Toulouse Lautrec or Taylor Lautner: Make It Yours

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by Megan Bjurstrom

Senior year was definitely the time to get my first Big Girl apartment; a giant, unfurnished, old Victorian house on Langdon. My roommates and I sacrificed the convenience of modern appliances, new furniture and fresh paint that many of Madison’s apartment buildings offer, and opted for 12-foot ceilings, stained glass windows and antique crown moldings. Oh, and a whole lot of space that we had no idea what to do with.

While I wanted to write to HGTV and beg them to come save us, we devised a better strategy: divide and conquer. Most kitchen supplies came from one roommate, a living room set from another, decorative accents from another, and so on. By the end of the summer, we had everything we needed. And had learned a few things along the way.

I. Simple is generally better.

When multiple people are contributing to an apartment, don’t go too crazy. Neutral colors will blend together much better than bright ones. We have hideous white walls everywhere in our apartment, and while it drives me nuts to have white in every room, we have a pretty solid collection of paintings and posters to brighten things up a bit. Everyone has a unique perspective on decorating, and rather than use only one person’s selection, we hung up almost every piece. With white walls as a background, it’s perfectly acceptable to mix and match the decorative elements.

II. Reuse what you’ve got.

Freshman year I purchased two bookshelves and a nightstand of somewhat decent quality; however, they were bright turquoise and lime green. 18-year-old Megan believed this color scheme was going to be a major hit, as I tried to match everything to my multi-colored Urban Outfitter’s quilt. And a hit they were… for the first year, at least. They never really made it out of the basement again until this summer, when I decided not to waste what I had and make one simple change: new paint.

photo by Megan Bjurstrom

I made a trip to the local Sherwin Williams, where the experts gave me some pretty solid advice, and threw down old sheets in the backyard to begin my painting festivities. Black seemed to be a much more usable color; not only for the new house, but also for any of my future apartments.

What I thought would only take a few hours became a days. Since initially I was a bit ambitious in my project, and tried painting with brushes and rollers, I now recommend using spray furniture paint instead. It saves time, effort and a whole lot of sunburn. While not perfect, my furniture is wonderfully black instead of somewhere on the blue spectrum. And trust me, the bookshelves are just as great at holding closet overflow as they are books.

III. You can find furniture anywhere.

The major issue with having an unfurnished living situation is the absence of a bed. Other furniture is easy to find, but there is something that just screams, “I’m in college!” about having a mattress on the floor or a futon as the main focal point of a bedroom. It’s also somewhat silly to invest in a large piece of furniture like a bed when you are a senior and might be moving across the country within nine months.

photo by Megan Bjurstrom

As I explained these worries to the mother of the children I nanny for during the summer, she immediately had a solution – she was selling the kids’ furniture and would give me a great deal on a bed. It was a white Pottery Barn Kids double bed, but it was a deal that I couldn’t pass up. At first I thought I would paint it black so it didn’t appear quite so princess-y; however, after the four days I spent painting the bookshelves, I realized I really did not have the time or energy to care about how white the bed was. Black and white furniture looks just fine together, especially with a grey color scheme for bedding.

The bed might be slightly bit too big for my tiny room and definitely a bit young looking, but it feels great to actually have “real” furniture. Check local websites like Craigslist for a similar deal. You never know where you might find things you can use.

IV. Make the most of things you already love.

One of my favorite fixtures in our apartment is my roommate’s custom Republic bike. It’s peach and turquoise with a giant yellow bell, and while it lives in our front foyer, it’s comforting and friendly to come home to (and an even better conversation piece). We never planned on having a bike as art, but it definitely works.

photo by Megan Bjurstrom

You may have a child’s princess bed, or walls covered with everything from Toulouse Lautrec to Woodstock posters, but at least it’s yours. You can’t go wrong with expressing yourself. Use the things you already own and display them proudly. Perhaps the Taylor Lautner poster someone hung on my bedroom door might need to disappear soon, but for the time being I think it adds just a bit of character.

Maybe we’re still working toward the whole Big Girl apartment concept down here on Langdon, but I think we’ll get there eventually. And who knows what I’ll hang on my roommates’ doors in revenge.

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