Maybe you’ve just graduated and you’re moving into your first place. Maybe you’ve been in your apartment for a while, but interior decorating is low on the priority list. Once you’re out of the dorms, though, it’s time to grow up. There’s no one to blame for style and cleanliness (or lack of either) than yourself. You can still express a casual cool while coming in on a budget – just make conscientious choices. Start investing in “real” art and furniture to make your house a home.
One of the giveaways of a first apartment is a conspicuous emptiness. Don’t fill the void with clutter or try to use lawn furniture. Just appreciate your new canvas and furnish one room at time. Instead of just using small pieces for a small room, let one large piece, like an armoire or overstuffed sofa, become the focal point. Even in the smallest spaces, basic furniture for comfort includes:

* a comfortable sofa
* an upholstered chair
* a small dining set with two side chairs that can be used in the living area
* a coffee table and side table
* floor or table lamps as space permits
* bookcases or built-in shelving
* efficient closet organization and/or chest of drawers
* a grown-up bed with a headboard
* a bedside table

If you’ve already upgraded from a futon to a queen size bed, the next step is a headboard. Purchased, created by draped fabric, or crafted from a Shoji screen, a headboard makes the bedroom look less sterile. By no means are you allowed just park the mattress on the floor, either. Unless you’re involved in a stakeout, use a bed frame. If the all clean laundry is still stored in the basket, make the jump to a dresser. You can skip the pressboard “furniture” phase. Make the move from posters to framed prints, if you’re not quite ready for original art.

In the kitchen, if you’ve already traded those take-out containers for dishes, step up to coordinated (not plastic) china with cloth napkins. Outside of chopsticks, silverware should be just that. Give up the sporks. In the bathroom, indulge in quality towels that aren’t borrowed from gyms or hotels. In the living room, try not to create a shrine to the TV or stereo system. Let a brilliant piece of art be the focus. Instead of cinder blocks and boards, invest in wall mounted shelves or a bookcase hold your valuables. Though your textbooks look impressive on the shelf, start collecting some volumes that you actually want to read, too.

For those apartment dwellers age thirty and over, it’s time for some special stipulations:
* choose furniture that doesn’t require you to assemble it
* keep wine on hand, the kind that doesn’t come in a box, and not all bottles should require refrigeration
* use condiments and spices from bottles instead of leftover fast food packs
* avoid art that can be taped or thumb-tacked
* say goodbye to novelty furniture, including indoor hammocks, hand-shaped chairs, papasans, bean bags, and pretty much inflatable anything

Turning your house into a home takes a little elbow grease, but little changes can make a big impact. By making intentional d├ęcor decisions rather than defaulting to the cheapest functional solution, your apartment will come together stylishly. Start by adding a little color. It’s your place now – there’s no need to keep all white walls. Add some living things, too. Potted plants, window boxes, floral bouquets, and herb pots make the space more vibrant. Make seasonal changes, switching bed linens and window treatments for the warm weather. Go easy on the kitsch. What works in the frat may not be as funny at home.

Grown-ups are obligated to pay bills on time, keep food in the fridge, and have a cleaning routine. The upside is that you’ll always have a guest-ready house that’s a synthesis of function and fashion. Express yourself, just do it with the time quality you deserve.