I will never forget when I first walked into my older cousin’s Mifflin Street bachelor pad as a high-schooler. The filthy living room was crammed with a giant ping pong table, plaid couches spilled stuffing out of the upholstery and posters of scantily clad women lined the walls. This got me wondering, “Is this what a college apartment is really like?” After years of living in nicely decorated homes, this beer-stenched pad left me not only disgusted, but fearful. My housing future was a nightmare! Luckily, my apartments have never gotten quite that bad, but it’s easy to lose your style in college apartments. However, with a few tips, you can fuse a little charm into your humble abode.

Chances are, you don’t have a whole lot of money to spend on furniture, but there are a few extra pieces that are essential for cozying up your home. The first is a coffee table. Any coffee table will do, even the thirty dollar one you found at St. Vinny’s. Aside from being a great place to rest your feet and place down your drinks, a table like this makes a room look complete, offering a focus piece to center the room around.

I would also strongly advise you to invest in a really cool rug. Personally, I am a fan of woven rugs in an earthy color palletes or simple straw mats. A great rug will soften up a room, add interesting accents with its color and texture and cover up imperfections in the flooring.

When looking for a table, a rug or any other piece of furniture, it is important to keep scale in mind. Unless you have rent that’s higher than your tuition, college apartments run on the smaller side. Because of this, any big pieces of furniture (including that La-Z-Boy from your parents’ spacious house) will make the room look cluttered and even smaller than it really is. Instead, opt for petite and elegant pieces that leave plenty of room for you to move around.

If there is one cringe worthy feature of most college apartments, it’s the lighting. Too many students depend on glaringly bright overhead lights that make even the most adorable rooms look as stark as a prison. Not only is it important to have lamps, but it’s important to have lamps at all different heights throughout the room. Search through thrift stores for inexpensive floor and table lamps, or check out IKEA – a budget decorator’s paradise – for hanging lamps in offbeat materials like rice paper. Being able to differentiate the brightness of the lighting allows for you to set the right mood.

In a room, accessories can be even more important than they are in an outfit. While an accessory-free outfit can look simple and chic, an accessory-free college apartment just looks like a mental institution. By choosing the right ones, you can take any room from crappy to classy.

Art, or what a college student takes for art, can make or break any room. Posters of Bucky Badger and Jimi Hendrix often have no more purpose than covering up water damage. Instead, look for creative and innovative artwork to give your home a one of a kind feel, like at art.com or on Etsy. Thrift stores are a great place to go for offbeat pieces, but be prepared – you never know what you’re going to find. Hanging your own artwork is another option for those of you who are artistically inclined. If you have some work or even simple sketches, don’t be afraid to show them off. And as much as posters get a bad rep in the decorating world, if you find one that really strikes your fancy, add some sophistication to it with a simple black frame.

Mirrors are another great way to add to your walls. Go for a large, statement making mirror, or cluster together multiple mirrors in varied shapes and sizes. The most remarkable thing about mirrors, especially in a small room, is that they give the illusion of a bigger space, allowing for a bright and airy feel.

Decorative pieces do not have to be expensive to add some punch to your home. Take, for example, one of my favorite accessories: wine bottles, stripped of their labels and filled with Christmas lights. Assuming you already have bottles of Marcus James sitting in your recycling bin, like any respectable college student, this is almost free. Candles, placed in simple hurricane vases, are another inexpensive decorating solution; not only do they add perfect lighting, but also they give off lovely smells. If, like me, you don’t quite trust yourself with fire, flameless candles are a great option. Likewise, plants – fake or real – add life to any room. One important trick with accessories, especially small ones, is to group them altogether. Within these groupings, odd numbers are the most visually appealing.

Painting an entire room is a bit of a commitment during a one year lease, but painting one wall or just the trim is a great way to make a statement with interesting colors. That, or interesting wall paper, is yet another way to turn your apartment into a real home.

Maggie Schafer is an English/creative writing and sociology major. Send her your opinions or questions on the latest trends at [email protected]