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Decorating for beginners.

Maybe Rule #1 is "go easy on vintage."

I recently hired a recent college grad to work for me. I love her precisely because she's like Tracy Flick. She will do anything to get the job done.

Now, she brings her perfectionism to her personal life, too, and there is a lot of talk about furnishing her new apartment. She really wants to get it right without making expensive mistakes.

I think we should all brainstorm 10 Commandments of Decorating Your First Place. Reader comments will be reincorporated into this post until our mission is accomplished.

Here's an example of where I have been totally stupid about making a real home for myself. This is going to totally scandalize my friends at House of Beauty of Culture and Maison 21:

I have shitty Ikea silverware.

There. I said it. I can't seem to decide on a placesetting I like and want, and I keep putting it off... maybe I think I will register for it (have to register for something since we already have the Noah's Ark of Home Appliances... two toasters, 2 sets of pans, 2 irons, and many other artifacts of combining two lives).

Anyhow, I don't have real silverware and I now think that it's really the first thing I should have purchased. It's not so dignified to eat with spoons you can bend in a stubbornly cold container of ice cream.

I also think about lamps and how when you're young, it's tempting to cheap out and get a $10 Ikea charmer that just doesn't seem so charming even two years later.

And then I think about the first few "real" things I started buying and how they start to change your life for the better. It's the most adult feeling, I think, because you realize you have the resources now to not have to compromise on getting the thing you really want.

So... you're just starting out... you generally know your taste at this point, but taste does change. So what things would you advise my young colleague to splurge on? Scrimp on? What decorating tips can you offer her? Anything she should insist on? (for me, it was splurging on fresh flowers every week...) Anything she MUST avoid? Should she say, "fuck getting engaged and married, I am going to buy the nice silverware today"?

Comments please. I think you rowdy and brilliant Decornophiles are going to come up with one hell of a list.


the House of Beauty and Culture said...

If I had a daughter, this is what I would stock her first apartment with:
1. Baldwin Tuxedo or Nantucket sofa in a durable timeless solid fabric.
2.A Regency tilt top breakfast table.
3. Wedgwood classic white china.
4. Proper silver flatware - Tiffany Bamboo - tell everyone who ever wants to buy you a present that is what you want and you will have a service in no time.
5. Interesting lamps - anything can be turned into a lamp, i.e. silver plate samovars. Remember, lamps are the jewellery of a room.
6. A better than average bed.
7. A starter set of Calphalon, a cast iron skillet, a copper egg bowl, a wall mounted scale, and a French press.

And tell her not to waste money on the in between or on the style du jour. Wine crates cost nothing.

Decorno said...

I knew you would come through for us on this topic.

I just looked into the Tiffany bamboo flatware. I know the pattern is a classic, I never knew what it cost. My friends and family better brace themselves, but I am definitely going to put it on the perpetual gift wish list.

French press. Great idea. Such an inexpensive way to treat yourself to an amazing cup of coffee. I haven't used mine n a while (for a long time, it was all I used until my brother bought me a little one-person Mr Coffee and my laziness has gotten the best of me ever since.

maison21 said...

decorno, would it shock you to know that my flatware isn't much better than ikea? the last dinner party in my home was 1996. cooking is an art maison21 just doesn't understand, so like you, i've just never bothered to upgrade. in addition to my crappy flatware, i have 2 pans and one pot. i do, however, seem to have lots of glassware for wine and cocktails- shows where my entertaining priorities lie- i won't feed you, but i will happily get sauced with you!

while i agree with hobac on the tiffany flatware and classic wedgewood white china, i don't know if that's entirely practical for someone just starting out, working as an assistant. she can save those for her wedding registry. or do as a good friend of mine does- knowing his mother has atrocious taste, he has asked her to buy him nothing but tiffany bamboo flatware for birthday and xmas gifts- even if it's only a piece at a time. over the years, he has built an an extensive set, and has now moved on to china (yes, wedgewood, but not white).

for flatware for her first apartment, bed, bath and beyond sells a 20pc setting of bamboo handled flatware for $29.99- can't beat that:

combine it with plain white china from ikea (not the cheapest they sell, but the 365 stuff), and some basic wine glasses from crate and barrel and it's a classic look that will last your girl for years until she decides to upgrade.

yes, lamps are vitally important- nothing screams cheap and ugly like some weird torchiere/reading lamp combo from target or ikea. simple lamps with real shades are a must. get a cheap end table from a thrift store and lacquer it black (diy) to put the lamp on, and the whole thing looks terrific.

buy the absolute best sofa one can afford- this should be the biggest splurge. if you can only afford ikea, so be it, just don't buy the least expensive model, save until you can afford the best they have to offer. or better yet, buy a quality vintage piece and recover (hobac is right again- always choose a solid fabric for a sofa- save the loud print you are in love with for a throw pillow or accent chair).

and last, thanks for introducing me to the house of beauty and culture blog- i had never visited before and just spent an entertaining bit of time there. though he intimidates me a bit, i hold many of the same cultural views & references, so it was a fun read. i have a feeling if we ever met in person, we'd either be instant bff's or mortal enemies!

ps- i think i might steal from you again, and just cut and paste this novel length comment into my blog as my next post! for reals!

No Respect for His Elders said...

Your assistant sounds capable of developing her own orthodoxies. Anyway, they'll develop naturally, in part through mistakes she makes, which are painful but make good story material.

Anyway, it's all fashion. I'm sure there were furniture "classics" before Billy Baldwin or Sister Parish or whoever are presently considered decorating's Mt. Rushmore figures. My idea of a "classic" sofa is one designed by Edward J Wormley for Dunbar, ca. 1940s-1950s, and for dinnerware, American Modern by Russel Wright, but these are preferences, not scientific principles that can be proven "right" or "wrong."

A cast iron skillet is always a good idea. Fake-wood (particle board covered in veneer) furniture will always disappoint you. And one last principle: If you're buying something online, pay attention to the measurements!

Anonymous said...

1. Make the shell of the Apt as strong as it can be before you put a thing in it. A great paint job can make an almost empty room look fantastic. Your girl needs to decide if she's about white, naturals, colour, whatever -- and then go for it. Think about a colour or gloss for the ceilings, trim etc. Also look at doorknobs, ceiling fixtures, light switches, handles, kitchen faucets, etc. These are all easy upgrades with major impact. Refinish or re-tile the floors if necessary (peel and stick do the trick).THEN only put things in it that you love. Add and subtract - that's the fun part.
2. Agree that lighting is key. Big fan here of getting vintage lamps rewired at the local hardware store and adding restoration hardware shades.
3. Only put REAL art on your walls. Lose the dorm posters. Start buying it NOW from art school shows, online,, your friends, your OWN, etc. Arrange in your apt for impact -- not itty-bitty displays. Right now this might be ONE piece alone (on a beautifully painted wall) but in 5 years you can repaint and rearrange your 'collection'. Use readymade frames but go to your framing store to get custom mats cut -- it will look custom.
4. Keep the Ikea to a minimum. Avoid the cliche pieces. (Say NO to the Billy bookcase!) Mix with vintage, and upgrade as you can.
5. Learn to sew a straight seam. Simple curtains, pillows, duvet covers, simple slipcovers can look like a million bucks. Find a designer fabric outlet. Rework vintage fabrics. My fav throw pillows are made from a stained vintage 5o's toile tablecloth. My bedroom curtains are Indian bedspreads from Urban Outfitters. They look like Designers Guild
6. A great rug also has impact in an almost empty, beautifully painted room. Ikea actually has a pretty good selection -- at decent prices that their mass buying
Isn't this going to be fun!

Anonymous said...

a "wall mounted scale"??

Decorno said...

Ditto that question, Anon.

HOBAC - please advise.

Anonymous said...

There is good shit EVERYWHERE. Always be hopeful, always keep your eyes open.

Anonymous said...

RULE # 1 - Save the frosting for last! ! !

Get 1 quality essential for each room in your house/apt/studio now.
Add another to each room, every year, the best you can pop for.
In the meantime:
Accessorize with estate finds & on-sale nuggets.
Collect swaths of end of bolt/remnant fabulous fabric for pillows.
Use what you have: books, fresh flowers, your own BW photos.........also, understand the virtues of a good coat of paint (walls, furniture, floors...)

Anonymous said...

yeah, I don't see a fresh-out-of-college assistant asking all her fresh-out-of-college friends: "For my birthday, would you buy me a $125 teaspoon?"

the House of Beauty and Culture said...

wall mounted scale
have the copper egg bowl hanging over it, and one need never look for either.

Tara said...

First and foremost:

1. You need good stationary...I mean the real stuff (Tiffany), monogrammed for all the present acknowledgements for your new place!
2. Waterford cream and sugar...even with Target whiteware, it lends the needed touch.
3. A fabulous mirror. French preferable, gorgeous enough to build a room around.
4. The best sheet count you can afford. With shopping online now you can get a bargain on 800-1,000 thread counts.
If the basics are good, all else will follow!

Anonymous said...

A pet is the most important thing.

Kids Got Hitched said...

Well. I think my suggestions might be a wee bit less specific. I say, let the girl make mistakes of her own. If she's indeed as smart as T. Flick, she'll figure it out and conquer the world in the end, anyway. That said, my 32 cents:

+Meet in the middle on the flatware debate. Strong enough not to bend in freezer-burned haagen-dazs, cheap enough that she can buy it herself, all at once.
+Ditto on white plates.
+Ditto on awesome sofa.
+A good mattress, even if the bed isn't amazing.
+A nice, new rug that she will love forever.
+Craigslist, Craigslist, Craigslist.
+Sales/clearances/store closings.

Tell her to relax and take her time. It's just decorating, after all.

Anonymous said...

House o' Beauty: If every young person stocked her home with Baldwin Tuxedo/Regency tilt top/Wedgewood white/Tiffany Bamboo... wouldn't we end up in "a world that is becoming increasingly and frighteningly homogenised"?

Carrie said...

I agree with "house of beauty" on the French press, even in a "work in progress" home, the daily ritual of actually MAKING your coffee (not having a machine make it for you) can feel like an indulgence...just taking that time for YOU.

Also agree strongly with "kids got hitched" on being a bit less specific on the list of suggestions...some simple guidelines are great. My favorite flatware is vintage hotel silver - not too expensive, easy to care for, really beautiful and such a rich history.

Anonymous said...

Can you explain how "hotel silver" is different from the non-hotel kind? Is it a design thing, a metal thing--what? I've always wondered. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

a good mattress, high thread count sheets, a warm and beautiful blanket, good pillows, a vintage or hand-me -down sofa (in the taste of the young ingenue of course), a few good pots and pans, decent china or stonewear and vintage/antique silverware either handed down from mom,nana or a flea market, real artwork naturally, a nice paint color on the walls, a decent cocktail table, the best lamps and shades you can afford and of course a warm, beautiful rug. Craigs List, flea markets, antique stores and family heirlooms are more the speed of the "ingenue in question" budget. It's also recycling on every level. Not too many people (mother-of-ingenue included) can afford the things on the original list! I should know, I helped my daughter with furnishing her first few places. Taste is not about the most expensive bought items, it's about what makes you happy to come home to. One last thing. Most women just starting out will most likely have a roomate or two and the furnishings will have to fit in the home along with the other 'mates. Young ladies don't make up there minds too easily either so they could take forever deciding what to buy and hence, make quick, cheap purchases. They are far more interested in clothes, shoes and their social life and careers. Not many have that nesting instinct just yet.
p.s. to Anon: Carrie's vintage hotel ware is just that, ornate or classic silverware from grand old hotels.
to Decorno: I love your blog but you have some bitchy fans, my goodness! - Shelley

Decorno said...

Shelly - you are right. I *do* have bitchy fans!
I love them, though... I get the best comments on my blog (like your comment, for example).... I love that I don't just have good traffic... I have really good readers and really good comments, thanks to all of you.

And the bitchiness does keep me laughing, I must confess. :)

Carrie said...

To: Anon regarding Hotel Silver

I love both antique silver and vintage hotel silver(plate), but prefer the latter because if its more substantial size and weight (and love how you usually have to collect it piece by piece, so you end up with a really special and interesting mix that tells the story of your collecting).

Hotel silver was produced for use in hotels, so it's made to withstand many uses (and stands up to the ol' ice cream test), and more intense washings (a life-saver to be able to throw it in the dishwasher after a dinner party!).

A great source:

Anonymous said...


My advice is very obvious. Proportions are very important.
Draw out a floorplan of each room with the measurements of each piece of furniture and check that everything looks proportionate to the size of the room and each other. This is especially important in a small space.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Carrie. That does sound a lot more gratifying.

Anonymous said...


Like Woody Allen said to Christopher Walken in Annie Hall, "Well, I have to go now, because I'm due back on THE PLANET EARTH."

A Regency tilt top breakfast table? Tiffany flatware? On an assistant's salary?

Why here's a little breakfast table from Joe Nye for a mere $15K

Starter set of calphalon? Yeah, that will only set you back $600.

And what is with all the people recommending million thread count sheets? Trust me, your ass won't know the difference after you're asleep. The best sleep I've ever gotten in my life was on some perfectly-ironed coarse linen sheets at the Hotel Baglioni in Bologna. I think the thread count was like 3.

If this said assistant is reading this, here's some advice: Honey don't listen to these snobs. Save your money. Stick with white, 100 percent cotton sheets. 250 thread count is more than enough.

More advice:

Stay away from samovars. Anybody under 25 has no business knowing what this word means, much less turning a samovar into a lamp.

Any bed will do, as long as the mattress is firm and the headboard is padded. (I think you know why.)

Cast iron skillet. Definitely. Your biceps will get a workout just from carting it from stove to sink. Just be sure to oil it after every use.

Stay away from Tiffany's. You're a lot more original than that.

Ikea's fine, just don't buy all your furniture there. Ditto for any other retailer.

Get simple white plates. It doesn't matter where you buy them.

Buy one big unusual piece that makes you happy and makes a statement. Better yet if it doubles as storage. An armoire, couch, dresser. You can find this at an estate sale, antique store, flea market, on craigslist, etc.

Unify inexpensive wood pieces (picked up at garage sales) with the same shade of paint (bone, black, an indefinable grey-blue, or almost any hue from Benjamin Moore's historical colors collection).

Resist the urge to cover your walls with crap. If you don't have anything decent to put up, just leave your walls blank.

No matter what, stay away from table skirts!

Remember: none of this really matters because the polar ice caps are melting and in a few short years the entire planet (including all the Calphalon) will melt like an ice cream cone in Tucson in July.

Anonymous said...


Will you marry me?


Anonymous said...

Get in line, honey! There's a big brown bear ahead of you. You'll have to fight him off first.

According to moi, most hotel silver is nickel silver (it has to be, in order to withstand all that knocking around), which isn't really silver at all.

the House of Beauty and Culture said...

To Anons1 and 2 - please note I prefaced the statement with, "If I had a daughter, this is what I would stock her first apartment with".
I see this type of spending as an investment; in the long run it saves both time and money. I don't believe in the throw away or being too literal.

"Stay away from samovars. Anybody under 25 has no business knowing what this word means, much less turning a samovar into a lamp."
She is young, not stupid or unsophisticated.

"Cast iron skillet. Definitely. Your biceps will get a workout just from carting it from stove to sink. Just be sure to oil it after every use."
It also makes a great weapon if someone gets out of hand.

Resist the urge to cover your walls with crap. If you don't have anything decent to put up, just leave your walls blank.
I could not agree more with this statement. Shame you didn't apply it to the entire exercise.

And I do think you would make a lovely couple - so earnest and deserving of each other.

Anonymous said...

Read the original post: The exercise is about a real, flesh-and-bones young woman living in Seattle, Washington, in 2008--not some imaginary, obedient HOBAC-clone living in HOBACville in 1954.

We realize you'll never have the occasion to make a little HOBACette, but just for the record: If you were to manage that, HOBIE Jr. would, despite your best efforts, have her own taste. She might think that Billy Baldwin is overrated, that tables shouldn't tilt (especially at breakfast), and that yours skinny-ass faux-bamboo forks and knives hurt her fingers.
And PS: faux-bamboo anything is indeed "the style du jour"--sorry HOBES, but whether you like it or not, you just took a detour into Wearstlerville.

the House of Beauty and Culture said...

Anon - Correction. Weavstler took the detour, not I.
And fyi just because one can procreate, doesn't mean one should. That is not the great accomplishment - any animal can manage that. The accomplishment is raising a free thinking, happy, creative, articulate being that can fend for his or herself regardless of the situation or the foe.

Anonymous said...

So if she's "free thinking" and "creative," why force your taste on her?

Anonymous said...

Unless said daughter is also a spawn of Liberace, my original advice still stands: stay away from samovars-turned-lamps.

Anonymous said...

(Note to self: Reserve "Spawn of Liberace" as a blog name ASAP)

Melissa said...

Decorno - Thank you for the post. Just what I needed! I have an eye (heart?) for design but not quite the budget. One year out of college finds me much in the position of your assistant. I look forward to more advice from fellow readers but ideas of samovars (not a clue what this is) and tilting tables is too much for a busy NY girl to take.

Anonymous said...

Hi Melissa-
It's no wonder you don't know what a samovar is, you born AFTER Liberace died.* Thanks to Starbucks, you don't need one. But if you want to know what they look like,
has kindly posted a samovar for your viewing pleasure (along with some more geezer-trapped-in-the-19th-century decorating advice) or you can see bunch of them

*And no matter what HOBAC says, you're not unsophisticated for not knowing what a samovar is.

Anonymous said...

And don't buy line that "it's just a question of quality." He's no better than the 250-lb. women you see waddling around the mall with greasy sweatshirts that say "Armani": just another brand-name slave.

gilttrip said...

I have moved 28 times in my 38 years. A college intern today may not be so mobile, but society today is certainly transient. This is what I have learned...
1. Save your money for the good stuff. My mother saved change (literally) for an aubusson rug. My father complained that he had to sit on the floor to watch tv. She still has the rug and it works in every home.
2. Sectionals are versatile. I had one custom made for our home in Arizona. It lost a piece in order to fit in our Minnesota home. It works as two sofas in our Connecticut home.
3. Antique wood takes a beating. New (read cheap) furniture loses its sheen quickly. My great-grandmothers furniture is on its 5th life. My practically new Grange bed had its legs snapped off in our last move. It will never be the same. (Large tears of sadness.)
4. Go crazy with color on your pillows, drapes, art & older pieces. Large investment pieces should be neutral.
5. Paint, paint, paint. A coat of lacquer can turn that boring pottery barn white table into a thing of bright orange glory.
6. Shop in your relatives attics. My mom had a box of amazing blue & white bowls that I snuck to my place.
7.Double use pieces. Benches & ottomans double around dining tables, end of beds and coffee tables.
8. I don't have a formal set and a casual set of anything. I have waterford silverware that we use for everyday and holiday. I use my crystal for end of the day drinks and guests. Everything can go into the dishwasher.
9. = cheap art. For the cost of postage, coffee table books and a razor blade turns old books into something worth framing.
10. Bring empty suitcases when you travel. Bring them back full of unique but inexpensive textiles, pottery, art & accessories. Having the same stuff as your friends is not cool. We gave up dressing the same in grade school. Why copy someone else home decor?

Be the change..... said...

As i'm only a few years out of school myself, i don't have a lot of distance to judge -but I think the things i've invested in will pay out in the long run. To start out with I got a very good quality couch. I got medium grade flatware from crate and barrel ( bamboo pattern ) that is heavy and solid and beautiful. I recently inherited my grandmother's sterling silver for when I have company over.
I started out with just plain IKEA white china ( the 365 china ) and still tend to use it alot when I'm home alone -but got a beautiful set of vintage china on ebay for use when I have guests or feel 'fancy'.
I regret buyin ga cheap mattress as I had to go and buy a quality mattress 6 months later ( and go to a chiropractor ).
Buy quality down pillows...they'll last longer and you'll sleep better.
Don't buy expensive glassware yet - even if you are careful and enjoy it -your friends won't and it will break your heart everytime they break something.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Crate & Barrel has awesome flatware.

Jennifer said...

who knew this was such a debateable topic?!

I'm two years out of school and just married, so I feel like I'm in the same situation. Have already learned a few lessons:

- ditto on the good mattress.
- easy on the stemware. we've (er, rather, husband has) already broken about five pieces, and I'm glad they were from C&B
- get a few nice knives, they make all the difference when prepping food for dinner
- buy simple, inexpensive lamps and put nice shades on them (or the other way around)
- window treatments go a long way when wanting to make a room feel finished or "homey." expensive or not.
- raid the attics/basements of family members, you might be surprised!

Decorno - just started reading, and am loving it! Too, too funny.

Anonymous said...

If you're on a tight budget and you have to choose one or the other, pick table skirts over tables. It's just classier.

maison21 said...

anonymous, you are as funny as decorno!

Anonymous said...

oh, HOBAC is funnier than all of us (unintentionally, but still...)

Jean said...

Late two cents:

It's better to have too little good stuff than too much mediocre stuff.

Buy only what you love and need. (By need, I don't mean just utilitarian; artwork and beautiful fabrics are needs.) Don't buy something just because you might need it, or because it looks cute in the store.

If you have taste and culture, that's all you need to know. If you don't, it doesn't matter whether it's IKEA's or Tiffany's. (But 300 thread count does feel good on the skin. Higher? Princess and the Pea.)

An Aesthete's Lament said...

I swear by Christofle's Chinon silver flatware. It is true classic, looks as good on a picnic as it does at a wedding luncheon, and goes in and out of the dishwasher without a moment's despair. It's also the kind of fiddle-and-thread-style pattern that just about any decent silver company has made in living memory—which means you can round out your service everywhere from eBay to flea markets, which I've done, from Paris to Buenos Aires, at little cost. It's that standard ... and that damned essential.

Anonymous said...

My two cents:

Install dimmers in all of your light switches. It's surprisingly inexpensive, and easy to teach yourself how (or to find someone like my Dad who loves having a project like this) and completely transforms the look and feel of your space.

Do not rely on overhead lighting as a primarily light source in any room, especially a sad builder-installed flushmount fixture.

You can't go wrong with a neutral sisal rug.

A white slipcover (esp in linen) makes most upholstered pieces look cool and chic, and focuses attention on your nicer wood tables or interesting art.

Please avoid those weird asymmetrical shelves and cubes on the wall with sad votive candles on them. It just looks like you're trying to fill the space. Same goes for baskets of bamboo poles.

Minimize framed photographs of people. One or two on an end table is okay (especially if they're old black & white photos of relatives, which are always beautiful). If you insist on displaying dozens of photos of you and friends grinning and hugging in multiple settings, restrict them to a hallway on route to your bedroom or bathroom. Even better - well organized photo albums. Believe me - everyone who comes to your apartment knows that you have traveled somewhere at some time, and that you have tons of awesome friends that you've done lots of fun things with. The overwhelming evidence of these things is not necessary, and does not make for attractive decor.

Try to have something scultpural in your living space that's bigger than a knick-knack. An alabaster bust, or an antique toy truck, or an African headrest, or a Thai roof ornament, or a handmade menorah, or a tower of Shaker boxes..... ebay is full of these things, and if you find one that truly speaks to you, it adds that x-factor to a space that furniture + 2-D art just can't do on its own.

I definitely echo the advice that furniture pushed all the way back to all the walls is just sad. Use graph paper cutouts to play with floor plans until you find a layout that maximizes your home's architecture and traffic flow.

Try not to make the TV the central focal point of your space. See if you can place your TV on your window wall, or on a wall with a piece of art that dominates it. Having all of your furniture focused on a closed armoire is not much better than having it focused on a TV. Even just having a side chair faced AWAY from the direction of the TV will help make your space look more pleasingly organized.

Consider a tea-height table in front of the sofa, vs. a super-low coffee table. It's much more convenient to eat/drink from and the height adds visual interest to the room.

Try your dang-est to minimize home office equipment and clutter in the main space of your house. Evaluate carefully how important it is for you to have/display a printer or shredder. Tame cords religiously. Try to use existing closet space to store files etc. rather than having them out anywhere.

Really think about how you will use the space. Focus less on the things that you MIGHT do there (i.e., host dinner for 12), and more on what will bring you pleasure every day. A 2-person dinette set and/or table for four often just looks sad in a one-room space, and you and your friends might be just as happy eating from ottomans on the aforementioned tea-height coffee table if you're actually serving dinner for them. Otherwise, I strongly recommend a wood drop-leaf round table with a lamp on it when it's not being actively used for dining. Or a round pedestal table that is set up as a side table put pulled out when needed. Or a folding table/chairs set if you have storage space. Save your money until you have a truly defined dining area.

Estate and tag sales are your friends. You can find jaw-dropping, one-of-a-kind furniture for less than the price of C&B or Pottery Barn, and these will be pieces that can stay with you forever.

Ask your friends who the struggling artists are that they know. Chances are you're less than two degrees of separation from one, and it's the biggest win-win imaginable to be able to support them and get "real" art in your space that feels personal. One BIG real painting on canvas, even unframed, can make your room.

Get an iPal and do all of your music on your iPod through it. The sound quality is incredibly good, and it takes up no space.

Don't hang art too high. Think about what eye level is when people are sitting, which is the majority of the time.

Have something that sparkles in your space - a silver or crystal candleabra is great, and even better when you have candles around it when you're entertaining.

Light a votive candle in the bathroom during a party.

Stemless glasses help limit breakages and are completely multi-purpose: wine, water, OJ, cocktails.

Those crescent-shaped ice cubes that your freezer makes always taste weird. Make ice in trays when you're serving it to guests.

Unless you're a dedicated cook, don't overdo kitchen supplies. Get maybe one or two good pots/pans for the type of cooking you do most, and go cheap on everything else. Get maybe one good knife, and a bunch of good-ish smaller knives that are great for day-to-day tasks.

Start now gathering recommendations of good-value upholsterers. You'll feel brave enough to buy a chair or ottoman that needs work if you know you have a resource to go to to recover it, and a general budget to help you estimate the expense.

Post a picture of your space and what you already have here, and let us give you more specific recommendations! And have fun. :)

Anonymous said...

Test yourself HARD - and often - about what you really like.

Are you drawn to that cowhide rug or leopard-print pillow or orange lacquer tray or birch tree photograph or chinoiserie chest or mirrored side table or stone Buddha or anything else because it really truly speaks to you, brings you joy, excites your senses, etc..... or perhaps more because you have already even subconsciously digested that it's considered cool/stylish/trendy/nice/"good." There's nothing wrong with any of these objects at all - but your place will feel flat to visitors AND to you if the pieces you've selected are all somehow impersonally curated.

Be sure that you have pieces in your home that are special to YOU: a piece of lace from your grandmother, driftwood from your childhood vacation spot, your mother's old hope chest, a quirky flea market lamp YOU fell in love with, a collection of creased maps you've built over time... Things with some soul. Things that make you "you," that you wouldn't expect to find at your neighbor's apartment or your best friend's apartment or from the catalogs others have memorized.

And don't be afraid to start slow.

Anonymous said...

This topic is a bit touching, because my 22 year old daughter just got her first place and while she has her own ideas, I can see my influence. I'm not a great decorator, but I have learned a few things about myself by watching my daughter:

1. I think paint is at the top of the list. Color makes impact and we both have great colors going on in our homes. Walls, furniture, etc.

2. White plates. Mine are from C&B and I added patterns where ever I find it. Her great set came from target (the set had great cereal bowls. key)

3. Good mattress with good sheets. While she couldn't afford expensive sheets, she bought fabulous pillowcases. close enough. this includes at least a few good towels.

4. She set up a clever bar inside a shallow closet with vintage stemware. Painted the inside gold. it was quite glam

5. We painted my mother's old table. (see #1) and she throws dinner parties. She found old chairs, painted them too.

6. lighting. she has the best lamps bought at garage sales.

7. sewing machine-I taught her to sew and she's made things ever since. in college she made all the curtains in her house....

8. One good restaurant-style skillet. forget caphelon. I still have the one her grandmother gave us 25 years ago and its great. (including the potato peeler)

9. forget the fancy silverware-good knives are more useful.

10. and last but not least, love. Love in the size of your welcome mat, making your home the place where wine is poured, bread is broken and good times are remembered. always be ready to welcome people.

Lisa Hunter said...

Whenever I go to thrift shops, I invariably see somebody's vintage set of china for around $50, and a basketful of mismatched silver plate silverware for around a dollar a piece. Why anyone buys temporary Ikea stuff is beyond me. Good vintage things are often just as cheap.

Anonymous said...

My biggest advice is not to run out and buy enough to fill your place all at once. I find that living in your space for a while helps you to understand what you really need and what will fit in your space. It is also worth letting friends and family know that you are interested in furnishings that they may no longer want - you may just receive the perfect hand-me-down!

I also agree with some of the other comments:
1. Buy a comfortable couch in a neutral shade. It is easy to switch pillows or buy a throw blanket to go with it.
2. Consider using ottomans as a coffee table. I have a pair of ottomans that I had covered in a fun fabric and place trays on top when I need a place to set drinks. They easily double as extra seating and could be used in different settings when I move.
3. White dishes. I received one set as a gift and purchased an additonal set for myself so I have 8 place settings. All from Crate & Barrel. I have purchased different salad plates and table linens to dress up the table.

Anonymous said...

I'm 22 and living without roommates for the first time so this is super helpful. My own so-far-gleaned 2-cents:

- as someone who cooks, i say screw the fancy flatware (unless vintage) and get one amazing, well-balanced, FORGED knife
- get incomplete sets/single pieces of beautiful vintage china
- inevitable u start out owning/having to get *some* cheap things; don't spend too much time beautifying them, just replace them as opportunities arise
- educate yourself about design, and what u like; at flea markets, look for things with good bones
- don't do every single possible diy thing just b/c it looks cool in a picture on the internet and it's cheap
- don't get anything trendy, with the possible exception of cushions and paint colors (u can always recover, repaint)
- ur parents family probably has nice things *nudge, nudge*

BTW, i DO know what a samovar is, and it fact have a samovar-turned-lamp in my childhood room

Also, decorno rocks;)

S. said...

From a 22 year old with her first place (no roommates except two cats):

-Good couch. Actually, 2 chairs and a chaise, all armless. Get a neutral color that you like ("that you like" = operative words). Mine are kind of funky greenish-grey and I want white slipcovers, since greensih-grey clashes with everything.

-Gate-leg table.

-A great mattress

Shop at this great place called Your Parents' Basement. Also, this other place called Your Grandma's Attic.

Sorry folks, but IKEA was a necessary place for me to go for lamps, a bookcase, a desk, some kitchen stuff, chairs etc. I live in the middle of nowhere and needed some basics so that my books wouldn't live on the floor and I could make some soup or oatmeal. I needed to sit at my little 80 year old gateleg table and didn't have ANY chairs, and $400 at Crate and Barrel for chairs seemed like a bit much.

HOBAC -- I'll take that Calphalon starter set and some Tiffany's. I'm using the flatwear that my mom got in her first apartment and plates/bowls/mugs that my grandparents got in Norway.

I got trendy with the paint, and honestly, that was a lot of fun and I got it out of my system. Will I paint another living room light aqua? Probably not. Do I love my aqua living room? Yes. In 3 years, I might re-paint it grey.

The only things I have on my wall are a set of 3 watercolors of my grandpa's village in Norway, my college diploma (matted and framed), and a framed poster that I love.

Decorno -- I love you.


Anonymous said...

Years ago I bought a little book called "Thrift Shop Decorating" (by Adele Williams) at a remainder bookstore on the upper east side of Manhattan. Written in the 1970s and heavily influenced by Billy Baldwin, Miss Williams gave advice on how to decorate a simple chic home with very little money. Remove Ikea (before its day although she would have selected judiciously from it) from these discussions and the tone of the book is the same as these posts. For the most part and in principle her advice works as well today as it did then. If you can find a copy it is well worth having.

She starts with the advice "Get a dump truck" which tells you a lot about her world view.

Anonymous said...

(I do have a daughter who tried to get a job at C.N. to no avail!!)..but she is now happily working at PR in NYC...and loves decorating...well.. 1st rule go to grandparents house and see what you can snag..lots of silver ..and antiques if you can tear it away...just bring up the fact that polishing is the only thing that relaxes you after a hard day..if you can't get any furniture then go to estate sales in upper income towns...and recover with fab. fabric...also if in NYC my 1 fav. store is ABC...which brings me to rugs..very important..lucky for my daughter we scaled down when she went off to college so she snagged some really old and good rugs as well as some paintings from us! Now all she needs to do is find the perfect apt.

Anonymous said...

Oh my, look at all these comments!

I couldn't afford anything at 25, nevertheless hotel silver and a sofa. I think I bought my first "real" sofa in my early 30s. (And I'm only in my mid 30s now.) Anyway, I'd second the white dinnerware remark and then say that yes, proportion is definitely key and that craigslist and ebay are lifesavers. Oh, and if you don't have any furniture to set all your stuff on, then it's not going to look good, regardless of how you arrange it.

Anonymous said...


Cala said...

Buy things that don't fall apart and aren't meant to be thrown away, but rather given away once their life in your home has passed. Now that I am finally doing this myself, I see that I have a lot less stuff and love a lot more of what I do have. This includes my great grandmother's cast-iron skillet, a few great pieces of furniture from my parents, and a beautiful and completely unique vintage lamp my husband and I bought recently from a Philadelphia antiquarian.

Don't live amongst disposable things. That is my one piece of advice.

Katie said...

Thanks so much for this thread, Decorno. At 25 I'm still just starting out and am now addicted to dream-furnishing my first place. I've mostly lived with others and had to mix furniture together, and I can't wait to get a place all my own, well, "our own" really since I'm recently married :D. Our styles are a bit different, but meld together well and I can't wait to see it all someday! Until then we'll keep traveling and I'll try not to get too much stuff before I have a place to put it all! (I already have too much!!)
Thanks again! Keep the awesomeness coming!

Anonymous said...

I heard some very good, and true, advice recently: Buy cheap, buy twice. I've given up trying to buy bargains. They just don't work out in the long run, for me.

Rachel said...

Oh wow! What a post! And what comments!!

Okay - so I'm going to break trend here.... unless you have the money and LOVE (and I mean serious love)a sofa - buy an inexpensive one until you've settled down a little bit. Seriously. You don't know what movers are capable of doing to your really nice and expensive sofa. And once you've settled down somewhere (well, like for more than a couple years at least) OR your tastes have changed (because that will happen too!) - THEN you can invest in an expensive and nice sofa. Now, I'm not saying buy a cheap uncomfortable sofa, but don't break the bank. Right now, I have an IKEA sofa. Yeah, I said it! IKEA. And it's lasted me about 4 years now. At the time, I splurged on some tables and a bookcase/entertainment unit thing. The sofa is still pretty nice, is comfortable, and I won't be sad to donate it away when the time comes.

I will say, though, spend some money on a mattress! A comfortable bed is important.

Good knives are nice, and mid-range flatware is just fine.

And all these people are right - paint does go a long way, on furniture and walls, etc.

I would tell her to find rooms and homes she likes, find the elements in those rooms that really speak to her, and go from there. If you buy the things you like, you'll be happy.
But if you can't afford the sofa, get a basic one from IKEA in white, or some cool second hand one from family or a thrift store, so at least you won't have to sit on the floor!!!!

Just remember, it takes time to invest in and aquire quality things, unless you're incredibly lucky. It's okay to make do with whatever you can for a little while.

anon said...

I agree with Rachel. Buy an inexpensive couch until you're ready to settle down somewhere. You may find that the pricey piece of furniture you bought for your first place doesn't work well size-wise in your subsequent homes. Wait until you've moved into a place that you intend to stay in for the long run and then buy the best couch you can afford. You can then slipcover the inexpensive one and put it in the family room, basement, games room, etc.

{maison classique} said...

I know this is a post from last year...but I wanna' play!

1- Good bones. If you are into moulding (like I am)- do the architectural details. A good base, a good crown, if you like wainscot panels- go for it. Once its done, its done. And, the good bones can carry a developing style quite nicely.

2- A classic shape sofa in a neutral (wool if you can- it will last and last and look and feel gorgeous. Its at least $100 a yard- but so worth it).

3- A great rug. Again, I like wool- durable, looks great. But some designers like nylon because they are durable, too, and more budget friendly. A nice 8x10 wool rug will run about $3,000 +/-. You will feel like SUCH a grown up with a nice and proper rug. You can go neutral, or something with a pattern. Don't worry about it not matching later. You can be like the Europeans and juxtapose old with new and have it look a little quirky.

4- a simple, classic bed bench for something at the foot of the bed. when you get sick of it there, you can relocate it to the living room and make a new seating arrangement. When you get sick of it there, you can pretty much do whatever you want with it...make it bench seating for the morning room, move it to the entry, etc.

5- Wall sconces. Lamps you can spice up and change on a whim. But sconces are harder, and more expensive, to change out. So choose wisely. Put them on dimmers, of course. And put them up asap! Their quality of light is the most flattering!

6- A good, and big, mirror. Again, this can be a rotating piece when you get sick of it being in one spot. It can be refinished or re-framed when you really want a change, too. Buying big ensures the proper (or stunning) proportion on just about any wall. Mirrors can be used beautifully in almost every room.

7- Art. Start buying originals, when you can, and limited edition prints. You can find AMAZING deals on original pieces from students, aspiring artists, people starting their own online gallery or shop, etc. Once you start looking- the pieces will appear. One must live with good art. Who cares who its by. If you love it, and its not a poster or mas produced- get it. Also, consider a type of art you intend to collect...and collect it! Over time, you will have the most stunning and unique collection. For me, it figure drawing sketches.

8- Kidney pillows for your seating. Start with these. Good quality, good fabric. Knife edge or self welt. No frills.

9- Quality china service and decent flatware. I like the Tiffany basket weave.

10- A splurge item that you are excited about. If you are making such conservative and wise choices, sometimes it seems you are dropping a lot of money for something that doesn't *excite* you. Find that item you drool over and get it. Even if its only "cool" for a few years- it still lasted those few years. You can resell it to someone just getting in on the trend. You will make some money back, they will feel they are getting a steal.

Emily said...

Love this! I'm 25 in my first house, and wish I'd put more thought into our first furniture pieces before we started buying, but at the time, it seemed more important to be able to live in our house quickly, which involved lots of "We need computer desks and chairs today for under $300, so these are our 3 options."

I do wish we had bought a much cheaper couch and waited to buy an expensive one. We bought a beautiful leather couch (with pop out reclining things, which my husband was really excited about). It was really comfortable in the store and at the extremely high end of our budget. After a few months, we knew it probably wouldn't last more than one or two more years. The arms are already starting to wobble and it doesn't fit our space well. I feel like if we had experimented with cheaper couches, we wouldn't be stuck with this one until it finally gives out.

Anonymous said...

Dearest HOBAC,

We can agree that a lamp made out of a teakettle would be heinously tacky and a waste of a decent teakettle, correct?

A samovar is a big, shiny Russian teakettle.

Have tea. Not a lamp. Or the Russians will laugh at you. Though we all understand if you already forbid Russians from your dwelling.

But still, dammit, it's a teakettle.

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jane said...

I'm thrilled that this post continues! so I've decided to add 2 cents. I'm still young (kinda!) and still renting and I've learned a lot along the way.

The things about my place that I love:
1. A good knife. I was using cheap knives for several years, and when I finally got a good one, it was sooo liberating. Suddenly, miraculously I loved to cook. A stocked fridge/pantry/liquor cabinet also makes everything better. Btw, I have basic mid-quality cutlery that I love.
2. Pretty good bed. I love my sheets, my duvet and my pillows. They didnt cost a fortune, but they make going to sleep and waking up so much better. Without these, you may as well just crash on the couch. Actually, that might be a good idea if you've spent all your money on a sofa. I got a great mattress and a shitty sofa and I do not regret it.
3. Fabric. Get some amazing fabrics to spice things up. People don't even notice the couch because the pillows are incredible.
4. Lamps. I like a good white shade - it doesn't need to be expensive.
5. Good smells, open windows, fresh air, fresh flowers!
6. Art. I cannot stress art enough. It adds more personality than any other item. I like art school sales the best - but even gig posters can be pretty fantastic for a measly $20. Ikea is great (I said it, and will repeat it) Ikea is great for frames.
7. Sales are my best friend. Yay! warehouse sales! Vintage stores are also very close friends and perfect for showstopping items and sparkly things like mirrors.
8. Something sparkly. Something wood.
9. No matchy-matchy.

Jamie Goldberg, AKBD, CAPS said...

I can't even remember what I had in my first place, it was so long ago. I've always followed the mantra, "Improvise in your own style." I'd suggest this as an approach for anyone who wants their house (or apt.) to feel like home. I can tell you this, whatever my husband had in his first apt., save for one good mission style chair, he doesn't have any longer!

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Anonymous said...


Aimee said...

My husband and I moved into our first apartment when we were really young, and now at 25, we're finally starting to build up a good foundation of decor.

A few things I've learned:
1) Yes, if you ask, you will likely get more hand-me-downs than you would like. This can also be a good motivation to find pieces you actually love, instead of getting the cheap furniture that you need to get by. We had a lot of hand-me-downs that we really grew to hate over the years, and we found that getting rid of them was almost as exciting as getting the new furniture. My husband and our friend actually flipped the sofa, that had completely fallen apart, over the stairway on its way out, and we took turns beating on it. It was very liberating.

2) Good knives are very important. The worst knife injuries come from crappy knives, as you have to use more pressure to cut, and the edges aren't as clean as quality cutlery. Buy a cheap set, a good knife block, and a really good utility knife that's easy to use. Upgrade as funds permit, and in the order you use the knives.

3) Good art is very important. To us, it's what made our apartment more of a home. If you can't afford the real stuff, but have a creative streak, go to a local college and take a quick class with the medium of your choice. At the very least, you'll have something to put on your wall, and you might even uncover a new talent! (Or you can buy the art from the gifted students, if all else fails.)

Kit Golson said...

Because space = luxury, create a sense of spaciousness in your first apartment before you start filling it up with Tiffiny, IKEA, or Billy Baldwin!'s how:

A neat and cheap trick is to paint the lower part of your walls a darker/different color than the above the chair rail can then apply a light stencil or handpainting at the place where the two colors join...but keep it subtle....beautiful!!

Pythea said...

I know this conversation has long since been retired, but I'd like to say, "Have fun!" Years from now you will no longer be able/willing or afford the effect on your security deposit, but now, while you're living in cheap digs...Paint the walls purple. BeDazzle the sink. Hang paper lanterns everywhere to hide the cheap bare bulbs and, one night when you're drunk, climb on the table and graffitti them with lipprints you make using your best red lipstick. Paint the kitchen floor black and stencil the names of all your favorite poets on it. Decorate the walls with collages you make out of the labels of cans from the local 99 Cent store, whose contents keep you from running out of money before the end of the month. Buy faded, many-times-washed sweatshirts at Salvation Army and sew them together to make the world's most comfy slipcover for the couch you found on the curb. Fill in the back pillows that are always missing on street couches with some of those sweatshirts sewed into pillows and stuffed with the plastic bags your local grocery gives you. Reuse before you recycle! Find a great tree branch or old antenna or chandelier frame and hang all your sparkliest necklaces and bracelets from it and hang it in front of the sunniest window in the place. Buy cheap pull-down window shades and paint them and make cut outs using the tiny little shaped stampers crafters use -- litle stars, etc. -- that let in light but don't ruin privacy. Yes, those people who can see you DO look. Get a glass cutter and make your glassware out of wine bottle or liquor bottles with cool labels (I know, they wash off soon enough. You'll replace them at a more than compensatory rate, I promise.) Dye your hair at least four different colors over a year's time. Join a band or become a performance artist or learn to tango. Make a rug out of anything at all, decorate it and don't worry about it lasting -- you'll stain it beyond use within 6 months.
I guess what I'm saying is, break as many rules as you can as wildly as you can, because a) soon you'll start loving rules and b) along the way you'll find out that what started out as a whim becomes a lifelong motif in your life.
Here's hoping you have an apartment and at least three years of this kind of freedom to make mistakes -- my years of freedom were the best I've had.

Anonymous said...

This is coming from a chick in her 20s...

Go big on:
-a good couch. sectionals are awesome and versatile, even if it's just 2 or 3 pieces.
-a good mattress.
-good knives -- I've got two big-ish knives, one for veggies and one for meat, a bread knife, and a paring knife. Those 4 are the workhorses and they should be good quality.
-One heavy dutch oven along the lines of a Le Creuset (though IKEA makes a pretty good imitation).

Go cheap on:
-Throw pillows
-Picture frames (seriously, the shit at Crate and Barrel is just as good as an IKEA Ribba)
-Storage shit
-Wine glasses
-Little accessories (candle holders, coasters, etc)

Anonymous said...

1. What is it with this thread and sofas? Who the hell wants a sofa? Sofas are big, heavy, expensive, hard to move, hard to move around your apartment, usually only fit on one single wall in any given apartment, won't necessarily fit in the next apartment, and almost always dictate the color scheme of the room. Furthermore, I don't care what anyone says, slipcovers never fit correctly. In otherwords, sofas are not the least versatile, and design when you are young should be versatile.

Chairs are versatile. They are not heavy or big, they are easy to move, simple to move around your apartment without recruiting half your neighbors, can be stuffed into a closet or a bedroom or even a large bathroom, and no one thinks the least thing about it if your chairs don't match, or if one of a set is in one room, and the other nowhere to be seen.

2. Silver spoons will bend in hard frozen ice cream. Hello. Silver (and gold) are soft, maleable metals. That's why silversmiths and goldsmiths like those metals. Keep your silver (and gold) in your jewelry, not your tableware. Let's think here--do you want your wealth tied up in silver that you display on a table three times a year, or in the nose ring you wear every day? This should be a no-brainer. Good jewelry belongs on you, not on your table.

Buy good quality tableware that will stand up to the level of everyday abuse you are going to subject it to. No guest or spouse or child wants to be concerned about bending the tines of your forks (which WILL happen with real silver ware--arguments to the contrary are made by idiots). And buy a flipping ice cream scoop!

3. I grew up with cast iron. I hate the stuff. It's heavy, it's hard to clean and season properly (no dishwasher or soap, ever), and it's flat ugly. If you don't cook, you sure as HELL don't want it.

If you rarely cook, you need a fry pan, a sauce pan, a spagetti pot, a pizza stone, and one pyrex casserole dish. All high quality. Forget calphalon. Go to a restaurant supply store, ask what the chefs purchase, and get THAT. Never go to Williams Sonoma again (or any other "retail" cookery store), they charge too much, and despite what they tell you, nothing sold there is "professional grade."

4. You need the very best knives made, and they need to be SHARP. Never put a knife in the dishwasher, it takes the edge off. Wash with warm soap and water. Have them sharpened professionally every six months. A good knife will set you back hundreds of dollars, and will last your entire life (literally, my father still has the knives he purchased from Cutco in college, and they are as sharp today as then--these are NOT the same as the knives cutco sells today, therefore not an endorsement).

You need, in the following order: a paring knife or two, a small knife that looks like a butcher knife but is two or three inches shorter, a bread knife (unless you actually purchase presliced bread), and a butcher knife (not necessary if you are vegetarian).

Buy kitchen shears, and stop using your kitchen knives to open things. And buy a quality set of steak knives, unless you are vegetarian.

Bloggers Abode said...

OMG I'm crying this post is so damm funny. The junior league vs. the riff raff, the korean spam. Fucking CLASSIC!!!!

Anonymous said...

I just moved into my very own first apartment. As a grad student my budget is (very) limited. My mother helped me out quite a bit picking out what she thought were the truly ESSENTIAL pieces (note on my mother: she is a modern day Ma Ingalls with a less is more sensibility...I run more to frivolity). Of course, she was right. These are the things she insisted on:
1. Cast Iron Pan. She found me a cheap one at an antique store and seasoned it for me before I moved.
2. My grandmother's flatware. My grandmother came from working class Irish family. This stuff is not silver. However, she knew how to buy stuff that would stand up in function and style.
3. A wooden foldable clothes drying rack. Sturdy. From the Amish farm store (I'm from PA, such places exist).
4. A fun piece. I got a hanging paper lamp from Ikea. She said that now was the time to be funky. It does cast a really great light.
5. Bulbs to replace the horrible florescent ones. I would never have thought of this.
6. Lots of plastic ziploc bags. Cockroaches love cardboard glue. This includes cereal boxes. My mom's first apartment was in the NYC. She is no stranger to terrifying city bugs.
7. A small dining table with drop leaves.
8. An Ikea Poang chair. It was an old hand me down. My sister refinished the ugly black paint with cream for Christmas and we bought a cool new nubby cushion for it.

Obviously this stuff is the bare minimum. I will be adding on for a while as I am able. Artwork is the main concern right now. However, I feel like my mom gave me a good foundation-some real essentials I will use for years and years and never would have really thought of myself.

And a note on the Wedgwood china...oh please. Even the sugar and creamer, give me a break. That's my cable bill for the month.

Anonymous said...

Oh god - to "Oil Painting".... This kind of stuff is exactly what has gotten us (and you by the way) into this mess of unaccountability and loss of quality. Poor quality just creates a mess all around in the end.

Please keep the bad artwork in China. I don't even want to mention the labor practices and the scary things that are in your paint over there.

Love to visit - and drop some bucks as a tourist - but don't want any more crap flooding the market. Go away.

Quatorze said...

Don't waste money on Tiffany silverware, go to James Robinson: and start collecting REAL handmade silver. Tiffany's is nowhere near as well made and you are just paying for the name.

Starter items:

One very good vase - even cheap daisies look great in a quality vase.

One good clock - nothing compels notice as much as a handsome clock, and they come in a wide variety of styles and materials.

A pair of lamps - have them made from a good old pair of candlesticks, or a pair of porcelain vases, or funky andirons or old gear cogs, just as long as they are of interesting materials and are topped with plain shades, they will make a room and you will always use them, even if they end up in a bedroom or guestroom later on in life.

One great chandelier - if you have the height, get a handsome chandelier. Plainer Venetian ones are relatively inexpensive and timeless, as well as being fun. A serious French lantern, antique or quality repro, will pay you back for life in terms of elegance and use.

A pair of Louis XV or XVI style chairs, arm or side - no matter what your taste, they go with everything and the ones repro'd in the 1920s are relatively inexpensive at auction, well-made and scream taste and quality. They are also often quite comfortable...

One good piece of art - skip posters (unless vintage) and buy a piece of REAL art, a photo, a print or a painting. Go to art schools to see amazing items and help support a struggling artist. The work will mean so much more to you and will help someone else as well. If you have what everyone else has from a big box store, no one will see it or care.

One good mirror - again, they come in a wide range of styles, they are relatively cheap at auctions or second-hand stores, and they are magical, turning cramped space into regions of Neverland, and who doesn't like to look at themselves? I would suggest a larger one than you think you need, so it reads almost as a window. You will always have a use for it and you will never be sorry about the purchase.

These items will make cheap sofas and flatware seem more valuable, since people assume that if you have these good items, everything must be at least as good...

Anonymous said...

The problem is you are saying vintage but you are buying new ikea?! These are two different things... Very very different, an almost insulting things to people who deal in vintage... A good solid stainless dansk set which has been around since the 70s is probably going to still be around... Also it'll gain value faster than almost any set out there as the are becoming bought up by dealers who are making the price go up...

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Luxury Apartments Lady said...

I think depending on your friend's tastes, it's better to splurge on the important things, like a good-quality sofa, and perhaps think of some budget options for decoration. No priceless vases or anything! You can find so much cool stuff in antique or charity shops, particularly if you're into the kitsch look!

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