Ever since I moved out of home at 18, I’ve either lived in the confines of a bedroom in a sharehouse, or a small apartment with one other person. You’d think I’d have got pretty good at making small spaces feel like home – but you’d be very, very wrong. In 2017, my partner and I bought our first property. It was supposed to be a two bedroom unit. Then we adjusted our expectations to a two bedroom apartment, and ultimately ended up paying a small fortune for a one bedroom apartment. Don’t you just love the property market?

Anyway, before we moved in, I had such grand dreams of finally making it homely. Prior to this apartment, I’ve moved homes every 12-14 months. Such is the way with student leases and landlords that decide to sell up right when you’re starting to settle.

My ambitions soon wore off when I remembered how hard it really is to style interiors. Seriously, there’s a reason why people are paid the big bucks to do this stuff. No matter how much aesthetic stuff is available to me, I’m never very good at making it look ‘right’. 

So I put it off and put it off, brushing off the fact that our apartment just felt dull and bland, with no injection of personality or flare whatsoever. I dismissed my craving to make it nice, opting not to buy more ‘stuff’, as in a small space I just figured it wouldn’t make it any more livable. 

Aaaaaand then a global pandemic hit, and we faced up to the fact we’d be inside a lot more. Suddenly two makeshift desks dominated our living space, and our lives slowly began to operate solely within the 50 square metres we call home. 

Neither me or my boyfriend are particularly neat. It would probably help if one of us was, to drag the other into tidying and organising frenzies. But alas, no. This natural messiness made me even more reluctant to accessorise, as I just thought it would make the place even messier, and give us more to mess up.

When the virus hit, though, I started making a conscious effort to make new habits. I no longer found myself having to leave a dirty mug out and dash off to work, because work was now in my living room. Laundry didn’t need to pile up until Saturday, because I could put a load on on my lunch break. As these new habits started to stick, I figured that if I made the place nice, perhaps I’d be more inclined to keep it that way – especially while having to go out wasn’t an excuse to abandon a messy living room anymore.

With our dull space, I found it easy to ignore it getting cluttered, because it didn’t particularly thrill me even when it was neat. It felt nicer, sure, but I didn’t ever get that warm, fuzzy feeling of home that people describe. So I set out to create a haven that I’d be happy to spend the next few weeks or months in. 

I set a budget of $500, and jumped online, armed with a notebook, to start making out ideas for each space. I opted for quick wins that I’d easily be able to implement with an immediate result. No tools, no building, no painting – just a few areas that could benefit from a neaten up, savvy storage and a cute accessory or two. For inspo, I watched some YouTube videos – Apartment Therapy is great! – and had a look on Pinterest (obvs).

The Bathroom

We live in a 70s double brick apartment with a classic shower-over-bath bathroom with a slot for a washing machine and a sink about the size of my eyeball. Storage space is minimal, and try as I had, my attempts to store my makeup, shampoo and hair accessories in various boxes and baskets on the floor just wasn’t working. 

The top of the washing machine had become a dumping ground for everything that wouldn’t fit into the 3 inch deep cupboard space, and storing any kind of washing powder meant using the equally shallow windowsill and hoping for the best.

I decided to move my makeup and hair stuff into the bedroom, to free up the minimal cupboard space for stocks of shampoo, toothpaste and washing powder. That left space under the sink for our dirty laundry basket, and cleared the space on top of the washing machine.

I got a cheap, matte-black shower caddy and attached it to the tiles in the shower, for our in-use shower gels and shampoos, and did a much-needed cull of empties. That left the washing machine clear for a decorative macrame mat for a beachy feel, and reduced the overall amount of clutter on view.

The Bedroom

I’m still working out how to glow up our bedroom properly, but digging an old throw out the back of the cupboard and moving a poorly-chosen decorative pillow from the living room to the bed did a lot for its overall look.

The main thing I changed in here was the top of our chest of drawers. It had become a home for vagrant mugs and poorly stacked books, perhaps joined by a clothes tag and some loose change that would fall out of jeans before washing – so I made it into a vanity station. I leaned a mirror against the wall, got some small wooden storage drawers and a basket, and put my makeup, skincare and hair styling tools there. This freed up bathroom foot traffic when we’re both getting ready at the same time, and make both spaces neater and more functional. For added style, I put industrial-looking contact paper on the front surface of the top drawer.

My bedside table also had the same purpose-less vibe, so I leaned a framed photo against the back, and put a decorative storage basket on the shelf to store things like ear plugs and emergency indigestion tablets in a more aesthetic way.

The Living Room

Aside from a congregation of our shoes post kick-off when we got home, there wasn’t much ‘clutter’ as such in the living room. Its problem was that it was just a dull space. Our grey, lack-lustre cat-scratched sofa was the focal point, and a testament to the under-loved space. 

The addition of two desks for our forced work-from-home plans didn’t help it feel any more cosy, or like somewhere you’d want to knock-off and spend the weekend. 

I thought having dark grey carpet throughout meant the quick-win of a cute rug wasn’t an option, but with some research and careful texture planning, I found one that elevated and lightened the space, and worked against the carpet.

Two decorative cushions (this one and this one)in different sizes and textures lifted the couch’s cosy levels, and a golden mustard throw added a pop of colour without squashing the neutral feel. I added a fake monstera plant next to the side table, and moved our full length mirror from a dark hallway corner to beside the couch. It instantly felt more curated and expansive, and the mirror caught the afternoon light and helped to light the rest of the space. The simple addition of a basket on the lower shelf of our coffee table helped control remotes and Playstation controller clutter, too. 

The Bedroom

I actually did the bedroom after the rest of the glow up, which meant pushing my budget out from $300 to $500. Our bedroom has always been a bit blah – again, not a ton of storage or floor space to put extra storage, and the beauty of bedrooms is nobody really goes in there if they come over. This made it easy to leave it under-loved.

The problem in the bedroom started when I bought furniture before we actually moved in. I had dreams of a minimalist clothes rack and decorative chair – but when we actually got in, they didn’t fit all that well. Anyway, 2.5 years later, they’re still there (face palm) and making our bedroom a cluttered mess.

So, I ditched the rail, purged our wardrobe, kept the chair, and got a fold down wooden rack instead, for if we did want to hang anything up. Then, got a double laundry hamper to make it easy to put laundry somewhere that wasn’t, er, the floor. I added the same rug as the lounge to brighten the space, a couple of decorative cushions (this one and this one), the same gold throw as the lounge, and of course, old faithful – a fake plant.

The Balcony

Our already-petite balcony isn’t helped by the fact our air conditioning unit takes up a hefty chunk of the space, and my boyfriend’s beloved Weber barbecue hogs another sizeable chunk. My lack of love for the space meant it became little more than a space to store a broom, and a fold out table and chair set for the odd morning coffee outside. 

To brighten up the space and compel me to keep it neat and worth using, I opted for an aztec print outdoor rug. This instantly added a stylish finish to the small space. Then, in a head-nod to the golden throw on the couch, I added two outdoor cushions in the same colour. An unused hook overhead leant itself to a hanging (fake) bit of greenery, to further add to the curated feel, and some outdoor fairy lights wrapped around the railings are textbook Instagram-cute. Finally, two solar candles meant we could duck outside on an autumn night for a quick drink by faux candlelight, with zero effort required. A matte-black wire basket atop the air conditioning unit for storage of the cushions and perhaps some plastic cups come summer, and the glow up was complete. I also decided to mostly leave our table folded up. The space is so tiny that with the table and both chairs up, you have to shimmy around, bashing your hip as you go. With just the chairs out, it’s the perfect spot for an autumn after-work wine.

Total spend: $467

Want to see before and afters?! Head to my Instagram and check out the ‘Apartment’ highlight!


$500 Apartment Glow Up