While we may long for a charming cottage by the sea, or a cozy mountain cabin, it’s difficult to resist the pull of the big city. And with that said, we find ourselves sacrificing design for location as renting a cookie cutter apartment is probably pretty standard in terms of city living. But that shouldn’t bring you down. While structural changes, minor remodeling and even painting are not allowed in rental apartments, there’s plenty you can do to bring a little heart and soul to the cookie cutter layout. Let’s look at some of the things you can do to make your apartment feel more like home.

1. Start by Virtually Touring the Apartment

You’re in the apartment hunting stage and you’re weighing up your options. Keep in mind that many apartment complexes have websites that offer interactive features in order to help renters find the best fit. Go on a virtual tour and get a sense of what this apartment is offering in terms of layout. This can help you decide whether you can fit in your existing furniture or the furniture you’ve thought about ordering.

2. Let’s Talk Light

You’ve already set your heart on a particular apartment and now you’re there trying to decide if it’s really suitable for you. Besides all the management-related questions, you should also ask about natural light or lack thereof. Which side of the building is the unit located in?

Consider if your apartment is getting enough light prior to committing to a lease. This should dictate many style choices in terms of both furniture and décor. If you fall in love with an apartment facing north – which means less natural light – there are a few things you can do to turn this circumstance to your advantage. Think white tones, shades of tan, light brown and cream to catch all the natural light you can and to avoid that dreary look that homes with less light tend to get. Light-toned furniture has a distinctive beauty, and, after all, who says you can’t marry functionality and aesthetics?

Apart from natural light, this is one area where you can truly take the driver’s seat. Use indirect lighting, but be subtle about it. You want a soft warm light in the evenings to draw attention to particular areas of your apartment. Ask your landlord if you are allowed to install spotlights. While you should use them sparingly, spotlights can create a cozy atmosphere, especially when dimmers are also in place. Also, you can’t go wrong with a good old reading lamp – on the stand next to your reading recliner. A good lighting scheme can really spruce up the overall atmosphere of your apartment.

Empty apartment interior

3. Befriend the Natural Layout

Perhaps ending up in a cookie cutter apartment is not such a bad thing after all. All you need to do now is to go with the optimal flow of the space. Your new apartment already has designated areas for most the standard rooms of a home, so why not take advantage of that. In addition, you could challenge that status quo by adding personal touches in terms of décor and your choice and arrangement of furniture. Once you’ve decided how you are going to use each room, putting your own stamp on the place should feel like a breeze. Think about your lifestyle – whether you enjoy entertaining or not – and go from there. If that’s not the case, instead of acquiring a couch for the living room, you could go for armchairs around a table for this room. Think of an interesting way to divide the dining room and the living room. A see-through ball-bearing curtain could work as a “wall” between the two living spaces. Don’t allow walls to contain your originality – you can use patterns, textures and colors to bring out your uniqueness.

4. Take Your Time Before Buying the Furniture

You’re feeling the thrill of a new apartment and perhaps this is when your excitement might get the better of you. You need new furniture and dozens of other household items to make your new apartment feel like your own. But will your apartment have enough room for all the purchases you have your heart set on? It depends on the city you are located in. With an average size of 711 square feet, apartments in Seattle are small as it is, so why bring in bulky pieces of furniture that will take up precious living space? Instead, think about putting some of your seasonal items which you’d normally keep in your closet in a storage unit. Storage units in Seattle rent for $153 on average, so that won’t put much strain on your pockets.

5. Play With Furniture Layout

Furniture layout is not exactly the factor that typically wows. If a little flair is what you are looking for, think design and color. Look at furniture that pops, but make sure there are no major style disagreements within the same room. For instance, you could have one or two vintage picks for one room. You can obviously choose conventional pieces of furniture, but you can get an original effect if you arrange it a little out of the box. For instance, you could:

  • Turn the sofa 90 degrees counterclockwise and place it in the middle of the room facing the entryway
  • Move it in order to serve as a divider between the living room and the dining area
  • Take things further and turn your dining room into an extended living room
  • Or place the dining table against the back of the sofa for non-guest days and pull it out if you have company in order to accommodate them

6. Repurpose Rooms

Now that you’ve finally decided on the furniture, you can experiment with switching rooms. No, we’re not talking about the titanic feat of literally doing so but of changing the purpose of the rooms for have. You can turn the dining area into a living room and see how it works for you. Perhaps this change isn’t exactly what you expected, but now you no longer need to wonder, right? Also, if you think your dining area space could be put to much better use, it can always be turned into an office or art studio if you work from home.

7. Think Multifunctional Items

Beating the cookie cutter layout boils down to functionality and our favorite space to experiment in is the dining room area. Instead of looking into the typical full-size dining set – unless you entertain regularly – you can go for a Parson’s desk against the wall. It easily converts into a dining room table if you simply pull it into the middle of the room and add chairs, and you’ll have a dinner-ready setting in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. You can also use it as a buffet side table.

An ottoman is a similar piece of furniture that provides extra storage and seating options, adding style to the room. Last, but not least, adding a bar cart to display small items can be useful when entertaining. Or you can place it where guests see it when they arrive, thus adding a welcoming touch to your home.

8. Add Tall Bookshelves or Hang Floating Shelves

Vertical space is usually underrated, so put it to good use by adding tall bookshelves that house books and other decorations. You can get creative and alternate one row of books with a one shelf of seasonal decorations or framed photos to really emphasize your personal touch. Additionally, floating shelves have a charm of their own, superseded only by their functionality. They are easy to install and detach, they can house items at any level, and because they don’t have visible supports, they look more attractive than regular shelves.

Floating shelves

9. Minimize Clutter

The multitude of cables making their way through your apartment might give it an untidy feel, unless you get creative. The solution is simple: Incorporate them into the room décor. Use garden stools to tuck those wires away, which in turn helps your desk area stay free of clutter. On top of that, you can ask for the placement of the cable outlet to be in a specific area of your choice. Another useful thing they can do when installing your cable box is to staple the cables – this way they stay neatly tucked away.

10. Let’s Talk Décor

Think of your apartment as a blank canvass. This is where your creativity can really shine. Besides furniture, art, textiles and accessories can set your apartment apart. Your quest for that extra flair needs to start with you. Find décor that resonates with you. There’s no reason to rush, as this kind of thing can take time. If you are art-inclined, you can approach the task as a DIY project — there are people that choose to decorate their apartment with their own artwork. But you don’t have to necessarily take that route. You can look into hanging textiles and decorative pillows. You can browse consignment stores and thrift shops for that piece that speaks to you. A bright rug or that antique bureau that you restored to its former beauty can bring the whole room together.

11. Create Coziness With Curtains

A subtle addition to your home, they’re not usually the first thing that catches your eye when entering a room. However, other than adding a “filter” between the space within and the outdoors, they add a touch of coziness and can make your apartment feel like home. On top of that, they can moderate how much light enters your home. Depending on your location, you should choose different curtains to literally put your home in the best possible light. Consider adding thick curtains if you live in a sunny region or lighter, see-through curtains if your area gets less sunny days.

12. Stay in Style With Mirrors

Mirrors can add a lot of character to a room. Besides the pleasing aesthetics, they also aid in capturing light and illuminating the darker spots of the room. This helps to create spatial illusions and to highlight your favorite decorations and items by reflecting them from different angles. Therefore, it’s important that you choose the location of the mirror wisely – placing it near a window will bring some of the natural light in as well as a taste of nature indoors. You can take things further and create an entire mirror wall to enlarge your room, especially in rooms with no windows.

Mirror inside apartment

13. Add a Touch of Greenery

Bring your apartment to life with potted plants. They’re a natural pop of green regardless of the season! They effortlessly add style and a sense of permanence to a home. You can place them along the windows in the living room. If your windowsills are on the thin side, hanging plants are also an option, but make sure you choose a species that requires less watering, unless you don’t mind getting up on step stool every other day. You can also think about small succulents: Whether they adorn your kitchen counter or your special happy corner, succulents require very little maintenance and take up very little space.

14. What to Do With Old Décor?

If you’re like many other renters, you could find that your previous choices of art are at odds with the architecture of your new apartment. It’s challenging to fit the bohemian pieces that once adorned your historic apartment into your new modern architecture without the feeling that a time machine just made a delivery. Surely, you’re not quite ready to part with that antique rusty model Ferris wheel that graced your living room before, right? Before deciding whether you’d like to make it a permanent possession or to gift it to a like-minded friend, you can search for a self storage unit to keep it safe.

Now that your apartment is fully furnished and decorated all that’s left to do is to send out those housewarming party invites.

Is there anything else that you do to personalize the cookie cutter apartment layout? Let us know in the comments below.


Mirela is a real estate writer and lifestyle editor for Yardi. With an academic background in English and translation, Mirela now covers a range of topics including real estate trends, lifestyle and economy. Her previous experience in proofreading academic articles has inspired Mirela to choose a writing career path. In her free time, Mirela enjoys reading, but also hiking and creating art. You can contact Mirela via email.

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