design-centered apartment hunting checklist

A design-centered apartment hunting checklist

There are tons of ~practical~ apartment hunting tips out there. And you’ve probably read them all if you’re in the midst of trying to find a new home. But what about the tips that help you find a home that is optimally design-able?

That’s what I’m here for. Consider this the ultimate apartment hunting checklist: design edition.

I love a good design challenge, but when it comes to my home, I don’t want everything to be an uphill battle. Between my countless moves in my adult life, I’ve learned what aspects of the apartment make up the strongest foundation for great rental design.

Great designers can make anything work, but strategic designers know that stunning design starts before you ever make that first purchase. This checklist serves as the key considerations to picking a space that is going to be the very best backdrop for your dream apartment design.

1. What are the windows looking like?

I’ve always said this, and it’s never not held up: If you want to see if an apartment is actually nice, you’ve gotta look at the widows.

Anytime I think a place looks great from the outside but it has those old windows with the flimsy matte silver casing on the outside, it’s usually a massive bummer inside.

And that’s because windows are such a great indicator of how much love the property owners put into the space. If they’re skimping on windows (i.e. what’s standing in between you and the elements outside), they probably aren’t investing in high-quality upgrades on the inside.

2. Does the flooring fit your vibe?

Although it’s true you can always cover the floor up with rugs, it’s best to avoid any flooring styles that directly contrast with your design style.

For example:

  • If you want lots of warm-colored accents in your home, gray-washed wood is going to look off.
  • If you’re hoping for a relaxing, neutral space, checkered tiles in the kitchen might throw off your vibe.
  • If there’s carpet anywhere other than in the bedrooms… I personally feel like this contrasts with any good design or desire to have a clean and dust-free home. But maybe that’s just me.

A funky flooring may be a fun opportunity to change things up a bit. But it should absolutely be considered at the outset to make sure that you’re not stuck with a less-than-ideal foundation for your entire home design.

3. Are there any cool architectural details?

If there’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s a good architectural detail in an apartment.

This could be a variety of features, like:

  • A fireplace
  • Arches in hallways
  • Interesting-shaped windows
  • Built-ins
  • Crown molding on the ceilings or walls
  • Differences in floor levels (Who doesn’t love a food conversation pit?)

Like with any point on this apartment hunting checklist, there are tons of ways that you can “fake” some of these details, but having some of these built-in will make it even easier to make your apartment look cool and unique. They’re immediate conversation starters.

4. Can the floor plan accommodate your vision?

Call me crazy, but when I’m considering an apartment, if there’s a floor plan available online, I immediately get to creating a mock layout. This really should be at the top of this apartment hunting checklist.

The floor plan is one of the hardest things to design around if it doesn’t work.

First, you want to consider the furniture you currently have and are planning to keep, like your bed or couch. If these are going to be awkward to accommodate in the floor plan, it’s going to be an uphill battle. And especially if you splurged, it’s going to hurt to have to sell and replace it.

But you also want to think ahead to your future plans. If you have a specific vision (like a giant, L-shaped desk), you want to make sure that it works with the dimensions of the room you’re putting it in.

And this goes deeper than just the overall size. You also want to think about if the room is square or long, if it has mostly flat walls or a lot of cutouts/doors you need to work around, if any architectural details limit the flexibility.

This quick planning process can be a quick to-scale sketch on paper, or you could use an easy program like Floorplanner to quickly plug in your dimensions and drag in furniture.

Overhead 3D floor plan of a small living room in a Los Angeles apartment with furniture placed
This was my quick floor plan I made for my living room with Floorplanner

5. Can you make the storage work?

This is one of the more practical tips on this list, but I promise it’s design-focused. Take it from someone who moved into a place with minimal storage thinking I could make it work.

(Spoiler alert: it’s a massive pain in my ass)

If you don’t have enough storage, you have 3 options:

  1. Get rid of lots of shit
  2. Stuff it away in random places that are hard to access
  3. Or worst, let it spill out into your space

And trust me, #3 is going to happen with all of the things that you use consistently.

No matter how maximalist you are, this kind of clutter is not good clutter. It’s going to make your home feel cramped, messy, and overwhelming.

So make sure you put adequate storage on your apartment hunting checklist, and consider how that might look for you. Of course, you want to make sure there’s enough closet space for your clothes. But if you have a lot of tech products, exercise equipment, boxes of mementos, etc., you’re going to need somewhere to put them.

External storage like bookshelves, in-couch compartments, and chests of drawers are always an option, but you want to make sure that you can fit these somewhere, too.

Now that I’m in no-storage hell, an extra coat closet (or two) is going right at the top of my list of priorities for my next place.

Moving is stressful, so make designing your home as smooth as possible

In life, I’m always a fan of front loading the stress. Over-plan now so you can chill later is my life philosophy.

Taking this design-centered approach to an apartment hunting checklist has really helped me ensure that once I finally get to moving everything in, I have the best canvas possible to work with.

This might mean having to start searching a little earlier than the average person to check all the boxes, but an extra month of googling is worth a more beautiful home, right?

About me

Hey my name’s Hannah Michelle Lambert, the voice behind homey homies. I’m an LA-based designer, writer, and content strategist. I’m passionate about the intersection of productivity and creativity. I love talking about creative habits, technology, processes, and everything in between that helps me blend the Type A and Type B parts of my brain.

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