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You have new digs … Here’s a decorating plan

By Terri Sapienza
The Washington Post
When you’re just starting out on your own, furnishing a new home can be as overwhelming as it is exciting. What to buy? Where to look? How to begin? Here, Washington-area designers lent their expertise to recent college graduates by giving their best advice for transforming a small, empty rental space into a comfortable home.
Space planning
– A common mistake in first-time homes is a spread-out design plan. There’s not a lot of furniture, so it’s spread out: a chair in a corner, a too-small painting on a large wall, the coffee table two feet from the sofa on the far side of the room. Don’t be afraid of a blank wall. Create one cozy seating area. Hang a small picture below the shade of a table lamp as part of a composition, a place where you can see it. Don’t feel you need to fill all the corners. Empty corners are nice. Enjoy the open space. Space is the ultimate luxury.
– Create zones. A first apartment is usually a studio or a small one-bedroom, so make the most of space by carving out zones: an eating area, which can also be used as a work surface for paying bills or working; a comfortable seating area; and a sleeping area. These zones will help you be more organized and allow for a cozier home.
Lighting
– Just because the apartment comes with a brass chandelier and fluorescent bulbs doesn’t mean you have to keep them. Swap them with a simple spotlight or an inexpensive fixture. Use dimmer switches, which will save energy.
– Take an old lamp and change the shade.
Paint
– Almost any used furniture can look good if it’s painted with satin black paint. Tie together disparately designed vintage pieces by painting them all one color, such as white or dark brown. If you’re really daring, try shades of blue.
– Use one color rather than trying to find a different color for each room; that will help the overall space seem larger. The exception is your bedroom. If there is molding (crown, baseboard, window casing) keep it the same color throughout the home. Use Benjamin Moore’s Ivory White (No. 925) in a satin finish for trim. A satin finish is less glossy and more forgiving (the shinier and glossier the paint, the easier it is to notice flaws in the woodwork). For walls, use a super-matte finish, which will conceal imperfections.Floors
– Don’t be afraid to layer rugs. The standard apartment’s beige, low-cut pile carpeting acts almost like a neutral wood floor when you layer a rug on top. Just make sure to use the correct pad so it doesn’t slide.
– Buy indoor-outdoor rugs instead of traditional wool or synthetic styles. They come in fabulous colors and patterns, are available everywhere and can be cleaned with a simple hosing-off.
– Center a room with an area rug. Buy the largest sea-grass rug each room can handle, leaving a floor border along the perimeter of about two to three feet. This will help ground the room(s), and sea grass works with all styles.
Furniture
– Consider longevity: If pieces can be used in a future home, then direct effort and money toward them. For example: If you see an accent chair that would fit in any room, spend your budget on that instead of the apartment-size love seat that would be dwarfed in a regular-size room.
– Think double function: Use a sofa as a bed and a dining table as a desk. Choose bedside tables that double as storage or desk space.
ó If you shop online, make sure to sit on furniture before buying it. There are pieces such as a headboard that won’t affect your comfort level, but don’t risk buying something like a sofa without sitting on it first.
– If you need a bed, try Ballard Designs (www.ballarddesigns.com). It has headboards that can be affixed to a wall, which offers more style than a mattress and box spring. If you tire of the look, you can reupholster the headboard or move it to a guest room and upgrade your master bed.
– Stick to neutrals in upholstery pieces. Bring in color with accessories, such as throw pillows and trays.
– When buying from retailers, choose classic shapes, such as Parsons-style tables and chairs. Then add to basic pieces with distinctive finds.
– Don’t be afraid to mix styles. For example, pair an edgy glass-and-steel dining table with different flea-market chairs or an old picnic bench.
Budget
– Buy the best quality you can afford. If your budget is tight, consider buying vintage or used pieces. A really good piece of furniture can be reupholstered or refinished over and over. This is also a way to recycle.
– Buy well, and you will buy once. If you are at the store, muttering that you will replace these nonessential items in a few years, wait to buy.
– Take a piece of furniture from your parents’ house, such as a dresser, desk or coffee table. Or buy something unique from a local store. No matter how much Ikea and Target furniture surrounds it, this special piece will distinguish your apartment from everyone else’s.
Walls
– Large-patterned wallpapers can be cut down and framed (try bright yellow and white in black frames or bright pink and white in white frames). Large-scale designer scarves (Hermes, Pucci) can also be framed and hung.
– Hide flaws in a wall by tacking up fabric and making tie-backs at the door openings. This is a strategy used when people find walls in bad condition, or if they rent apartments and want a quick makeover.
Storage
– Hooks on walls can save space. Put them in your bathroom for towels and robes, and on walls at entrances for coats and hats.
Help!
– If you’re not sure you can do it by yourself, ask friends if they know an interior design graduate whom you could pay to help you for a couple of hours. Or try to persuade a designer to give you suggestions in exchange for some of your time doing errands or computer work.
– Measure everything twice to make sure things will fit.

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