9 Important Design Truths Every Renter Should Remember

updated Feb 26, 2020
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(Image credit: Adrienne Breaux)

Renting can be a pleasure. No real home-owning responsibilities, you’re free to put down temporary roots and not worry about the roof. Renting can also be a pain and source of frustration, though, when you don’t have total control over the look of your space. When you can’t paint the walls, knock down elements or do the kind of customizing you dream of. But a home that inspires, motivates, functions and looks like you is still within your temporary reach. These are nine design truths that every renter should remember when it comes to living in a space you don’t own.

Whether this is your first apartment or your 20th, these design truths apply to nearly any rent-able space, and will make your experience in your temporary home feel and look better.

(Image credit: Katie Gard)

1. Oversized art and removable wallpaper are great ways to take the sting out of not-being-able-to-paint pain
For color lovers and those who love customizing each home they live in, nothing can sound more terrible than learning you can’t paint your rental. But instead of accepting a life of beige, get creative and bold with oversized art (you buy or DIY) and even temporary wall paper.

(Image credit: Erin Derby)

2. Great color can come from furnishings, too
In the same sense, just because you can’t splash color all over your walls or ceilings doesn’t mean you can’t have a home bursting with an exciting color palette. Use the creative energy you would have put into painting your walls to paint furniture, or get wild and buy patterned and colorful upholstered pieces. Take chances on DIYing hued rugs, and stretch your design muscles with colorful accessories. The best way to make sure it feels like a cohesive look connected to your space is to spread color around the room, from top to bottom and side to side.

  • Painted Furniture for When You Just Can’t Paint Your Walls
  • 10 Home DIY Project Ideas for Leftover Paint
  • 10 Colorful Accessories Under $5
(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

3. Plants are a great way to hide things you don’t like
There are plenty of ways to disguise elements in a rental you don’t love, but none perhaps work as effectively and as easily as a cleverly placed plant. And bonus: plants always make rooms feel alive and more rich, so it’s good to add anyway.

(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

4. Good window treatments can make a room feel finished
Whether you hate your all-white walls or your apartment doesn’t have an architectural element to save its life, great window treatments can do a ton to improve the look of an entire room. Consider every element of the window treatment — from height (think about hanging them a little taller and wider than you think to make windows seem more prominent). And curtains are also a great way to add color and pattern to an otherwise bland space.

  • Making Your Own Curtains: Easy Instructions
  • Budget Living Decor Idea: 10 DIY Painted Curtain Projects
(Image credit: Kim Lucian)

5. Splurge on elements you can take with you
Those who always hesitate to put money into a rental need only reframe their thought process. Invest that hard-earned cash into elements you love, that you can take with you, and be ultra careful with choosing the kind of items that will be flexible enough in function and style to work in plenty of future residences.

  • 5 Easy, High-Impact Rental Decorating Ideas (That Can Move With You)
  • 10 Temporary, Removable Products for Renters
(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

6. Bad floors aren’t a design death sentence
The thing about bad floors is that even if you can’t pull them up, you can still do a lot to make them better. From laying down temporary flooring to just using a lot of oversize rugs, bad floors aren’t a design death sentence, even if they aren’t made of the material of your dreams.

7. It’s fine to make stealth changes, but keep track of them
Too often renters jump to disguising unwanted design elements first, without realizing they can remove and replace with what they want, while keeping the original elements for putting back when they move out. From light fixtures to awful vertical slat blinds to doors, just remember to keep track of the changes you make, how to re-install them later and where you’ll be storing them so you don’t lose your deposit.

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

8. Creative storage solutions are vital for small any spaces
Whether you’ve got one paltry closet or many, it pays to take the time to consider how to better store things, from seasonal wardrobe options to your pots and pans. There are plenty of ways to create storage when you don’t have any, and a lot of ways these storage solutions can be non-damaging, easy-to-install, take-with-you-later options for renters.

(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

9. Customizing is worth the time, money and energy in a rental
I do this more than I’d like to admit, the thought that because it’s not some forever home I own it’s not worth customizing. But it is. Stick to your budget, get creative with DIY projects and push the limit of what is allowed, but at least do something!

Re-edited from a post originally published 10.26.14-NT