Renters Rejoice: Stylish Solutions to Your Most Common Design Woes

published Jun 13, 2016
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(Image credit: Bethany Nauert)

What do you do when you’re a design lover but your rental is less than inspired? Well, you get creative. We tallied up 7 common nuisances experienced by renters and paired them with stylish solutions so you can get your temporary pad feeling more like home.

(Image credit: At Home In Love)

Design Woe: Generic flooring
Stylish Solution: Rugs on rugs on rugs
It might seem silly to layer a rug over carpet, but the visual effect of a graphic or colorful floor covering really helps to distinguish a space. You’ll look right past your worn, basic beige floors when your eye meets that stunning kilim under your dining table (like the one above spotted on At Home In Love).

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

Design Woe: Vertical blinds
Stylish Solution: Layered draperies
In every rental I’ve lived in, one of my first tasks is to put up draperies and sheers. It instantly makes the room look welcoming and cozy. However, the added bonus is that I slide the vertical blinds all the way to one end of the window or sliding glass doors, tucking them away and out of site behind my drapery panels. The sheers (you can also use lightweight linen panels in either white or a complementary color) give you a little more privacy while still letting light in. Ta-da! No more visible vertical blinds. Added tip: If you’re feeling extra handy (and have a place to store them, more importantly) completely removing blinds from your windows and replacing them with bamboo roll-up or roman shades is another way to make your rental feel polished.

(Image credit: Angie Batis Durrant)

Design Woe: Flat white walls
Stylish Solution: Art, textiles and temporary vinyl sticks/wallpaper
Don’t get me wrong, white walls can be really chic, but rental units rarely have a designer shade of white in a beautiful finish. It’s basically one step away from drywall most of the time. Putting up art that you love is a quick fix (as is hanging tapestries), but taking it one step further, there are DIY options to add some serious pow! Did you know you can upholster a wall with the fabric of your choice using a simple cornstarch and water solution? When it’s time to move, you simply pull it off the wall, no harm, no foul. Personally, that even beats temporary wallpaper, though that’s also a good option.

And finally, perhaps the fastest way to take flat white walls to serious style heights is with vinyl stickers. I’m not talking big, cursive sayings or flocks of sparrows, but rather repeating geometric patterns that can either act as wallpaper or a standalone art piece. Also, don’t discount washi tape; you can create faux moldings on walls, paneling on doors, chair rails and other architectural elements with a ladder, a level and a little patience.

(Image credit: Submitted by Ana)

Design Woe: No overhead lighting
Stylish Solution: Layering lamps
Honestly, this design woe might be a blessing in disguise. Built-in overhead lights tend to be quite harsh or, on the other side of that, dark and dreary. Lighting should be layered to create warmth and a flattering environment. Use a healthy blend of table lamps, floor lamps, plug-in sconces, and if you can swing it, higher-set plug-in pendants hung on a ceiling hook.

(Image credit: Andie Powers)

Design Woe: Dated kitchen and/or bathroom
tylish Solution: Fun rugs, decor and temporary fixes
There isn’t much a rug, new hardware and some pretty vases, trays or baskets can’t solve. Sure, the formica countertop you have might be cracked, warped or stained, and the tile floors in your bathroom might be crying uncle, but if you distract the eye with things you find beautiful, you’ll stop minding everything you hate. A colorful tray in your kitchen can neatly collect canisters, utensils and cookbooks to create a pretty styled vignette (the same goes for your bathroom.)

Another pretty trick is using vases or beautiful glassware to keep your herbs in water on your countertop. Not only does it make them last longer, but it adds greenery and life to your kitchen. Also, one of my favorite, albeit a little costlier, solutions is swapping out hardware. You can find some awesome vintage knobs and pulls at your local flea market, thrift store, or Etsy. Anthropologie also has some of my favorite selections, and if you catch a good sale, they won’t break the bank. When it’s time to move, you just swap them back to what your place came with (don’t forget to store all the knobs and screws in a plastic bag labeled by room in a safe place.)

Lastly, think outside of the traditional small kitchen or bathroom rug. A vintage ethnic rug in a larger size (think 4’x6′) placed in the middle of the room will instantly add character.

(Image credit: A Mere Life)

Design Woe: Mirrored closet doors
Stylish Solution: Take them down. Put up curtains.
I did this in my college apartment and everyone commented on it when they came into my room. “I wish I had thought of that,” they’d say. I couldn’t stand staring at myself from the bed (or desk, or anywhere.) A full-length mirror behind my door was enough. I carefully popped the mirrored doors off the track and slid them under my bed. Up went colorful curtains on a tension rod and I never looked back (also a look to try: layered curtains pulled back in a dramatic way, a la A Mere Life’s amazing closet seen above). Plus, it was way easier to see and access all my clothing at once, instead of sliding the doors over to reach the other side of the closet.

(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

Design Woe: Lack of closet space
Stylish Solution: Armoires, chests and clothing racks
So maybe this one doesn’t necessarily classify as a “design” woe, but it’s a renter’s woe nonetheless. A chest of drawers takes up far less space than a full-blown dresser and can really go anywhere (even your living room.) An armoire is, of course, a larger piece of furniture, but since it’s taller than it is wide, it can be tucked into a corner or spare sliver of wall space. If a clothes rack is a better solution for you, here’s a tip to making it look its best: Keep only your favorite clothing items and shoes here and everything else in drawers or whatever closet you might have. This way, it almost becomes part of your decor, on top of being functional.

*Re-edited from a post that originally appeared 06.14.2016. – AH