Bring some Gemütlichkeit to your apartment

Bring some Gemütlichkeit to your apartment

I’ve been thinking about ways to make our apartment feel more homey. There’s a German word, Gemütlichkeit, which roughly translates to coziness, or snuggliness perhaps? That feeling of comfort when you arrive home.

But ever since I’ve been out of my childhood home, I haven’t taken the time to imbue my various apartments over the years with that sense of place. Arrival.


I guess it’s because we move every few years. The vagabond life of early career scientists. It’s easy to decide not to invest in the now, to wait for that someday, long-term place.

Home, perpetually an abstract concept for the future and beloved memory of the past.

No more. Now that we’ve got a son, I want our apartment, wherever we find ourselves, to really be a home. So I’ve been thinking about things that make me feel at home and how to bring that to our current apartment. Here’s a list I’ve come up with. All simple, apartment/rental friendly ideas to evoke Gemütlichkeit.

Soft textiles

Cozy living room
A variety of textiles make living spaces warm and inviting.
Image source.

Nothing’s more cozy than sinking into some fluffy pillows and stretching your toes into a shaggy carpet. Textiles add instant hominess to any room. They don’t just provide a feeling of comfort, but by absorbing ambient sounds and muffling echos, they actually make a room sound cozier too.

I will throw one caveat at this one.

Be mindful of the occupants of your space. Between a hairy cat and messy infant traipsing across our living room rug, it requires very frequent cleaning. We’ve covered the rug temporarily with a big foam puzzle mat. It’s a soft landing pad for our little cruiser and easy to wipe down.

Vinyl wall art

Vinyl wall art
Add color to your walls without paint. Image source: Amazon.

Bear with me on this one.

My apartment doesn’t allow the walls to be painted. And even if we could, we’re not sure how long we’ll be here. So dedicating the time, money, and energy to paint, while knowing we’d have to do the same again soon to restore the bland beige walls, hardly feels worth it.

Yet there’s nothing like a pop of color to cozy up your space. That’s why I love vinyl wall art. We’ve got a sweeping tree in our living room that adds a touch of orange and a little personality. We’re in the process of picking out a cute animal theme for our son’s room.

Vinyl Banksy
Get your street culture on with your own ode to Banksy. Image source: Amazon.

The key here is to pick a statement piece that brings in some color, but doesn’t feel busy. Too much of a good thing and your walls will just look crowded, and could even feel smaller. Vinyl art can also be used to add personality to furniture and appliances, like a bookcase or refrigerator.

Big canvases

Big Canvas
A large canvas adds texture and a splash of color to drab apartment walls. Image source:

Canvas paintings offer a double advantage: they add a splash of color to the walls and generate the same sound dampening benefit as textiles. And they offer a platform to express your personality and taste.

If you don’t feel up to splashing out on some art, buy a big empty canvas and some acrylic paints that speak to you. A simple abstract block of color can be just the thing to tie your room together.

Let there be light

Removable LED lights
Good lighting is transformative for small spaces. Image source: Amazon.

Good lighting can transform tiny closets and small counters into convenient and airy spaces. But wiring up lights isn’t an option in most rentals.

Fortunately, there are so many affordable options for removeable, battery powered lighting. LED lights are super efficient, so batteries will last months. And with options that even include motion sensing for under $10 each, you can light up every nook and cranny of your space.

Clutter elimination

Eliminate clutter
Plenty of storage is the key to keeping a space clutter-free. Image source.

We’ve got a small space to work with, and always seem to end up with trinkets scattered here and there, mail in a pile, knick-knacks with no proper home. I’m in the process of salvaging our apartment from clutter. Clutter makes a space feel small, and messy even when it’s clean. It’s stressful to look at too.

Storage space organizers–baskets for shelves, dividers for drawers–are worth the investment. They make clean up easier because everything has a home. Utilize your verticals–tall bookcases, high shelves, the tops of cabinets–all that unused space can transform into valuable storage capacity.

As I’m discovering, furniture can become a source of clutter too. If you have to weave your way past coffee tables, chairs, and ottomans to navigate your space, it may be worth simplifying.

Candles and mood lighting

Candles add an intimate touch. Image source.

This is my husband’s contribution to the list and I couldn’t agree more. The flicker of candlelight makes any room more cozy. We’ve got decorative hanging tea light holders scattered around our living room. And many more candles dispersed around the apartment.

I’ve always wanted an apartment with a fireplace. It doesn’t make as much sense in the Bay Area, but when next we find ourselves in a place with winters, it’s on the apartment checklist. If I can’t tick that box, there are space heaters designed like electric fireplaces, with real flame. And here are DIY instructions for building your own faux fireplace, filled with candles.

Faux fireplace
Faux fireplace, filled with candles. Image source.

The right scent

Smoking Man
Smoking man. Image source: Etsy.

While I can’t always have a fresh pie in the oven, I can fill my home with scents that make me feel at home. Scent can evoke a strong feeling of place and become intricately associated with our memories.

While living in Hamburg, we fell in love with the varied winter scents of Räucherkerzen. I realized then that these were the scents I wanted my future kids to associate with cozy winter evenings at home. Even in summer I light up wood incense, like juniper, cedar, hickory, and fir. I’m currently enjoying this sampler pack by Incienso de Sante Fe.

Houseplants and flowers

Plants breathe life into a home
Plants breathe life into a home. Image source.

When I first moved to Berkeley, I had a little in-law studio with a gorgeous view of the bay. I greeted the Golden Gate Bridge on my way out the door every morning (well, barring fog). Now we’ve traded that view for 2 bedrooms and a view of a fence. C’est la vie. We’re in constant shade so it’s hard to find plants that suit our space.

Still, I’m always on the look out. And I love filling our vases with fresh flowers. Or, now that it’s fall, tall sprays of dried lavender.

flowers on table
Fresh flowers brighten up a room. Image source: khongkitwiriyachan|

Removable brick wall facade

Simple Walls
Faux brick wall facades you can hang in a rental space. They’re removable! Image source: Simple Walls.

Rather specific, I know.

I had long had the idea to transform a wall in our cookie-cutter modern apartment with brick to add a little personality, but couldn’t see a path to make it work. Vinyl brick looked too “fake” and 2D to me. Thin bricks have to be applied with thinset or other permanent fixes. A no-go in our apartment.

I stumbled on this company, Simple Walls, which makes light-weight, removeable 3D brick facades out of recycled wood and paper. The product looks amazing, at least in pictures. And exactly the kind of apartment-friendly product I was after.

I also found this DIY guide which uses Z-Brick veneers, attaching them with removable Command Strips rather than the suggested adhesive mortar.

I will post an update if I give Simple Walls a try. If I inspire you to give it a go, please leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *