Elena Taber is a 23-year-old full-time social media content creator who recently rented her first apartment in the East Village neighborhood in New York City.
Taber shares the three-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with two roommates, and together they pay $5,150 in rent each month. Taber personally pays $1,850 a month for her bedroom.
"I kind of viewed this apartment as an investment," Taber tells CNBC Make It. "If I don't live in New York forever, and I hopefully won't be paying this much rent forever, I knew it was worth that little extra push."
When hunting for an apartment in New York City's competitive real estate market, it's typically required that renters have first month's rent, a security deposit and a broker's fee on-hand in the form of a cashier's check to secure an apartment. (For Taber and her roommates, that meant around $15,000 total.)
"I knew that it was going to be expensive moving in here, so I definitely saved up as much as I could before moving in," Taber says.
Like many people, Taber was unable to use her co-working space during the Covid-19 pandemic, so she created an at-home workspace. Spending more time at home during the city's stay-at-home orders inspired her to make some changes to her small space so it could be more versatile and comfortable.
Here's Taber's advice for decorating and organizing a small space:
While browsing for vintage items in thrift stores is challenging during the pandemic, there are lots of ways to buy second-hand furniture and décor online.
For example, Taber used the Facebook Marketplace to find a desk nearby and was able to pay for it using the Venmo app. In addition to Facebook, Taber also uses the app OfferUp (which recently merged with the app LetGo), and Mercari, two platforms that allow you to sell and purchase used items.
And then there's the old-fashioned method of scouting for items left out on the street. Taber follows the Instagram account @stoopingnyc, which alerts people to unique, high-quality items that have been left out for the trash, and found a bookshelf on the street to add to her apartment's living area.
She also likes to shop for smaller décor items and storage knickknacks from vintage stores, like Dobbin Street Co-Op in Brooklyn.
Taber suggests looking for your "base pieces" of furniture, like your bed or dresser, at more affordable retailers, like Target or Ikea. "It's worth it, and then you can really make the space nicer by adding fun décor that suits your personality," she says.
As a renter, Taber is limited in what she can and can't do to change the apartment. So, she decided to give her bedroom furniture an upgrade using an inexpensive paint and primer combo. She painted the drawers of her Target dresser with a light sage color.
"I feel just adding a little pop of color, or even just to add a darker piece of furniture a lighter shade that really changed the space and kind of brighten it and make it feel larger," she says.
Taber says she likes to look for inspiration from upscale interior designers online and on Instagram, and then "try to dupe it." For example, Taber came across a photo of a vase in the shape of a female form, that was too expensive. So, she searched for the same type of vase on Etsy and OfferUp and was able to find something similar and cheaper.
"I find it super helpful to go in with an exact item in mind, and the budget in mind, rather than just kind of scrolling with no real game plan," Taber says.
Taber's living room area only has one source of natural light coming from a small window by the kitchen. She added a spherical lamp to the communal space to add warmth and emulate sunlight, and another in her bedroom with a lightbulb that can change colors using a remote control.
And another unexpected light source: $25 color-changing LED lights to run behind the headboard of her bed. These inexpensive lights add more cozy mood lighting, which is needed ahead of darker winter months.
"When it comes to storage in a small space, you just really have to utilize every nook and cranny," Taber says. "Storing things really strategically under your bed, on top of your dresser or really using every little corner of your closet."
For instance, Taber uses a hanging produce basket from Etsy in her kitchen to reduce counter space. She and her roommates also store their books above the kitchen cabinets. And instead of having a TV in the living room, they use a projector to watch things on the white wall in their living area.
Watch the video above for a full tour of Elena's apartment.