Julie Smith is officially on her own.
A 2012 graduate of Purdue University, she recently landed a job in public relations and moved from her parents' house in Eden Prairie into her first post-college apartment in Uptown Minneapolis.
With many young adults still living in their childhood bedrooms or parents' basements, Smith is one of the lucky ones who can afford her own place. "I'm most excited about the independence," she said.
But that doesn't mean she can afford to decorate it the way she wants. "The frustrating thing is wanting it to be nice and put-together, but not having the funds to do that right off the bat," she said.
So far, she's furnished her apartment with DIY pieces that she bought at a consignment store and freshened up with a coat of paint and new hardware, plus some hand-me-downs.
"It's my parents' stuff, from my childhood," she said. "I'm looking forward to having a space that feels like more my own."
Young renters in their first apartments have always had to decorate on a shoestring, often in cramped quarters using pieces leftover from someone else's long-ago design vision, sometimes restricted by landlords from painting or putting holes in walls.
But today, first-time decorators have a lot more help. The proliferation of design books, blogs, cable shows and Web videos offer a wealth of creative, low-cost ideas and inspiration for renters who are short on cash but still want an inviting home.
"Everyone wants that sanctuary to come home to, said Kyle Schuneman, author of "The First Apartment Book: Cool Design for Small Spaces." Published in September -- "Fall is when everyone starts to move," he said -- the book is targeted to today's DIY-minded, design-savvy young nesters.
In general, they're much more aware of design and make it a higher priority than did their parents, who usually were content to decorate first apartments with castoffs and concrete-block-and-board contraptions.
"With the explosion of design blogs and Pinterest, people have been able to get involved with design," Schuneman said. "Design is more accessible, and more people are into it."
And in today's economic climate, money spent on making a first home feel homey is a good investment, he said. "You can spend $15 on a drink or throw a stock-the-bar party at your place -- save money and create a cool space."
Courtney Williams, who recently moved from Indiana to Minneapolis to take a job with Target, wanted to make her downtown apartment feel like home from the get-go.
"I'm kind of a perfectionist," she said. "I had an idea in my mind, but staying in my price range was challenging. I wanted to stay on budget but still keep it trendy."
She found a lot of decorating ideas on HGTV.com, and made the most of her budget by taking advantage of Target online coupons and shopping on Craigslist.
Williams' apartment has an open floor plan, so she wanted a color scheme that would flow from one space to another -- and that would be gender-neutral, in case her boyfriend, Logan Bultemeier, ended up joining her. "I didn't want to make it too girly," she said. "No purples and pinks." Instead she opted for a palette of silver, black and green in the main living area, with light blue, tan and brown in the bedroom and bathroom.
Bultemeier did land a job in the Twin Cities, at Wells Fargo, and recently moved into Williams' already decorated apartment. He didn't mind not having much input. "Not at all," he said. "I'm not very imaginative, like she is. It was pretty much all her doing, and she does a really good job."
Not that they agreed on absolutely everything.
"We had a little issue," Williams said. "Being a girl, I like to take up a lot of drawer and closet space."
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784