Our 40 Best Rental Hacks of All Time

published Sep 29, 2019
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Brittany Black kitchen after

Just because you are renting a home, doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate a range of personal touches. Sure, knocking down a wall or gutting the bathroom may be major renter no-nos, but there are plenty of other modifications and enhancements you can make so that your home reflects  your personal design style and fits the way you live. Your landlord may be so impressed by your DIY and design skills that they’ll want to keep them that way for the next tenant. 

Below, you’ll find 40 (yes, 40!) brilliant apartment rental hacks that will enliven and upgrade your home, whether it’s a pre-war apartment or a chic high-rise condo. It won’t take long until your own rental is a better and more beautiful reflection of you.

1. Invest in budget-friendly custom cabinet fronts.

While you may not be able to embark on an all-out kitchen reno, there are still a few ways to make a dramatic upgrade. Case in point: this phenomenal Illinois kitchen renovation featuring custom cabinetry from BOXI by Semihandmade, which offers the high-quality look we all want with the speed and price point we all desire even more. Semihandmade will also take IKEA cabinetry and hardware and place beautiful custom doors on them to give you a glam upgrade for less. 

2. Upgrade your light fixtures.

Sometimes, all it takes to brighten up a room (literally) is swapping out a drab, dated light fixture for a new one. However you can also simply zhush up existing light fixtures with a stylish lampshade, a coat of paint, or even an embellished ceiling light to make a truly personal design statement. 

3. Swap out your bathroom mirror. 

While you may not be able to replace your slide-in ceramic shower-bath combo, changing up some accent pieces can go a long way in a bathroom. Give your current mirror an upgrade by adding a stylish frame or replacing it entirely with a chic mirror that will instantly elevate the space. 

4. Install a balcony awning to maximize your living (and entertaining) space. 

Whether you have a growing party or love to throw a party (or both!), one of the simplest ways to maximize space is by creating more shade outdoors. If you have a balcony, installing a stylish awning like the one in this Barcelona apartment, can make a huge difference in the way your home is used and allows this part of the home to be functional in all kinds of weather. Outdoor office, anyone? 

5. Transform a closet into a darling home office.

While “cloffices” became all the rage during the pandemic, and they can still remain an important space in the home if you continue to work remote or even have a hybrid schedule. Plus, you can still create one without kicking all your clothes to the curb with a bit of strategic planning. 

6. Clean your grout. 

In the world of bathrooms, dirty grout can really make things look icky. Don’t underestimate the power of a good apartment cleaning to have yours looking good as new.

7. Ask for permission. 

Many people assume their landlords will say no to any decor modification ideas but thankfully, this is not always the case! Renter Emily Henderson was able to redo her countertops after a thumbs-up from her landlord, and they look amazing.

8. Add art in unlikely places. 

Some budget-friendly art in the bathroom or any other less likely place (think: kitchen, nooks and crannies of entryways, and hallways) can bring a home’s design together. This vintage portrait gallery wall proves that bathrooms don’t have to be purely functional, even if you’re renting.  

9. Try a curved shower curtain rod. 

While a curved rod isn’t normally a go-to for showers, if you’re in a small space, that curve can make your shower feel noticeably roomier and make your bathroom more stylish. Plus, it will extend the position of the shower curtain, so you won’t have to deal with it grazing you. 

10. Swap your bath mat for a cedar plank. 

Elevate your rental from temporary to permanent-looking in a flash with a chic, sustainable wooden bath mat. It will bring a sense of organic beauty to your bathroom and give you one less thing to toss in the laundry.  

11. Use plywood instead of your wall. 

Want to drill into your walls? Hang a bunch of photos? You can do these things easily without causing a lick of damage to your walls if you just use a big piece of plywood on a wall instead. It can be cut in a funky shape or left alone to achieve the look you want.  

12. Create your own kitchen shelving.

 If you don’t love your cabinets, consider installing shelves. If you’re handy with simple tools and like to keep things organized, you may want to think about removing the doors from your cabinets and stowing them away somewhere safe until you’re preparing to move out. 

13. Don’t be afraid to change the wall colors. 

A lot of renters don’t bother touching their walls with paint because they don’t want to deal with it later. While that makes sense, painting a room or even just one wall isn’t as tedious as you might think. (Just ask your landlord for permission first.)

14. Removable wallpaper is a renter’s best friend. 

 When you may not be crazy about things like light fixtures, turn to rental-friendly accents like removable wallpaper to achieve an overall look that you like. It can really transform a bland bathroom or dark bedroom into a vibrant space. 

15. Or, pattern your walls with decals. 

Applying decal stickers are an amazing way to add dimension to otherwise bland walls without the commitment (or permission) that painting requires. You’ll be amazed by how a rental kitchen can be transformed—or any other room for that matter—by these temporary additions. 

16. Temporary flooring may change your life. 

Yep, you can tweak the floor, too. There are all kinds of luxurious vinyl tiles available these days that can get you the look of hardwood floors for less (not to mention less upkeep). 

17. Buy strategically. 

There are so many nifty products out there that will make rental life easier. For example, we love this budget-friendly cutting board that fits over a kitchen range, so your culinary adventures don’t have to be limited by miniscule counter space. 

18. Don’t doubt how far Sugru can take you. 

Renter Ashley Poskin hacked her bathroom and her kitchen by using sugru, a moldable putty that becomes rubbery once it’s dry, to hang stuff from shelves to paper towel racks. (You might also like to check out Command products!)

19. Buy a faux fireplace.

Just because your apartment may have been built in the last decade doesn’t mean it has to remain bland and modern. One of our favorite ways to infuse some vintage charm into a rental is to invest in a faux fireplace that can up the ambiance and make your living or bedroom feel extra cozy.

20. The ceiling’s the limit. 

When contending with rental spaces, square footage is often an issue. Take a page out of renter Amber Guyton’s book and look for space above your furniture and appliances to hang shelves and rods.

21. Switch up your hardware. 

A little hardware swap, such as refreshing your dresser knobs, can go a long way in transforming cabinets, doors, and more. You’ll be amazed by how much this cost-effective upgrade will elevate your rental space. (Just make sure to hang on to the originals for when you leave!)

22.Create a plant wall. 

Short of completely demolishing the walls, building a plant wall (it’s simple, we promise!) will bring so much greenery and fresh air into your space no matter how green your thumb is—or isn’t. 

23. Use ceiling hooks. 

Try hanging plants or pendant lights from the ceiling to create a more layered space. Even better, you won’t reduce precious square footage! 

24. When in dark, go light. 

If you’re renting a space that’s low on natural light, like this basement apartment, make sure to go light with your decor to help offset the darkness to make it feel light, bright, and joyful.

25. Loft it. 

This is especially useful if you live in a small space, but even in a larger rental, lofting beds and even a reading nook can help make up for the ways rentals typically lack in storage and space. Talk about a win-win. 

26. Increase natural light exposure. 

This might sound like an impossible task, but it’s actually pretty simple. Opt for sheer curtains (or none at all) in places where you can. Put some real elbow grease into washing the windows that you have and evaluate any physical obstructions that might be blocking your light and see if you can modify them. Additionally, using some strategically placed mirrors in your home will help increase the overall light.

27. Never underestimate the power of an accent rug. 

When you’re stuck with a rental that has carpeting, adding another rug to the mix might seem like a way to make the problem even worse, but this home’s living room will show you that an accent rug over carpet is sometimes exactly what you need.

28. Get a magnetic knife rack (or several). 

A magnetic knife rack can be used for all kinds of savvy storage: tools, jewelry, keys, and more! Placing things on the wall (carefully) will quickly declutter a small space.

29. Keep your eye on your fridge. 

Your kitchen will feel more like your own when the refrigerator is something you’re excited to open and pull cooking ingredients from. Tip: You can expedite cleaning your refrigerator shelves by washing the removable parts of the fridge in the dishwasher. Also, if you don’t like your appliance finish but can’t paint it or replace it, consider buying a skin for it.

30. Downsize whatever you can. 

If you’re crammed in a small rental, it may be time for a “stuff audit.” Do you really need a toaster and a toaster oven? What about two coffee pots? Perhaps one of these coffee-making alternatives can do. Apply the same thought process to literally everything.

31. Soundproof. 

If your rental has super thin walls, level up your soundproofing game—for the sake of yourself and also everyone who lives around you. Your dreams will have never been sweeter. 

32. Look (and inspect) closely before you sign the lease.

 Hacking your rental should begin before you even have one. Tour your space inspecting all the details and before you move into your new rental with big design plans, give yourself a small amount of time to simply exist in the space. You’ll save time and money on buying things that may not be optimal after all.

33. Consider using a tapestry or two. 

Hanging tapestries as wall art are a great choice for design-savvy renters as they look lovely on walls while simultaneously covering a lot of blank space. Plus, you don’t have to put too many (or possibly any) dings in the drywall to get them hanging.

34. Rent tools.

 You know what people often don’t have space for in a rental? Tools. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create any decor that requires them—you can rent them from your local tool library or Home Depot instead.

35. Say goodbye to ugly blinds. 

Like so many other fixtures often included in a rental, cheap vinyl blinds don’t have to stay in place just because they remain under your care. Take those vertical blinds down and stow them away with anything else you can easily remove and keep out of the way after you adorn your windows with a more appealing option. 

36. Think about your “closet” creatively. 

Closets are a big deal in a home, no doubt, but they can be over-prioritized in selecting the right rental. There are so many ways to optimize the closet space you do have, not to mention many ways to store your clothing and other belongings outside of a closet.

37. Study up on removable products. 

There are all sorts of products out there that are ideal for renters—if they find out about them, that is. To allow your rental to reach its full design potential, check out our list of temporary and removable adhesive products every renter needs to know. 

38. Use a bookshelf as a room divider.

Whether you have a loft, studio, or three-bedroom apartment, a bookshelf can serve a second purpose as a room divider , say a cozy reading nook or even a semi-private sleeping quarters. 

39. Replace the toilet seat. 

While you may not be able to replace an old toilet, swapping out the toilet seat can make a major difference in the look and feel ofy our bathroom.

40. Take your home seriously. 

You’d be surprised how many people like to store up decor ideas for when they finally own a home, not for when they rent one. Do away with that thinking! Your home is your home, period, whether you live there for a lifetime or 13 months.