This Luxe Architectural Feature Is Surprisingly Renter-Friendly

published Apr 24, 2023
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White fireplace, brown sueded armchair and white dresser in neutral colored living room
Credit: Tessa Cooper

When you’re house or apartment hunting, you likely have a lot of things on your mind: Is the space big enough? Will the commute be manageable? Do you feel at home in the neighborhood? Will it require a lot of repairs to be liveable? And, of course, do you even like your potential new home?

It’s hard to find something that checks every box, so usually there’s a bit of compromise required. That can be tough for something like a longer commute, but if one thing you wish your home had was rich architectural detail? Well, that’s totally solvable, even if you’re renting.

For inspo, look to New Yorker Shelby Vanhoy (@prettyinthepines), whose whole vintage Parisian-inspired rental apartment was recently featured on Apartment Therapy. Lots of elements make Shelby’s 1930s apartment beautiful — the giant windows, the rich paint colors, the inviting seating — but a few of them aren’t as old (or as permanent) as they look.

“The building was built in the 1930s but the apartment still felt like it was lacking some character when we moved in,” Shelby says, “so we have added removable wall molding, ceiling molding, faux fireplace surrounds, decorative appliques, paint, and switched out all of the light fixtures to give it more personality and feel a little less modern.”

Yep, the gorgeous fireplace surrounds, the refined picture frame molding, and those intricate appliques on the walls and ceiling — those are details that Shelby added herself after she and her family moved in.

Credit: Tessa Cooper

Molding is, of course, readily available at home centers; you can even pick up ready-made polyurethane millwork that mimics the look of wood (with no need to pull out a miter saw). But the fireplace surrounds are what really take these spaces to the next level. Shelby has two, both of which she carted over from her previous apartment (one came from Facebook Marketplace, the other from Wayfair). While the one in the bedroom was left empty, aside from some decor, the one in the living room looks convincingly like a working fireplace thanks to the cast iron fireplace cover in front of the “hearth.”

Want to bring the look home? Search Etsy, Facebook Marketplace, and other online retailers — secondhand or otherwise — for a “fireplace surround” or “fireplace mantel.” Another great bet is your local architectural salvage shop. If you purchase vintage, make sure that you test for lead paint before beginning any DIYs.

When it comes to attaching the surround to the wall, you’ll definitely need an extra set of hands as well as a few tools and some fresh pieces of wood. The most secure way to do this is by attaching a wood board — or cleat — to the wall, and then attaching the surround to the cleat. If you bought your surround new, consult the instructions that came with it; if you bought secondhand or vintage, you can find some helpful instructions at This Old House.

Then, when it’s time to move, you can simply detach your surround from the wall and take it to your new place to set it up all over again. Note: This isn’t just great for renters! Even if you own your place, you might want the look of a fireplace without having to deal with the hassle (and expense!) of installing a working one. A surround can install anywhere you can find studs, making this a flexible focal point that can work in almost any space.