Do you remember walking into your apartment for the first time after getting your keys and thinking, oh gosh, what have I done? The visual effect of an empty apartment can be really intimidating.
Suddenly the space looks smaller than you remember. When you first came to look at the place, the previous tenant’s furniture and decorations made it look so warm and inviting, and now it’s just BLANK.
Don’t panic. This is exciting, I promise!
When I moved into my current apartment I had never even seen it in person. I signed the papers from out of province and moved in sight unseen. I don’t recommend that, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, and this was one of those times.
The movers went in before I even had a chance to look around. I walked in and thought “what did I just do” — I panicked. I hated the bathroom and everything seemed.. small.
I totally cried. A lot.
But don’t worry, this story has a happy ending.
This is home now — even Frida agrees!
Fun fact: to make your space feel like home, you have to actually move in.
I know, crazy idea, right?! Why would you waste time decorating and furnishing a place you don’t even own? Because you live there, that’s why.
It’s hard to move into a new space. Sometimes you’re left feeling like there’s this echo of the people who lived there before you, like it’s still their place. Hang pictures, find art you love, string lights on your balcony and bring in living plants to fill the blank space — make this rental feel like yours.
Your home is your place in the world and you deserve a place that makes you feel warm, happy, relaxed and inspired. Your home should be a reflection of you!
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make that happen, either.
I’m going to show you how I’ve made my Hollyburn apartment my own with an eclectic and colourful mix of affordable art, furniture and accessories.
There’s a lot of creativity, personality and whole bunch of IKEA involved!
Easily my most favourite IKEA hack is putting two bookshelves and a small TV stand together to create the look of an entertainment center, but for a fraction of the cost.
The shelves and TV stand were about $25 each and definitely not made of real wood, but they do the trick. I have always wanted to try this — and I love it!!
You can also see I’ve used every piece of floor real-estate by storing my Wii balance board, yoga accessories and weights under the shelves. Gotta make the most of the space you’ve got! Plus — if I keep them in plain sight, I actually use them.
Want to know another affordable secret? There are napkins on my wall.
Yes, the three small pictures above my television are in fact, napkins.
Packages of pretty napkins were on sale at IKEA for $0.99, I needed (wanted?) something small to balance the Doors of Mexico print, and I had three frames at home. Sold! Let’s frame napkins and hang them on the wall.
The paintings on either side of this photo were painted by me — one at an event and the other with dollar store supplies. Art doesn’t need to be expensive or traditional to earn a place on your wall. Feature what makes you happy!
These shelves are meant to hold things, but also meant to be pretty. I’ve hidden some books, discs and other stuff inside some old Fab Fit Fun boxes to keep everything organized, but still nice to look at.
Plus, they’re purple and that is the best colour around. You know it’s true.
And when the evening sun hits the shelves…
Well, it’s pretty much what golden hour dreams are made of. Look at how stunning the hanging pendant lamp is — which I hung from one of the many pre-existing ceiling hooks. Make the most of what your place has to offer!
Bonus points if you can spot the gnome and painted cacti rocks…
Use architectural features to help define spaces.
Figuring out how to fill your blank slate can be a challenge, especially if you’re in the “this is not how I remember” state — I get it. Try to look for the natural staging cues in your apartment to help you decide how to set-up the floor plan.
For example, my living room has a little column that bumps out of the wall. This is perfect to anchor my desk to, creating a natural space for my home office area.
To help further define this spot as the “office” area, my pantry cabinet from a previous apartment acts as a nice bookend to the desk — and stores a bunch of fun stuff that I’ll show you in a sec.
Because this little home office is situated in the flow from the living room to the kitchen, I wanted to keep the desk relatively simple to prevent it from creating visual weight. I love the bamboo!
Any guesses on what my former pantry has become?
I’m pretty sure anything you might have considered wasn’t this — am I right? Do you even know what you’re looking at yet?
The drawer dividers are meant for spices or dry goods, but really, don’t you think they were actually meant to separate lacquers and gels by colour family? ‘Cause they’re doing a great job of that!
The paper towel rod is the perfect solution for keeping ribbon organized and accessible, and the wire baskets are strong enough to hold my mason jars of nail-art tools.
Did I mention the plant stand in my living room is actually a bathroom shelf? Don’t get stuck on the “assigned” use of any piece of furniture — look at the functionality and the possibilities are endless!
Don’t be afraid to get creative.
These clear plastic Sterilite drawers can be found just about anywhere and they’re great, but not the prettiest once you fill them up and can see everything inside.
Nothing a little scrapbook paper and double-sided tape can’t fix!
The Kallax shelf from IKEA is another storage solution I got a little creative with customizing, because I wasn’t crazy about the box or door options available in store — plus, I think by now you can tell I like a pop of colour or pattern.
The bottom row stores things like toilet paper, files and craft supplies, while the top row stores stationery, business supplies, more crafts and some odds and ends — they could definitely use a tidy, but hey, this is real life.
Welcome to my real life shelves, ha!
Gallery walls are your friend.
Large pieces of art are beautiful, but expensive. Even if you’re just framing a poster, like I did above my Kallax shelf, the cost of the frame itself can be significant.
Instead, I opted for a gallery wall of Society 6 art prints, travel photos and dollar store frames.
The glass table and clear chairs help balance the bold colours and patterns in the gallery wall — and also help make the area feel bigger.
There are only a few non-IKEA purchases in my apartment and this bamboo and granite kitchen island from Bed Bath & Beyond is one of my favourites. In my previous apartment it was my only prep space, but now it’s great for holding the microwave, cutlery, spices and other kitchen tools that don’t have a home elsewhere.
And would you look at that natural light coming in from the window?!
I don’t actually hate the bathroom.
Seriously, the first thing I said when I walked into this apartment for the first time was “I hate the bathroom”. This is an older building and it’s been renovated, but it has beige patterned tile in the shower.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m not really into beige.
I fixated on the bathroom and it became my priority to “fix” before anything else — thankfully, IKEA and Simon’s made this way easy!
I found this great shelf from IKEA that solved all my make-up storing needs, framed another poster, and made a trip to Simon’s for the pineapple bath mat and bold shower curtain that pulled it all together.
Honestly? Other than the fact I don’t like beige, I’m not sure why I freaked out about the bathroom — this is my favourite bathroom of all the apartments I’ve lived in. It’s easy to clean, super functional and it’s cute!
The cuteness factor is definitely the pineapple, right? Love it.
Bedrooms don’t have to be white to be peaceful.
Colour is my friend. I love big, bold explosions of colour and I feel way more focused and calm in colourful environments than sterile, white ones. My bedroom is no exception!
I looked for what seemed like forever trying to find a duvet cover that fit my style — enter my holy grail brand, Kas Australia. If I could outfit my entire life in their colourful patterns, I totally would.
I love my yellow side table, I love my blue lamp, I love my multi-coloured bedding and I love that it’s me — because it’s so completely me, I feel like it’s my own private oasis.
Like the little cloud says, this makes me happy. And isn’t that how you should feel in your room?
Small swaps can make all the difference.
To customize my Hemnes dresser from IKEA, I found hand-painted ceramic drawer pulls at Bed Bath & Beyond and swapped out the original black metal ones — look at the huge difference that made!
Way more personality and way more my style. If you want to splurge, check out the knobs from Anthropologie. They are gorgeous.
Make your balcony an extension of your living room.
This is the first time I’ve had a balcony and boy, did I go to town. I have solar and battery powered lights, comfortable seating and rugs to make it feel like an outdoor living space.
When the weather is nice, aka not snowing, I love to sit out here. Just look at that view!
For more privacy and to make my balcony more of an “oasis in the city”, I wove burlap through the metal railing and secured it with zip-ties.
Now if it could stop snowing and raining long enough for me to be able to enjoy this adorable set-up, that’d be nice!
Renting doesn’t mean temporary.
I think one of the biggest misconceptions of apartment living, specifically rental apartment living, is that you are in transition, this is your temporary home and you shouldn’t “settle” or be prepared to stay there.
Even when you’re on a long trip, don’t you unpack your toiletries, clothing and shoes to make it easier to find your things? So why wouldn’t you unpack and get settled in your home.
Exactly — it makes no sense not to!
If you’re overwhelmed by the emptiness of your space and you don’t know where to start, just pick one area of your apartment and build from there.
For example, if you choose to start with your living room, focus on the couch and get some throw pillows you like. Then take the colours from those pillows and think about a rug and throw blanket to tie it all together. To finish it off, hang some art to compliment the colour scheme — it really can be that simple!
Take your time and have fun!! This is all about letting your creativity run free, expressing your personality and creating a space that genuinely feels like your own.
The point is, even if you’re renting and you live in a small space — you can and should still create a home you are excited to return to every day, and I sincerely hope you do!
What’s the first thing you do in a new place to make it feel like home?