10 Decorating Tips for Your First Place

Whether you rent, recently moved into your first home, or just have a limited budget, high-end furnishings, and home accessories can be out of reach for many, especially if you're just starting out. But that doesn't mean your first place has to look like a dorm room.

There are several tips and tricks you can use to give your starter home or apartment more grown-up polish. Luckily, it's more about know-how than cash when it comes to adding some sophistication to your space.

Here are 10 ways to make your place feel more grown-up.

Decorate and Fill Spaces With Plants

Tropical plant on dresser

It's amazingly simple but true. Just adding a living plant or two to will make any room feel more finished and home-y. Put a low-maintenance plant such as a succulent, cactus or philodendron on a side table or nightstand and you'll give the impression you have your act together (Even if you're still working on it!). After all, you have to be responsible enough to keep it alive! And when you're ready to adopt a bigger or leafier plant, consider a Monstera or Fiddle Leaf Fig!

Use a Tray on Your Coffee Table

Coffee table tray

Trays not only keep your clutter under control, they give a polished look to surfaces such as a coffee table. Fill a decorative tray with a short stack of hardback books, a box for your remote controls, a set of coasters and a pretty object or two for a grown-up, lived-in look. Plus, putting everything on a tray allows you to pick it all up and move it aside when you need the space for entertaining.

Style Your Bookcase

  • A decorated bookcase

    Even if the only books you have are paperbacks and old textbooks from college, you can still organize the whole lot so that it looks pulled-together.

    Style your bookcase like a pro by arranging your books both horizontally and vertically, and mixing in accessories.

Upgrade Your Lighting

Table lamp on nightstand

Torch lamps and string lights may have worked in a dorm room, but they lack in sophistication. Trade adolescent lighting choices for a pair of inexpensive but chic table lamps.

Or, copy one of these DIY lighting fixtures to replace unsophisticated ceiling lights. Another budget-friendly idea for your first place is to look for lamps at thrift stores, then make them like new by spray painting their bases.

Add Some Class With a Bar Cart

DIY bar cart

Organize your booze on a classy bar cart for a grown-up look. Add some swanky barware such as an ice bucket or a cocktail shaker for even more sophistication, then just roll it all into the corner after the party.

Save money by DIYing your own bar cart, and if you're really handy, try making one of these beautiful wood bar carts.

Coordinate Your Throw Pillows

  • Throw pillows on a white couch

    One of the quickest ways to pull a room together is with decorative pillows. Strategic choices can help you camouflage an ugly couch, or add warmth, color, and style to a boring room. Learn to mix and match patterned pillows like a pro, or go with a completely eclectic mix for a boho-chic look.

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    Frame Your Art

    A gallery wall

    After college, it's really no longer acceptable to hang unframed prints or posters on the wall with tape. You can, however, use unconventional methods for hanging art, such as on a grid of clipboards for a modern take on a gallery wall, or with wooden pants hangers for a vintage-industrial look. Fortunately, there are several online sources offering affordable, original art prints. And there are lots of out-of-the-box ideas for wall art too, such as objects like plates, textiles and architectural salvage.

    Hang Curtain Panels

  • White bedroom with shiplap walls

    This is one instant upgrade you don't want to skip! Trade those cheap vertical blinds or plastic roller shades for curtain panels to give your room a more grown-up look. Curtains not only pull a room together, but they also help cut your heating bill and add a layer of privacy. Save on hardware by trying one of these DIY curtain rod hacks.

Use Soap Dispensers

Stack of soap and towels next to lotion

Leaving dish soap and hand soap in its original promotional packaging adds visual clutter to your counters and frankly, looks a little tacky. Give your kitchen and bathroom sinks more polish by decanting soap into pretty bottles or soap dispensers. 

Matching Glasses and Coffee Mugs

Open kitchen shelving and dishware

Mismatched glasses and coffee mugs can have a kitschy-cool effect if they're collected and displayed intentionally. On the other hand, mugs with different logos on them and a hodgepodge of glass and plastic drinking glasses collected over time just looks messy.

Donate or toss the mismatched mess, and start fresh with a set of matching mugs and a set of drinking glasses. The dollar store is a great place to pick up inexpensive options.

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