Design (& Life!) Lessons from a Forever Renter

updated Oct 12, 2022
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(Image credit: Jessica Isaac)

My name is Jessica and I’m a serial renter. I first dipped my toe in the proverbial musky beige carpet in 2007, signing the lease on an affordable two-bedroom unit in Riverside, California. While I’ve only lived in three places throughout my 10 years as a renter, I’ve run the gamut of roommates, ugly permanent fixtures, and term lengths (my current stint finally being in an actual stand-alone house in Los Angeles), and as someone who loves design, I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. It’s a renters world and gone are the days of treating your rental like the purgatory of housing. Here are some ways you can (and should) stop seeing your place as a rental and start making it the home of your dreams (according to my own experiences).

(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

Take Ownership

While someone else may own the building, never forget that you own your home. Living in a space that feels temporary, or not like your own, can negatively impact your overall mood on a daily basis. Be mindful of your surroundings and spend some time in each room creating an environment that draws you in, instead of leaving you constantly wishing you were somewhere else. Fill your space with things that resonate with you, organize in a way that optimizes everyday tasks, keep things tidy, and never, ever, be okay with living out of boxes. (Bonus tip: if you’re a notoriously bad unpacker, move smart by properly labeling to make unboxing less daunting.)

(Image credit: Jessica Isaac)

Obliterate all vinyl vertical blinds

While most decor is subjective, everyone on earth agrees that vinyl vertical blinds are the worst. I’m kidding, but seriously, just get rid of them. Removing them usually just involves a Phillips head screw driver and a step ladder. Personally, I completely removed the vertical blinds on the back portion of my house (where my landlord doesn’t go), bound them with stretch wrap (my favorite under $10 tool of all time), labeled them by room, and stashed them away where you can. For the vertical blinds on the front of my house, I concealed them by hanging curtain rods with extra long brackets above the blinds (that’s my living room above).

(Image credit: Jessica Isaac)

Use rugs to disguise flooring

While I don’t recommend sweeping most things under the rug, rental flooring is sometimes an exception. Whether you’re working with carpet, tile, linoleum, or wood, rugs give you the ability to decide the foundation for your living space. In most cases, bigger is better, so try not to skimp in the size department. If you’re on a budget, indoor/outdoor rugs and sisal rugs can be a great affordable option for large floorcoverings (check out these 10 Room-Sized Rugs for Under $200).

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)


I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure “plants” is a category on every home design blog list that’s ever been made. And for good reason. Nature has a way of making everything feel okay. If you’re struggling with making your place feel like a home, fill it with plants. Keep in mind, while all indoor plants improve air quality, some are better suited for the bedroom, where we spend most of our nights. Casper blogger Alyse Borkan gives some great tips on which plants to purchase here on Pillow Talk.

(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

Work with what you’ve got

I’ve gone from loathing dated permanent rental fixtures to loving them. Deciding on one style/color palette/layout for your home can be a daunting task with the internet of infinite ideas at our fingertips. This is why it might actually be good that your landlord somehow managed to tap into your deepest, darkest nightmares to shop for your kitchen cabinets. Finding a way to incorporate “eyesores” into your decor instead of trying to hide them (because YOU CAN’T) can be a fun challenge that exercises your creativity.

How? Color is a great place to start. Pull out the colors in your least favorite fixtures and put together a palette you love that includes these colors (I live for generating color palettes on Adobe Kuler). From there, identify the items in your space that don’t fit in and recycle, replace or refinish them to incorporate your new hues. If you’re lucky, you can paint some walls, like Jaclyn Simpson did to give her honey oak cabinets (shown above) a new lease on life. Perhaps, for you, building a color palette means switching out some rugs or throw pillows, hanging some new art (Command hooks are a renter’s best friend), changing out hardware, etc. Don’t be afraid to get creative and have fun.


(Image credit: Susan Paulsen)

Live light

While “moving day” is a great excuse to eat your weight in donuts and pizza, no one likes to move. When you’re a renter, the possibility of being uprooted can feel like a forever-looming presence, so lighten that burdensome load by thinning out your possessions. Perhaps the volume of material belongings you’ve collected is a weight on your shoulders you’re not even aware of. Sleep easy by reducing your lot and your potential future load. You Kon(mari) do it!