decorating your first place: a primer

Before Katie left for Chicago, we were sitting in my newly decorated apartment and we had a conversation that went something like this.

Katie: This house is really cute, you should blog about this.
Emily: Oh gossssh I would never do that, I don’t want our blog to become some wannabe Design Sponge.
Katie: Okay, well if you want to you can. It really does look nice.
Emily: Okay! I’ll do it! Geeze, stop begging me.

I’m no interior decorator but I pretty much pulled an extreme home makeover on this place. When I moved in the floors and windows were filthy, the trim was 3 different colors, and the walls were painted a depressing “masking tape beige” in addition to being noticeably crooked. Luckily, my mom, the original Martha Stewart, came to my rescue and flew into town for a few days to help me decorate and we really turned the place around. So much so, that every time Joe, our handyman, comes over (which is often) he just walks around shaking his head and saying “Y’all made it mighty nice in here, looks like one of those fancy magazines.”

I think it’s really important that your house look nice and feel inviting because we are adults now and sometimes we might want to invite our fancy adult friends over for drinks (or, more likely, to watch Gilmore Girls) and we’re too old to be sitting on a futon. I grew up with a mom who was constantly redecorating and rearranging our house and i’d like to think some of it rubbed off on me. So i’m going to take some time over the next few weeks to tell you what I know about decorating (and, also, let’s just be honest I want to show you pictures of my cute house) in the hopes that you futon-dwellers will realize it’s not that hard after all.

First, let’s start with the BEFORE
(ps- I took all these pictures on my phone. Deal with it.)

This is my room, it has a ton of light and a convenient view of the stone wall that separates us from the highway. The trim is 1/2 original wood and 1/2 2×4’s painted brown. Lovely….


It also has a fireplace and two of these awesome stained glass windows. It is notably missing a closet, but we’ll get to that later.


Here is the glorious AFTER

My decorating mantra previous to this house was something along the lines of “color explosion” so I tried to calm it down a little for my grown-up grad student room. I painted all the trim and fireplace white (I cannot recommend Glidden’s trim paint highly enough. I now consider myself an expert trim painter and this is truly magic paint, one coat will cover even the darkest of trim with no sign of brush strokes. And, duh, I’m not getting paid to say that because we don’t get endorsements- who do you think we are? The Midwestyle?) I painted the walls a pale mint green and got some fluffy white rugs from Target that i’m sure will feel nice once winter arrives. My bedding is from Anthropologie, which is definitely pricey, but it sets the tone for the whole room and you use it every day! I’m still debating dropping the cash on a headboard, so the shams will have to suffice for now. The curtains are $7 each from Target and we used them in every single room. (Full disclosure: They are thumb-tacked and super glued onto the molding.) I’m notorious for seeing things on Pinterest and saying “I can do that!” and the art on the mantle is proof of that. Katie, no stranger to crafting herself, made me the piece on the far right for my birthday.


This is where the magic happens, people. (By magic I mean blogging, obviously.) My desk is from Crate and Barrel and the shutters are from an antique store in Columbia. The antique little boy kissing the phone has a matching little girl lamp (CUTE, right?!) that’s on my dresser. The flowers are made from old sewing patterns and pipe cleaners. Pro Tip: This is probably all kinds of illegal but I take images I like off Pinterest and print them out at Kinko’s on cardstock to hang on my shutters. And, yes, I still think it’s cool to cut inspirational phrases out of magazines. I keep my planner open on my desk so that when I am mindlessly browsing my Google Reader I can glance over and remember my massive to do list. That works about 30% of the time. The gold frame was a birthday gift from Molly and contains the police blotter entry of the time we fell through a ceiling on campus. Like I said, art doesn’t have to be expensive to be awesome.


This is my nightstand, which is actually an antique bar cart I got in Cape Girardeau, MO. It’s the perfect size for all my books and sleeping pills. (Stop judging me.) The silhouette is me at age 5 and the clock is from Pottery Barn Kids and shows you the temperature of the room also, which I really enjoy because it adds a new degree of specificity to my wintertime complaining i.e. “It is LITERALLY 55 degrees in this house!” The hot water bottle was a Christmas gift from Restoration Hardware and I absolutely use it every winter because it makes me feel like I am Laura Ingalls living  on the prairie.

So, what have we learned here?
1. Antique stores are your best friend. They’re cheap and if you’re willing to put in the time you will definitely be rewarded.
2. You can make that. See some art you like? Take a trip to Hobby Lobby and then spend an afternoon crafting while watching Friday Night Lights. You’ll save money and everyone will think you’re artsy.
3. It’s okay to invest in good pieces. My bedding and my desk are on the pricier side, but I’m not planning on getting rid of them anytime soon so that softens the blow a little.
4. But don’t spend a ton on everything. The majority of things in my room are handmade, from an antique store, or Target. Target is really where it’s at, y’all. Their design sensibility is always spot-on and their pieces are great quality without being too expensive.
5. If you can paint- do it. It’s cheap and makes the biggest difference. Pro Tip: Coerce your friends into painting for you by making them dinner and putting on an awesome playlist. Or just bite the bullet and do it yourself, it’s a great time to catch up on missed episodes of This American Life.

Do y’all have any decorating tips? Let us know!




Filed under emily, life in the real world, we recommend you do this immediately

3 responses to “decorating your first place: a primer

  1. What is this? Free money day?
    We have matching stained glass windows above our fireplaces, twins!

  2. JK

    Looks neat & cozy. Congrats!
    Do I just buy Glidden Trim Paint or is there a more specific name on the label?

  3. emilylewis

    Yep, it’s just called Glidden Trim Paint. You don’t need to get them to shake it up because its gel paint (very strange) so you just mix it up yourself when you get home. It sort of has a cottage cheese consistency so don’t be alarmed!

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