How to Design Your First Apartment Bedroom, According to Experts

Louetta R. Clark

At House Beautiful we believe there’s no minimum age for stylish spaces. That’s why we partnered with Seventeen to poll their readers—the next generation of trendsetters!—on the biggest decorating hurdles in their spaces. Then, we tapped some of our favorite designers to advise. In this installment: The first apartment bedroom.

So, you’re finally in your first apartment—hello, real world! Whether you share it with roommates or live alone, there’s one space (ideally!) you have complete design control over: your bedroom. The catch? It’s not so big, and you need to decorate it on a budget. But with a little creativity and expert advice, you can still have the well-designed room of your dreams. We tapped a few interior designers for their pro tips to help get you started. From determining the layout to selecting which items to invest in (and which to save on!), these tips will guide you in creating a first apartment bedroom you’ll never want to leave.

Find the Right Furniture

bedroom with yellow walls and pink bedding

In this bedroom designed by Anthony Gianacakos, a raised bed frame allows for under-bed storage.

Marta Perez

In any room, especially a small one, it’s essential to pay attention to the size of the furniture you buy (for example, a bed should fit comfortably and not take up the entire room). Designer Anthony Gianacakos suggests looking for multifunctional and convertible furniture to maximize your space, like a metal raised bed frame that allows for under-bed storage. Wall-mounted pieces will also give you more room to work with rather than freestanding items—whether it’s a bookcase, desk, or headboard (like the one above).

Designer Bryon Risdon agrees utilizing vertical space is a game-changer. “If clothes storage is a necessity, always consider going up and utilize shelving as well as drawers,” he says. “Shelves tend to be less deep but allow you to stack things higher.”

Any easy way to search for furniture that might work in your space is to go through the small space section on a retailer’s website. Not every store has one, but many do—including Wayfair, West Elm, and Crate & Barrel.

Create the Optimal Layout

bedroom with blue walls and orange bedding

A bedroom designed by Anthony Gianacakos.

Marta Perez


“Finding the right layout is actually simpler than you’d think,” Risdon explains. “First determine what zones are feasible for the space, such as sleeping, storage, and possibly sitting if there’s room.” Then, arrange your furniture according to these zones. Gianacakos agrees, advising three areas for a small apartment bedroom: storage, convertible or multifunctional bed, and vanity-slash-desk area.

Risdon prefers to place the bed on what he considers an uninterrupted wall, aka a blank wall with no doors or windows. If that’s not an option, he says to try the largest wall first. Once you have the bed figured out, everything else should fall into place with one or two nightstands next to the bed and potentially a dresser or chest opposite from it. If there’s space, put a chair in a corner or a bench at the foot of the bed to create warmth and give you a place to sit while putting your shoes on.

“Consider things like, If I’m lying in bed, can I look out the window or is it behind me?” Risdon suggests. “This formula doesn’t always work, but it’s a great place to start.”

red walls, breakfast nook, wood table, cream chairs, orange couch designed by byron risdon

In an apartment designed by Risdon, vertical storage makes the most of a small footprint.

Keyanna Bowen

Another helpful trick? Checking the dimensions of the furniture you want to buy and using painter’s tape to map out where you’ll place them on the floor, says designer Eneia White. She recommends allowing for 36 inches of room between large pieces of furniture and your walls where you need to move around it.

Gianacakos adds that if you don’t plan to hire a designer, you can use free space planning software. “Google SketchUp is free, and you can have some fun planning your layout,” he says.


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Make Budget-Friendly Upgrades

Storage can not only help you maintain all of your belongings but it can be a budget-friendly essential. Gianacakos highly recommends IKEA’s Billy Bookcase collection. “They have so many versatile options that allow for you to create a ‘custom look’ at a fraction of the price,” the designer gushes. “If the bedroom is empty, I would do an entire wall of the Billy bookcases with shelves and doors, and then build your room from there.”

Other ways to create high impact with a minimal budget? Paint, of course! “The right paint color can really transform a space and give it a whole new feeling—even if it’s just an accent wall; however, I’m usually an all or nothing guy,” Risdon says. “If you don’t want the hassle of painting or can’t commit, try using temporary (peel-and-stick) wallpaper or artwork—like a collage of artwork, a gallery wall, or large scale pieces.”

You can also add an additional layer to your room with window treatments. “Whether you use drapes or shades, they soften a room and add a finishing touch that’s often left out—but make sure you measure them correctly first and never allow them to hang too high off the floor,” advises Risdon. Pro tip: If you have high ceilings and you buy panels that are too long, you can have them hemmed at your neighborhood dry cleaners. “For an extra $20, you can have custom window treatments,” he says. Or if you’re crafty and own a sewing machine, you can make custom panels yourself (see the tutorial below!)

Know Where to Invest (and Where to Save!)

photographer nick glimenakis, nicknickglimenakiscomeneia whiteowner, eneia white interiorseweneiawhitecomp 240 620 9811wwweneiawhitecomfollow us on instagram eneiawhiteinteriors

In a bedroom by Eneia White, an upholstered bed and patterned curtains make things cozy, while an oversized mirror makes a statement on one wall.

NickGlimenakis

If you feel like you have to invest in everything or nothing, know you can find a good balance of both. White suggests stretching your dollars by shopping at local thrift stores or community yard sales for case goods like dressers, credenzas, and coffee tables. “These pieces tend to cost more than upholstery, and will trick the eye into making the space appear more elevated,” she says. “Lamps are also a great way to add personal charm to any room, and you can find tons of unique colors and fun shades while you’re there, too.”

Another area you can save money on is art, especially if you love DIY projects. “Purchase a few matted frames, and pop in your own sketches of abstract art,” White suggests. “The picture mats will look expensive, and you’ll have your own personal touch on the walls for guests to admire.”

Gianacakos recommends going for more budget-friendly rugs and lighting because the good-looking options out there are plenty. If you’re looking to pour your money into something, he believes there’s nothing more luxurious for a bedroom than an upholstered bed.

Risdon also suggests investing in a bed and headboard, along with a quality dresser or chest. “They are both pieces you will use often and should be reliable,” he says. “The goal is to find something you’ll want to hold on to and take to your next place.” Oh, and high-quality bedding is a must, according to the designer. It doesn’t have to be the highest thread count but soft and comfortable, at least!

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