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Take your apartment from zero to sixty

Design tips from the pros

We went to the experts to ask how they take a drab apartment from dull to divine—a place anyone would look forward to coming home to at the end of the day. If you find yourself a first-time apartment dweller or simply downsizing from your family home, here’s a fast guide to creating a space that’s truly a reflection of you.

Unless you’re lucky enough to have lived like Jackie Onassis in a luxury flat the size of a house in the heart of London or like Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake, who live in a 5,375-square-foot Tribeca penthouse, space is often a consideration when living in an apartment.

Though luxury apartments are available in Rochester with lots of square footage and rent to match, many apartment dwellers get by on less than 1,000 square feet.

When furnishing your apartment, select furniture that fits your space. Brad Sullivan, an interior designer at Stickley, Audi & Co., suggests choosing a sofa and occasional chairs with clean lines that can be adapted to any design scheme. “Don’t buy anything you can’t change. Most importantly, live with what you love. Have a connection with what you’re buying or repurposing in your apartment,” says Sullivan.

Think smaller. According to the designers we spoke to, furniture is trending smaller, including occasional chairs, small drink tables replacing end tables, and, yes, even sofas are coming down in size.

To save on space, look for dual-purpose furniture. “If you own a table with leaves that seats six to eight, store the leaves until you’re ready to entertain. Use the extra chairs at a desk or as part of a seating arrangement in your bedroom,” says Sullivan.

Eliminate clutter. Find creative ways to store things you don’t use. Sullivan suggests storage in a platform bed or within decorative baskets or containers to get clutter completely out of sight.

Stephanie Durham, a senior interior Ddesigner at Ethan Allen, agrees. She likes to start any design project by clearing clutter. What’s underneath can be the beginnings of a fabulous room.

High on the list for designers who want to create a room with personality is lighting. Many apartments have existing overhead lighting. Soften light and add points of interest for a more dramatic or nuanced space. Floor lamps, table lamps, task lighting, even bouncing light off walls can change the ambiance of a room.

Our experts agree: keep window treatments to a minimum. A curtain panel with a Roman shade underneath is the most any of our designers suggests. “Anything that blocks natural light, unless privacy is an issue, is best avoided,” says Kelly Cardinal, lead in-home designer at West Elm.

Accessorize with color. Color is a simple way to transform a space. Color can make a room look bigger or smaller. Put your signature on a room with color.

Neutrals are everywhere this season. Though color is a little harder to find in showrooms and stores right now, search sample books or go custom to add splashes of color and prints with an area rug, pillows, artwork, or window treatments. Get expert advice if you’re color-challenged or new at the game.

Durham suggests when selecting artwork to consider the dimensions of your room, your taste, and budget. Choice of artwork is very personal. The work has to speak to you. Frequent outdoor art shows and gallery exhibits. Befriend artists whose work you like. Ask them to be in touch when they create new works in order to select artwork tailored to your taste and style.

If your ceilings are high, select vertical artwork to draw attention down to where your furnishings are. You can go big with art if you have a large room. A smaller room requires small, intimate pieces and smaller groupings.

Use everyday items as decorative elements. Books arranged artistically on shelves; a tray, vase, or glassware filled with natural, found items or a few unique vintage finds goes a long way in personalizing your space. Plants or branches from the outdoors draw the eye to corners of the room that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Cardinal suggests emphasizing the features you love in a room, whether it’s the windows, the room’s layout or something as simple as the height of the ceilings. “Ask yourself what you want your space to feel like. Do you prefer color or tone-on-tone?” says Cardinal. She likes to focus on throws, pillows, area rugs, and artwork in an apartment to give a room that personal touch.

All of our designers suggest clean lines and neutral colors for furniture. Introduce change by rotating artwork, using slipcovers to transform the look of an existing sofa or chairs, and swapping pillows and accessories either seasonally or simply when you feel it’s time for a change.

“If you find the need to replace your sofa but like its shape, try a slipcover first. Custom-ordered slipcovers from velvets to heavier materials start at $900, less expensive than replacing a quality sofa and what you’ll have is a brand-new look,” says Sullivan.

Follow trends sparingly. Add a few trendy design elements in your room to keep things current but don’t go overboard with “color of the year” accessories or the latest distressed area rug because a trend that’s no longer trending is just an out-of-date fashion. Trends like blue or minimalist, industrial prints may be in this year, but just wait until next year. Our designers say: “If you don’t love it, don’t buy it just because it’s a trend.”

Introduce something unexpected, say our experts. “Whether it’s a mix of materials like metal and glass, a pattern or print, or a curated piece, express your personality in a way that makes you feel at home,” Sullivan says.

Layering a room with details like color, pattern, and texture gives a finished look to any interior. “People are nervous about curating within the modern aesthetic. Go ahead and introduce an antique into a room that’s mostly mid-century modern,” says Cardinal. “Something unexpected can be just the ticket to a sensational room.”

Donna De Palma is a freelance writer based in Rochester.

Check out the furniture pictured here at DL Home & Garden’s new City Living Essentials, located at 306 Central Avenue. 

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