My bedroom in my first rental apartment (c. 2004). Note the painted walls, rug, framed art, curtains, headboard and pretty lighting fixture. Ignore the copious amounts of toile - it was a phase I was going through.
Okay, so, if this isn't your first time reading my ramblings, you probably already know that my husband, JM, and I bought our first apartment last year and are reveling (okay, and sometimes kicking ourselves) in the process of fixing everything up just how we want it. But, what you probably don't know is that we weren't always fancy homeowner types. In fact, before this we wallowed away five years in a rental apartment, which had a lot of quirks we had to learn to live with, and that we did our best to overcome (for instance, a galley kitchen with literally no counter space* - and I mean that "literally" literally). But what I discovered during those years was that just because you live in a rental doesn't mean you can't personalize and decorate it to your tastes. With a little imagination, and a little elbow grease, any rental can be made to feel like home. And while most of these fixes are inexpensive and some are a little more pricey, they are worth the investment because almost all of them can be removed, packed up, and brought with you to your next rental. So get to it, and make yourself at home.
9 Ways to Personalize A Rental Apartment (Without Losing Your Security Deposit).
1. Watch Paint Dry: Nothing says "boring rental apartment" like plain white walls. Your rental agreement may forbid you to paint them another color, but that doesn't mean you can't change them now and then change them back before you move out. If you are going to be living in your place for a year or less, it's a lot of work to paint a whole room (although not as much as you may think- it only takes an afternoon), but you might consider painting just one wall a bold color, like red, to make a real statement. Putting a pretty color on the walls is the fastest and easiest way to make an apartment feel decorated and homey. And it can cure all kinds of problems: We painted our living room a soft sunny yellow, and you could hardly tell that it was 36 square feet and had no windows. Well, at least it helped.
2. Take the Floor: Another dead giveaway of a standard-issue rental is a standard-issue parquet floor. There's nothing wrong with wood flooring, but in most rentals the the floors have taken a sustained beating over the years and have become severely worn and scuffed. Cover those spots with soft, comfortable rugs and you'll feel like you're in a cozy cottage as you pad your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Click here for my tips on successful rug-buying.
3. Get Framed: If you are over the age of 20, and no longer live in a dorm, I must implore you to stop putting unframed things on your wall. You can find inexpensive standard-sized frames to hold you photos, posters and other artworks at any homegoods store or Walmart/Kmart/Target. Or look into removable wall decals. Just make sure you put something on the walls, or it will feel like you're living in an institution. Click here for more of my arty suggestions.
4. Built-In Style: If you want your apartment to have that "a smart person lives here" look, you are going to need to find a place to put your books (other than in piles under the coffee table). For tons of extra storage, you can fake the look of built-in bookshelves with large bookcases that take up a whole wall. Check out the "Expedit" from Ikea (at right), or the inexpensive offerings from Gothic Cabinet Craft.
5. Bed of the Class: Your bedroom should be more than just where you sleep and leave your clothes on the floor. It should be your sanctuary; your den of relaxation and meditation. And that all starts with your bed. For crying out loud, buy yourself a decent mattress and sheets, and make your bed look like something. I recommend buying an inexpensive headboard, or using this pillow trick to fake the look of one. I also love a good swing-arm lamp beside the bed to make your boudoir a comfortable and functional place to work and read. And they mount to the wall with just a couple screws and plug in (no electrical work required).
6. Light It Up: Most rental apartments come with some seriously unpleasant lighting. If it's not ugly fluorescent ceiling fixtures, than it's too-bright bathroom lights that emphasize your flaws and make you feel like death warmed over as you head out the door to work. Believe it or not, changing out the light fixtures and installing dimmer switches in your apartment is a relatively easy process, which has a huge impact on the overall feeling and mood of the place (imagine leaving for work every morning feeling smokin' hot, instead). You can find great cheap fixtures on eBay. Just remember to carefully save and store the old fixture so you can reinstall it when you move out.
7. Hardware The Heart Is. A lot of rentals have god-awful kitchen cabinetry and closet doors. While changing those parts falls far into the "not worth it" category, you can put lipstick on the proverbial pig by changing out the hardware. You'd be surprised to see what a huge difference a cute knob or drawer-pull can make. Click here for great resources.
8. It's Curtains for You: Most rental apartments don't come with drapes (usually they have infuriating malfunctioning dusty blinds, if anything). So if you would like to avoid providing a free peep show to the neighborhood, you are going to have to hang something anyway. Luckily, a pretty curtain rod with some simple drapes can do a lot to create ambiance in a room (heavy pleated ones give an air of old-fashioned sophistication, light-colored sheers are soft and beachy). Look on eBay for pretty ones from Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware for cheap prices. Or try your hand at sewing some.
9. Bloomin' Beautiful: If you want your apartment to feel like a place where people really live, it helps to have some real living things in it. A few well-selected houseplants can go a long way toward making an apartment feel warm and alive. I suggest a long-living orchid, a hard-to-kill succulent, or a self-maintaining terrarium like that at right.
*Oh, and if you are wondering what I did to make that counter-less kitchen work, I bought this over-the-sink cutting board and this Ikea chopping-block cart. Intsa-kitchen.