From a Rented Space to Your Place: How I Made My NYC Apartment A Home

From a Rented Space to Your Place: How I Made My NYC Apartment A Home

It’s been a while since we’ve visited this space on the blog, ouí? Since my last post in 2016, a lot has changed. For starters, I no longer live in my sorority’s dorm building. Instead, I emptied my savings to New York City brokers and greedy (and sometimes shady) management firms.

The majority of people in New York City rent their apartments. Even though the space is yours for however long you sign or resign your lease, it’s hard to make a place your home when you know there are limitations to what you can do with it. While most places allow for normal wear and tear (drilling holes for mounted TVs or mirrors, etc.), not all places allow painting the walls, putting up wallpaper, or building full flex walls to create more rooms out of the space.

My room and my apartment are what I consider my sanctuary, and I’m very particular about it. There’s nothing more important to me than coming back from a long day at work to a place that feels like home. From living in a shoe box apartment to a much larger apartment, I’ve learned a few things about making my space my own. It’s not the easiest task, so I wanted to share how I turned my two NYC apartments so far from a rented space to my own (albeit temporary) place as well as how the housing market works in the city.

FOR LARGER SPACES

Let’s start with my new space!

This year, I moved out of frat city and up right under Gossip Girl central. Despite living in less “fun” neighborhood, the move brought me to a much nicer space. A lot of people ask me about my new apartment and new room due to its size*. To answer your questions, I got lucky in renting a newly renovated unit and having roommates that agreed to letting me take the master bedroom.

Our apartment: 730 square feet

Common space: 267.65 square feet

Master bedroom: 12ft by 19 ft, or about 228 square feet

My roommates’ flex rooms:

  • 127 square feet (10.67ft by 12ft)
  • 110 square feet (8ft by 13.6ft)

*TIP: If you really want a large room, the secret is to find huge apartments in the upper half of Midtown East and Midtown West (especially between 9th and 11th Avenues) and flex it (build walls to create extra bedrooms). For reference, most “real” rooms in the city are 70-100 square feet.

I have three main rules or guidelines when it comes to setting up and decorating your home:

  1. Maximize the space.
    • Fill up the space optimally for both aesthetics and functionality.
    • Make it look as big as possible by always leaving the area by any door/entrance to a room as open and spacious as you can.
  2. Decorate the walls, but don’t overcrowd them. This makes the room look smaller.
  3. Keep everything cohesive yet under budget.

Keep in mind that everyone’s room dimensions and shapes are different, so how I set my room up may be vastly different from how you would lay your furniture out.

When I moved in, these were the furniture items I had:

  • bed
  • dresser
  • chaise
  • 3-unit shelf
  • tall shoe rack

The first question I asked myself was: how do I want to use this space? My answer was everything.

Since my room is large, I knew I’d be spending most of my time in it and not in the living room or kitchen. As a result, I had to make my room a suitable environment for sleeping, lounging around, getting ready, throwing myself a dance party, entertaining friends, spontaneous yoga sessions, storage, and hobbies (blogging, reading, painting, writing).

Here’s how I accomplished my goals according to my guidelines.

RULE #1: Maximize the space.

1) Make sure the most open space in your room is the one by your door. This helps create the illusion of a bigger room!

2) The first actionable item on the to-do list is: Choose where your bed (and any nightstand or bedside item) will be*. I firmly believe that how you rest is extremely important to your physical and mental well-being. Since my door opens into the left side of the bedroom, I placed my bed a little off center so it wouldn’t directly face my door which is unsettling to me. #fengshui That left a large open space on the left side of my room between my closet and the bed and a smaller space around the end and right side of my bed.

*TIP: Regardless of room size, the more open you make the area closest to the door, the bigger your room looks and feels!

2) The next task was figuring out what area of the room is designated to what activity. Despite my personality, I’m a pretty private person and can even be a little weird about having people in my home. As a result, I designated the left side of the room (facing the door) to be my “social” area for friends. It’s closest to the door, doubles as my yoga studio, and serves as a home to my piles of random shit. I purchased a rug and placed my mini sofa (that pulls out to a futon) up against the wall and hid my hamper and snowboard (soon to be mounted with new bindings!) in the far back corner out of the way.

Now there’s so much room for activities!!!!! 🤣

3) Since the left side became an open space and there was space behind the door that most guests wouldn’t immediately see, I saved it for the messiest and the most functional things: a shoe rack and mirror! Let’s be real. No one needs to smell sweaty suede or judge me for the 68 pairs I own 🙃… It’s also closest to my door and closet which makes piecing together an outfit and running out the door a smooth process.

I placed the mirror here so I can’t see my reflection when I sleep. Ideally, I don’t think you should look at your reflection when you’re trying to sleep. It’s uncomfortable, unnatural, and feeds the active imagination if you’re the type that wonders about paranormal activity/fears horror films. If it doesn’t bother you though, live your best life! This is just my personal preference.

4) I often need my alone time. Since the far right side of the room was a little harder to access (and nearly impossible to see when you first enter my room), I reserved this space as my private reading nook and the opposite side for my productivity corner.

The productivity corner, which sits between the AC (unfortunately) and my bed, contains a desk, all my art supplies, my agenda, laptop, journal, and some books. The magic of all things writing and blogging happen here!

As for my reading nook, I set my chaise down facing the bed in the deep bottom right corner of my room. First of all, it’s next to the heater which will be fantastic for me in the cold winter months. Next, it receives indirect (and therefore not blinding) sunlight during the day. Here I can go in a blanket burrito and read a book, flip through a magazine, listen to music, or just swipe around on my phone when I’m bored.

5) This brings us to the final component of the room, “the functional wall” aka I had nowhere else to put these items so they went here.

Across from my bed are my dresser and TV. I moved the dresser as far in as I could to avoid crowding up the entrance, but luckily the left side of my room is open enough that the dresser doesn’t interfere with the illusion of space (not that I needed the illusion as much in this room).

The dresser top serves as a vanity since I didn’t bother purchasing one and prefer doing my makeup not hunched over at a seat. Here I keep my statement jewelry, perfume, makeup brushes, and an acrylic holder of my most-used products. The rest go into the top drawers of my dresser.

By the time this post is up, my new TV (because this one is temporary and old and doesn’t connect properly to my 5G wifi) will have arrived.  However, I would recommend anyone setting up their room to consider not putting the TV in direct line of sight from their bed. I personally don’t like that I directly face my TV and prefer to have one mounted in the top right corner (above my chaise) so I can watch from my bed or the sofa and stare at white space before bed. Both the stand (which I KNOW doesn’t fully match, don’t talk to me about this I’m upset) and new TV are gifts from my dad so I can’t quite protest that he did not get a wall mount TV. However, I know my luck; if I try to drill anything in this apartment I will probably cost us our deposit so I’m taking this gift and covering up the black mirror when it’s time for bed.

6) Last but not least, maximize your closet space as much as possible. Most apartment closets come with a shelf on top. I recommend organizing things into bins and placing them on the shelf when you can as well as using the bottom of your closet for storage. My closets hold purses, hats, Halloween costumes, luggage and backpacks, packing boxes, water bottles, hair and nail products, laundry racks and detergent, and snowboarding gear on the shelves and floor. It’s not always the prettiest sight but no one will know, so screw the aesthetics and go for function on this one!

Goal #2: Decorate the walls, but don’t overcrowd them.

Wall decor is crucial in a large room with very white walls. It’s hard for me to directly recommend something because everyone’s taste and preferences are different. I would recommend either having one wall serve as a center of focus, whether that’s with artwork, a gallery, shelves, tapestry, or painting the wall, OR spacing out wall decor evenly (but not too evenly) across the walls so that there is just enough to look at. You’ll notice in my room that I only placed something on the wall where there was a large white gap. I didn’t put anything close enough to another wall decor item to crowd the space.

The one thing I will stress is: just like the TV and mirror, try to avoid putting anything too busy or loud directly across your bed or any designated quiet/reading corner.

This is also your chance to really dress up any room in your apartment to your liking. Choose your decor, the pillows, the design/color of your bedding, and your room “theme” carefully. I’ve regretted purchases and gotten sick of “unique” purchases before. Sometimes, going with something versatile helps (hence my very bland color scheme and one accent color).

You need to make sure your decor accommodates your routine and needs. For example, I love the theme going on in my living room (dark green velvet couch, oriental rug, blush and magenta decor, gold and orange accents, white tables, plants, stones, etc). However, that is way too loud and dark for a bedroom where I battle insomnia and crazy dreams.

Another example: I needed something above my desk but didn’t want to just place any random artwork or poster. As a result, I settled for 4 boards in a quadrant of both decorative and organizational canvases.

Goal #3: Keep everything cohesive yet under budget.

I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on decor, so I painted a few personal things (and a Prada Marfa sign, because I’m addicted to Gossip Girl) for my wall. It’s a really fun project!

If you rather leave the creativity to the experts, be sure to check out Society6, TJ Maxx, HomeGoods/HomeSense, Marshalls, Target, Amazon, local art fairs for decor pieces. If you’re looking for functional wall decor such as mirrors or shelves, Wayfair, West Elm, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target are great places to start. If you’re really tight on a budget, check resell sites. We found almost all of our common area furniture, less the couch, barstools, and rug, on Facebook Marketplace!

Don’t feel like you have to find everything in one place in order for it to match. I know it’s tiring to hunt for decor, and it makes you feel like your home is never complete. I promise that if you just dedicate some time to searching, you’ll come across great deals and finds.

FOR SMALLER SPACES

Guess what?

My tips are the same!

Didn’t see that one coming, did you? 😉

If you haven’t guessed yet, my main decorating hack is this: Create as much open space possible around the entrance to your room. Then, make the layout of the room based on function. Some arrangements simply don’t make sense, so by process of elimination, you will figure out which piece of furniture goes best where. It’s honestly as simple as that.

In tighter spaces, very little inch counts, so you have to calculate size of furniture and items very carefully. It’s also easy to crowd a small space, so leave more empty wall space or floor space than you would a large room. Less is truly more in this scenario.

The following slideshow is a mini tour of my previous apartment, which is less than half the size of my current one. I could have edited the lighting in the photos, but to be honest that shoebox was just dingy and yellow so why not tell it like it is/was?

Our old apartment: a little under 400 square feet

Common space: approximately 220 square feet

My bedroom: approximately: approximately 91 square feet (7ft by 13ft)

My roommate’s room: 75 square feet (7.5ft by 10ft)

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In this apartment, my bedroom was also a rectangle. Due to the position of the closet, the door, the heater, and the window, I had only one option for my full size bed. This resulted in a railroad room set-up. If you’re not aware of what this means, it’s essentially a room that is long and skinny where you have to go through things (or on top of furniture in my case) to get to the back of the room, there’s little to no room to go around pieces of furniture.

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Honestly, I was very proud of myself for setting up the room the way I did. Considering I laid it out, unpacked, and decorated from 7pm till 7am that first initial move-in date, I’m surprised that my brain performed the way it did during those hours. Just like I said above, I laid my room out based on process of elimination.

  1. The bed couldn’t go up against the back wall in either orientation or it would block the heater.
  2. The dresser would make my room look very small if I placed it directly to the right of the door. It also would obstruct my path into the room. I also don’t need my dresser to be close to the door, so the back corner between the wall and window/heater was perfect.
  3. In order to have a reading nook AND not clog the entrance to my room, I pushed my chaise up against the wall by my closet to face the door. This left a nice open space by the door.
  4. thanks to my closet, there was an awkward nook behind the door. Just like my new room, it served as the best place to hide all my shoes and my mirror.

I should miss my first New York City apartment because it holds special memories, but the lighting and air quality and ventilation was so terrible in there that I don’t miss it one bit. We signed on the spot since we were 3 days away from the intended move-in date and were willing to take whatever we could get… which brings me to the not-so-fun part of NYC living: apartment hunting.

 

MY TOP 10 TIPS FOR MOVING TO NYC

Living in the city, especially when you’re fresh out of 20 years of schooling and thrown into society, is not all that glitters. There is a lot people don’t tell you about the housing market in the city, which forces you to learn some difficult lessons very quickly. As negative as they are, they’re important so let me sum it up for you:

  1. Before moving into the city, you need to give yourself 3 weeks to search and save up about 3 months rent or around $10,000 to be safe.
    • This pays for your first month’s rent and a month (or sometimes two months) as a security deposit, both which you hand over when you sign your lease.
    • This pays for broker’s fee (a month’s rent) because it’s a bit difficult to find buildings that don’t require you to go through a broker.
    • This pays for application fees and possible key deposits.
    • This pays for movers fee (which you’ll need if you’re moving from apartmnnt to apartment) which ranges from $200-500 per person.
  2. Start with StreetEasy.com but do not trust every listing you see.
  3. Number of options and rent prices are both at their highest in the summer, lowest around December through February.
  4. Have all of your paperwork ready when you start your search. This includes:
    • Proof of employment (usually three recent pay stubs and documentation with your annual salary/bonuses)
    • Last three months bank statements
    • Latest tax returns (your W2 and the first two pages of your 1040)
    • Photo ID
    • Previous landlord’s contact information/referral letter
    • Personal check for the application fees
    • The ability to obtain a bank check for your deposits and first month’s rent
  5. Act swiftly! Things happen within 24 hours. If you see an apartment you like and you don’t apply right away, chances are it’ll be snatched within the day, so be prepared to fight for it!
  6. Nobody has your best interest at heart, so stay alert. Brokers have to make sure you’re happy with your options and final choice, but they’re also in it for the commission. Keep in mind they know a lot more about management firms and the market than you do, so when push comes to shove money talks and sometimes you just have to walk away.
  7. You will compromise on what you’re looking for. It is almost impossible to find a place that checks everything off your list. My best advice is to find the one or two absolute deal breakers that you cannot compromise on and work from there. Everything else that gets checked off your list is honestly a luxury.
  8. Your favorite neighborhood is not necessarily the best place for you to live in. I love the village, SoHo, and Gramercy, but those are not suitable places for me to unwind after long days at work. I can still enjoy my days in the village or roaming around SoHo, but I enjoy it much more knowing I don’t have to deal with the negatives of the neighborhoods were I to live there.
  9. Trust your gut instincts. If a deal seems too good to be true or something seems sketchy about either the area or the building itself, trust your gut and decline that option. You rather be safe than really sorry.
  10. Living in NYC is NOT glamorous. There will always be unexpected issues or complications with your apartment, ones that you would not have known before living in that space. Instead of getting frustrated or complaining about it, do what you can to work with it. Things are never completely unfixable, and if they truly are take it as a lesson well learned. Despite my apartment seeming “great” there are many issues that came along with it as well so don’t feel discouraged if you run into similar issues.

For those of you who followed my stories on Instagram, you’ll know that this apartment wasn’t renovated in time for our move-in causing us to be displaced for a week. We ran into many other minor issues as well during the wall building process and installing internet. However, I’m still so grateful for my space, finally having a doorman who handles my many many many packages, and a super who can speak English and address our issues on site. Despite all the headaches, living in a good neighborhood, in a clean building, and at a reasonable price (relatively speaking of course) is a true blessing in Manhattan that I don’t take for granted.

We’re still waiting on a tapestry and choosing wall decor for the wall facing our front door, but the majority of my new place is completed so I wanted to give you a mini tour:

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I love my place, but I’m counting down the days until I am rich enough to purchase my own one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan (if that day ever comes) that I can decorate with no restrictions. Until then, it’s my trooper roommates and I versus the Bart Basses of this city.

What are your tips and tricks? Do you have a favorite home item to shop for? Don’t hesitate to comment below! Until next time, bisou bisou, mes chéries…

 

 

 

 

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Erica Huang

Based in New York City, Erica Huang is the creator and voice behind Bouge & Rouge. This blog is a playground of her thoughts where she invites you to join her on her journey through her 20s. Erica shares her lifestyle, fashion and beauty tips, adventures, and personal thoughts with the goal of inspiring others to always persevere and be unapologetically yourself.

Find me on: Web | Twitter | Facebook

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