Q. After two years of living in the dorms, we're getting ready to move into our first-ever apartment next month. Besides the obvious places to find recycled/secondhand stuff to set up a new household - thrift stores, yard sales - what are some others that everyone hasn't already thought of and that might make our place look cooler than the average student flat? - Helena, Miami

A. Cool is in the eye of the beholder: One tenant's bowling-pin collection is another's clutter. Going the secondhand/DIY route has the potential to invite a great deal of randomness into your home, so prepare to make lists, lists, and more lists. Organizing your thoughts this way will help you set priorities and choose must-haves, favorite colors, textures, and styles.

Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, founder of ApartmentTherapy.com, believes that repurposing salvaged scraps and found items is one of the best ways to make one’s house (or apartment) feel like home. "More than just a physical shelter, the home is a second skin that protects us from the world outside and an emotional center that nourishes us and supports our innermost dreams," says the designer/life coach. Gillingham-Ryan assesses his clients' personalities before helping them outfit their flats with found, salvaged, and made-from-scrap objects tailored to their particular style.  

So where to scavenge for materials? Stop at construction sites to ask for whatever scraps and leftover materials they won't be using. Near the ends of terms, ask at schools whether they'll be discarding any furniture, fixtures, appliances, or anything else. Join your local Freecycle.com group—or start your own free/trade/barter circle. And without plundering protected wildernesses, consider nature: use a particularly gorgeous stone as a doorstop, or make a lustrous coat rack by sanding down a sturdy branch and nailing a few (scavenged/found) hooks into it. Go wild and use your imagination.

Story by Anneli Rufus & Kristan Lawson. This article originally appeared in Plenty in June 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008