I so clearly remember the first apartment I ever lived in solo, without roommates. It was 2008 and I’d just moved back to the U.S. after spending several years (and every penny of my savings) in Europe. The space was a studio in East Hollywood, furnished with the cheapest sofa at IKEA, mismatched hand-me-down kitchenware from my dad’s house, and an air mattress shoved up against the exposed brick wall.
If I ever did have extra money to spend on my home, I’d always throw it toward some kind of inexpensive impulse buy—a papier-mâché zebra head wall hanging from the Anthropologie sale section (why?!), or a ton of Target throw pillows that would inevitably be punctured by my cat’s claws within a few months. If I were smart, however, I would have done the responsible thing and saved my cash for high-quality pieces that I’d continue to love for the next decade and beyond. (Had I done that, I definitely wouldn’t have been sleeping on that air mattress for two years—0/10, would not recommend.)
After all, this is what separates an adult apartment from a glorified college crash pad. “The design journey from a twenty-something purchasing something versus an ‘adult’ should be looked at as appreciating materials more and understanding the value in lasting and meaningful items,” says Olivia Stutz, a designer at interior design platform Homepolish. “It’s about being a smart consumer, both financially and ethically. In a culture of mass consumption and mass disposability, having something substantial, well-made, and lasting lends meaning and weight to our home life and existence.”
Plus, I’m a big believer that your surroundings have a huge impact on your self-worth. It wasn’t until I moved into a new apartment and decided to properly invest in each room—buying an actual bed, a sprawling desk to work at, and a beautifully restored flea market dresser—that I actually felt like a grown-up for the first time. And once that happened, everything else in my life, from my career to my relationships, fell into place.
But where to start? Here, designer Olivia Stutz recommends one investment piece to buy for each room of your home.
Living room: piece of art that you love
If you think about it, just about every item in your living room has a shelf life. Your couch will become worn after a while and need to be replaced, or you may get bored with your end tables and want to swap them out for something more on-trend. But art is one thing that you could conceivably keep with you throughout your entire life, which makes it a great investment. To wit: I still have prints in my home that I bought over 15 years ago, and I love them as much now as I did day one.
“Art is such an integral part of the home—I love featuring my art in the living room where it’s likely to be seen the most,” says Stutz. Sites like Tappan Collective and Exhibition A let you invest in one-of-a-kind works from emerging artists, while Etsy, Society 6, and 20×200 offer tons of under-$50 options for those on a budget. The key is to be selective and curate only the pieces that really reflect you in some way. “I’m always proud of my art and know that it’s taken me quite some time to pick out my favorite pieces,” says Stutz. “This is why having art that fits the home nicely and is meaningful lends itself to a more ‘adult’ home.”
Designer’s pick: Span by Benjamin Ewing at Tappan Collective ($7,200, payment plans available)
Kitchen: fresh flowers
Here’s one you can accomplish on your weekly grocery run—and it doesn’t require a giant kitchen to pull off. “I’m enamored by a unique ceramic vessel with fresh flowers on the kitchen island or countertop,” says Stutz. “Nothing says ‘adult apartment’ like a fresh bouquet; just that you took the time to go out and get those flowers!” The trick here is to keep your blooms fresh as long as possible—just throw a penny in the vase—and compost them as soon as they start to look wilt-y. And if you don’t have a green thumb, Urban Outfitters recently dropped a collection of faux foliage that looks pretty much identical to the real thing.
Don’t overlook the impact of a statement-making vase, either. “A vase on the counter instantly elevates a space,” says Stutz. “Simone Bodmer-Turner is one of my favorite ceramicists at the moment, and can create custom items for you as well if you have a certain size you need.” You can also check out these other ceramic vase options, starting at just $10.
Designer’s pick: Simone Bodmer-Turner Medium Single Stem Vessel ($375)
Dining area: well-crafted table sized for your space
A dining table is another one of those things that you could buy once and keep in your home for the rest of your life—as long as the quality is on point. Stutz says to look for something “timeless” that fits in the space you have available. “I chose Blu Dot’s round small dining table with white Carrera marble top for its beautiful simplicity and for its ability to be both modern and contemporary,” she says. (I can attest that when I bought my own marble-topped dining table—a secondhand steal at $400—it totally elevated my home, and I consider it the best design purchase I’ve ever made.)
For bonus points, Stutz recommends adding some kind of sculptural object to the space. “A found treasure, either on your dining table or on the credenza next to the table, is truly how you make your home unique and create your own expression,” she explains, noting that a beautiful bowl is a good, functional option.
Designer’s pick: Blu Dot Right Round 42″ Marble Dining Table with Black Legs ($1,999); L’Objet Celestial Bowl on Stand ($395)
Bedroom: luxe white sheets
I’ve always tried to lengthen the life of my threadbare sheets as long as possible since I’m the only one who sees them and I’m mostly experiencing them while unconscious. But Stutz swears that investing in good bedding can be totally life-changing. “Nothing creates a more calm vibe than well-made white sheets that are soft and beautiful,” she says. “Not to mention, white sheets go with anything.”
Stutz is a fan of Frette linens—which, admittedly, ring in at around $500 a set. But there’s a good reason for that. “Frette has been making bedding since the 1800s. They know what they’re doing, and you’ll have these for life,” says the designer. When you think about how often you’d need to replace cheaper sheet sets over a lifetime, the math starts to make a lot more sense.
Designer’s pick: Frette Single Ajour Sheet Set in White ($475-$525)
Bathroom: matching storage accessories
Marie Kondo fans, this one’s for you. “It’s important for your bathroom, mostly a messy place, to feel organized,” says Stutz. That’s why she recommends investing in a matching set of bathroom accessories that’ll help streamline everything in the space—a waste bin, toothbrush holder, tissue cover, and storage containers.
Her favorite is a marble set from Bloomingdale’s, but you can also get matching sets of bath accessories at Target. “Gone are the days with toothbrushes in cups that are supposed to be used for drinking water,” says the designer. Now, if you remember to floss daily? That’s the true sign that you’re officially adulting.
Designer’s pick: Waterworks Tacca Bath Accessories ($60-$198)
Meet the Buddhist Monk-turned-tidying guru who’s set to be the next Marie Kondo. And while you’re upgrading your space, why not rid it of plastic, too?
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