From BLAH to BEAUTIFUL: Ten Ways To Transform Your Grown Kid’s First Apartment


Once Upon A Time, I pushed two bowling balls out of a garden hose.


It wasn’t easy, but I had no choice. There was no were else for them to go.


I toiled and huffed, and ate ice chips and swallowed laxatives, and lo and behold, the universe brought forth an unbreakable obligation to burping and feeding and homework and worry.


Yes, there were the ‘special’ times, the ones that make it ‘all worth while’, like “I love you Mommy”, and “I’m not talking until I have my lawyer or my Mom is here”, kind of awesome moments.


Ahhhh. The memories…


And then you promise them that if they work real hard, and fulfill their ‘potential’ you will fund the largest Capitalist shell game of all: College- any college they can get into. Any one.


They call your bet, and go ‘all in’.


All in.


Your tears, when reading the acceptance letters, are mistaken for joy.


All you see is money: tuition, books, i-n-c-i-d-e-n-t-a-l-s, airline tickets, and living expenses.


You feel the blood dripping from your eyes, but you take heart that eventually it will be all over, only four years each. You can withstand anything.


Except it isn’t OVER in four years, oh no, they keep needing you, they keep calling your bluff. They keep saying, “I love you.”


And you simply cannot resist because these creatures, the very ones who have stolen your soul, somehow have a stranglehold on your reason and as much as you try, you, you, need them too. You want to help. You want to see them happy. You take joy in watching them fly…


And sometimes, that’s to a new city, a new job, new friends, and new worries.


But, sometimes, if your lucky, you get to spread your wings along side them, and transform a bland cocoon of an apartment into a beautiful butterfly.

Because, whether you came out of the garden hose, or not, I’ve got your back– or at least I’ll help you hang art.


Here are my TIPS on turning a BLAH apartment to




  1. Lighting– very few people have enough, or at the right height. I have a serious disdain for overhead lighting. It’s garish. Floods the room. No shadows, and you want shadows. They create mood. You should light at least one corner of every room. Use a floor lamp or something that hangs off the wall. We have both options at play here- a floor lamp in the living room and a hanging acrylic chandelier hanging off of an ordinary plant hook in the bedroom. You should have a light source for every place where someone will sit (and where you will sleep). We found an electrical outlet at the short end of the kitchen bar under the lip of the top, so we plugged in a charming lamp that sits on the counter but creates a wonderful over-glow when seated at the table that’s tucked under it. Also, notice the lamp shade. It blue. It stops your eye for a second so that you notice what’s going on under it. It brings in some color to the otherwise open dull space of the monochromatic kitchen.

  2. Furniture– it should multi-task. The coffee table has drawers for storage, and the couch pulls out into a queen size sleeping platform because this is a one bedroom apartment. A desk by the side of the bed could not only be a study space but an end table. Get it?

  3. Space delineation– space will most likely be tight, so areas will have to do double-duty. In this apartment, my daughter’s bedroom is also where she has her desk, and not in the living room. This way she can close her door from her cats and they still can reach their food and liter, and if she needs a mental break, she can exit her room and enjoy the calm organization of her larger space.

  4. Flooring– it will probably suck. Dull carpet, scratched parquet flooring, peeling linoleum. In this case it was carpeting and ceramic tile- all in greige. We chose to ignore the floors because in this tight space you want it to seem uninterrupted- except in the bathroom, where we placed a long (7 foot) indoor/outdoor runner. She originally thought it would be too long. I assured her it would not. I was right. All the way from the shower to the toilet you have a soft warm surface under your feet, and it adds visual interest to an otherwise utilitarian space.

  5. Art– my 29yr old son has a large piece of art hanging in his home office that is the accumulation of hundreds of cigarette packs. He thinks it’s cool. OMG. It must be burned. Most young adults will not have had the resources to purchase ‘good’ art yet, but ‘smart’ art can be had by all. In this case, I have encouraged both of my kids (What happened son?) over the years to not buy things to just cover the walls. Better to have less and have it be meaningful and appropriate then just crap on the wall. My daughter, years ago, fell in love with a large mirrored wall clock that is the focal point in her living room (and reflects light-SMART) and a lovely vintage oil painting she found for a few dollars at a junk store (and we had cleaned), for over her bed. When you walk into either of these rooms they are the perfect compliment- not overwhelming, not confining, not amateurish. You learned well grasshopper. Your brother- the jury’s still out.

  6. Color– in a small space color should be uninterrupted whether it’s bold or soft. Using all one color family, in ALL the rooms, will open the ENTIRE space. In this case the apartment walls were painted before she moved in, so we had to work with it. Thankfully it is a non-committal taupe. Easy-peasy with her warm whites and greys, but to make it your own- chose a few accent colors and use them to either bring your eye to a certain spot (like a comfy corner), or to add a bit of pizzaz. Look at that shrimp-colored wing chair in the living room. No other powerful colors- just that chair. Understated. Interesting. Powerful. Well done darling.

  7. Furniture Placement– Walk into your rooms and LOOK. Really look at the space. Do you want to walk into your bed? No. Does it make your bedroom look claustrophobic? Yes. Here’s the thing: ALWAYS place your bed so that when you walk into the bedroom the bed is somewhere you have to walk to, ahead-of-you, from the foot to the pillows. ALWAYS. Let me see the bed in all of it’s glory. As for living space, I love furniture placed on a angle, but that requires square footage this apartment didn’t have, so up against the wall it was. But- the couch is a sectional that has a switch-back that creates it’s own kind of delineation which cradles the coffee table and doesn’t block the view/light on the other end. Perfect. Also, the kitchen island counter stopped short of the kitchen flooring leaving this strange unused area which was perfect for slipping her table under. A continuation of the counter AND proper seating for meals. The lamp on the counter makes it very bueno.

  8. Accessorize– it’s personal, as it should be. Accessories are supposed to reflect who you are, but they are often disjointed and spread out all over the place. GROUP your like objects- either by Topic, Function, or COLOR ( Wait. I’ll tell you how in a second). Case in point: TOPIC-1) Group all of your framed family photo’s in one place- not three in every room. Do I really have to stare at you and your dog in the bathroom? See your wedding picture from the kitchen counter? 2) The only other place GROUPS of books should be, other then in a bookcase in ONE room, is on a coffee table. Do you really think that by casually stacking a few classics together and putting a vase of flowers on top, that I’ll think you just happened to leave them there on your way through? Coffee table books are conversation starters- that’s why they’re out. If you have a collection (three or more)- of anything- GROUP them together. Don’t put one here, one there, another thata way. GROUP by FUNCATION. You put all of your flatware in one drawer don’t you? Put all of your magazines in one place, your electronic charging stations, your cooking utensils, your small appliances, your cleaning supplies, your cat supplies, your bills! Have places ready to recieve these items. Put them where you use them. If you need TP it’s a bitch to have to go to hall linen closet isn’t it? GROUP by COLOR. Okay- let’s say you don’t have a lot of any one thing, but you love the color blue. You tend to have a lot of things in the color blue. GROUP them. I recently walked into a women’s clothing store that didn’t have it’s selections separated by size. They had them grouped in color blocks. Not only was it very pleasing to the eye, it made my shopping easier. If you have a collection of vases, some in red, some in yellow, some in white- separate them and group them by color. THEN- separate the groups.

  9. Finishes– chose three. My daughter likes painted surfaces, upholstery, and natural fibers. A space full of dark cheery stain, shabby chic whites, stainless, 50s vintage bakelite, and South American indigenous pottery is a mish-mash of style, Continents, and history. Pare it down.

  10. The WOW factor– each room should have a little surprise. It might be an object. It might be a color, or it might be the size of something- a really big couch, or a little lamp placed just so. In this apartment, my daughter’s WOW factor is the crazy awesome chair in the living room, the chandelier in the bedroom, and the lamp on the bathroom counter…


And ME.



Before/Living Space ...PINIMAGE

BEFORE/Living Space …


AFTER/Living Space














BEFORE Bathroom


AFTER/.Bathroom.. with Ned inspecting. PINIMAGE

AFTER/.Bathroom.. with Ned inspecting.


  • Carol Cassara - Great tips–and pix–for everyone. Like me.ReplyCancel

    • Cheryl - Something tells me you live surrounded by beauty. Inside and out.ReplyCancel

  • Tammy - Awesome job from an AWESOME mom! Happy kid = happy mom! Such a fun AND helpful post from a pro!ReplyCancel

    • Cheryl - I really should have gone pro but the thought of having to deal with people’s neurosis’ was a game changer. I leave that up to my mother, who’s still designing. At 82!!!ReplyCancel

  • Diane - Amazing! Absolutely stunning. With a few tips and tricks and not a huge outlay of $$$! Genius!ReplyCancel

    • Cheryl - Yes! Very cost effective. It’s all smoke and mirrors Diane. Smoke. And. Mirrors. You just need to know where to pace them. Hahahaaaa.ReplyCancel

  • Nancy Hill (@Nerthus) - Love all your tips. Most people over-furnish. But mostly I love your description of interacting with your kids. I was so happy and so thinking about how much more money it would take when my daughter started a PhD program… sigh. Someday I will have the money to decorate! School has to end one day, doesn’t it?ReplyCancel

    • Cheryl - Does it? End? But, it’s true- most people either over-decorate or just fill their spaces with a mish-mash of stuff. Or, don’t have things ‘at the ready’, like not having magazines by the couch, or coffee mugs on the other side of the kitchen away from the coffee machine. Why?ReplyCancel

  • The Finishing Touches - You did a fantastic job! I want to live here!ReplyCancel

  • Kim Tackett - I swear this is true. When my oldest lived in Vancouver, I visited a house she shared with 8 other people. The lamps were on the ceiling. As in, Kate and her boyfriend took all of the floor lamps and attached them to the ceiling, so the floor lamps were now upside down ceiling lamps. It was kind of spectacular. That was 5 years ago. Kate and her boyfriend (same one) are now Masters in Architecture students at SAIC in Chicago. Their lamps remain on the floor, but they are both kind of spectacular.ReplyCancel

    • Cheryl - Great idea! Especially if you have high ceilings! As students of Architecture I imagine that they are always experimenting. Did you know that it was a woman designer, way back, that first suggested not only overhead lighting, but the very first WALL SWITCH! Maybe your daughter will invent something wonderful! I hope so.ReplyCancel

  • Ruth Curran - Oh you have an eye for just what belongs. I hope my son meets some like you to help him balance out his place because that is not one of my gifts!!! And the cat in the bathroom was such a nice touch!ReplyCancel

  • Its All About The Yummy - Love this! I am sending your post to several of my children’s friends who are now leaving in their own places!ReplyCancel

  • Mary Johnson - Oh well done! It looks amazing!ReplyCancel

  • Kim Dalferes, Author - Love, love, LOVE what you’ve done with these rooms. Sending this post to many of my son’s friends who are working on their first post-college “real grown-up” place. ReplyCancel

  • Rena McDaniel - The blue lamp in yhe kitchen, genius! Great style. I think this is one of the things I miss the most with taking care of mom. Hubby and I have a very definite way of decorating and have taken months to put something on the wall because we simply haven’t found “it” yet. Great booksmon the coffee table even the aquarium rocks and decorations were taken into account (OCD) but mom will buy little kittens or puppies or abox wharever strikes her fancy and she just puts them anywhere. I just let her she has Alzheimer’s and used to have lovely taste. What can you say? Luckily we don’t know anyone in this state so nobody sees it but us.ReplyCancel

    • Cheryl - It’s hard enough to be dealing with Alzheimer’s (both you, your husband, and, of course, your mom). I don’t blame you for ‘letting it be’ with the kittens, or china puppies, etc. in your mom’s place. Whatever makes her happy in the moment.As for waiting months to find the ‘right’ object for a room- I agree. As long as it’s not TOO long. HAHAAAAaaa. I’m sure your place is fabulous just like you Rena.ReplyCancel

  • Lois Alter Mark - Wow, my kids’ places look nothing like that! I’m forwarding this to both of them for inspiration, although I’m sure I’ll be getting back replies asking for money!ReplyCancel

  • Doreen Mcgettigan - I love what you did with the lighting, I really like all of it. The cat is a wonderful finishing touch. Adorable!ReplyCancel

  • Mari Collier - You do good work. Looks fantastic.ReplyCancel

  • Sheryl Kraft - Beautiful! The sentiment, the words and finally, the apartment. ReplyCancel

  • lisa Froman - This was fun to read. I gotta say….your kids are lucky. LOL. And I LOVE what you did with her apartment….Southern Living would be proud.ReplyCancel

    • Cheryl - Since this apartment is in Columbus, Ohio, let’s call Midwest Living!ReplyCancel

  • Lily Lau - The best thing that could happen to that bathroom is Ned (in my humble opinion!) 🙂ReplyCancel

    • Cheryl - Hahahaaaa. Yes he is the centerpiece of any room! ps: Did you notice little Ned on the bed?ReplyCancel

  • Vashti Q - Hi Cheryl! I love before and after pictures. Great job! I’m going to be moving into a new house soon. I’m going to remember what you said about the WoW factor. That’s really cool. I’m actually going to pin this so that I won’t forget anything. 😀ReplyCancel

  • Sue - Love how you hung the black clock down low too and that it is black to go with the black in the WOW factor chair.ReplyCancel

    • Cheryl - You bring up ANOTHER bone of contention I have- people hang their wall pieces at the wrong level- always TOO HIGH. As always, you have given me an idea for a new post with pic’s from MY house to use as examples. Thank you Oh Wise Woman.ReplyCancel

  • Linda Roy - First of all, you crack me up! “…they keep calling your bluff…saying I love you.’
    And second, you have excellent taste! I am a decorating junkie. I watch hours upon hours of HGTV and devour the magazines. So I loved this. Well done! Hey, aren’t you going to be on HGTV? Make sure you let me know when!ReplyCancel

    • Cheryl - Well, that’s what they SAID when they showed-up and filmed us! I’ve really got to write a post and I will MAKE SURE to let you know.ReplyCancel

  • Roshni - That sure looks like a huge apartment! Absolutely love the chair! Great choice! !ReplyCancel

    • Cheryl - It’s not. It’s small. But the light is good and the space is open- except for the bedroom. The chair IS GREAT! She got it at a discount $350 bc it was a little dirty, which we cleaned and viola!ReplyCancel

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