5 Cheap, Easy Ways to Upgrade Your Rental Without Losing Your Security Deposit

updated Jul 16, 2020
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Whoever said “It’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission” clearly wasn’t talking about living in a rental apartment. In a perfect world, you could throw the rule book out the window and make drastic changes to your temporary space. You’d replace those old tiles with something more modern, trade in those cheap blinds for custom shades, and paint your place every color of the rainbow. 

But in reality? Taking too much design liberty in your rental space will likely cost you your security deposit. The good news is complying with your landlord’s policy doesn’t mean you have to kiss your dreams of a well-appointed apartment goodbye. With a few small but temporary changes, you can have the apartment of your dreams without losing your hard-earned cash. Here, Alessandra Wood, interior design expert and vice president of style at Modsy, shares her tips for up sprucing up your rental space. Best of all? Most of these changes can be made for less than $100.

Credit: Cathy Pyle

Wow With Removable Wallpaper

“Often, rental apartments don’t let you paint walls,” Wood says. “Removable wallpaper is my favorite affordable way to upgrade the look of a room. Wallpaper can add a pop of color and showcase your personal style in a bold way.” Keep costs down by sticking to a small accent wall, as shown here.

Buy: Palm Springs Wallpaper, $40 per roll at Chasing Paper

Swap out Your Knobs

“One of the easiest ways to make your kitchen or bathroom a bit more personalized is with cool new hardware on your drawers and cabinets,” Wood explains. “Stash the original knobs in the back of a drawer, so you remember to reinstall them before you move out.”

Buy: Alister Knobs, $24 for set of two at Anthropologie

Create Faux Built-Ins

“When your rental feels like it’s lacking architectural detail, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves will do the trick,” Wood says. “You can mimic the look of built-ins and add a ton of storage. This is where IKEA is king: The Billy bookshelves come in an extra tall height with the option of adding glass doors for a look that feels super custom.

Buy: BILLY Bookcases, $59 at IKEA

Layer Your Rugs

You might not be able to rip out that icky rental carpet, but you can put a bandaid on the situation with a great area rug. While it might feel odd to add a rug on top of a rug, it helps to personalize your space with pattern and color,” Wood explains. “Place a rug over your wall-to-wall carpets or plain area rugs to create a look that feels more custom to you.”

Buy: 2’x3′ Sabira Printed Chenille Rug, Starting at $39, $29 at Urban Oufitters

Add Window Treatments

Window treatments offer another opportunity to layer more color and pattern into your rooms. Since rentals are typically temporary homes, you probably don’t want to go the high-end route here. Instead, stick to what’s available at the home center or a big box store. “Drapes are a great way to add a bit of softness and can easily be taken down and moved to your next place,” says Wood.

Or you can get blinds that look fancier than they actually are. “My favorite budget-friendly shades are the cut-to-measure Levolor cellular shades from Lowe’s,” says Wood. “Just measure your windows, show up with dimensions, and they’ll cut them to fit. They’re easy to install, and you can get them in sheer or blackout.” These shades will most certainly be an upgrade to whatever sad blinds your place has provided, if they’ve provided anything at all.

Buy: Levolor Cellular Shades, from $71.44 at Lowe’s