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5 tips to instantly update a small space on a tight budget

Need an update? Try these tips from a professional interior designer to update a rental without spending a fortune.
Collage of apartment decorations
Simple tweaks and repurposing old items can make a big difference.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images / Shutterstock / Casey DelBasso
/ Source: TMRW

After spending much time inside the same four walls in 2020, I wanted to update my apartment with a little facelift for the new year.

Styling a rental space can be a challenge and I also wanted to keep a pretty tight budget by repurposing pieces that I already had in my space. That's why I turned to Morgan Netherwood, an interior design entrepreneur, to bring my apartment back to life. Together, we searched for treasures at thrift stores and tag sales to curate the room.

As we reimagined my living room, Netherwood shared a few simple tips and tricks that transformed my space from drab to fab. If you are looking for quick and easy changes for your own space, here are a few pro tips from Netherwood.

Tip 1: Your wall adornments should always be symmetrical

Before working with Netherwood, I had installed shelving on my wall in an uneven line, one was purposely about 8 inches lower than the other. Since the day that I installed those shelves, I always felt like something was off.

I learned that shelves should be symmetrical and accessories should be asymmetrical.
I learned that shelves should be symmetrical and accessories should be asymmetrical.Casey DelBasso

One effective tip Netherwood offered was that wall art or shelves should always be symmetrical. On the contrary, when it comes to designing with home goods and knickknacks, she recommends that the items adorning the shelves should be asymmetrical and should offset each other.

For a small space, just a quarter-turn rotation of the existing chevron wall art from horizontal to vertical completely opened the room and optimized the height of the ceiling.

“I love a statement and a great way to create a statement is through art," Netherwood shared. "I picked these ‘Bear in a Bathtub’ prints to create a cozy, cabin vibe while the clawfoot tub is feminine and fun. Casey’s existing chevron wood piece had these beautiful colors, and I knew it would be the perfect amount of texture and color to offset the sleek frames for the prints. By putting them all together in a clean and symmetrical way, I think it was the icing on the cake to her new oasis.”

Tip 2: Think of each corner of the room as its own “vignette”

Normally, we think of spaces being coordinated by theme. But Netherwood said it's helpful to also think about each corner and space of the room as a photo or it's own “moment,” as she likes to call it.

“I love a moment! By breaking down your space into, say, the ‘reading nook’ or the ‘go-to mirror selfie corner,' they should each be able to stand on their own while being cohesive with the rest of the space. The gallery wall over Casey’s sofa spoke for itself, so to give the side chair its own special moment, we relocated the shelves and added a clock. It created this beautiful corner that looks great on its own while flowing with the rest of the space.”

Tip 3: Use the rule of three

Yes, it's real! This styling hack involves grouping items using odd numbers. It really does make all the difference. Pillows, vases or plants should all be set in threes as this style is naturally pleasing to the eye.

The rule of threes is real!
The rule of threes is real!Casey DelBasso

Tip 4: Area rugs are key

Adding an area rug in a solid, neutral color is the easiest way to anchor the living room, according to Netherwood. Renters might think they should wait until they purchase a forever home to buy a large rug, but it's a great way to instantly add a cozy and homey vibe to a room. And if the rug is a neutral color, it can easily move to the next apartment or home. Netherwood also recommended adding a layer to the area rug in order to add more texture and fun, like with a cowhide print.

Take your rug game to the next level by adding layers.
Take your rug game to the next level by adding layers.Casey DelBasso

“Rugs are the anchor of your space. Your furniture may feel like it’s floating without one. By adding an area rug, you're pulling together your furniture and grounding the room," she said. "An area rug is a great way to brighten & add texture. I wanted a super light, jute rug for Casey’s room to offset the rich leather furniture. Then the fun part of layering comes in! The cowhide quickly ties in the furniture and adds a fun farmhouse vibe to this rustic, city chic vibe we wanted to enhance.”

Tip 5: Adding a mirror can make a small space look larger

Mirrors DO make your small space look larger. We placed a floor full-length mirror in the corner of the room to enhance the illusion of depth in the room. A tall mirror also draws your eyes upward to make the room feel more spacious.

My living room feels more cohesive and even larger after a mini makeover.
My living room feels more cohesive and even larger after a mini makeover.Casey DelBasso

These helpful, yet simple tips can be easily incorporated into any space with just a few tweaks on a budget. Most of the new pieces we purchased were found at the Goodwill, Facebook Marketplace,or just repurposing what was already in the room.