When moving into your first apartment, questions will naturally arise about how to personalize it without spending a fortune. Shannon McKenzie has excellent ideas for making your place perfect for you while staying on a budget.

Photo Courtesy of Shannon McKenzie

Shannon McKenzie
McKenzie and Kline Design
Before and After Consign and Design
6610 Folsom-Auburn Rd.
Folsom, CA 95630
(916) 616-1563

Shannon McKenzie, co-owner of McKenzie and Kline Design, says it is easy to create an attractive and relaxing living space, whether you have a tiny apartment or something more palatial. McKenzie and business partner Martha Kline also own “Before & After Consign & Design,” a unique furnishings consignment boutique in Folsom. With 25 years of experience as an interior designer, McKenzie offers these creative and budget-friendly tips for anyone who is setting up their first apartment.

Make Your Apartment A Reflection Of Your Personality

Work, school and other commitments can make life hectic, but McKenzie says the place you call home should be a “stress-free environment.” She knows that it is unlikely to feel that way when you first move in, as “apartments can be bland, without a lot of architectural style.” Choose one wall, typically the first one you see upon entering, and make it a focal point. Make a gallery of inexpensive, colorful frames with favorite photos, posters or even magazine pages that represent your interests. “If you love animals, use things showing animals,” McKenzie says, as an example. Live greenery is a great touch – even silk plants are good if you would prefer them. Ultimately, the things you use to decorate will make your home a sanctuary.

Related: Ask An Expert: Decorating Your Bedroom On A Budget

Neutral Is The New Black

McKenzie says that not all apartment landlords will allow renters to paint the interior walls. But if you can, she suggests sticking to neutral tones such as beige, taupe, ivory or soft grey. Colors on a neutral palette are also a good idea for foundation furniture pieces like sofas and bed frames, says McKenzie. You can personalize rooms using small, less expensive design elements in other colors and patterns. Then, if leopard-print pillows or purple Sacramento Kings’ curtains stop feeling right, you will not have to spend a fortune redoing the whole place. “The accessories can be changed if you get tired of the color or theme,” says McKenzie, and the neutral walls and furniture pieces will look good with whatever you get next.

Get Organized

“When you’re in an apartment, you have to get organized quickly,” says McKenzie, because your space is very limited. She suggests getting functional, low-cost shelves and organizers from places like Ikea, and to use them faithfully. Use vertical bookshelves instead of horizontal ones, and avoid filling surfaces with little decorative items, which can make the space feel cluttered and messy. McKenzie also suggests that furniture be arranged with conversation in mind. Many people, even with larger homes, line up all the furniture against the wall, or use the television as the focal point. Arrange seating that is perfect for conversation, and your living room will be more useful and more comfortable.

Get The Right – And The Bright – Balance

Most apartments are smaller in scale than homes, so “keep that in mind when getting furniture and décor.” McKenzie suggests using smaller sofas and furniture, and to avoid having excessive little tables or other items that can give a cluttered appearance. Having functional lighting is also key, she adds, although many apartment dwellers just have one overhead light. “Every room should have 3 to 5 light sources,” McKenzie says, including task lamps for reading, working on the computer and cooking.

Be Smart About Quality And Price

Setting your apartment up does not require putting the rest of your life on hold, budget-wise. Reasonably priced furnishings can be found at consignment shops like Before and After, or at bulk retailers such as Ikea or West Elm. B & A is widely praised by customers, citing low prices and the high quality of the items. McKenzie and Kline are justifiably proud of their consignment shop, where someone “could truly furnish a whole apartment for less than $500.” The store offers furniture, decor, lighting, and even jewelry, handbags and other personal accessories.

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Valerie Heimerich is a freelance writer out of Sacramento. She typically covers business, employment, animal rescue, volunteerism and nonprofits. Her work can also be found at Examiner.com.