7 Stylish Rental Transformation Tips, Straight from Our House Tours

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There are a lot of good things about living in a rental apartment: A super or landlord to help out (hopefully) when things go wrong, presumably less space to accumulate things, the promise of the ease of moving when you’re ready for a new view. But not being able to customize your space can put a real damper on things. How are you supposed to live your most glamorous, fully decorated life when your floors are a dark, imposing shade of brown? And how are you supposed to fall in love with plain white walls? 

Spoiler alert: Rugs and peel-and-stick wallpaper are about to be your best friends. To help you get started on your path towards a well-styled space, we rounded up the clever rental-friendly decorating ideas we’ve seen in our House Tours as of late and the inspiring lessons we picked up from each. Take a look and start plotting your next decorating project, regardless of whether you own your home or not.

Liven up Bare Walls with Temporary Wallpaper

One of the easiest ways to jazz up your space without putting a dent in your security deposit is by installing temporary wallpaper. It’s relatively easy to put up (be sure to watch some online tutorials to prevent air bubbles though), and when it’s time to move out, these papers peel off damage-free. There are tons of companies making temporary wallpaper in all sorts of designs these days, so you’re guaranteed to find a style that fits your aesthetic. And you don’t have to go wild with it—adding it to one wall in a room, as this NYC renter did, will make enough of a design statement.

Soften Spaces (and Cover Blah Floors) with Rugs

When you move into an apartment, you’re pretty much stuck with the existing floors—hardwood, if you’re lucky, or retro carpeting if you land in an old building. Either way, you’re going to want to break up all that brown or bland wall-to-wall carpeting with a large, colorful rug, a la this San Francisco renter’s apartment. As a bonus, rugs bring a touch of softness to your home—and your feet—not to mention a little bit of soundproofing against potentially noisy neighbors. 

Credit: Sandra Regalado

Add Character With a Single Painted Accent Wall

Painting a room sounds like fun until you’re actually doing it and remember all the effort it takes to prime four walls, apply multiple even coats, and cut in just so on ceilings and corners. And then there’s all the work it takes to repaint the room when it’s time to move out. Save yourself the trouble and cash while still channeling your creativity by painting a simple linear mural on just one wall. You can create just about anything you want, like the freehand face design this London renter created.

Fake Built-Ins with Smart Shelving

Built-in cabinets are a life-changing storage solution. But sadly, a lot of apartments don’t come with such a luxury, and you can’t exactly hack away at the walls and add them in yourself. But you can easily fake the look with strategic shelving, which you can paint to match the walls or vice versa.

A quick search on Amazon will pull up thousands of hang-it-yourself storage units, and if you’re crafty, you can even build your own. Install shelves wherever you need more storage space, just as this Toronto renter did in her office setup for decor and supplies. Before moving out, simply patch up any holes and take the shelves with you to your next abode.

Temporarily Change Hard Finishes with Contact Paper

Just as you can’t really change the flooring in a rental, you’re pretty much stuck with the hard surfaces as well—countertops immediately come to mind. But that doesn’t mean you can’t temporarily transform their appearance. In this Chicago apartment, the dweller wasn’t into the tiling surrounding her fireplace, describing it as a “tragic peach tile” that was slightly too orange for her taste. The solution? Marble contact paper, sourced from Amazon, which provided instant relief from the gaudy tile.

Credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion

Install Your Own Light Fixtures

You might not think about your light fixtures much if you have the regular recessed or plain flush-mounts, as most apartments do. Whether you choose to replace those or supplement them with decorative hanging fixtures like the ones in this Montreal rental, you will notice an immediate difference. Not only do they add visual interest to a room but depending on the shape you go for, they can help diffuse light, creating a cozy ambiance. Consider it functional art when done right.

Take Doors Off Cabinets for Open-Shelving

Not only does this approach help make a space feel airy, but it also forces you to stay organized. If your rental kitchen is exclusively comprised of cabinets, all you need is a screwdriver to get the look. That’s right—just unscrew the doors and you’ve got cost-free open shelving.

This Seattle renter felt like her kitchen was too white and closed off, so she removed the doors on a far set of cabinets and lined the insides with temporary wallpaper to add a hint of depth and color. Personalizing a rental never felt this easy.