Apartment and home renters, we hear your woes: it can be downright challenging to make a space feel and look special when you can’t change major design components like wall color, flooring, room size, or architectural elements. The good news is that there are several easy, nonpermanent, and often budget-friendly ways to make a rental look as spectacular as a decked-out owned home.
But first, about those walls: some landlords are open-minded about wall painting, though they might restrict the range of colors you can choose from. Since it’s one of the least expensive ways to transform a room, we always recommend asking—and offering to do the work yourself (another way to get in the good graces of the landlord). If painting the walls is a no-go, or if you’re looking for more than a simple color splash, try these tips for a rental makeover:
- Pick up an eye-catching rug. Graphic and geometric area rugs make a major impact in small spaces, and can give a generic-looking apartment a zippy personality infusion in the mere minutes it takes to slap them on the floor and roll them out. A large area rug—8’ x 10’ or more —is an investment, but you’ll be amazed by how much it can transform a room. This goes double for rooms with ugly, dated carpets. Toss a large area rug or a pair of area rugs over the top, and you might even forget those circa-1980 carpet tiles lurking underneath.
- Mix up your throw pillows. Because decorative pillows are one of the more affordable accessories you can buy, make it a point to find ones that reflect your personal style, rather than simply grabbing a color that complements your room palette. Love animals? Try a cheeky linen pillow with a screen-printed pug or piglet. If bold geometrics are more your speed, mix stripes, chevrons, and quatrefoils in bright hues. Or for a fashiony feel, look for throw pillows in metallic finishes, in swishy silk or linen, or with exquisite embroidered details. Aim for a mix of sizes and fabrics for maximum visual interest.
- Invest in some statement furniture. An overstuffed sofa in an unexpected hue; a glam gold-legged, glass topped coffee table; a bed with a metallic canopy or with a tall tufted headboard; a distressed-finish or stenciled apothecary cabinet; an oversize floor mirror—these are about as far away as you can get from the Aisles of IKEA look so prevalent in apartment and home rentals. This is your home, after all, so don’t be afraid to save up and indulge in a few special pieces that stand out. One of Annie’s favorite ways to personalize a room is to bring in a tall white or natural-finish bookcase with lots of shelves or cubbies. Then she styles it with a customized mix of books, accessories, collectibles, and art objects, to create a look that’s completely personal—and conversation starting.
- Layer additional color and pattern in the textiles. Color and pattern on large items—like quilts and duvets, curtains or window panels, tablecloths, or tapestries—not only allows you to tweak an all-neutral wall and floor palette, but will also show off your eye for pattern pairing. While generally more expensive than smaller décor items like throw pillows and decorative accessories, textiles that look great don’t have to cost a fortune, and they’re easy to change out with the seasons. Do some comparison shopping, and you’ll find dozens of options at the right price point for you.
- Bring in something old. Items that have provenance lend instant sophistication to a room, and look worldly when combined with newer pieces. So display that antique urn on a tall side table in the living room or the hallway, toss your great-aunt’s crocheted throw over the back of an armchair, or hang the vintage Americana clock you found at the thrift store over the fireplace mantel.
- Accessorize wisely. Choose some pieces—an oversize antique urn or piece of wall art, an arrangement of tall blown-glass vases, for example—for their drama and their ability to lend shape and color to a room, and others for their personal touch (think: a gallery wall of your favorite black-and-white photos or a collection of pottery you picked up on that trip to Poland). If you’re going the wall-art or photo-gallery route, be sure to get permission from your landlord before setting nails. Then read our tutorial on how to hang an art collection for a more professional look.