Want to create a great apartment on a tight budget? For tips, we turned to Kyle Schuneman, author of "The First Apartment Book: Cool Design for Small Spaces" ($24.95, Clarkson Potter).

The Los Angeles-based designer, dubbed "a boy wonder of design," started subscribing to Architectural Digest at age 13 and launched his business, Live Well Designs, when he was barely into his 20s. He talked about the pitfalls of one-stop shopping, how designing a room is like building a puzzle and why a green plant is a great place to begin the "story of your space."


Q How recently were you decorating your own first apartment?

A I moved out on my own at 20 and started decorating my first place -- a couple-hundred-square-foot studio. I just turned 27, and I've moved a lot -- six times. There were a couple that felt like first apartments.

Q Why did you decide to write the book?

A It's a time in your life full of juxtapositions. It's a celebration of beginning your own adult life and all that comes with it. But you have no money, you have to deal with your landlord, maybe you're living with strangers. Your surroundings are so important, whether it's transitional or not. Life is too short not to express yourself. I hate seeing shows where they're staging homes, designed for nobody, pleasing nobody. I would rather you love my space or hate it than feel indifferent to it. I wanted to push the idea of individuality in your space.

Q What are the biggest frustrations people face when decorating their first apartment?

A Where to start. A lot of young people have fashion sense but this is their first time to control their space. It's new, and they're fearful to make a mistake. So they just go to Ikea or some other one-stop shop, but they're not happy with it. Buy a plant first. Interact with your space. Start to take care of it.

Space is a challenge for most people. A lot of first apartments are small, in cities. Most of my peers will sacrifice space for a downtown setting. But all those quirks add to the story of your space.

Q Why did you decide to organize the book by personality types, i.e. "The Rebel," "The Romantic"?

A I wanted to pick unique spaces with unique points of view. When I work with people, I ask them to show me photos they like or a favorite retail space. If you say you shop at Anthropologie and like the desert, I can tell what surroundings make you comfortable. It's not about just putting things on walls. It's about what makes you you.

Q What are your favorite tricks that cost little but have a big impact?

A I'm a big fan of paint. I like patterns, something different. If you're afraid to paint, think of the floor as your fifth wall. A rug or drapes can be a great inspiration for a space -- even if you have white walls, it can make it look like it was on purpose. If you're having problems picking a color palette, find a fabric that works for you and use those colors.

I'm also a big fan of quirky accents, conversation starters, like the box-spring chandelier. Something interesting that's like jewelry for your room. I take things I see in a high-end version and figure out a way to go backward.

Q What about trying to decorate with a roommate who has different taste?

A Compromise isn't your friend. If one loves red, and the other loves blue, and they compromise on purple, neither person is happy. You need to meld your things together, problem-solve together, to avoid resentment.

Q What mistakes do people tend to make when decorating their first apartment?

A Scale. Putting a huge sofa in a small room. It feels squashed and uncomfortable. I understand budgets, but. ... If your space is small, you have to start with a furniture layout and puzzle-piece that. Create a little floor plan and move things around. Function is at the root of decorating a small space.

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784