact that if you have a lot of space to fill it is going to add up. Therefore my philosophy for this type of space is – shop smarter. Even if you don’t have a lot of money to spend, talking time to come up with a plan instead of impulsively browsing the clearance aisles at Target can make your space look better and in turn end up saving you money.

I was so guilty of this when we first moved into our apartment together. I wanted it to be “done” so I rushed to fill empty spaces with whatever I could get quickly. Often it was a piece I didn’t love or have any attachment to, but I hated living in a place that felt empty. Flash forward five years and I own just about nothing from when we first moved in. Because I was in such a rush to settle in, by the time I actually was, it felt very hodgepodge.

It is natural to change styles over time and veer away from what you once liked, but I truly believe if you take the time up front to come up with a concept for your home (even if it is a bedroom in a shared rental space), you will be happier with the end result. So how do I do this? The same way I approach client projects and my own apartment.

Figure Out Your Situation: I think this is crucial when it comes to deciding if its worth it to jump into building out your living space. Are you on a month to month lease and feel like you might want something new in six months? Then I would probably avoid nesting too much. Not knowing how long you are going to stay somewhere can make it hard to take your time with the space and budget accordingly, but my best advice is to keep it simple. Basic building blocks go a long way to make your space warm and inviting. Think natural fiber rugs (you can typically find larger sizes for less), a simple color palette, fresh flowers or a plant and little accents that speak to your personality. Come up with a list of everything you need in order of importance and then budget how much you ideally would like to spend over time so you aren’t working backwards or working off a random piece you didn’t love to begin with.

Classic Neutral Building Blocks (on a budget)

see more in the budget shop

Make a Pinterest Board: I make a Pinterest board for just about everything. They are incredible for collecting inspirational spaces you are drawn to, but I make them specifically for product. I have one for my closet and one for my apartment and save pieces throughout the year that I truly love. Most are more investment pieces that I want to work up towards buying, but you can do the same when you are on a budget. This works better if you plan on staying in your place a little bit longer. Creating a very edited Pinterest board stopped me from impulsively shopping. I wanted to wait to buy something I loved instead of something that was convenient. I totally understand if you have signed a one year lease and don’t plan on staying there longer than that, you aren’t going to want to wait eight months to fill it up. However you can start with the main essentials and use your Pinterest board to gather pieces as you get more settled in. It also helps keep me in check when shopping in person.

Shop Online: I definitely don’t shop 100% online, but WAY more than I used to. I will forever be a huge supporter of local small shops and businesses and that is where I get most of my little treasures, but I found shopping online helped me spend less. It used to be that every time I went to Target, I left with something I didn’t need. EVERY SINGLE TIME. A tray, bookends, a basket – because it was cute and cheap. However I often didn’t have a good spot for these accessories to go so they would just end up making my apartment look cluttered, until ultimately getting donated. Now I am a lot more thoughtful about what comes home with me. I want to be surrounded by pieces I love even if it is a little salt bowl or cool vase. Being thoughtful doesn’t equate to being expensive and it goes way beyond apartment living. I like to implement it with all purchases. I try to avoid impulsive buying shops like Home Goods unless I know I need something specific and instead revert back to my Pinterest boards to avoid the quick dopamine hit.

& Shop Vintage: Whether online or in person – shop vintage. Some of my favorite pieces have come from antique stores or flea markets and are a fraction of the cost of what vintage pieces can be online. I always have specific pieces in mind so I don’t fall into the same trap as going to Target, especially when at a flea market because I tend to want everything. Prepping ahead of time can give you a better idea of what something might cost / what to look for. Hands down, antique pieces are what bring a space together and tend to be what you hold on to from home to home.

Online Vintage Resources
(you can see some of my favorites on The Vintage Shop)
ETSY (see my favorite shops here)

{Others: Vintage On The Vine, Nickey Kehoe, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Everything But The House}

Get Creative: I am definitely not a DIYer. I love being creative, but often have an aversion to DIY projects if they make the space look a little less pulled together. However there are some that can help tremendously when wanting to spend less. I got my old nightstand (shown in the first picture) at the Pottery Barn outlet for under $100. It was the exact shape I wanted, but it was bright yellow so I just painted it. Our current coffee table was under $200 and I knew I wouldn’t have it forever, so I sanded the horrible finish off the legs and it looks so much better. Other swaps that make a hug difference if you are able to

Painting (this can TRANSFORM a space! Often more than anything else)

Update Hardware (in kitchens and bathrooms & on pieces of furniture. It doesn’t have to be pricey and you can take it with you when you go – just save the originals)

Update Lighting (swap out lamp shades with something cool & vintage, change out ceiling lights or simply utilize more accent lighting with various small lamps)

Add Some Window Treatments Places like Target, Ikea and Amazon all have good inexpensive drapery options. These can be great for a rental space even if you have ugly metal blinds you aren’t allowed to take down. If you are able to remove your blinds you can do a semi custom shade (like the one we have in our kitchen – linked below). Obviously not every place is the same and you have to check with your landlord if you can drill holes into the wall, but a little spackle and paint make them very easy to patch when moving out.

Buy Less. Lastly, I have said this a million times – “Buy Better, Not More”. For whatever reason when we are budget shopping we tend to buy more than we need. I suppose because it is cheaper we can get a lot for the cost of one expensive item, but than can lead to too much and it can be hard to transition when you move from space to space. When you are working off a list and curated Pinterest boards it helps keep you focused and cuts out a lot of the filler pieces. Build up your basic building blocks – Sofa, Rugs, Bed, Coffee Table, Window Treatments Etc. and worry less about a box for remote controls or a decorative tray. Once you establish the direction of the room (or rooms) it is easier to fill in the gaps.

  1. Ashlee says:

    These are all such good tips! Love your style and everything you share!

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