The emptiness of a new home can be overwhelming. With so much space to fill and so many decorating decisions to make, you might feel like your house will never be truly yours.
But there’s no need to go hog-wild in a furniture store three days after closing on your new home. Buying too much now might mean restricting your flexibility later (those purple drapes really don’t go with everything).
However, there are a few must-haves every new homeowner should add to their shopping list to make the space feel cozy in no time. Let’s take a look.
“The biggest mistake new homeowners make is to run out and buy a lot of third-rate furnishings just to fill a space,” says Beverly Solomon, the creative director at Beverly Solomon Design.
Sit down—or walk around—in your new space and get a feel for it. How does it flow? How does the light track across the room? What colors add joy to the home—and which don’t? Once you’ve spent some time in your new house, you’ll be better able to choose items that complement your lifestyle.
“Have the courage and confidence to give yourself some time to get the feel of your new home before buying anything,” Solomon says.
2. Window treatments
Of course, at some point you do have to fill that space. You can’t live in an empty home forever.
Drapery, blinds, and shades may not be sexy, but they should be first on your to-buy list. Unless you’ve purchased a mountain home surrounded by thick evergreen trees, window treatments will keep your new home from the prying eyes of peeping toms and curious neighbors—and prevent you from being rudely awakened by early morning and afternoon sun.
“Start with some sort of basic shade or blind that will give you privacy,” says Tiffani Stutzman, a designer in Baton Rouge, LA. Stick with neutral colors until you settle on a decorating scheme.
3. Books and objets d’art
Sad, empty shelving does your new home no favors. If your home comes with built-ins, immediately fill them with your favorite books and decorative objects. If it doesn’t and you don’t have any bookshelves, pick some up to organize your stuff as well as add a touch of character.
“Nothing says ‘cozy’ and ‘home’ like well-curated books and meaningful accessories,” says Carole Marcotte, owner of Form & Function in Raleigh, NC.
You don’t have to spend big bucks on bronze elephants and weird metal spheres to break up your blocks of literature. Marcotte recommends displaying sentimental items such as signed baseballs and your grandmother’s fine china.
4. Updated hand-me-downs
OK, fine: You’re technically not buying this stuff. But you are purchasing the sandpaper and paint to transform your favorite aunt’s buffet table into a contemporary masterpiece.
Not only is revitalized furniture much cheaper than something brand-new, but it’s an easy way to bring a feeling of familiarity and warmth to your new space.
“Only use pieces that you truly love, or that add some function to the space,” Marcotte says.
5. Side tables
Picture this: You pour yourself some wine to celebrate your new home—and then you don’t have anywhere to put your glass. Save yourself the horror and buy some side tables.
“Sit in every seat in the house and figure out where you need ‘perching’ tables,” Marcotte says.
And have fun with it! The beauty of these pieces is they don’t necessarily have to blend in with the rest of your decor. This is your chance to highlight a statement piece or put your crafting skills to work.
If you’ve snagged a sweet Mid-Century Modern house with vintage fixtures, ignore this step. But if your new space could be described as “builder grade,” get thee to a home improvement store ASAP.
“Replacing the contractor’s basic style fixture in the dining room with your grandma’s chandelier or something that represents your style is a great way to connect your personality to the home,” says Michala Monroe, the owner of M Monroe Design in New York City.
That goes double if you’re cursed with the infamous “boob lighting.” You’re not renting anymore, so there’s no need to torture yourself with such terrible sins against design.
7. Live plants
Stop whining about your black thumb. We’ve all killed a plant or two. Don’t let your past failures keep you from trying again.
“Live plants fill empty corners,” Marcotte says. And empty corners are the bane of a new house—just one more reminder that you’re still not fully moved in.
Marcotte recommends picking up large plants such as ficus, palms, or the wildly popular fiddle-leaf figs to fill the space. Truly challenged gardeners can try succulents, which require little care.
You’ve got plants. Now, go colorful with your favorite flowers.
“It’s one of the simplest ways to make a new space feel like home,” says Kate Ziegler, a Realtor and designer in Boston. “Flowers brighten up a space that may still be in transition, and bring warmth and care to unfamiliar territory.”
9. The building blocks of your ‘color story’
Every house has what designers call a “color story”: the palette, tone, and saturation of the colors used in your home that create stylish cohesion throughout the space. You don’t need to decide on your story immediately—over time, the pieces will fall into place—but now’s a good time to start scoping out building blocks.
Look for printed pillows, decorative plates, or artwork–those will help you focus on the hues of your color scheme.
Then, “any companion patterns and prints and the relatively easy matter of solids and textures will fall readily into place,” says Sam Jernigan, a designer with Renaissance Design Consultations in Auburn, CA.
There’s no need to set up a full-scale organization system yet—although if that’s your thing, go forth and prosper. Instead, pick up several large baskets and use them to store all of those pesky items that clutter up a new home.
“These baskets add lovely texture and important function,” Marcotte says. “They can be layered under leggy pieces of furniture for dimensional interest, provide storage by a front door for shoes, and store all of life’s clutter that builds up quickly, even in a new home.”