3. Experiment with your own tastes in architecture
Most of us furnish our first apartments with cast-offs from our parents’ basements. That’s fine, but eventually you will grow weary of knotty pine.
You may begin to notice that your friends differ in their decorating styles. One lives with a treadmill and a giant screen TV and not much else, another has collected so many knick-knacks you feel suffocated when you sit in her living room. Pay attention to the way you respond to these spaces.
You might want to look at some decorating magazines to see what appeals to you, and start clipping images you like. Eventually you’ll come to prefer a particular look, whether it’s modern or country or shabby chic, and will find color schemes that feel right to you. You can build your own bookcases, but head to IKEA for a couch and second-hand stores for lamps and side tables. Stuff doesn’t have to match, it just needs to be comfortable and pleasing to you.
Over the years I’ve noticed that we tend to surround ourselves with the same colors we like to wear. A redhead may be drawn to autumnal oranges and browns, or someone who looks great in dramatic colors will paint her living room electric blue. Go ahead and experiment, but keep in mind that if you want your security deposit back you may have to repaint before you move out.
I remember that my friend Linda’s very first apartment — a one-bedroom in a vintage building with high ceilings and hardwood floors — looked like something out of House Beautiful. Her towels matched her shower curtain. She’d slip-covered an old couch from her mother and made coordinating throw pillows. Everything was spare and clean and smelled like fresh lemons.
I thought with shame of my dingy efficiency in Washington, DC and vowed to do better.
I have done better, I guess, in that I’ve accumulated better rugs and more valuable antiques, but Linda, who has a wonderfully minimalist sense of style, still uses me as bad example. Whenever her husband complains about Linda’s (hardly noticeable) clutter she tells him, “That’s not clutter. If you want to see clutter, go visit Kit.”