Before and After: A First  Apartment’s $1,200 Redo Is Renter-Friendly Chic

published Aug 30, 2023
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About this before & after
Home Type
Project Type
Skill Level
Rental Friendly

There are lots of room redos out there where DIYers paint walls, add molding, replace light fixtures, and more. Those look wonderful, but the reality is, for a lot of renters, that’s out of the realm of possibility — or outside of the rules of the lease, like it was for Kathryn Ballance’s sister, Claire. 

“She rents this apartment; I decorated it for her!” Kathryn explains. “Because my sister’s apartment complex had a pretty strict lease agreement (can’t paint walls, no construction, avoid excessive holes in the walls, etcetera), we couldn’t do any demolition or make any permanent modifications to the apartment.”

A limiting lease meant accessories were the only way to personalize. 

This meant they had to get creative with personalizing the apartment, once “a sparse, gray box,” Kathryn says. “As is often the case with newer apartments, the interior was clean and modern, but also a bit bland with white walls and gray-toned manufactured wood flooring. We had to work with the unit as it was, which proved to be a fun creative challenge as we had to infuse life into the room using only furniture and art.”

This is Claire’s first apartment and first full-time job out of college, so the budget was somewhat limiting, too, but again, nothing a little creativity and smart planning couldn’t solve. “We added furniture one piece at a time, buying one item per paycheck to keep things affordable,” Kathryn describes. (And if you’re just one step before this and looking for a little college decor inspo, check out AT’s sister site, Dorm Therapy!)

Secondhand finds kept things budget-friendly (around $1,200).

Kathryn says the vintage French ballerina poster hanging above the couch set the tone for the room by creating a focal point and tied the color palette together, and she found it at an estate sale for $250. (Identical ones were listed on Chairish for $1000!) Originally, Kathryn and Claire envisioned a gallery wall behind the sofa, but because the ceilings are 11 feet high, they realized that would take a lot of art and a lot of money, so the large-scale (5-foot) budget find worked perfectly. 

Other budget-friendly pieces in the space include hand-me-down furniture from family members, Facebook Marketplace finds, and thrifted pieces, plus a couple of new items from discount sites. The brown corduroy couch and leaf print chair were hand-me-downs, the wooden end tables were thrifted, the rug and table lamp are from Wayfair, and the curtains are from Overstock. Two of Kathryn’s favorites in the living room? The La Barge glass-topped coffee table, a Facebook Marketplace score, and the gold fringed ottoman from Amazon, which “looks so high-end but was only $150,” Kathryn says. 

“You can find some really beautiful, high quality pieces at secondhand stores if you are patient and keep your eyes peeled,” Kathryn advises.

You can add color and texture without having to paint. 

When she and Claire did splurge, it was on smaller pieces of decor that tie the room together, like the William Morris-print pillows on the couch and the leopard print throw

“I was pleasantly surprised by how easily the room came together once we decided on the color palette for the space — dusty pink, goldenrod yellow, and chocolate brown — despite having to find so many pieces from so many different places,” Kathryn says. “Warm colors, layered textures, and interesting art on the walls will liven up a cold gray box and make it feel much more like home.” 

And she and Claire “wouldn’t change a thing” about the after; it really does feel like home for Claire. “When the project was finished, my sister looked at me and said, ‘this place feels like ME now,’” Kathryn says.