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How to furnish, fill and decorate your new, larger home

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 9/21/2021 Jura Koncius
diagram: (The Washington Post illustration; iStock) (The Washington Post illustration; iStock)

You just bought your first home.

Now what?

Upsizing from a small apartment to a two- or three-bedroom rowhouse or bungalow is an exciting move. But after closing, you might go into a bit of a panic when you have to make decisions about furnishing and decorating the place. You probably already own the basics, but their scale may be off — or you may be sick of that hand-me-down chintz sofa that you’ve hauled around since college. Take your time, though. Designers say there’s no reason to dump everything right away and rush to buy items simply to fill up space.

“You can’t just offload your furniture because you want all new things,” says Jessica Davis, owner of JL Design in Nashville. Even if you did have the budget, there are often complications and delays when ordering furniture, especially during the pandemic, with delivery times often running six months or more. “So you have to live with your old stuff a bit longer. You can’t move in with nothing,” Davis says.

“Often, when people move, they tell me, ‘It’s a different place and different vibe, and I want something new,’ ” says Shaolin Low, an interior designer at Studio Shaolin in Honolulu. “But first, they should go through what they have and figure out if they still love it.” Low says it can be overwhelming to go from a small apartment to a larger home. Begin by thinking about the purpose of each room, she says, to help guide your choices.

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And don’t just rush to a big-box store and buy everything on your list, says Toronto designer Rebecca Hay. Think sustainably and reuse what you can. Whatever you do buy, make sure it’s the best quality you can afford. Washington designer Byron Risdon says that, “since this is the first time you are buying a home and making this sort of investment, think about furnishings as an investment, too.”

We asked Davis, Low, Hay and Risdon to share their best design tricks for first-time homeowners, with an eye toward budget. Here are their answers to some common questions.

What should I get rid of before moving?

Take a good, hard look at your furniture, bedding and accessories, and donate or toss anything torn, worn or not often used, as well as anything you bought as a temporary fix.

Where do I begin?

First, pull out a tape measure.

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Measure all the rooms in your new home, as well as large pieces you already own, such as your sofa and beds. Keep all this information, including your floor plans, in your phone, so you can reference it quickly while shopping. Risdon says spaces should evolve, but you need an initial strategy to begin. “Create a plan for how furniture should be laid out, along with color schemes,” he says. Execute that plan as time and budget permits. Don’t rush to finish it.

Which room should I tackle first?

“Focus on the rooms you use the most,” Risdon says. “The bedroom is very important. It should be a sort of safe haven and place of respite.”

Low suggests going to a retailer, such as Macy’s or Bed Bath & Beyond, where you can get your basic bedding and mattress pad in one stop. A plain white comforter is a good place to start.

Your upsized home probably has two or three bedrooms. If there are one or two people living in the house, one room is usually the primary bedroom, the second is the guest room or office, and the third can be used for storage, an office, craft space or a workout room. If you are hoping to start a family, a pullout couch may be a good purchase for the smallest bedroom. (You can add a crib later.)

Should I worry about paint colors?

With more rooms to think about, you might be uncertain about paint color choices. Now you have to think about how colors work together. Some designers say painting all the rooms a light neutral or white will make your home feel light and airy. Later, you can go bolder with paint or choose a statement wallpaper for some of your spaces.

Looking for a paint color that will never go out of style? Try one of these timeless shades.

Low suggests an off-white, such as Swiss Coffee, Alabaster or Simply White, all by Benjamin Moore. “Look at the paint with lots of natural lighting,” she says, to make sure it’s a good fit for your space. If you have white upholstery, though, Low says, you might want to rethink the white walls. “A solid white wall will look dingy if you have white furniture. One will always look dirtier than the other,” she says.

Davis often uses High Reflective White by Sherwin-Williams. “It adapts to any other color you put in the room,” she says. Hay recommends Benjamin Moore’s Cloud Cover, a warm greige, as a good backdrop for art and furniture.

What do I do with my dining table?

Moving from an apartment to a small home often includes more dining space. But the small table you have been using might come in handy for another room, so don’t give yours away.

A smaller table is a great work-from-home surface that can be tucked into a corner of a room. “You can use it as an end table, a table at the back of a sofa, or also as an entry hall table,” Risdon says. “Put a lamp on it and some family photos to give it new life.” You can also give it a fresh look by painting or staining it.

If your new home has a formal dining space and you aren’t planning to host sit-down holiday dinners for 12, put your small table in there, and turn the dining room into an office.

If all else fails and you can’t find a place for it in your new home, post your table on Facebook Marketplace or a neighborhood group.

Is this the time to upgrade my mattress quality and/or size?

Yes. Moving to larger quarters is the perfect opportunity to upsize your full- or queen-size mattress.

Your studio apartment may have only had room for a full-size mattress. “A double bed can look like a toddler bed in a townhouse bedroom — just too small for the scale of the room,” Hay says.

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Davis advises her clients to get a king-size bed if their primary bedroom dimensions will support it. After all, you might one day have dogs, cats or kids trying to squeeze themselves into bed with you. She says you need a minimum of a 12-by-15-foot bedroom to accommodate a king comfortably.

“Go big and invest in a mattress you will love long term,” Low says. “It’s overwhelming to move, and you will need your best sleep, so treat yourself to extra space.” Your current queen or full can be used in your guest room, if it’s in good shape. And if it’s not? Don’t move an ancient, saggy mattress you inherited from a long-ago roommate into your new home.

What design aspects should I take my time with?

In a word: everything. “The biggest mistake you can make is hurrying to purchase something you don’t love or doesn’t fit right,” Low says. Then you waste money on replacing it. “The more expensive the item is,” Low adds, “the more you should take time with it.”

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