How to Elevate Your Rental Apartment, According to Design Experts

published Sep 18, 2018
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(Image credit: Jessica Isaac)

Ah, home sweet home. Well, for now, that is.

Whether you recently graduated from college, are moving in with your partner, or are renewing your lease, there’s a good chance you’re living in a rental apartment. Studies show more people are renting than at any point in the past 50 years. We’ll let that sink in.

Sure, there are a lot of perks to living in a rental. You don’t have to worry about HOA fees or oversee major renovations, plus your monthly rent is likely a lot less than a mortgage. The downside? A lack of design freedom.

You see, most rentals come with a lot of rules. No new coats of paint, no holes in the walls, and you definitely can’t tear down that superfluous wall to create an open-concept floor plan. After a couple months—or years—of living in the same place with the same restrictions, your eye for design can easily be stunted.

But what if we were to tell you it didn’t have to be that way? That there are ways to spice up your space without losing your security deposit? Here, 10 expert-approved ways to elevate your rental apartment:

1. Invest in Peel-n-Stick Wallpaper

“There are so many great options out there and it’s not hard to install. It’s low commitment and high return—and some are even reusable! Flavor Paper, Tempaper, and Chasing Paper are a few great companies that make beautiful options.” Susan Petrie, principal of Petrie Point Designs

2. Layer Up

“Some of the greatest and most effective ways to elevate your rental apartment is to add layers of light, texture, and storage. First, install a [temporary] oversized wall or ceiling light—you immediately add an architectural feature that delivers BIG on style, focus, and visual interest. Select a statement piece that will also serve as task and mood lighting in an otherwise simply lit space. Second, play with storage. By installing different sized affordable modular cabinets, you not only keep items organized, but you can create a dramatic moment.” —Laura Muller, owner, principal, and CEO of Four Point Design Build

3. A Lightbulb Moment

“Most of the time, rental lighting is blah, [but new lighting] turns your space into a wow moment. Pro tip: Hire a professional to do the wiring so you don’t electrocute yourself or cause any potential dangers. Table lamps or wall mounted sconces—Circa has some great ones—add a visual interest and layer of light to a room. You also have the easy advantage of unplugging when you move!” Grant K. Gibson, interior designer

4. Get Crafty in the Kitchen

“Change out your knobs in the kitchen or bathroom. Store the old ones so you can replace them before you move out.” —Alessandra Wood, interior design expert and director of style at Modsy

5. Double Duty Decor

“Mimic the look of built-ins with floor to ceiling bookshelves. You can even get shelves with doors, which is a great way to ensure your home is clutter free.” —Alessandra Wood

6. Beautiful Bedding

“Crisp, clean bedding will really elevate your bedroom. If you don’t have the budget to get all new bedding, you can add a surprising level of polish with a few new accent pillows and a cozy throw.” —Arlyn Davich, brand president of Allswell

7. Wall to Wall

“Hang mirrors in entries and hallways [as well as] art in living rooms and bedroom. This immediately gives a sense of home.” —Caroline Grant and Dolores Suarez, co-founders of Dekar Design

8. We’re Floored

“Instead of permanent floor coverings and fixtures, opt for a unique area rug or floor mat. If the items are durable enough to withstand time and use, they can easily be repurposed down the road.” —Sandy Chilewich, founder and creative director of Chilewich

9. All About the Accessories

“Focus on easy and affordable updates for rentals. You can update accessories, pillows, throws, curtains. A few simple swaps can really change the look of your space.” —Nicole Gibbons, interior designer and founder of Clare

10. Slow and Steady

“Take time to choose furnishings you love. You’ll use them with appreciation and you’ll be more likely to hold on to them over time even if you move. A useful, green philosophy.”—Kyle Marshall, creative director of Bunny Williams Home