Decorating Your Apartment on a Student Budget in Mississauga


For some of you fine Sheridan and UTM students, this might be your first year in your very own apartment. Congratulations! Even if the apartment is shared with roomies or paid for by student loans or your parents, you've struck out on your own for the first time.

(Cover photo: an original art piece that’s been made with deconstructed computer parts)


You're cooking (maybe), cleaning (sometimes) and learning to live away from mom and dad. It's a big step in a very grown-up direction and, as a newly independent man or woman, you get to make some adult decisions -- especially in regards to decorating.

If you're in your first apartment (or just looking to change up last year's home), you'll want to make it chic, cool, youthful, vibrant and fun. You're young enough to use bright colours with abandon and creative enough to fashion some of your own unique pieces (such as the deconstructed computer creation made by Richard Darlington, as seen above). Fortunately for you, you can grab some choice and comfy pieces and never break the bank in the process.

We recently chatted with Deborah Darlington, the owner of the Mississauga-based Darlington Group Interiors, about how to furnish and decorate a small space on a modest student budget. She has some advice on how to maximize your space, find affordable furniture and make your space your own.

"The most important piece [of furniture] is the bed, so you shouldn't skimp on it," says Darlington. "You won't just sleep on it -- although students sleep a lot -- you'll do homework on it with your laptop or tablet. A bed with storage, either with captain drawers or a lift-up component, is a good idea."

The next most important piece? The couch.

"Get a sofa that will last for a few years and get one in a neutral colour," advises Darlington. "Some contemporary colours are cool greys, as they cover a multitude of [spill-related] sins."

While both purchases might sound over-whelming price-wise, Darlington says there are some furniture stores that offer affordable, student-budget friendly pieces.

"Ashley Furniture on Hurontario has reasonably priced sofas that are good quality. You can get a fabric sofa for around $700-$800."

If $700 is still a financial bridge too far, Darlington recommends shopping in your parent's basement, browsing Kijiji or checking out Habitat for Humanity's ReStore location in the city. ReStore, located on Argentia, offers new and gently used home decor items and is open to the public. If you're looking to save a ton of money, ReStore goods are attractively discounted and cost a fraction of the price of new retail items.

"[ReStore] has tables, chairs, end tables, coffee tables and paint," she says.

If you want to customize an affordable piece, Darlington recommends buying a basic case good (a table, for example) and spray painting it. Upcycling -- making an old or used piece new again -- is not only trendy and environmentally conscious, it's also a way to create art and build something original and unique.

You can also visit consignment stores, such as Sauga's Take It or Leave It facility on Dundas St. W. Consignment store pieces might be slightly higher quality, so expect to spend a little more if you go that route.

If you want to get really creative with your painted or distressed table, Darlington recommends putting a customized glass top on it -- and you can get said glass top from Flintstone Glass & Mirror on Lakeshore in Port Credit's east end.

Also, if your apartment is small (which is likely to be the case if you're renting a one-bedroom in a City Centre condo close to Sheridan), Darlington says double-duty pieces are key.

"Ashley Furniture has a lift-top coffee table with an espresso finish for $239.99," she says. "You can eat at it and use it for storage. For students, being able to eat and work at a table in front of the TV is perfect. You can also get ottomans with storage or coffee tables with scissor legs that become dining tables. You can also use folding chairs that you paint and hang on the wall as art when you're not sitting on them."

In terms of colour, how much you can fundamentally change your space will depend on your landlord. If you're lucky, yours might let you paint.

"Have a neutral wall, but paint the ceiling a bright colour," suggests Darlington.

"Turquoise, soft green and soft blue will make the ceiling feel higher," she says. "You can go with deeper colours in a high-ceiling space."

Although the drive to be refined might be there, Darlington says you should feel free to go really wild with your apartment. It is, after all, yours.

"Students don't have to sophisticated," she says. "They can have more fun with their space. Choose red! Why not? It doesn't have to be serious. You can enjoy it and express your personality. For the first time, this apartment is yours. Your mom can't tell you that red doesn't go with the rest of the house."

If you're an art student -- and if you're at Sheridan, you very well might be -- you shouldn't confine your creativity to the classroom.

"If you want, you can make your own art work," says Darlington.

"[Students should] pick their favourite colour, find a piece of artwork featuring that colour as its primary focus, then choose the other accent colours, as well as a neutral for a couch or walls, from the artwork. The proportions for the accent colours should roughly match those in the artwork as long as the supporting colours are less evident than their favourite." 

 "If you want to buy art, there's HomeSense or Giant Tiger. Giant Tiger has metal and ceramic art at reasonable prices and people don't think to go there."

Darlington also recommends Wicker Emporium (you can find one in Heartland).

"They have incredible sales and had some great, funky accent furniture, such as stumps as end tables."

As for one final pro trip, avoid really heavy or clunky pieces that won't fit in your elevator or maneuver easily through the hallways or up stairs.

"You don't want anything that's too heavy to move year after year," says Darlington.

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