I’ve always said that if you hate natural light, space, and keeping your money, New York is a fabulous place to rent a home. (I was once shown a bedroom which had no windows, and “probably enough space” for a single bed—if you’re reading this and thinking that this bedroom sounds exactly like a corridor, that is because it was one.)
And yet, I choose to live here, because I am drawn to things that hurt me, and because I live for chicken over rice from my neighborhood street food cart, and because honestly, what would anyone need light, space, or money for.
But sometimes people come to my house who are not me, and as someone who enjoys appearing extra-intact to the outside world, I’ve had to get creative when it comes to decor over the years. Here are five solid ways to make any home seem more polished.
As someone who grew up in Australia, where I would literally trip over eucalyptus branches on my way to school, paying actual money for them makes me feel like I am the target of a practical joke. So it’s taken me a moment to accept that they’re pretty excellent value when it comes to decorating. For less than $5, you can get a willowy tuft of tall (height = elegance, no?) and exceptionally robust greenery that plays well with any color palette. As an added bonus, it’ll make your house smell like a pilates studio (in the spa-slash-fitness-boutique way, not in the foot way). Eucalyptus also dries beautifully, which brings me to my next tip...
I have spent in the past what I’ll call a “good amount” of money on cut hydrangeas, which if purchased from a bodega die approximately the second you pay for them. But by choosing flowers strategically, you can potentially make them last forever.
“As a rule of thumb, the more delicate the bloom, the shorter the lifespan,” says Emily Buckner of FLWR Studio. “If you’re looking for hardier flowers, opt for protea, leucadendrons, blushing bride, and bottlebrush‚ they also dry beautifully for longevity.”
If you’ve got a bunch of flowers that you’re just not ready to part with and are feeling crafty, Emily says to collect the stems you’d like to dry, wrap the stems with twine, and hang them upside down near a window. The stems will take around a week to dry out, and for the colors to bleach slightly. Arrange in whichever vases or bottles you already have. If you’re worried this is all sounding a bit "Grey Gardens," please feast your eyes on the Fragonard-esque dead bouquets of John Derian’s New York apartment.
You might be on a budget, but you still care about mood lighting! About drama! About flair! At around $1.50 apiece in hardware stores, tall taper or pillar candles are shockingly affordable and an ornate way to add height (elegance!) to any table setting or sideboard. They also look particularly smart even when they’re not in use—suggesting that you’re the sort of sophisticated person who could (and might) throw a dinner party at any given moment. Purchase 12-inch candles in neutral colors—white, beige, grey, greige!—and arrange in a trio. More is more! You can use glasses or vases as a votive, just use a little melted wax to stick in the bottom. You could also (and should also) mix and match height. For even more elevation, stick the ends in empty wine bottles; it’s a nice excuse to rehash the pretty ones you chose just for the label, anyway.
My favorite kind of decorative flourishes are ones that are both beautiful and functional (see below: oranges!!), because find me a New Yorker with room for superfluous ornaments. And the hallmark of maturity in my book is owning fancy stemware. You can pick up vintage and new glassware for a just a few bucks at local thrift stores, or on Craigslist. By storing sparkling clean, well arranged, and interestingly shaped glassware on a shelf, you save cupboard space for the less attractive, more clutter-y stuff, such as dishwashing liquid and plastic food containers. This looks particularly glitzy if your shelf is located near a window, where natural light will hit it.
This sounds like a cop-out, but hear me out: There’s something very bountiful about having bowls of fruit placed around the home. Decorative citrus not only outlasts flowers, but sends an important dual-message to visitors: My home is put together, and as you can see, I proactively purchase and eat fruit. A bag of supermarket oranges decanted into a low bowl costs around $3 to $4 at most (assuming that you already own a bowl). Pile high to avoid looking like you’ve just left out random bits of fruit.