First Apartment Essentials

Words by Marie Elizabeth Oliver, Special to The Washington Post


Chances are you’ll spend more waking hours in your first cubicle than your first post-college apartment. But as any 9-to-5er knows, the last thing you’ll want to come home to is another cookie-cutter space.

“No matter how small your budget or transient your living situation, take the time to make a place you love,” recommends Elaine Griffin, designer and author of “Design Rules.”

Her tips for feeling that “ahhh” every time you open the door? Educate your eye and think about what kind of styles, colours and shapes resonate with you. Streamline the space by choosing multitasking pieces that incorporate plenty of storage (even your old risers can look chic with a custom bed skirt from Etsy). And keep in mind, no matter your floor plan, your living room probably will need to be versatile enough to transform into an impromptu dining room/guest room/home office.

Griffin advises clients to “mini-splurge on portable things that really speak to your soul and make you smile when you look at them, like art and accessories.” The rest of your budget should focus on impactful comforts that will last for years. Design experts weigh in on their top picks below.


Folding dining table

“Usually in your first space, a true dining room is a luxury. This foldaway table looks high-end but can be tucked behind a sofa when not in use. Flip up one side to use as a desk, or both sides if you’re serving your first Friendsgiving.”


The Span gateleg dining table from Crate and Barrel can be tucked behind a sofa when not in use. Image: Crate and Barrel.


Classic couch

“Now that you have graduated, it is also time to graduate from that hand-me-down sofa that you’ve been using for the last four years. Opt for something simple and classic. I love this simple mid-century option, and the dark neutral colour means that you can bring in some fun pops of colour in textiles and accessories.”


The Redding midcentury sofa is a classic couch. Image: Target.


Throw pillows

“A room isn’t finished until it’s accessorized. Our personal style is influenced by where we’re from, where we’ve been, where we’re at and where we’re going. This is your first stab at capturing all four.”


The Geo chenille lumbar pillow in gold. Image: World Market.



“A rug helps ground a room. If you are on a budget, I recommend going with a natural material like jute, leather or wool. Also look for woven instead of knotted rugs. These will get you a bigger bang for your buck.”


The Valet jute rug; woven rugs in natural materials will give you more for your money. Image: CB2.


Nesting tables

“These are essential because they take up the same floor space as one side table, but you actually get three when people pop over for drinks or you need more surface space.”


The Ashton nesting tables take up the same space as one table. Image: World Market.


Wall art

“Nothing says college more than poster art or sad blank walls. Now that you finally have your own place, it is time to invest in a few pieces of art to help fill your walls and bring some style into your new place. I love these oversized tribal-inspired prints that come framed and ready to hang on the wall. Put them side by side above your sofa, one above each nightstand, or arrange them in a gallery wall if you have a big space to fill.”


Pottery Barn’s framed blue textile art. Image: Pottery Barn.


Multifunctional coffee table

“Get a big coffee table – the largest that your living room can realistically fit because it will become a de facto dining table. This one is long, but narrow, and seats six around it for takeout with Netflix.”


The Go-Cart carbon rolling TV stand – coffee table. Image: CB2.


Storage Bed

“I never like to waste any space, and a lot of times you just don’t have room for a dresser in your first bedroom, so this storage bed is ideal because it turns all that usually wasted space under your bed into drawer space.”


A storage bed is ideal in first apartments. Image: West Elm.



“If you can’t remember when you bought your last sheet set, then it is time to get yourself a new one. These linen ones are not only extremely soft but also make early morning bed-making a snap when you are on the go to your new post-college job.”


Floor lamp

“So many people forget that lighting makes or breaks a space. I always recommend layering your lighting, so if you have an apartment that has overhead lights, think of more directional task lamps. If you have no overhead lighting, you will want to go with a more omnidirectional floor lamp as well as directional task lamps.”


Uttermost’s rust-black, fluted metal-base floor lamp. Image: Houzz.


Featured Image: Element5 Digital, Unsplash