A Graduate’s First Apartment Style Guide

Tara Dickinson
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Your dorm room college days are done. Or you’re ready to move out of your parent's home. Maybe you’ve decided to live on your own for the first time. Whatever the reason, moving into your first apartment is a milestone and celebratory occasion. At the same time, it can seem intimidating to take on new responsibilities with the added bonus of having to create a “home” atmosphere for yourself from scratch.

  • Even if ‘style’ is not your thing, look at this as an opportunity to express yourself.
  • It’s a time to be creative and have fun with your space.
  • The main things you’re going to focus on are style, function, and of course budget.
  • Making your new apartment look good comes down to the decor so let’s get started!

BONUS: This College Student Moving Guide is a tremendous resource with outlines for budgets, property resources, packing lists, roommate searches, and more.


This is a really fun part of the process. Maybe you have an idea of what your style is already. You like antiques or a futuristic look, or maybe you appreciate a more French vibe. Decor themes literally range in the dozens and dozens, with design styles expressing home decoration in everything from Americana to a Mountain Chalet style, to Spanish inspired to Techno and beyond.

  • Look through the Style Guides listed here to see what clicks for you.
  • Starting your decor process with a theme in hand will make the other components flow much easier.

The next step is to pick a focal point in each of the major rooms, living room, dining area, and bedroom. The guide on focal points is comprehensive and shares several ideas for focal points in each room as well as pictorial examples.

  • Focal points create flow in a space; adding direction of eye movement.
  • Once a focal point is chosen, next comes the furniture arranged around this point.
  • Then finish off with room accessories: rugs, drapes, and accent pieces.

BONUS: “Make a Big Impact in a Small Space Guide - a first apartment might not be the biggest house on the block, so check out this guide on how to make a big statement in smaller spaces. Plus organizing and functional furniture hacks. A quick summary:

  • Match curtains with walls for the most expansive look.
  • Hang curtains close to the ceiling and drape them all the way to the floor for a bigger room illusion.
  • Large wall mirrors double the size of a room.
  • Lighter wall paint colors also make a room feel bigger.
  • Add pops of color on an accent wall or with the accessories (rugs, pillow, art).

Now that you’re at the furnishing stage, keeping your apartment neat and organized is one of the best ways for it to feel comfortable, welcoming, and like a sanctuary from the world.

  • If possible, before you move in, declutter and streamline your belongings. Anything you don’t want can be sold, donated, or recycled all at once by Remoov.
  • Then check out this guide “Furniture Ideas that Help You Stay Organized” when you are ready to adorn the rooms of your home.
  • BONUS: Guide to help you reduce furniture costs.

Professional designers advise having two different light sources in each room. For example, a floor lamp in conjunction with your overhead light fixtures. Or table lamps with pendant lights. A chandelier with wall sconces. Some lighting fixture ideas include:

  • Fairy lights
  • Floor lamps
  • Pendant lights
  • Table lamps
  • Wall sconces


ENTRYWAY: First Apartment Decorating Ideas For The Foyer

Make the most of any space you might have in your entryway by adding functional decor to it. Entryway ideas:

  • Bench
  • Mirror
  • Narrow table
  • Storage cabinet
  • Wall hooks

BEDROOM: First Apartment Decorating Ideas For The Bedroom

Suggested bedroom furnishings list for a restful and inviting space:

  • Accessories: Here’s a top ten list to get your juices flowing.
  • Closet organization: Use hooks, bins, a hanging shoe rack, and other such items to efficiently manage all the things in your closet.
  • Headboard: This item completes the room’s look, will probably be the focal point, and is a great way to express your chosen decor theme.
  • Mattress: This and your sofa are the two items you’ll want to invest the most dollars in. Sleep is vital to good health and overall life performance so make it count.
  • Nightstand: Small side tables next to the bed are super handy and look great.

LIVING ROOM: First Apartment Decorating Ideas For The Living Room

Suggested bedroom furnishings list for a welcoming and comfortable space:

  • Area rugs: Not always a needed item, will depend on your decor theme but many times a large area rug can ground the whole room and be an accent piece that adds a pop of flair to the design
  • Chairs: Side chairs, lazy boy, lounger chair, it depends on your space and needs but these are items you will most likely want to include.
  • Shelves: Shelving units, bookcases, floating shelves-another necessary furniture item for a successful living room layout.
  • Sofa: This is another item you may want to spend some more of your budget on as the couch will get most of the use in the room. But, there are also MANY very high quality gently used sofas at your local secondhand shops, so check those first.
  • Tables: Side tables, main coffee table, bar tables- these too are necessary pieces for a working living room. Fun to find pre-loved ones at thrift shops and such.

DINING ROOM: First Apartment Decorating Ideas For The Dining Room

Suggested dining room furnishings list for a functional and warm atmosphere:

  • Area carpet
  • Bar Cart: A fun trending feature that’s both functional and fancy. An easy DIY craft by finding any kind of cart and repurposing it with paint and contact paper.
  • Dining chairs
  • Dining table
  • Lighting - might be the focal point for this room if you choose an artsy chandelier or such.
  • Storage unit (hutch, sideboard)

KITCHEN: First Apartment Decorating Ideas For The Kitchen

Suggested kitchen furnishings list for a productive area that is also attractive:

  • Chairs
  • Island: great on wheels and for extra food prep space.
  • Stools
  • Table: don’t feel that your table and chairs have to match. Variety can work well.

NOOK: First Apartment Decorating Ideas For A Nook

Nooks are little tucked-away spots that support mostly quiet time. We have compiled separate guides and decor ideas for several different kinds of nooks. Consider adding one of these special zones to your first apartment. Suggested furnishings list for a pleasant nook will be listed in the following guides:

  • A breakfast nook here
  • A reading nook here.
  • A recharging nook here.
  • A study nook here.


Artwork: The focal point guide has lots of fun ideas for art accents, especially DIY projects. Best art items for your first apartment can be found at vintage stores, flea markets, and sidewalk sales.

Decorate With What You Already Have: Hang musical instruments; lean a surf or skateboard against your wall; hang a collection of possessions you love.

Plants: Having live greenery in your apartment really makes all the difference in the look and feel; adds that breath of ‘life’ to an interior.

Throw pillows: Great decor items because they make a space comfortable and inviting and are also perfect accents to add hints of texture, style, and color.



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