This post is long overdue! Three years overdue to be exact. In 2019, my sister—a busy, young DC professional—wanted to zhush her brand new bachelorette pad. I was enlisted to execute her vision for a charming home base featuring plenty of personal touches and a classic yet youthful slant.
The catch? I was given a blueprint of the apartment space shortly before her move-in date and we had 48 hours to install everything during a whirlwind weekend trip. The added challenge of not having a vehicle made it all the more an adventure as we hailed Uber XLs to traipse our finds around the nation’s capital. A source list and behind-the-scenes look into the decorating process was highly requested when I first shared snippets and I’m happy to finally dish the details. Better late than never, no?
The apartment, in a new building on a cool side of town, had a decidedly modern verve with transitional hardware and finishes that were tempered by our traditional touches. Of utmost priority was creating an inviting living space, we set our sights on transforming the elongated open concept room into just that. First, we purchased the practical, new furniture needed ahead of the move and then layered in plenty of vintage and antique pieces.
- Sofa: The best bang for your buck! A comfortable, attractive sofa with removable, durable and washable slipcovers is always a smart buy. I have two of these Rooms To Go sofas in my home, one I’ve owned since my own single girl apartment days, and they have stood the test of time. Perfect for sunrooms, playrooms and high traffic family rooms with children and pets. Bonus: They now come in sleeper sofa form. Hot tip: Say NO to the stain treatment and launder slipcovers as needed.
- Coffee Table and Side Table: A beautiful, upmarket look that doesn’t break the bank. These aren’t the sturdiest tables in town, they serve their purpose best in a home without toddlers or active children. Coffee table (on sale for $286) and side table (on sale for $181).
- Bamboo Arm Chairs: A cult favorite chair that looks sophisticated in any setting. We chose the Rubbed White finish and recovered the cushions with a green silk found on Etsy.
- Jute Rug: Live and learn! The original rug was rough on bare feet and stained easily. We’ve since upgraded to this affordable jute rug from Etsy that can be customized to the size you need (Real designer tip: Rug should be no less than 11″ from each wall). Want a scalloped edge or a color border? The vendor offers these options too.
Most all furniture and accessories can be shopped directly here:
- Pillows: Bamboo Lattice Pillow Cover in Ultramarine, 20″ x 20″ $85 and Indigo Floral Pillow Cover, 22″ x 22″ $54.
- Oak Wood & Brass Floor Lamp: Add to cart! I can’t say enough great things about this handsome tripod lamp for $100. We ordered it online and picked it up in-store. I would suggest upgrading the drum shade included with a pleated shade, also from Target.
- Bamboo Chandelier: When renting, one of the best ways to upgrade your space is by switching out whatever builder grade fixture exists with one that won’t offend your senses. This chandelier is a timeless option that you can use in any home.
- Topiaries: My sister was traveling quite a bit at the time so we opted for permanent plants sprinkled around the apartment. Here is a similar set of three faux preserved boxwood topiaries for $41.
- Plaster Wall Brackets: This is a favorite source of mine! Plastercraft offers every kind of unpainted plaster bracket you can dream of. $34 for a twisted plumes bracket as shown in the photos.
- Plate Hangers: Avoid the finicky wire nightmares and use these easy adhesive Discs that aren’t visible once hung. Choose the appropriate diameter for your project and voilà! $12 for a set of 4.
With our initial layer of furniture and some decorative wall art in place, we took a jaunt to Georgetown that yielded many chic finds. My favorite outpost in DC is the Opportunity Shop, a high-end consignment store that has been a fixture in Georgetown for 85 years. The Op Shop is staffed by volunteers and all proceeds benefit the Christ Child Society. We racked up really well here, finding an antique game table for $125, a fabulous porcelain lamp for $45, and all manner of framed art that helped us complete the styling. A stop into The Georgetown Emporium outfitted us with plenty of blue and white porcelain, cache pots, and antique vessels.
Stuffy Muffy’s Tips for Decorating a Rental on a Budget
- Utilize consignment shops, estate sales, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace to find gently used pieces at exceptionally low prices.
- Shop big box stores such as Target for great looking new furniture and accessories that will ship quickly. Long lead times are especially inconvenient when you are renting or leasing for just a few months.
- Upgrade elements such as lighting fixtures and lamp shades (this grasscloth shade is to-die-for) for a designer touch.
- Get creative with how you’ll break up blank wall space. Look for pieces that offer height such as screens, tall secretaire desks, and armoires. Mirrors open up small spaces while framed prints and collections such as baskets and plates make an impact when hung together. Large-scale tapestries and framed panels are ideal as well.
- Since most renters won’t be hanging a television, hide the unsightly internet and TV cords behind a screen or chest that doubles as pretty storage.
- Wouldn’t it be great to find an upholstered sofa in a designer fabric, mint condition? It’s not likely so plan on incorporating your favorite textiles through pillows and keeping the larger pieces neutral.
- Speaking of pillows, always “overstuff” your pillow covers with premium down inserts, my go-to choice is Ikea’s 26″ x 26″ Fjadrar for pillows 20″ x 20″ and up. This gives them that full look you see in the magazines.
- Be on the lookout for patina’ed frames, you can replace what is inside of them easily. Michael’s will do this reframing service with museum quality glass for as little as $25.
- Don’t be afraid to use a staple gun or spray paint, a little DIY goes a long way!
Our plan was to decorate the primary bedroom next using this peel and stick toile wallpaper then have it all professionally photographed. However, a pandemic put the kibosh on that. The good news is we will be working on her new pad soon, stay tuned for how we repurpose many of the above pieces and put her spin on coastal living.