Designers on Their First Apartments—and Their Cheap Décor Tricks

LIKE THE stories our parents tell us of their youthful struggles, even our fondest recollections of our earliest flats are colored by compromise. The verses of the first-apartment blues may differ in their details (huffing up six flights of stairs, storing shoes in kitchen cabinets), but everyone sings the same chorus: We all did what we could to spiff up our digs.

Knowing that design pros probably did it better, WSJ asked hundreds of them to share the clever workarounds they devised as cash-strapped tyros. Many made décor lemonade out of real estate lemons. And it didn’t matter if someone else owned the place.

“People move into apartments and think they will be leaving before they know it, so they don’t put the effort into making it feel like home,” said New York designer Ashley Whittaker, who executed several DIY upgrades in her early 2000s rental, like painting the kitchen cabinets a high-gloss black.” When you make the effort with wallpaper, paint, lighting and flea market—now Etsy —finds, it does feel like home, and you end up staying longer than you had imagined.”

Here, smart ways that designers in their salad days tricked out their lodgings with style.

“I pushed my full-size platform bed into a corner that had a floor-to-ceiling window facing the city on one side. By putting a floor-to-ceiling mirror behind the bed (as wide as the bed), it appeared as though it was nestled in an all-glass corner window floating in the sky with a killer city view.”


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