West Elm’s Peggy mid-century sofa

After buying her Ballston, Va., condo 10 years ago, Darya Mills wasn’t left with a huge budget for furniture. She was in her 20s and just starting out in her career, so she made do with some used furniture and Ikea finds.

But she soon found there were some things worth a bigger price tag. A pretty king-sized bed doesn’t do much good if its mattress causes sleepless nights. “Once I switched to a more expensive mattress, things changed,” says Mills, 36.

When you’re living in an apartment or condo, it can be tough to figure out when to invest in a piece of furniture and when you can get away with something cheaper. Your space is likely on the small side, and it might be more of a temporary than permanent living situation.
But no matter your square footage or future moving plans, it’s generally worth it to spend a bit more on certain types of furniture, pieces where comfort and longevity are important. Take your sofa, for example.

“I think a sofa is important to spend some money on, because you end up spending a lot of time on it,” says Natascha Folens, owner of Great Falls–based interior design firm NF Interiors (703-444-6642). “A lot of people even work from their sofa these days.” Be sure to choose a style and size that fits into your space now but could also work in a home with a different layout.

If you can fit a queen- or king-sized bed in your apartment or condo and feel like you can pick a size and stay with it for the long term, then it wouldn’t hurt to spring for a nice bed to go along with the comfy mattress Mills recommends. Designer Danielle A. Gray of Washington, D.C.–based interior-design firm Gray Livin’ (202-681-2086) says a nicer bed setup helps turn the bedroom into that kind of sanctuary space so many people desire. A mattress sitting on the floor or a basic bedframe “doesn’t make the bedroom feel like the warm inviting space you want it to be,” Gray says.

Folens and Gray don’t recommend spending a lot on a dining table. A lot of meals are eaten at a counter or on the sofa these days, and any dining space in a condo or apartment would likely be much smaller than one in a single-family house.

But Arlington-based interior designer Nicole Lanteri (703-909-8001) says investing in a dining table can be a good move if it’s small enough to fit into your current pad but has leaves to make it bigger down the road.

“You can keep it real small and tuck the leaves under your bed,” she says. “Then if you end up in a larger space you can add a leaf. And you might actually use it too if it’s a nice solid table instead of something shaky.”

Spending money on artwork can have a major impact, and your investment can vary based on your bank account. “It doesn’t have to be expensive,” Lanteri says. “But it really makes a difference. You can have one amazing piece of art and the rest of your furniture can be from Ikea, and no one would really know. It looks cool and unique and personalizes your furniture.”

While lighting is important, it’s easy to find affordable table and floor lamps. And you can save some cash on rugs, which can get a lot of wear and tear in apartments and condos. “Rugs tend to be trendy, and you can get them pretty inexpensively,” Folens says.

You don’t have to spend a lot on other decor items, but make sure to leave some money in your budget for them. “When you buy only the staple pieces and stop there, your space feels empty and unfinished,” Gray says. “It’s like putting on clothes and you don’t put on your shoes. Adding those throw pillows or nice throw to your sofa pulls your look together and upgrades your space in terms of style. If you buy a nice sofa and add those decor pieces, it makes your place look like more than what you spent on it.”

What the pros buy: 

When it comes to couches, designer Danielle A. Gray  is a fan of the Peggy sofa from West Elm ($999-$2,598, above), which comes in different configurations and includes options like a chaise. “A lot of people like the idea of a chaise,” she says. “If you have guests you can turn it into a place where they can sleep.”

Design Within Reach Design Within Reach

For a dining table, Nicole Lanteri recommends the pricey but versatile Cross Extension table from Design Within Reach ($3,990 to $4,890). “It has self-storing leaves and legs that are tapered in versus at the edge of the table, so you can squeeze people in at the corners too if needed,” she says.

Elena Berridy via Minted Elena Berridy via Minted

For a statement-making piece of artwork, Lanteri would head to Minted for something like “Floral and Free,” above. A framed 54-inch-by-40-inch version of the colorful wall art print runs $580. She might also go for something like “Newport Bridge at Night” on Etsy; a 32-inch-by-40-inch version of the moody art print on canvas costs $450.

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