Interior Design

6 Ideas That Changed How I Decorate My Home

And the virtual community of homebodies that inspired them.

July 15, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

For the record, I like my apartment—but the longer I spend in it, with no change of scenery or sense of variety in sight, the more I notice its middling little flaws. I’m not about to tear the place down to the studs (I doubt my security deposit would cover that, anyway), but I’m always in search of ideas to keep the place feeling fresh—ones that don’t require a year-long renovation or a chunk of change to complete.

This is where browsing Reddit’s delightfully named subreddit, Amateur Room Porn, has come in handy. As its name might suggest, this page (and its discussions) are for non-professionals with a passion for interior decoration and design, eager to swap tips and show off what they’ve done with their everyday living situations—master bedroom facelifts, DIY book nooks, and wall-art attempts. In turn they received encouraging pats on the back (“I like the blanket draped over the back, it adds an extra little bit of coziness.”) and helpful advice (“Have fun slowly developing your taste and style. Remember, your favourites will come with time.”) Where the other popular decor subreddit Room Porn features more, let’s say professional-looking modern homes and hybrid indoor-outdoor spaces, Amateur Room Porn is more likely to display modest living rooms or dining nooks in city studios. It’s a reminder that, regardless of means, location, or design knowhow, everyone wants to live somewhere that suits their situation and personality and, frankly, looks nice and feels cozy (“It ain’t much, but it’s mine,” says one poster).

While scrolling through bedrooms in Baltimore and dining rooms in Düsseldorf, I’ve learned that it’s actually much easier to upgrade than I initially thought. If the community of DIY designers on Amateur Room Porn are to be believed, it’s all in the small changes: a dash of color here, some cozy seating there, and a little sleight of hand when it comes to natural light. It’s a testament to its name that someone as renovation-averse as I am can come away from AMP with a whole slew of ideas to make my home feel more like, well, mine.

Here are the six biggest takeaways I’ve gained from looking through my new favorite subreddit.

Your outdoor space can feel like a living room

If you have a porch, deck, or patio at your disposal, don’t dismiss it as a dumping ground for muddy shoes and lawn equipment. Instead, think of it as another sitting area and furnish it as such: Find seating that you don’t have to peel yourself out of when you stand up; opt for warm lighting like candles; and lay out an area rug. Your outdoor space should feel cozy and comfortable enough for your household to gather for some fresh air and a chat, weather permitting. For me, that means finding the comfiest folding chairs and carting them out to the gated area in front of my apartment (when the neighbors’ kids aren’t playing out there, that is).

Color is your friend

As much as I love a monochromatic space (and there’s plenty of that to be had on ARP), a well-placed pop of color can undeniably add some much-needed life and energy into an otherwise run-of-the-mill room. Take, for example, this living room that would be pleasant enough with its slate blue palate, but then comes that life-giving jewel-toned seating. Meanwhile, an aqua couch serves as both the focal point in this Minneapolis living room as well as a point of contrast for the home’s dark wood moldings and trim. Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the Chicago sun room with armchairs in an equally sunny shade of yellow. Although I’m much more accustomed to sticking to neutrals, I’ve learned I shouldn't fear an emerald green or Prussian blue.

Unlock thrifting’s potential

If you’re willing to play the long game (and potentially spring for a steam cleaning), delving into the sprawling world of thrift, antique, and consignment shops can make all the difference in feathering your nest. In fact, entire rooms can come together with some savvy thrift shopping. I should stress, however, that taking this route over shopping at a big-box storeroom will require patience, as my fruitless hours of poring over online second-hand stores has more than proven. That said, I keep looking at this charming living room in Rochester, NY, and feel reassured that “spending a decade” accumulating pieces that fit my style will be well worth it.

Create the illusion of light (if you’re low on the real stuff)

I could spend all day drooling over the rooms drenched in natural sunlight that pepper ARP, but I’d rather celebrate the posters who have found some downright genius ways to optimize whatever amount of light their home can get (as a single-window studio-dweller, I’m floored). The key, it seems, is to stick as closely to a light color palate as possible, as these Redditors in Nashville and Chicago did. Their ample use of plants and mirrors shouldn’t be overlooked, either — these elements further enhance the sense of light and life in the room. If all else fails, I’ll have to try rearranging the furniture to free up space around my windows and, in turn, allow in more light.

Vertical space is usable space

For too long I’ve confined myself to eye-level and under-the-bed storage options. Shelves can, indeed, go all the way up to the ceiling, as this kitchen and this home office can attest. And making use of the entire wall needn’t be boring or utilitarian—a modular unit of shelves not only serves as added space for stuff but as an opportunity to showcase plants, photos, and other decorative touches.

Studios don’t have to be sterile

When I moved into my studio, my first instinct was to drastically pare down my belongings, for fear of making the place look crowded and cluttered. While there’s nothing wrong with a little decluttering, you don’t have to shed your quirky knick knacks if you don’t want to. Well-stocked (and equally well-placed—see our tip on vertical space above) shelves and gallery walls can work in small spaces, provided you set them up with intention. That means some kind of sorting system on the shelves and frames around the wall art. And, at the risk of sounding highly millennial, I’ve finally accepted that houseplants can make even the squarest studios feel homey, my lack of green thumb be damned.

Where do you go for design and decor inspiration? Tell us in the comments below.

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Sara Coughlin is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. Although she writes about food, health, wellness, lifestyle trends, skin-care, and astrology, she’d much rather talk to you about professional wrestling, rock climbing, and her personal favorite true crime theories. You can find her in her studio apartment doing yoga while a pan of veggies gently burns in the oven.