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The 20 Apartment Things to Buy in Your 20s That You’ll Have for Life

Ming Thompson is an architect and principal at Atelier Cho Thompson, a San Francisco– and New Haven–based design firm with a portfolio that includes offices, university spaces, and private homes. We spoke to her about the 20 things — some cheap, some not, but all investment-worthy — to buy for that first home in your 20s and hold on to forever.

HAY About a Chair AAC22 — White
$279 at Amara

When I was 20, I decided I loved Hans Wegner wishbone chairs, so I bought one pair that anchored my dining table, and had a mix of thrift-store chairs, too. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve bought new pairs, and now I have a big old-wood farm table with eight chairs. Right now, I’m loving the Hay AAC chair, the Normann form chair, and the Thonet Era chair. Find statement chairs that you love, and grow your set over time.

Normann Copenhagen Form Chair — Oak — White
$239 at Amara
Era Armchair
$295 at DWR
Aalto Stool 60
$295 at DWR

These stools, designed by architect Alvar Aalto, are stackable, fun pops of color, and can be used a million ways. Ours moved from office to living room to baby room.

John Boos Maple Wood Edge Grain Reversible Cutting Board
$134 at Amazon

The big one, 24 inches by 18 inches, moves with us from house to house, and makes any of our terrible kitchens into great places to cook. It’s the centerpiece of every dinner party, loaded with pizzas or cheese spreads, and we do all of our food prep on this.

Iittala Kartio Set of Two Glass Tumblers
$28 at Amazon

After breaking dozens of paper-thin glasses, I invested in these timeless and durable glasses in the colors of the sea and sky. They feel just right in your hand, with a heavy bottom and a comfortable shape.

Shun VB0741 Sora Ultimate Utility Knife, 6-Inch
$70 at Amazon

You might have a chef’s knife, a cleaver, a paring knife, and a knife set, but this is about to become your most-used knife. For morning and lunchtime meal prep, I grab this knife and chop fruits, vegetables, bread, and cheese. And sandwiches! I bet you didn’t even realize how much you needed a knife that cuts through a crusty baguette and layers of fillings in one chop. My father, a professional chef, gave this to me after grad school, and he always knows best.

Hay ‘Cap’ Bottle Opener
$18 at Amara

It’s cheap; it’s a necessity; it really spruces up a bar set or dinner spread.

CB2 Brushed Gold Bottle Opener
$10 at CB2
Case Study Cylinder With Wood Stand
$149 at Amazon

This thing elevates your plants, both physically and aesthetically. A $10 Home Depot palm looks like a million bucks.

Yamazaki home 2508 15.2 x 8.7 in. Tosca Storage Basket
$35 at Amazon

Growing up, my mom always told me, “Everything has a home,” meaning that all the objects in your house should have an assigned and sensible place. I finally figured out that I need nice-looking storage boxes to help me stay organized all around the house.

Yamazaki Home Tosca Tool Box
$25 at Amazon
Opinel Carbon Blade No. 8 Folding Knife
From $12 at Amazon

These are a ubiquitous knife in France, and for good reason: It’s a simple and well-designed tool that will come in handy for years. The handle is perfectly shaped to your hand, a simple locking ring holds the blade in the open position, and it will last you forever, with a bit of sharpening once in a while. I’ve tried a few, and the No. 8 is just the right size for slicing an apple, opening boxes, and cutting flowers.

Falcon Mugs
$13 at Amara

A drink of cold milk from an enamel mug is a pretty perfect experience. Enamelware is so durable that you’ll pass this mug onto your grandchildren one day. You’ll use it for breakfast at home, camping, and dinner-party desserts. Falcon, a British enamelware company, makes the most beautiful shades of gray and green pieces.

Hem Design Studio Bon Pouf Round
$279 at Hem Design Studio

A pouf works as a table, a footstool, and a seat for dinner parties. While you’ll likely have a neutral-colored couch, you should pick a colorful pouf as an accent piece.

Newberg Beer Garden Bench
$329 at Rejuvenation

I often see vintage biergarten benches, imported from Germany, for $50 or less at flea markets across the Northeast. The combination of light wood and painted steel is classic, and their simple design shows the beauty of good engineering. They fold up, are great for parties, and will make appearances in your home over the years in the entryway, the dining room, and the deck.

Staub 5 Quart Round Cocotte
$325 at Amazon

This is one of the most expensive items on this list, but if you like cooking in the least, you’ll use this all the time. I have many Dutch ovens in my kitchen, but this size and shape gets the most use — it’s the perfect size for chili, soup, and pulled pork. In black, it’s stylish, easy to clean, and will be a kitchen workhorse.

Pendleton National Park Blanket
From $198 at Amazon

This has been one of the most useful gifts I’ve received. It’s incredibly warm, durable, and great for movie nights, picnics, and guest beds. I’d recommend a dark color, as you’ll use it so much that it’s hard to keep clean.

Slim C-Table in Natural Steel
$199 at Room & Board

It’s a laptop table, a nightstand, or a side table for your antique lamp. It’s steel and lasts forever. It will scratch up over time, but that’s part of the natural beauty.

Heath Ceramics Bud Vase
$25 at Heath Ceramics

Heath’s been making beautiful modern housewares since the ’40s, and this bud vase will never go out of style. Its form is crisp and clean, but it has a handmade quality that gives it character.

1960s IBM Standard Issue Clock
$249 at Schoolhouse Electric

It’s a relief to not always be looking at my phone to check the time, and this clock, a reproduction of the classic mid-century IBM clock, looks equally good in homes and in our clients’ offices.

CB2 Beaker Large Glass Pitcher
$8 at CB2

I have three of these beakers, and use them for water, fancy drinks with floating fruit, and vases. Useful, slim, and just durable enough.

L.L. Bean Boat and Tote, Open-Top
From $25 at L.L. Bean

You might think this is a bag, but you’d be mistaken. It’s a laundry bag, a picnic basket, a way to schlep all your things across town. I own eight of these, and at this moment, they are all in use.

Gorilla Ladders 3-Step Aluminum Step Stool Ladder
From $47 at Amazon

One marker of adulthood is that you finally need to own a ladder. I’ve climbed a lot of ladders over the years, and I never thought one would bring me joy. But this one is a real gem — it folds down to only three inches and weighs seven pounds, so it’s easy for me to cart around while I work on crazy projects.

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20 Things to Buy in Your 20s That You’ll Have for Life