Home & Style

10 Tips For Making Your Rental Feel Like a Home

Without a drop of paint.

White walls. Old carpeting. Rickety cabinetry. Moving into a rental can evoke the same feelings a final paper did in college: you know you can do it, but damn it’s going to be hard. Let these ten tips be a guide for moments when it feels like you can’t handle any more fruitless trips to Ikea.

1. Buy a Colorful Couch

This first bit of advice may go against everything you’ve heard. And your tendency, especially when buying a big ticket item, is probably to keep things neutral. But this is the time, since you are probably buying something on the cheaper end of the spectrum, to really have some fun with it. If you don’t want to or aren’t permitted to paint your walls, a poppy couch can provide a colorful anchor in the living area. Nobody says it must be tangerine or scarlet red; go for a deep navy or emerald green if you’re feeling tame. (Plus, there’s nothing sadder than a beige couch in a beige room. The word “beige” itself just kinda bums me out.)

Everything in the room below is neutral and classic: club chairs, a Moroccan rug, industrial lighting, even the art. The banana couch is what makes you really look twice at the space.

Get the look with this linen Anthropologie sofa in Daffodil.

Photo via The Loft.

2. Hang Removable Wallpaper

You don’t need it everywhere, or even throughout an entire room. And there’s no need to call in paper hangers or deal with badly behaving glue when plenty of noted wallpaper designers are now producing removable versions of their most beloved prints. Tucking a swath in a nook, like in the bedroom below, creates a cozy but upscale feel. Get the look with Hygge & West’s “Raindrops” removable wallpaper.

Photo by Morten Holtum for Inside Out.

3. Plants, Plants Everywhere

As long as you don’t live in a cave (ahem ahem, DC’s English basements) you can keep a plant alive. (Look for varieties that flourish in shade, like these five examples from Apartment Therapy.) Either go for one monochrome pot in a variety of sizes, or if your taste is more eclectic, mix things up. What matters most is injecting some verdure in your spaces to keep things looking and feeling fresh and homey. Get the look with the Ikea Potatis plant pot.

Photos by Glamour via FrenchbyDesign.

4. Pick a Color Scheme—And Stick to It

Do not take this advice to mean everything must be matchy-matchy. If monochrome is your thing, we can dig that. But only buying red accessories and sprinkling them throughout your place can leave the entire setup looking a bit 1980’s-handbag-and-pumps. Instead, pick a color feeling and run with it. Muted pastels? Childlike brights? Moody blues? My entire place is basically black and white, and that makes it much easier to know whether or not an accessory will fit in with my vibe.

In the room below that purple dining table could look really out of whack. But with the hints of grape and mauve on the map behind it, and the little saturated pastel accessories styled on the table, it looks right at home.

Photo via Design*Sponge.

5. Mix and Match Your Dining Chairs

Buying an entire set of six or eight dining chairs is an expensive hassle. At 200 bucks a pop or more, that’s over a grand spent just so you feel like you have an “adult” dining space. But being too uptight is never fun, anyway, so slowly collect a crew of complimentary, but not identical, chairs. The beauties below are not cheap–the Hans Wegner wishbone and Eames shell chairs alone can add up to a mortgage payment–but you can slowly cobble together a collection by collecting pairs from IKEA, chain stores, and yard sales. Get the look with Room & Board’s Soren chairs, IKEA’s Janinge, and these Pantone chairs from Off the Beaten Track.

Photo via Lonny.

6. Hang Reading Lights

Day two in your new apartment and you’ll suddenly realize that you need to buy at least eight lamps to make this place habitable at night. That adds up. But hanging reading lights above your bed is 1. affordable, 2. really cozy, and 3. super easy. Plus, it frees up nightstand surfaces for your sleeping mask, book, glass of water, and the ten thousand other things we all bring to bed at night. Get the look with the Isaac sconce from Schoolhouse Electric.

Photo by Johanna Bradford/Tant Johanna via Skona Hem.

7. Give Your Living Area a Focal Point

We aren’t all lucky enough to have a fireplace in our living rooms. Or anywhere in our homes, for that matter. It’s on the tippy top of the list for my next house, but as of now, I have to make do with some Diptyque feu de bois candles. If you do have a fireplace, the first law of decorating commands that you make it a focal point, like the photo below. If you don’t, pick another section of your living area, whether that’s a seating group, a gallery wall above your couch, or a reading nook, and really put some heart and soul into drawing all eyes towards it. Some fresh buds, candlesticks, small objets, and a little art collection all go a long way.

Photo by Louise Desrosier for Milk Magazine.

8. Inject Some Personality into Your Bathroom

Most rental baths are blah at best. White tile. White walls. White fixtures. It’s easy to feel like you’re in a scene from Girl, Interrupted. But the good news is that with all that white, you can pile on the accessories to bend the bathroom towards your own style. The space below is all about those frames and hooks. A similar space could be warmed up with a large-scale piece of art, some botanical pressings, or a collection of vintage objets from Miss Pixie’s.

Photo via Style Me Pretty.

9. Display Your Plates and Glasses

It’s unlikely that a rented kitchen will be kitted out with custom-built open shelving. Instead, laminate and particale board are mostly likely everywhere. But that doesn’t mean you can’t erect a set of shelves on your own and use them to display your prettiest pieces. Leave out a teapot, mint julep glasses, or a cup and saucer set and keep visitors focused on this little arrangement, instead of the terrifying cherry wood your landlord installed. Get the look with West Elm’s reclaimed wood floating shelves.

Photo by Lisa Cohen

10. Wash Your Windows

This is by far the easiest (and cheapest!) tip, but I can’t stress it enough. As soon as you move in, before you unpack any boxes, clean every single window, inside and out. The change to the light will be remarkable. Quite simply, everything in your new space will look brighter, fresher, and cleaner. Just do it.

Photo via Planete Deco.

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Design & Style Editor

Hillary writes about interiors, real estate, arts, and culture. She is the former digital media editor of The New Republic, and her work has also been published in Glamour, The New York Times Book Review, and The Washington Post, among others. You can follow her on Instagram @hillarylouisekelly or on Pinterest @hlkelly.