First Apartment? Read This Before You Buy Another Piece of Furniture

Know where to splurge and where to save when outfitting your first place.

By: Jacquelyn McGilvray

Outfitting your first home or apartment is exciting, daunting and (potentially) very expensive. Fight the urge to go buy furniture and furnishings all at once. Create a plan and know where you can save and what you should splurge on. It may take a while, but if done carefully, you’ll end up with a curated collection of things you'll love for years to come.

Gray Sofa and Traditional Wood Coffee Table

Gray Sofa and Traditional Wood Coffee Table

An interesting play of shapes is happening in this living room: Bolster pillows and graphic patterns adorn the sofa. An angular wooden coffee table sits in front accessorized with spiky sculptures.

Photo by: Red Egg Design Group

Red Egg Design Group

MATTRESS – SPLURGE: Buying a mattress can be as stressful as buying a car. There are so many options, and the decision-making process can be nerve-racking. You spend a lot of time on your mattress, so this is the place to splurge. Do your research to figure out what type is right for you: coil, foam or a combo of both. Even if you plan to buy online, go to several stores to figure out how firm or soft you want to go. Think you're ready to purchase? Before you buy, find out if you can return your mattress. Some stores will give you 90 days no-questions-asked to decide, while others will charge a fee to return a mattress. If you can wait, buy your mattress around one of the big Monday holidays: Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc. That’s when retailers have the biggest sales.

Dog Lounging on Mattress

Dog Lounging on Mattress

A dog sits on a mattress held by a bed frame.

©Scripps Networks Interactive

Scripps Networks Interactive

DRESSERS + NIGHTSTANDS – SAVE: Wood pieces like dressers, nightstands and coffee tables can be had for little money. When shopping for these pieces, ignore the finish and look at the general shape, the sturdiness of the piece (avoid anything held together with staples) and how much storage the piece will provide. Refinishing furniture is more sloppy than it is difficult. Products like chalk paint and gel stains make the process easy.

19 Creative Ways to Paint a Dresser or Nightstand

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Paint and Decoupage a Dresser (With Wrapping Paper)

This old dresser – found at a re-sale shop – was painted in stripes then bold flowers cut from wrapping paper were decoupaged to the surface to provide a burst of color. Take a look at the instructions >>

Photo By: Susan Teare ©Joanne Palmisano

Midcentury Credenza

Angular paint patterns were used to cover up some damaged spots on this 1950s credenza. Sections without damage were left as is to show off the beautiful pecan wood grain. See how it was done >>

Ombre Chest of Drawers

Use several shades of the same paint color to bring a colorful touch to a piece of furniture. See the step-by-step instructions >>

Photo By: Rustic White Photography, LLC

Geometric Draw Fronts

Painter's tape and stencils were used to create a Moroccan-inspired design on this thrift-store bureau. Take a look at the how-to instructions >>

Photo By: Susan Teare ©Joanne Palmisano

Landscape Your Furniture

Using a landscape painting for inspiration, treat your old furniture piece like a canvas and create a simple ethereal landscape of your own. See how it's done >>

©Alex La Cruz

Nautical Blue

Use two shades of paint and a roll of sisal rope to transform a humdrum wood dresser into a cottage-style masterpiece. See how it's done >>

Photo By: Rustic White Photography, LLC

Retro-Inspired Florals

Paint and ice cream sticks were used to transform an old dresser into a funky piece of new furniture. Get the step-by-step instructions >>

Photo By: Susan Teare ©Susan Teare

Wallpaper Insets

If your dresser has recessed panels on the door or drawers, consider using a patterned paper to make a bold design statement. 

Zigzag Drawers

Budget-friendly, sample-sized latex paints were used to create a chevron-inspired design on this old piece of furniture. Check out the step-by-step instructions >>

Photo By: Susan Teare ©Joanne Palmisano

MidCentury Makeover

Two-tiered end tables and nightstands were all the rage back in the 50s. The design is very practical. With a new coat of paint, an old relic like this can become an indispensible piece of furniture. 

High-Gloss Lacquer

To add one-of-a-kind flair, try updating a vintage credenza with a sprayed two-tone finish. To achieve a professional high-end look, rent an HVLP (high-volume, low-pressure) paint sprayer from a rental store, then paint the piece using high-gloss lacquer in contrasting colors.

Mudroom Organizer

Organize your entryway with a brightly colored dresser. Picture frames and chalkboard paint added to the center of each drawer front serve as name plates. This gives each family member a designated place to store their winter gear and accessories. Get the step-by-step instructions >>

Photo By: Courtesy of Susan Teare

Chevrons in a Variety of Sizes

Don't make it difficult by trying to get your stripes or chevrons the exact same size. Vary it up with different widths and colors. 

Chalkboard Dresser

Chalkboard paint is perfect for a kid’s bedroom. The drawers can be labeled to keep clothes and other belongings organized.

Bold Chalkboard Dresser

Chalkboard paint doesn't have to be black. Try a bold color to turn an old eyesore into an artist's canvas — or use it as a way to label the contents of each drawer. Use chalk pens to avoid smudging and dust.

Try an Automotive Finish

Automotive paints applied to wood and metal furniture result in glossy, sparkly factory finishes. Strip the old paint with an electric sander, then drop the unfinished piece off at an auto body shop. Many body shops charge by the bay and the number of paint colors used rather than by the piece. By dropping off several sanded pieces in need of the same new paint color, homeowners can get more bang for their buck.

Chalk-Painted Dresser

This thrift store nightstand was made over with chalk paint and rub-on brass wax. 

Photo By: 182029001303

Dresser Turned Crendenza

There's nothing saying that a dresser has to be in a bedroom. Sitting beyond this vibrant table and chairs is an old dresser that became a dining room buffet.   

©Sarah Dorio

Just a Touch of Color

This old sideboard was given a shot of personality by painting one drawer bumblebee yellow and adding a mix of vintage drawer pulls.

SOFA – SPLURGE: Invest in a good sofa. Go with a basic/neutral color and classic design, so even if you change the style of your home or your living room, you won’t have to shell out big bucks for a new sofa. Ask yourself, “will I still love this in a few years?” To save money, buy secondhand. Many high-end furniture stores sell used furniture on consignment, or you may have a designer consignment store in your area. It’s usually better quality stuff, but way cheaper. Sometimes it’s better to buy a quality piece secondhand than a new piece that is cheaply made. Do research on the brand to see what it retailed for brand new — that’ll help you determine if you’re getting a deal.

Eclectic Living Room With Gray Sofa

Eclectic Living Room With Gray Sofa

The artwork series above the sofa brings zip and movement to the the living room, as though the butterflies from the accent pillows have taken flight!

Photo by: Heather Hawkins

Heather Hawkins

DINING FURNITURE – SAVE: This is where you can save and score some deals on secondhand pieces. Remember, your table doesn’t have to match the chairs, and not every chair has to match. For a striking look, buy six different chairs and paint them all the same color. Scour secondhand stores, online forums and estate sales. It doesn’t have to be perfect. A pretty tablecloth can cover blemishes and dents, seat cushions can make a boring chair look adorable and pillow cases can be used as chair-back swags to give you an elegant look.

Traditional Dining Room Boasts Mixture of Chairs

Traditional Dining Room Boasts Mixture of Chairs

A mixture of wood dining chairs combines at this traditional dining table; each chair showcases a different decorative back. A wood bench lines the long edge of the table opposite the collection of chairs. Four mirrors help reflect light for a bright atmosphere, and a small tree adds color and life to the design.

From: Kara O'Connor

Photo by: Kara O'Connor

Kara O'Connor

RUGS – SAVE: If your flooring is less than appealing, cover it up with area rugs. You can spend a lot on area rugs, but you can also buy a large remnant and paint it to match your color scheme. You don’t need artistic skill, you just need to be able to lay tape in a straight line. Don’t be afraid to layer rugs too, it’ll give a rich feel to any room. Wood and concrete floors can be painted, too.

How to Paint a Rug

Get step-by-step instructions for painting a patterned area rug. 

FLOORING – SPLURGE: Flooring is an investment, so it’s not going to be that cheap. If you don’t plan on staying in house for too long, go with an affordable option, not necessarily what you love. Also, make sure you have the right type of flooring for each room. You’ll need something waterproof for bathrooms and kitchens.

What You Need to Know Before You Go Shopping for Flooring

Check out these buying and design tips from Laurie March, The House Counselor. 

Preparing to Shop for Flooring

Ask yourself these five questions before choosing a new floor.

ARTWORK – SAVE: A collection of great artwork does not come overnight. It must be curated and finessed over time, but, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. There are many options. Look at secondhand shops and garage sales. Or create your own art.  Try string art, blow up your favorite photography, make quote/word art, frame an old scarf (like the image below) or vintage piece of clothing, or find some old-style posters and hang them in an unusual way. Go to local art shows to look for upcoming (starving) artists whose work is reasonably priced. If you get lucky, in a few years, it could be worth more than you paid for it.

Vintage Scarf as Contemporary Wall Art

Vintage Scarf as Contemporary Wall Art

This common thrift store find isn’t just for retro fashionistas – you can also transform it into home decor. Pick a scarf with a bright pattern and turn it into colorful wall art by popping it into a frame.

From: HGTV Design Star
and HGTV Design Star

The House Counselor

Find small-space design ideas and tips on getting ready to buy your first house. 

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