Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Decor: The Problem of Borrowed Space

What's the first place you usually start when you decorate a room? In my experience, it's things like painting, getting new furniture, or replacing the carpeting- big changes that will drastically improve the look and personality of the room. Unfortunately, for some people, there's one problem with that: the problem of borrowed space. Simply put, borrowing space from others means that you can't do whatever you want with it. This encompasses a broad range of situations, but the most common are living with parents, renting an apartment, and living in a dorm room. In fact, one of my friends recently moved into her own apartment this past summer and asked me to write up some tips for her on ways she can make the space her own, so here goes!

Walls: First and foremost, I'd start with your walls, since they're the biggest canvas you have. You could go with posters, especially common for dormers, actual pieces of art, or other. Posters can be found in many big stores, especially if you look during back-to-school time, for any price point from one or two dollars to twenty or more. They're versatile; they can be framed or even just hung with sticky-tack, pushpins, or double-sided tape. If you aren't living in a dorm, though, this can look a little...unsophisticated. I personally love to see framed photography or original paintings on the walls, but this can get pretty pricey- Beware! Try contacting some local artists, checking out coffee shops or galleries, or looking on Etsy or DeviantART. I firmly believe that everyone has some kind of artistic skill- if you're short on cash, plumb your abilities and come up with a few cute pieces yourself. This is really the best way to make your space really personal. I used to be fairly good at drawing, but since then have fallen out of practice; still, I made myself a cute poster for my room by writing on it in fancy lettering and coloring it in with markers and chalk pastels. Mirrors could be nice as well, and they make small spaces look bigger and more inviting, too. Some other small changes I've always loved the look of are fairy lights around the perimeter of a room, or hanging a simple string or length of twine between a few thumbtacks and using clothespins to hang photos or drawings from it. Note: Another thing to think about when you're renting or dorming: how are you going to hang? Posters are easy (see above), but anything heavy or framed can be difficult without putting a screw in the wall. Here's my secret: I use small Command hooks by 3M like these. They remove cleanly from every surface I've ever used them on, though sometimes it can take a little more elbow grease than the company likes to pretend! They also make hooks specifically for hanging pictures/frames, but I've never tried them.

DIY it: A fun craft to make dress up your walls for little-to-nothing is to make your own wall art. Take an old canvas and staple some pretty fabric over it; you can either remove the canvas itself from the frame and use it as a pattern for your fabric, or just trace the frame and add three or four inches to each side. This extra space will give you enough room to attach it without the staples showing; you could probably also just hot glue it if you don't have a heavy-duty stapler. Can't find a canvas? Use thick, high quality cardboard or foam board. This is also good if you want to add some life to plain white walls- make long panels instead of your normal-sized ones. Attach a ribbon to the back to suspend it from a hook.You could also then cover your art with clear contact paper for a DIY dry-erase board!

♥Floors: This is something I completely overlooked in all of my decorating adventures until just this semester! I bought myself a nice area rug last month, and I was shocked at the difference it had on my room. It brings so much warmth and life in, especially if you have damaged, drab, or outdated floors, as well as being a great way to create visual movement and tie the rest of your decor together. If you're renting your space, there are a surprising amount of non-permanent options out there; by which I mean, I wasn't expecting anything to be available, so the few options I've discovered are more than I had initially hoped for! First, of course, there are area rugs. These are rugs meant to go over existing flooring while only covering a small area of the actual room. Besides that, there are: A. carpet tiles, and B. floated or floating laminate flooring. They're pretty much the same thing made out of two different materials: you buy a number of small pieces and assemble them over your existing flooring to cover the entire space (as opposed to a small area). Both come in many different colors and materials. Carpet tiles can be mixed and matched to create interesting patterns on the floor. Laminate flooring comes in some lovely finishes like faux marble tile and faux hardwood, and are usually made with a tongue-and-groove system that doesn't need glue (meaning one side has a notch in it and the other has a "tongue" that you click into the groove); the only problem is you need a power saw to cut the pieces to size. If you're just starting out on your own and don't have that kind of equipment handy, I would recommend going with the carpet tiles- they're easy to change, easy to clean, and can add a lot of color and warmth to a rented room!

DIY it: When I was young, I read almost the entire series of Little House on the Prairie books, which (for those who aren't familiar with the American classics) detail the life of the Ingalls family in the Western frontier; in one scene, the two young sisters make their own rag rugs, something I've wanted to try ever since. In the book, they took old scarps fabric that were cut into strips and braided them together into one long braid, which was then wound into a circle and sewn into shape. This could be an adorable addition to a lolita's house in pastels, or if you used vintage bedsheets with small floral designs. For anyone who can crochet, there's a cute tutorial here, which I'm sure would be much quicker.

Furniture: In dorms, you don't get to buy your own furniture; this is also true of pre-furnished rentals. As a matter of fact, in my dorm, you get in deep trouble if you try to remove the furniture in your room and replace it with your own (except, say, a desk chair, maybe). However, even if you have your furniture provided for you, that doesn't mean it has to stay drab and boring! For almost any type of chair or sofa, a slip cover can be created; this is a fitted piece of fabric that covers the item to protect or hide its finish or appearance. Desk chairs that can't be covered could get a cute chair cushion tied to them, or could potentially be painted (check with your landlord/RA first!) Have an unsightly bed? Mine's plain black metal with chipping paint perched on black plastic bed risers. A great way to disguise this is to get a long bed skirt, or, if you can't find one that's long enough, try a sheet that's a lot bigger than size of your bed or a long, rectangular tablecloth; fold it and lay it underneath your mattress. It'll cover up whatever you're storing underneath while still having a cute, shabby-chic vibe.

DIY it: Another great away to dress up dull furniture is with throw pillows. Have a printed tote bag or cutsew that's too stained to wear, or that shrank in the wash? Cut it into a square or rectangle, turn fabric right-side-in, sew up the sides while leaving a few inches open. Turn it right-side-out by pulling it through the hole, stuff with batting or fabric scraps, and sew up the hole by hand. Voila! A custom piece that'll cuten up the scruffiest sofa or blandest bedset.

For those of you who are borrowing space, what's your favorite way to cuteify your quarters without violating your terms?

(pic credit: Photo taken by my friend Marrisa, photoshopped by me!)

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