COLLEGE STATION — First apartments and dorm rooms can be pretty … well, functional is one way to describe it.
That first home away from home usually cries out for something, some decorating style, to make it belong to its new owner or resident.
Unfortunately, first apartments and dorm rooms are usually occupied by people who are just starting out, and therefore are least able to afford costly furniture or decorating schemes.
Don’t worry, said Janie Harris, housing and environment specialist with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. Even first-time homeowners and apartment dwellers — or dorm residents — can make their places their own with just a few inexpensive tips.
First, she advised, if painting the new home is a possibility, by all means paint.
“Paint can make a big difference (in a home’s appearance) and is the No. 1 thing people can do” to personalize a residence. And, she added, it doesn’t cost very much — a big consideration for those who are just starting out in college or the workforce. But before doing anything at all, do a little homework — literally.
“Before starting, (new residents should) try to determine what their style is and what they like,” she said. One way to do that is to look at rooms featured in magazines or on the Web. Harris recommended two Web sites — www.decoratorsecrets.com and www.domain- home.com/profile.html — as good places to look for decorating ideas.
“The Web sites will help them understand what style and look they want to create,” Harris said.
Having a plan — knowing the desired look and the budget limitations — is very important, Harris said, especially for those who are decorating their first homes. Having a plan can prevent foolish spending, she said, which is never a good idea when the budget is limited.
Once the plan is established, go shopping. But start in less obvious places. For instance, Harris said, parents’ or friends’ attics or storerooms might be a place to find good quality furniture that isn’t being used but could be. Also, “garage sales or resale shops or even moving sales” are full of bargains.
“You don’t always have to have brand names,” or even brand-new items, Harris said. A little bit of looking can reveal wonderful pieces at bargain prices.
For each room to be decorated, she said, pick one object to be the focal point. Perhaps a rug with several colors can be used to bring the room’s color scheme together, or a family antique can be the centerpiece of the room. Use that item to bring the entire room together.
Keep proportion, scale, size and fit in mind when decorating a room or a whole house, she said. “If you have a small place, you need to make sure the … furniture is small, because (something like) a large sofa in a small room will dominate the room. (The decor) will not flow pleasantly. The same with end tables” and other pieces of furniture. Make sure the furniture is the right size for the room.
Smaller pieces or accessories can be used to change the look of a room in a more inexpensive way. Fabrics and textures, flowers and even area rugs can be used as accent pieces to change a room’s decor because they are less expensive to change than are larger pieces of furniture.
And for that reason, Harris had a word of caution: When purchasing larger, more expensive items of furniture, “you need to stay with the more traditional or classic look” that will last longer. “If you have special tastes or want to be more faddish, do it with paint or fabric that can be replaced easier.” And less expensively.
But Harris said the most important thing to remember when decorating is “the decor is for your (the resident’s) benefit. It should not be for others (who will visit). Make sure you feel good with it, whether it’s a house, or an apartment or a dorm room.”