From Milk Crates to Crate & Barrel: Transitioning from Dorm Room to Fully Fledged Home

Your first place out of college is usually a hodgepodge of furniture and decorations from anyone that had extra to give you. If you've got an apartment or house you're ready to make your own check out this article that discusses painting walls, buying couches, and making everything look like you put it there on purpose.

When I recall college I think of living in a small, cage-like dorm room with a roommate, lofted bunkbeds, small refrigerator, ready-for-firewood desks and chairs, ratty carpet and heating that worked only with a swift kick to the vent and a prayer.

Don’t get me wrong – it was fun. I think times like those where everyone had the same shitty living arrangements brought people together (or at least all drove them to the same watering holes, so to speak).

And then graduation came and I got a job straight away, fortunately. Unfortunately, I had no place to live. For about a month or so I had to move onto a fold out couch at a friend of a friend’s apartment, which was not only really nice but a blessing. I didn’t have to pay rent at that moment so I could kind of gather my bearings from my minimal possessions in my dorm room to getting used to the communal apartment living.

Then I moved into a townhome with three other individuals in what, in hindsight, was also a shithole. Years later I came to find out that the local hospital referred to my complex as ‘Needle Village.’ Needless to say, that townhome was a hodgepodge of junky art, furniture that didn’t match, Christmas lights in the living room and a back patio that no one wanted to mow.

Target is not the consummate place to adorn your home

I think for the first couple of years out of college it’s acceptable to really not invest into making a home for yourself, because if you’re like me, you aren’t sure where you are at is where you’ll be in five years. It can be difficult to justify spending money on things when you probably need money for food or bills.

After the townhome, I moved downtown with a friend and our apartment building was a historic hotel that had been renovated into apartments. It was at this point that I thought, “I’m tired of having junk furniture.” More so, was that when you stop living with others, you realize you’re going to have to buy the things they owned that you no longer have. Like a television or couch.

I decided it was time for me to be a big boy and invest in some furniture. As my mother always noted, I live with champagne tastes on a beer budget and this experience was no different. I did shop around, which is important – as you can sometimes get price matches or find that if a current style is en vogue, guess what – other stores are going to carry similarly styled furniture. I purchased a couch, chair, coffee table and tv stand for the HD television I had recently purchased. I mean, my thinking is this: buy what you want, because if you buy something cheaper you don’t like, you’ll always look at your purchase with hatred and contempt. Believe me, I didn’t buy leather or high-end items, but they weren’t cheap either. Expect to pay a couple of grand for a living room set that matches and is what you want.

Because I was still sharing an apartment at that time, I had to give and take on how my roommate wanted to decorate. Thankfully he liked my ideas and because of the odd shape of our apartment, we opted to paint only a few accent walls versus whole rooms. One of my ideas was to break up walls by effectively ‘painting’ art onto the walls (see picture). This gives you more freedom in not having to commit to tons of painting and repainting when you leave your apartment.

A room with a large mirror

Your First Place of Your Own

Two years ago I finally moved into a place on my own. I had a couch, armchair, tv, tv stand, coffee table, dresser (repainted to match my bedroom nightstands) and some space fillers (ie plants, etc). This time I opted to paint two accent walls in my apartment. I tend to go for more earthly tones and hues – I just find them to be more soothing. The previous apartment was crème colored and I opted for a wine red, a deep yellow and chocolate brown colored accents. This time, as my walls were still crème, I did a deep pea green, mustard yellow and as my bedding was a slate grey, I incorporated two shades of gray in my bedroom, again in painted artwork.

It’s amazing the amount of ‘things’ you do have to accumulate, like said nightstands, end tables in the living room, and I put up those accent shelves that extend out from the wall, which were a bitch to do without a drill I found out. So note to self – have all the tools you need before doing any home improvements. Or make sure that you account for all of your supplies – paintbrushes, tape, plastic covering, trays, hammer, nails, level, drill, etc.

I will say that when living in an apartment, it’s hard to commit to fully decorating if you are unsure of how long you are going to live somewhere. Most places require you to primer back any of the areas you painted, which is the last thing you want to do when getting ready to move. On the flipside of that, I think it’s important to make the place you live reflect who you are and create an environment that you like.

As for me, I work in a beige cube and would go home to beige walls. It was unbearable. My life was a beige prison, and even now I think I’ll probably do a little more radical painting in my next place. And I may have to downsize for this coming move so now I have to make decisions about what stays and what gets sold…and makes it all seem so expensive for nothing. I digress.

You may ask, how do I know if what I like is stylish or tacky? I follow the KISS anagram: Keep It Simple Stupid. Don’t adorn your stuff with anything that is predictably a fad (bobbleheads) or that is just terribly uncouth (all animal prints). Plus be aware that anything you do own, you need to take care of and have pride in. Pick things you will think you can stand to look at for at least a few years. Some accent pieces can be trendier or have more color, but overall – don’t overdo it. Plastic furniture is a tragic statement about yourself whether you know it or not. Target is not the consummate place to adorn your home.

Making the Move to Your First Home (and the Paint that Comes with it)

Blue Bathroom  learning with colorA year ago a friend of mine purchased his first home and I picked his brain on just how it was different upgrading from decorating and living in an apartment vs buying his first home. All told, in the first year, he spent approximately $3,000 mostly on paint, painting supplies and landscaping – yep, with a home you venture not only into interior decorating but exterior as well. And each deserves equal attention and commitment.

Since his house was a clean slate, he chose to paint many of the rooms completely and he liked a more vibrant color palette but was aware that when painting two rooms that were adjoined without a door, that the colors should provide flow and not be too drastic or contrasting. But to his point, in an apartment you have less space so you really have to be conscience of the color you will be sitting in, essentially, versus having more room in a house where you spend less time in one room constantly.

Also in moving from an apartment to a house, you take what compacted lifestyle you had and begin to stretch it out to fill the space, which means you’ll inevitably need to commit to more furniture and may even need to upgrade from you current furniture. The couch that filled the living room before may seem miniscule in a proper room. Also in a house, knick-knacks come into play, especially within the kitchen area. And don’t forget that when moving into a house, you’ll undoubtedly be purchasing all your appliances as well – refrigerator, microwave, dishwasher, oven, etc.

It’s clear that with a house, you’ve made a commitment to be there for a while so you can always switch up your style over time or re-do rooms. I asked my friend if he ever thought he’d be done with the house and his reply? “A big fat no.” There you have it.

Apartments are more temporary arrangements and less maintenance, but they also mean you don’t really get the room to spread out to decorate fully. Depending on what your long-term vision is for your life, you’ll be able to decide if you’re more of an apartment or house person. To me, condos just seem to be a gateway between the two.

Need ideas? It sounds trite, but check out HGTV or their website for ideas on color schemes if you are coordinating deficient ( or want ideas on how to decorate on a dime or DIY.  Or pick up the latest copy of Better Homes & Gardens ( These websites are also really good to use when customizing or picking out colors you like and seeing what matches them. /

Justin Thompson is a freelance marketing consultant and writer by night and by day, toils in the belly of the corporate world with only the help of his iPod. To learn more about him, follow him @justinyourmind via Twitter or visit his website at