“The archways sold me,” says New York–based account executive Patricia Nygaard of her one-bedroom apartment in Queens. “I signed on the spot.” When it came time to move into the railroad-style home, though, she had a couple of mini projects to take on before the space felt fully hers. For each update, it was better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission. “What’s the harm,” she figured. “My landlord is relatively laid-back, and I kept everything hidden in a cabinet for when I move again. She’s seen it since all the changes were made and told me she enjoys what I’ve done.” The secret to finishing her renovations on a dime? Smart shopping and Internet hunting.

Make a (Back)splash

“I loved how big it was, but the kitchen was my least favorite part,” says Nygaard. “In total I spent a full day and $150 on it.” The apartment’s too-plain linoleum backsplash is now covered in glossy press-on subway tile panels, and terrazzo-patterned contact paper coats the countertops for more appealing meal prepping. The thicker sheets can also be peeled off and reused elsewhere.

Get the Light Right

A major pro of the place: Two big windows at either end of the unit let plenty of sunshine in. The ceiling fixtures, on the other hand, weren’t keepers. “Those standard boob-shaped numbers needed to go,” she says. A handyman was brought in to swap everything out. Opaque glass fixtures from IKEA emit a brighter light and fall in line with the modern style of the rest of the decor. A globe paper lantern hovers above the bed for a softer glow, also from IKEA. “These are a little airier,” notes Nygaard. 

Bring in Vintage Vibes

A 1980s vibe comes alive through all of the furniture. Blocky lacquered cabinets, Lucite tables, and chrome accents mingle against the neutral walls and seating. While Nygaard bought a few larger pieces at CB2, plenty of others were secondhand finds she discovered on social media accounts, like @espace.empty, and Craigslist. “There was no explicit price I was trying to stay under,” she admits. Looking for the right fit in her linear floor plan, Nygaard opted to source furniture from Instagram sellers and Facebook Marketplace rather than more traditional retailers. The collection grew over the first few months after moving in, as she was particularly careful to only buy pieces that would 100 percent work in the rest of the space.

Divide and Conquer

The apartment’s layout offered a lot of square footage but little separation. Nygaard needed to figure out a way to delineate between the kitchen and adjacent bedroom without making both feel cramped. After explaining her dilemma to her mother over the phone, her mom came to the rescue, sewing her drapes out of sheer fabric. “I really love the hard surfaces but the soft, frilly things, too,” says Nygaard. She used the excess cloth to make window treatments and a small skirt for the bathroom that falls from the edge of the sink’s basin to cover the not-so-nice exposed plumbing. 

Mirror, Mirror on the Fuse Box

Every house needs an electrical box, but this apartment’s landed smack in the middle of the bedroom wall. To cover it up (but still keep it accessible), Nygaard looked to the Richmond, Virginia–based mirror brand Glare Goods, which she found on Instagram. “The company takes vintage mirrors and creates blobby cloud shapes,” she explains. They made one for Nygaard on mounted pegs so it would sit an inch off the wall. You’d never know a bunch of switches lived behind it.