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Decorating Your First Place

Decorating your first place. No, I don't mean your dorm room or the home you share with your roommates or your relatives, but your first home away from home.

Your first home is a symbol that you're finally independent and can begin interjecting your own creativity into the place where you live. In my opinion there's nothing more exhilarating than decorating your first place. I was reminded of that old feeling because my niece is getting married in two weeks. She exclaimed to me how much fun she was having decorating their first apartment. After reflecting on my past experiences, I thought I might outline a few tips that may help with this task while decorating on a tight budget.

1. Many of us start out with hand-me-downs, garage sale or flea market finds. Although we appreciate the generosity of the "giver," it can be a challenge to incorporate them into a cohesive decorating plan. Luckily the "shabby chic" and eclectic styles are still in vogue!

When it comes to hand-me-down upholstered furniture, it depends on the condition of the furniture (and of course, whether the fabric covering appeals to you), whether you want to recover the piece; if so, you may consider a slip cover. You can find them at home decorating stores or order them online. Another option is to drape a throw over the piece and perk it up with lots of color-coordinated accent pillows.

2. An older wooden table, dresser or chair is another challenge. Can you cover up scratches with a stain-stick or "Old English" liquid? Or does the entire piece need to be repainted or refinished? If you decide to repaint it, make sure you first consult with the paint experts at the hardware store. However, if repainting or refinishing is not an option, you may want to consider covering the top of the table or dresser with a runner or doily. Chair seats can be recovered or you can add a new seat cushion.

3. Paint or wallpaper the walls if you can. I'm a big proponent of paint because it's easy to clean or change if you wish. Paint can transform a room and make it feel like home. If you're renting, some landlords will allow you to paint the walls of the apartment if the color is not dark or bold. The usual criteria is -- can one coat of paint cover your paint color? If the landlord approves, go for it!

4. Discard your college dorm stuff. You're no longer a student. It's time for a change.

5. Finally, and most importantly, personalize your new home. Add your own touches, wall art, pictures, rugs and other accessories that are uniquely you. And if you're sharing your first home with someone special, remember to consider them in your decorating plan too.

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