Improvementalism:
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The Four C’s of Condo Living

Posted on January 18, 2010

Proper wiring and support can help your TV hang out for many a movie night

Four C’s of Condo Living: Cosmetic, Color, Curtains & Clutter

You Can’t Take It With You, People: When it comes to living in an apartment or a condominimum, many people instinctively want to update and work on it in ways that just don’t pay off in the end. To make sure you don’t over improve, I like to think in terms of the Four C’s of Condo Living: Cosmetic, Color, Curtains, Clutter.

Cosmetic, you ask? Unless you have a pretty amazing Landlord, willing to reimburse you for the cost of work you do, all work and updates to a condo should be cosmetic, or surface changes.

Some of my favorite cosmetic changes are: Changing knobs in kitchen and bathrooms on drawers and cabinets, changing out a light fixture like a chandelier over a dining area, and hanging a TV on the wall to clear space for more storage and furniture below.

Save the knobs you have taken off (in a handy plastic baggie to wrangle all the screws) and label them by room for when you part ways with the condo and need to put them back on.

This method is super handy for that ugly, nipple shaped light fixture (does anybody else see this??)  that landlords love to put in the kitchen/dining area.  Bag it up, shove it in the back of the closet, and have an electrician replace it with a cute, inexpensive light fixture with some personality. You can get some smoking deals online and in stores like this one. Consider taking it with you go, and give your landlord back his nipple… Ahem.

Looking remarkably like ...

Mounting your TV on the wall in a condo or apartment can be a bit trickier.  Sometimes you luck out and a previous owner has already done the work for you, or units in a newer building might have built and wired with your slick TV in mind. No such luck?

Assess your walls, furniture placement, and outlet locations carefully.  Also, if your cable/satellite TV has already got a hookup in a wall somewhere, it’s good to know where it is located.  Aim for as little mess/deconstruction as possible, with the smallest distance for your wires to be visible between the TV and your components.

Color: Nothing changes a space like surrounding yourself with the colors that please you most. Think hard on what you want your space to do for you – warm colors are invigorating, exciting. Cool colors are calming, relaxing.  Neutrals are cozy, and can make a great backdrop for changing accent colors by season, should you have the ‘design bug’ like some of us…

Color enters your space in lots of ways. Paint is the most obvious, either painting entire rooms or selecting accent walls to highlight with a bolder color.  It’s always good to really look at the ‘shape’ of the wall you’re planning on painting an accent color.  Aim for a wall that’s relatively square or symmetrical, so that you don’t have funny little slivers of color around odd shaped architecture in your home.

Bring home swatches from the paint store, and get a sample of the paint and try it out before you commit. (seriously) Check out the color in the morning, middle of the day, and at night before you go for it.

Color swatches

Your flooring (often carpet) is another color to consider. Most units have some sort of beige/tan/gray tone that you have to work with when you are planning your paint colors, and furniture purchases.  It shouldn’t rule your life, but it’s worth thinking about it when you’re plotting.

Furniture, rugs, pillows, bedding, and artwork all add color and life to your place.  Think about what you’ve already got, and making everything look as good as possible. Have a subtle art collection? Perhaps a bolder color wall might balance out a black and white photography display. Have wild Rock and Roll posters from the 60’s and a Velvet Elvis? They might speak well for themselves on a more neutral background.

Curtains: Most apartments and condos come stocked with noisy, plastic-fantastic hanging blinds that make a bunch of noise and take me back to the 70’s (when I suspect somebody thought they were cool.)  uh… gag.  While they do block light, and they survive multiple tenants, they do positively awful things for your mental state.

The 70's are calling...

Consider taking them down and replacing them with colorful, interesting curtains to add some life to your pad.  Shove the plastic ones under your bed or in the back of a closet to be reinstalled for the next tenant.

Don’t have the dough for the designer curtain panels you want? Try a staging trick:  Measure the height you want, adding a few inches for a rod pocket at the top, and a hem at the bottom.  Find a more affordable fabric you like and have your local dry cleaner sew a pocket in the top for the rod and hem the edges.  Hit Lowes or Home Depot and have them cut a dowel rod to length for you to stand in for a curtain rod.  Then nail your dowel (and curtain) to the wall at the desired height. Viola! Custom ‘curtains’ without the custom price.

(Author’s note: this approximates a ‘dummy panel’ or a curtain that doesn’t open and close. This works great in a space that doesn’t have sunlight issues, or need to be blocked off for privacy. You can, of course, do the same thing and make real, operable curtains, but that requires a lot more fabric and can drive your budget back up in the range of premade curtains.)

Clutter: We all know about the Clutter Monster.  In a smaller and or shared space, clutter can kill the open feeling you had when you walked in and decided to rent the condo in the first place.  My good (and incredibly tidy) friend John Trosko of OrganizingLA shares lots of ideas for keeping the chaos at bay here.

Multi function storage can really be helpful in a condo. Find seating with storage tucked away inside of it for blankets and extra clutter. Inexpensive closet storage units and correctly sized interlocking plastic storage boxes with wheels can also go a long way toward keeping your space streamlined.

Magazine file boxes to keep clutter at bay

Craving some design? Personalize inexpensive storage boxes to match your space.  You can get fun magazine storage like these here.

Need some ideas for how to spruce up your condo on a budget? Shoot us a tweet! Have any condo living tips of your own? We love comments…

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    I had a good laugh when you’ve mentioned about that lighting fixture in the dining area! LOL! Anyways, cosmetics, color, curtains, and clutter, huh. I’ll keep them in mind. Oh, by the way. I liked that part about the curtains, because it gives your room the simplest personalization that you can have.

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