Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bedroom on a Budget: The College Years

While I've always been a handy girl at heart, my obsession with DIY projects really took off when I got my first apartment in my sophomore year of college. My roommates and I didn't want the beat up furniture that came with a furnished apartment, and we figured it would be cheaper in the long run to buy stuff and reuse it or sell it, so we opted for an unfinished apartment. That meant that I had to furnish a bedroom myself, plus portions of the living room/dining room.

Let me interrupt this happy tale by saying that I am 1) a huge perfectionist (thanks Mom!) and 2) pretty cheap (thanks Dad!). I was determined to furnish a room that was functional, affordable, and cohesive/cute, in that order (well, most of the time). Having just heard about craigslist from a friend, I took to the web and started collecting furniture. My first purchase was a table (pictured in progress here), which only cost $10 and sits in my current room. I continued to search craigslist obsessively for perfect pieces. To give you an idea of my affordability standards, here's how much I paid for each piece of furniture in my room:
  • End table/Night stand -- $10
  • Another night stand, which I used as a bookshelf/TV stand -- $15
  • Dresser -- $35
  • Desk -- $30
  • Double bed frame -- $25 (plus about $8 for new bed slats)
Total:  $115

I knew that when I moved into an apartment with three roommates, my stuff would need to be more contained to my room than it was at my parents' house. So when I was searching for furniture, I tried to find pieces that maximized storage in the relatively small room. I made a point to find a tall, narrow dresser that provided storage without taking up the square footage of a low, wide one. This wasn't tough for me at all since I love a great vintage highboy. In order to provide ample storage for school supplies, makeup/hairbrushes, etc., I picked up a desk with plenty of drawers, as opposed to a table with one or no drawers. Here's a few photos of my collection pre-paintbrush:

 Headboard and footboard -- I especially loved the detail on the footboard.

This dresser had a great curved front and maximized storage in a small space.

This crackle-painted nightstand was originally from Ethan Allen.

I couldn't find a picture of my desk, but here's a photo of a similar desk courtesy of craigslist DC.

Then, I did something that was totally unoriginal, trendy, and not very creative: I painted it all white. Here's how the pieces came out:

Headboard and Footboard



TV Stand (really a nightstand)

I know what you're thinking.

I can't believe she painted that beautiful dresser. It looked great already!

At least that's what my neighbors not so subtly indicated when they'd stop by to see what I was doing in the garage. And the dresser did look great without paint, but that color wood in my bedroom just ain't my thang (I prefer a mahogany or espresso).

The room actually did look pretty cohesive, and I was able to furnish my bedroom sans mattress for about $150 with paint and supplies. Plus, I totally enjoyed working on each one of these pieces.

A few tips for furnishing your room with used furniture:
  • You can find nice stuff on craigslist for REALLY affordable prices if you look often and have patience when hunting down the perfect piece. Set your affordability standards low, you'd be amazed at what you can find.
  • It's important to think about how you use the furniture in your current space. Do you have a lot of books that you'll need to store? Where will you keep things like hair brushes and hairbrushes? Always keep in mind how much storage you'll need.
  • Don't be too quick to dismiss a piece of furniture that looks like it's straight out of your grandma's house. A vintage piece painted an unexpected color mixed with a more contemporary piece can provide an interesting juxtaposition, especially in a rental lacking in architectural character.
  • Pay attention to the lines of a piece of furniture and the material it's made from -- the color, hardware, and upholstory can all be changed.
  • Just like you do when you're buying a house, think about the ways you would want to change a piece of furniture, and roughly how much those changes will cost you.  Factor those changes into your budget so you know just how much you're willing to spend on the piece.
  • If you buy a used piece of furniture and find another piece that works better, don't hesitate to put the first piece back on craigslist. You'll be much happier with your end result if you admit when something isn't working and find an alternative.
  • Painting furniture the same color or even the same color pallete an easy way to make a collection of furniture look more cohesive.
  • Good paint is worth the money, as some of the cheaper brands can dry tacky. This can be a real problem with white especially.
  • Try to tackle projects one at a time.
As I made my way through college and moved apartments (and even bedrooms), my collection evolved. Stay tuned for more installments of bedroom on a budget when I'll walk you through some of the changes I made to my boudoir, and how I decided to outfit my new big girl bedroom in my first house post-college!

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