A Rental House Was Completely Transformed Without Any Major Renovations

A Rental House Was Completely Transformed Without Any Major Renovations

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Name: Katherine Thewlis (Katie for short), Andy, daughter, and dog (Rocco)
Location: Johnson City, Tennessee
Size: 1200 square feet
Years lived in: 2 years, renting

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We rent a brick 1970s ranch that’s never been updated. I love how much our home has transformed in just two years, without doing any major renovations. When we moved in, it was a mix of paneling, old appliances, and laminate countertops. All of that stuff is still there, but it no longer defines the look and style of our home. I’ve pitched several ideas to our landlord, and she has been game for all of them. They have been easy, budget-friendly improvements that my husband and I have enjoyed doing. Our landlord has paid for the cost of materials in each of these projects, so we’ve been able to enjoy the rewards without any of the financial burdens involved in investing in a home we don’t actually own.

This is the smallest house we’ve ever lived in. That’s made me really evaluate space planning and the items I keep; I watch shows that feature tiny house design to get ideas. Our home isn’t exactly a tiny house at 1200 square feet, but I’ve found the ideas can be applied in much the same way. Where is there under-utilized space and how can I maximize it? After applying these principles, this house actually feels more spacious than much larger homes we’ve lived in.

Since the quarantine, our home has become even more of a haven. My daughter and I spend a lot of long days at home and surrounding myself with beauty has made it all the more enjoyable. My husband appreciated what I do design-wise before, but he has a whole new appreciation for it now. We spend our weekends lazing on our sofa—all four of us, including the dog. We enjoy mojitos on the porch while our daughter plays in her fairy garden and play cards at the kitchen table while we listen to tunes. Home means the world to us right now.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: My style depends so much on the space I’m in. This particular house has short ceilings, and is void of architectural interest, so I’ve used color in the budget-friendly form of paint to make it sing. So much of what I use to decorate is vintage, so this blurs the lines of definition a bit—which I love! I’m always trying to balance comfortable and practical with polished and stylish when designing a space for my family.

Biggest Challenge: Not actually owning the space. The finishes I’ve brought into my home are not necessarily those I would use in a house we owned, but using things like peel and stick tiles have helped elevate this space dramatically.

Proudest DIY: The sink in our main bath was quite bad originally. It had exposed white PVC pipes, which made it feel like it belonged in an institutional facility. Rather than replacing it, I went to town on it with some gold spray paint to match the faucet we installed. You would never know it was a plastic pipe now!

Biggest Indulgence: I never buy cheap pillows or curtains. There’s something about an expertly made cushion with designer fabric, filled with feather inserts that makes my heart flutter. For windows, it’s very much the same in terms of getting what you pay for. Having a good, quality fabric with lining makes a room look so polished. I’ve even taken fabric to a tailor with specific measurements to make this more budget friendly. I like to think of it as wallpaper I can take with me later.

Best Advice: Think outside of the box. Don’t let anything limit you. If there’s a will, there’s a way! I’ve used tape many times to fake a wallpapered look on a wall and it cost me pennies. Make it work for you!



  • Kitchen uppers — Benjamin Moore “Chantilly Lace”
  • Kitchen lowers — Benjamin Moore “Onyx”
  • Kitchen peninsula — Behr “Retro Pink”
  • Living room — Benjamin Moore “Oregano” on walls, “Huntington Beige” on fireplace
  • Dining room — Benjamin Moore “Kendall Charcoal”
  • Master bedroom — Ralph Lauren “Iron Blue”


  • Coffee and side table — CB2
  • Curtains — Etsy
  • Rug — Jonathan Adler Now House
  • Etageres — From my Chairish shop
  • Abstract framed paintings — Etsy
  • Dotted Pillows — Etsy
  • Kelly Wearstler graffito pillows — Etsy
  • Letter pillow — Etsy
  • Swivel chair: Wayfair
  • Small bird painting — Etsy
  • Sconces above etageres — Lamps Plus
  • Blue Lamp — Robbert Abbey
  • Bone Inlay Jar — Etsy
  • The vertical mini frames are a dollar store hack I made here with the help of my daughter
  • All other items are vintage


  • Dining table, chairs abstract painting and mirrored buffet — Vintage
  • Light fixture — Etsy
  • Bench — Tov Furniture
  • Rug — Nuloom


  • Mini fridge gallery wall tutorial here — Hausmatter website tutorial
  • Wall tile — Tic Tac Tile
  • Peninsula Tile — Art3D tile
  • Ceiling light — Illuminate Vintage
  • Rug — Etsy
  • Art Deco lamp on peninsula — Modern Lantern
  • Cabinet hardware — Spearhead Collection
  • Shelving system above oven — IKEA
  • Poster print — Etsy
  • Coat rack — Poly and Bark (I painted it)


  • Light fixture — Etsy
  • Bed cover — West Elm
  • cabana striped cushions on bed — Etsy
  • Headboard — We upholstered a vintage wooden headboard with Jim Thompson fabric
  • Bedside chest of drawers — Patagonia Home
  • Bedside lamps: bases are vintage and I made shades here — Tutorial
  • Rug — Ballard Designs
  • Mirrors — Amazon
  • Wall sconces — World Market
  • yellow painting — Etsy
  • All others vintage


  • Wallpaper — Barneby Gates, Pheasants, Wallpaper Direct
  • Wall tile — Tic tac tile, straight
  • Floor tile — Floor Pops, Altair
  • Faucet — Parlos
  • Window Valance — Recreate Your
  • Pendant light — A19 Artisan Lighting
  • Vanity light — DecoCreation Studio
  • Wall mirror — Target
  • Vintage jars — Vintage
  • Felt head — Hausmatter Vintage
  • Corner cabinet — Vintage
  • Tray on toilet — Target
  • Soap pump — Target
  • Hand Towel — Target
  • Trash can — Marshalls
  • Vase for Toilet paper — Homegoods
  • Toilet paper holder on wall — JQK
  • Towel Ring — Vintage



  • Bedding — West Elm and Target
  • Headboard — Charish
  • Book cubby — IKEA
  • Desk — Charish
  • Rug — Nuloom
  • Taped wall using protapes — Tutorial
  • Window treatments — Spoon flower fabric on cornice boards
  • All light fixtures — Vintage

Thanks Katherine!

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 Correction: An earlier version of this post mistakenly referred to the living room’s paint color as “Oregan.” It’s actually “Oregano.” We’ve updated it to be more accurate—hopefully, we can blame it on Mercury retrograde.