“Decorating My First Apartment”: A lesson in budget-friendly classic pieces and creating moments

June 23, 2020

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Brooke is our social media manager and recently moved into her first apartment in Idaho. We Ooo and Ahh over photos of her place and felt it was high time we shared her California-casual style with our readers. Whether you’re in your starter home or looking for a little rental inspo to freshen up your place, we could all take a clean, classic page from Brooke’s book.

I’ve been working for Chris Loves Julia for more than three years, and it made me really excited to have (and decorate!) a home of my own. I had Pinterest boards and links to furniture saved for months before my husband and I moved in. I started decorating before we could even carry in all of the boxes. This is our first apartment together, and I really wanted it to make it special.

Functional decor was really important for us. We didn’t want a coffee table because we love having the extra space in our little living room for game nights or workouts. Instead, we stacked two of these woven floor stools on top of each other. They make for the perfect foot stool and can easily be pushed out of the way.

The rug is the cushiest, softest, homey, casual rug I’ve ever stepped foot on. It’s so plush, in fact, that Tristan, my husband, has napped on it. Even though it’s super thick, it vacuums easily.

Julia always says, “If you’re not sure what’s missing, it’s probably the curtains.” She’s right. The curtains really took things to a new level. Now, these may or may not be the fourth curtains I have gotten. (!!!) I wanted green curtains, and the first ones that I bought were so dark they almost looked black. The second ones were the same color as the couch and the rug, and everything started to fall flat. Third time’s a charm, right? Unfortunately not. I sprung for white curtains, and they were way too stark against the cream-colored walls. I finallyyy ended up loving these Pottery Barn ones. They’re Emery Linen “Sage Grass” in the 96″ length, and they’re the softest gray-green, bringing in a great layered texture/textile look for this room. We hung them high and wide, and it’s amazing how much taller it made the room feel. We paired them with these bamboo shades. I put two 45” ones together–a trick I learned from CLJ. 

I went neutral on the pillow covers, keeping the room’s color palette to creams, heather grays, burnt oranges, olive greens… But my real gush here is for the pillow inserts. No joke, I buy these inexpensive pillow inserts for every pillow cover that I own. They are that good. Here’s something I learned in the process: Get a pillow insert that is two inches bigger than your pillow cover so it looks nice and fluffy. (Did you know that? I didn’t know that!)

I have always been obsessed with olive trees. They’re so chic and sophisticated. But we didn’t have a space large enough for one. So when I found this tall, sparse one, I had to have it. It comes in a planter, but I stuck it in this one and it’s like it was meant to be.

Our hallway is just the right size for a small bench, a little “moment.” This felt like the right space to add some greenery and some art. I found the frames and the vase at the thrift store, and I’m already enjoying swapping digital prints in and out as often as we cut some fresh branches.

We don’t really have an entry in our apartment, but I wanted to designate one. In the photo above, you can peek at what we did! To the left of our front door I hung a round mirror on a strap (The It’s not an Entry Without a Mirror post gave me major inspo) and mounted a small coat rack.

In our bedroom, I went for classic pieces that might carry us to our next home. This little cane nightstand has so much personality, and if I told you that my mom passed it down to me from HER first apartment — you’d believe me. (She didn’t. I got it at Target :) The headboard was a hand-me-down from Tristan’s parents and gave me a nudge in the direction of a color palette: Once this cutie was leaning against the wall, I started collecting cozy bedding, rolled out a cream-colored rug, and knew that the room could handle a big alabaster vase. Decor hack: Hanging hats on the wall = functional art. Home is where you hang your hat, right?

Since we are both still in school, an office seemed like the best option for our second bedroom right now. Tristan cannot function without a desk. I, on the other hand, would choose to do homework cozied up in bed any day of the week. But I inserted my favorite olive green in this comfy chair, and that felt like a great compromise.

As renters, we don’t have a lot of room to renovate our kitchen, but as soon as we laid this runner down, it felt really warm and inviting — like a room where we’d want to hang out. Did it inspire me to make more banana bread? Probably.

Decorating this apartment didn’t happen overnight, and we’re still not “done.” When we first moved in, six months ago, we had a TV and a blowup couch. Julia’s “Don’t Wait” mantra really came into play. We had friends over. We enjoyed our space at every stage. It has been so fun to see it evolve.  I hear a lot of people say they don’t want to spend money decorating an apartment, but all of these pieces we can take with us when we leave and the most important thing is that our apartment feels like home. It feels like us.


Paint colors: Sherwin Williams Egg Shell White and Amazing Gray

Living Room: Rug, Couch, Rust Pillow Cover, Cream Pillow Cover (old, H&M), Pillow Inserts, Accent Chair, Throw Blanket, Woven Floor Stools, Olive Tree, Planter, Curtains, Curtain Rod, Curtain Rings, Bamboo Shades, Oversized Mirror, Floor Lamp, Side Tables, CandleTV Stand, Art: Trees (old, Lulu & Georgia), Bird, Watercolor Landscape, Geometric, Alphabet

Hallway: Bench, Frames and Vase (vintage), Art: Charcoal Sketch, Sapphire Lake

Entry: Mirror (old, H&M), Wall Hooks

Bedroom: RugSheets, Comforter, Lumbar Pillow, Nightstand, Sconce, Canister, Book, Vase (old, Target), Hats (old, Urban Outfitters)

Office: Chair, DeskDesk Lamp, Clock, Art, Desk Pad

Kitchen: Runner, Dish Towel, Shoes, Pants, Bar Stools


Are you a renter? Check out this DIY for adding marble contact paper to open shelves.

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What do you think?

  1. Vanessa says:

    where did you get those desk legs? They look so much better!

  2. Emily C says:

    Any other look a likes for that vase for the olive tree? I just bought it but the vase is sold out!!

  3. LP says:


    Do you happen to have a dupe for your amazing drapes? PB seems to be sold out. :(

  4. Susan says:

    Everything turned out beautiful! Can I ask what size your desk top is?

  5. Anja Price says:

    what are the sizes of the frames you are using behind the TV?

  6. Anja-Dejana Price says:

    Thank you for this helpful post! :)
    I am actually designing the wall art around our living room tv wall. The wall is quite large at 9 ft tall and 14 wide and TV & stand take the 6ft in width and 5 ft in height. I am trying to figure out what is the appropriate size of frames to put to replicate the balance she has in her room. I like to keep it less crowded so having only 5 pieces on there seems good fit, I am just wondering how much larger my frame size ratio needs to be to ensure it’s proportional to the wall. Let me know if there is a good tutorial on this?

  7. Anja-Dejana Price says:

    Thank you for this post, it is super helpful and I love the natural feel/ theme through out the space!
    I am working on designing our living room wall art above our TV. The wall is quite large 9 feet tall by 14 feet wide of which our tv stand and tv take 6ft width and 5 ft length. I love the way her pictures around tv are balanced. Is there a tutorial on designing this wall art correctly to ensure it is appropriately balanced as far as size goes? I’d like to avoid a blank wall but I also dont want it to be overcrowded

  8. Erin says:

    I love everything about this! Do you know by chance which color combination is the rug in the kitchen?

  9. Hettie says:

    Beautiful apartment, so perfect! I absolutely love this sofa and would buy it if I could…. but we live in the UK. Do you know of any similar alternatives that are sold here?

  10. Meg says:

    Amazing post and amazing style! Considering the cozy, textured rug for our office – would it be difficult to roll an office chair on?

  11. D says:

    Your desk legs are different than what IKEA is selling now… did you switch them? if so can you share the link. they MAKE the desk.

  12. Amy says:

    Love those sage curtains!! The entire space is just gorgeous. Any other color rugs you’d recommend combining with the curtains and beige walls + beige couch? I have two large dogs and I could never keep that light colored rug clean! :)

  13. I love your natural, cozy aesthetic Brooke! That gold mirror over the couch makes the space look so much bigger

  14. Michelle says:

    What a great apartment with really nice bones to work with too. The floors and wall to wall carpet appear really nice, which makes it great starting off points and allows your sense of style to take off. Very beautiful space and I love the relaxing vibe – very Amber Interiors-esque!

  15. Lil says:

    I love everything about your space! It’s beautiful!

  16. Chelsey L. says:

    Wow, this is your FIRST place and it looks like THIS! Nice job! I appreciated all the sourced budget-friendly items, thanks for sharing your beautiful space.

  17. Iman says:

    Nevermind, just found it! Thank you for providing that info!!! Beautiful space!

  18. Iman says:

    I believe my comment was deleted…where are the desk legs from? I was having trouble finding them on Ikea.

    Thank you!

  19. Maria Smith says:

    Beautiful! I was wondering if you are using the blinds above the sliding doors. Or are they just for looks?

  20. Valerie says:

    Love your style and you did an exceptionally good job decorating your first place! Definitely items that can transition into your next space. I just purchased the Olive tree. What size planter did you choose? Thanks!

  21. Iman Ebigwu says:

    Where are the desk legs from? LOVE!

  22. Stacy Koehn says:

    Yes – interiors in “My First Apartment” are wonderful and inspiring! But it’s her animal print SHOES that I am obsessed with!

    C&J – very good of you to give support to a fellow blogger like this!

  23. Julia says:

    I love the whole look! You’re style is amazing and within my budget! While you were piecing everything together, did you start with purchasing a few big items or many small decor items? Just curious on the process on brining it all together if you can not afford or find all the pieces at once.

    • Julia says:

      Thank you! We started with a few big items. The couch and tv stand were our first buys.Then we slowly added more things in. – Brooke

  24. Nicole Powell says:

    I love your place. Major inspiration for me and my new apartment. How do you like your couch? Is it comfy?

  25. Julia says:

    I love the living room rug but it seems that the link isn’t working anymore – when you transfer over to there is an error message. Any way that you could either fix the link or share the name/manufacturer of the rug? Thanks!

  26. Dianne says:

    Beautiful! What a great design and strategy. It will for sure take you to your next home…

  27. KOKO says:

    Love posts like this for renters and affordable options!

  28. Mallory says:

    Love your space Brooke! I really enjoyed this post. Thank you for sharing!

  29. Kate K. says:

    Thank you for this post! As a fellow apartment-renter, it’s great to see what others are doing. I would love if we could see other apartment-renters’ posts too (to see different styles)!

  30. Stephanie says:

    This is our second house but I would say our first home, and we’re slowly planning renovations especially with the economy right now we want to save as much as possible. Which is why this post is so useful for someone like us, who wants their place to feel like a home without spending a ton of money. I already know I want that bench in the front, a large vase, and maybe even an olive tree.

    Stephanie | SPV Living

  31. AmandaKB says:

    Just jumping in to say I love this post. The apartment is so clean, cozy, and inviting. Thanks for sharing, Brooke!

  32. Kate says:

    Any chance they know what the floors are? The more info the better, but even knowing if they’re solid wood, engineered wood, laminate, or luxury vinyl planks would be awesome. Thanks!

  33. Kat says:

    This is very beautiful! Paint color is egg shell white for the walls and amazing gray for trim? Or both colors combined on the walls? What color is the trim? I just loved this so much! Thanks for sharing :)

  34. Whitney says:

    I want to know where she got those cute cheetah print shoes?! ????

  35. gorgeous! and so much needed relate-able/affordable content! Bravo Brooke!

  36. Jen says:

    I love that TV stand! What size TV do you have sitting on it?

  37. Meredith says:

    This is so soothing and lovely! It’s hard to tell but it looks like there might be a rug pad underneath the rug. If there is, I’d love to know what kind y’all recommend!

    • Julia says:

      There isn’t a rug pad underneath. Having it tugged underneath the furniture has kept it perfectly in place. But the felt + rubber RUGPADUSA ones on Amazon are great! – Brooke

  38. Michelle says:

    Your space is gorgeous! I’m currently looking for a new couch and I love yours! However, I’m nervous to buy without being able to try it out/sit on it. Would you say it has a soft, medium, or firm seat (I realize this is probably personal preference but just wondering your thoughts)? My current couch is Potty Barn Basic. Thank you so much!

  39. Becca Carroll says:

    LOVED this article!!! Really appreciate budget friendly ideas for this audience! Thank you for providing links to affordable transitional pieces.

  40. I’m 40 (shhh!) and have been in my 2nd home for 4 1/2 years and I still find this post useful! We don’t have a huge budget for home decor and with 3 young kids I like to buy pieces I love but that are affordable (i.e. I won’t lose my mind if the kids ruin them!) so this type of post is so helpful! I bookmarked, like, everything! Great job Brooke and thanks for sharing her talent, Chris and Julia! ♥

    • Jess says:

      I totally agree. I work for a nonprofit and live in an expensive city, where my small apartment is my “forever home.” :) I got a lot of affordable inspiration from this post. The apartment layout is similar to mine. Although my taste skews more mid-century modern than California-casual, I got ideas from the furniture and decor selections (sizing and spacing in the rooms). Great job!

  41. Ligia says:

    Loved this article. So helpful! Renter friendly/young adult living before buying a house type of content (that is actually useful) is so hard to come by.

  42. Carrie says:

    What????? This is amazing! My first apartment was cast off 1980’s blue furniture from my parents! It was comfy, but definitely not pretty. Haha. This is far more beautiful. I can’t get over the apartment itself too. Cute wood (laminate?) floors, pretty carpet in the bedrooms, nice thick trim. What a great first place!

  43. Kathleen says:

    So lovely. It’s very calm and peaceful. A good reminder that you don’t need to fill every space and wall with something. I struggle with that but feel better in a more minimal space. Do you know what color the paint is? It’s a nice neutral.

  44. Elease says:

    I’d love to know more about the bamboo shades on the sliding doors! I know the post says, it’s a trick she learned from you… do you have a post somewhere!? I have several windows I’d love to add bamboo shades to and have wondered about hanging two because I couldn’t find the correct size I need with just one! Love this post— the apartment is beautifully done on a “budget” and this was refreshing to see!

  45. Rebecca says:

    This is so chic! I love the simple colour pallet with pops of colour throughout.

  46. Mari-Ann Russell says:

    Lovely couple and post! Love the creamy white on the walls – did they paint or was it already there.

  47. Anon says:

    I’ve never commented before, but followed for years!
    I just added this post to myfav’s because it’s so inspiring and attainable.
    I’m seriously considering leaving my relationship and I’m keeping this as inspo for what I can do on a budget that is calming (heart-healing) and has natural elements.
    Thank you! This made my day! xx

  48. Colby Thompson says:

    They have created such a beautiful space! I clicked on the link for the living room rug. The website lists “white” or “medium grey”. Which option is Brooke’s rug?

  49. Leigh Anne says:

    Such a nice cozy space. Can you tell me the wall paint color. Thanks

  50. Abby P. says:

    I LOVED this feature! Thanks for sharing.

  51. Jenna says:

    Is the rug in medium gray or white?

  52. So beautiful! Proof that things don’t have to be expensive to be on point and stylish!

  53. Kristen Kouz says:

    How did you hang your hats on the wall in the bedroom? I love this look and want to do it.

  54. Jenna says:

    Love it! Can you share the paint colors?

  55. Ashley says:

    Gorgeous!! Those curtains have been discontinued for quite some time and I can’t find comparable ones with that amazing sage color. Do you have recommendations for similar that you’ve seen?

  56. Meagan says:

    This is so beautiful and feels so relaxing! I love how they modified the Ikea desk. Can you share sources for the legs and top? (I can’t tell if the top is different from the Ikea one or if they just modified it) Thanks!

    • Julia says:

      You can customize them! We choose the Linnmon beige tabletop, with the Alex beige drawers and Hilver wood legs. – Brooke

      • Meagan says:

        Thanks for letting me know! I didn’t realize Ikea had these options available. It really elevates the look of the typical Ikea desk.

  57. Lauren says:

    Gorgeous!! I love your style!

  58. Katie says:

    What a sweet apartment! I love that Brooke and her husband made it their own. The colour palette and style is so soothing – perfect for two students to relax at the end of the day. I remember how exciting it was to decorate our first apartment together when we got married – and we were both students, too. Thank you for sharing!

  59. Sarah says:

    I love your style, especially the rug in your living room! I have to ask, how has it been for shedding? Do fibers get caught in the ridges?

  60. Julie says:

    Oh my days. This is gorgeous! Brooke did such an amazing job making a beautiful and welcoming home, and I almost can’t believe it’s a rental. Very, very well done! (Also, can Brooke please do a post on her hair?! :)

  61. Susan says:

    How do 2 students afford all this??

    • Julia says:

      They did a great job with budget pieces, right?!

      • Jess says:

        It helps that Target has really upped their style game in the past few years! <3

      • Susan says:

        I would hardly call a $1000+ couch a budget item. I was a married college student and we both worked multiple jobs and we could not afford what you paid for all of this. Either you had help from family or a bunch of credit card debt and high student loans. It’s a beautiful place for a couple starting out, no doubt.

      • Julia says:

        We don’t. I guess it’s different for everyone! We both work full-time and are taking online classes. – Brooke

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We believe we should all love where we live.

We’re a couple of homebodies, working to uncover the home our home wants to be. And we’re so happy to have you here. 

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