10 Tips to Add Personality to a Rental

Hang Art You LoveI've moved a total of nine times since I graduated college. Nine times! We've lived in spaces ranging from 550 sq. ft. to 2,400 sq. ft. and have decorated around styles that ranged from single bedroom, beige box apartments to our current Victorian with endless charm. We've worked around space issues such as more children than available bedrooms and how to fit a home office inside a wardrobe. No matter how far from my dream home each rental has been, I've found ways to really enjoy the space and make it feel like ours. Over the years I've learned a lot about making the most from a rental, so I thought I'd share my top 10 tips with you.

For this post we are teaming up with our friends at Rent.com, a great source for finding rentals in your area.

SwitchLightFixtures1. Switch out standard or unsightly light fixtures. Our last rental had granny-style glass covers over all of the antique light fixtures in the house. Thanks to the advice of a good friend, I realized it was possible to remove them and replace them with Edison bulbs for a much more industrial vibe. Even if you have to put in a little more energy than that, changing dated or dull light fixtures (and storing them until you move out) is an easy way to update your space and make it feel a little more like yours.

Room planner(Here's what the Room Planner tool looks like from this listing in Nashville. We're not moving with Elsie but I just wanted to show you what it looks like.)

2. Plan the layout of your rooms before you move in. It can be frustrating to move into a space only to discover that some of your furniture (that you already love) doesn't quite fit how you had planned. To avoid this, plan the layout of your rooms before you ever start moving furniture. An easy tool to help you do this is the Room Planner feature on Rent.com. You can see a floor plan of the space and even digitally add your furniture sizes to the space to see how well they will fit. This can help take away a lot of stress on moving day.

Add wooden crates to the wall for interest and storage3. Don't be afraid of putting holes in the walls. Plan out your gallery wall, double check those measurements, and start drilling! It's one of the layers of decorating that makes a house feel finished and will add so much more charm to a boring rental. You can always fill those holes like a pro the week before you move out.

Blueprint Bookshelf Wallpaper4. Transform your walls with temporary fixes. The built-ins in my kids' room were great for displaying special toys, but the dark wood made the room feel small and sad. I enlarged a design onto blueprint copies and trimmed them to fit inside the shelving with double-sided tape. It instantly made the room feel brighter, modern, and so much more fun. You can also opt to use temporary wallpaper or vinyl stickers to add more style to your current color.

Cover Floors with Bold Rugs
5. Cover ugly flooring with a great rug. Our floors weren't terrible, but there were some unsightly water stain spots in the dining room. I covered it with a rug I made and not only got to enjoy a finished project but no longer had to look at the dark spot on our light wooden floors. Layer a bold rug over beige carpets to help pull together any room and add more interest to your space.

Cover Ugly Chain Link with Cedar Panels6. Work with what you have. Our last rental included chain link fencing around the entire backyard. It offered little privacy in the winter when the bushes were in hibernation and made it feel like we were living in an empty car lot. I rigged up some fence panels that gave the illusion of a warmer and more modern fenced yard and was able to attach them to the chain link in a way that would make them easy to transport when we moved. Sometimes there is very little you can do to improve upon a specific element at your rental property but other times you just need to think outside the box.

Furniture that does double duty7. Use furniture that does double duty. Decorating your rental(s) with furniture that can work in more than one room or that is multi-functional within a room will make rearranging in the next rental so much easier. Getting the same pieces to work together in more than one layout is hard enough, so using items that can solve a problem in both the living room and kids' room or kitchen and dining room is incredibly helpful.

Thrift store finds and inexpensive touches refresh your old furniture8. Hit the refresh button with new accessories. Inexpensive accessories and thrift store finds can refresh your space when your furniture feels tired after another move. Purchasing a few new throw pillows or fun accessories for your mantel can help bring new life into a room even when it doesn't all fit together seamlessly.

Add plants9. Plants cover a multitude of dullness. They seem to have their own personalities and add so much color and texture to a space. Hang a few from the ceiling and place them at varying levels throughout a single room or your whole home to create an extra layer of interest. Tolerant plants or succulents are great options in case you forget to water them while you are getting settled into your new space!

RentalTip1-Utilize a bookcase as a wardrobe10. Entertain alternative storage ideas. Solve storage problems and create interest in a plain room by repurposing a simple bookshelf into a wardrobe. I added contact paper to the back wall of this IKEA bookshelf, and then installed a simple curtain rod to display and organize my son's wardrobe. Since older homes often lack much closet space, this allowed me to utilize what little space we did have to keep the larger, louder toys out of sight. I've also made a standing wardrobe from both metal pipes and PVC pipes and have used a larger wardrobe with doors to organize and store our office supplies.

Add Personal TouchesWhat about you? Have you discovered any great tips for rentals over the years? –Rachel

Credits//Author and Photography: Rachel Denbow

  • This is great! We have lived in two rented homes so far. We were allowed to paint our previous home so that helped make it our own. Our current home has tan walls…in every single room. I think I’m starting to go nuts and am having a hard time figuring it out. So this post was a good read for me. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Drilling/nailing into the walls isn’t always super good advice… Some landlords will dock your deposit if there’s holes in the walls, so definitely check you lease or ask your landlord first. Command strips have been a lifesaver for me!

  • We’re currently renting and I’ve been finding it hard to feel motivated enough to get the house how I want it however now me and my partner have decided we’ll be staying here for quite a while longer I want to kick myself into gear and decorate. These tips are really helpful, thanks!

  • As someone who has moved a bunch, and currently lives in (another) rental, this article is fantastic! I’ve never been afraid to put holes in the wall, but I don’t love the other suggestions too. Thank you!

  • I just moved into my first rental home on June 1st so this blog post is exactly what I needed! Thank you for your awesome tips, Rachel! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • rent.com is definitely getting it out there in the blogging world this month. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I have seen posts sponsored by them on designlovefest and sugar and cloth as well as here this month. too funny.

  • These tips are great! It is so true about plants especially for rentals that look outdated. Plants brighten the place up so much & if you are short on cash you can get BIG plants at Ikea that are fairly inexpensive. I’ve used them a lot when trying to distract you from other “unflattering” features you wish you didn’t have! Love the hanging plant in your photo too, just lovely <3

    Liana

    http://thefrench75.ca

  • Love this. We are always looking for ways to make our rental feel homely. Awesome tips thank you xxx

  • Living in rentals for the past four years, I’ve definitely learned the importance of making the space your own. I like to brighten up our space with new throw pillows every few months, vases and flowers. I’m working on a gallery wall right now and I’m really excited to see what it will add to our space.

    Kristi | Be Loverly

  • These ideas are so great! I especially love the use of plants and not being afraid to put holes in the walls. Mirrors always help too, especially in smaller spaces.
    xx Lane

  • These were some great tips!! I’m moving to a rental in September (for uni) and I’ve seriously been wondering about these things. Thank god you helped me out!!! ๐Ÿ™‚ thanks

    Dorky-and-weird.blogspot.com

    Xoxo Jessy

  • Our apartment breaker box is in an odd, but very visible spot. I didn’t really want to nail anything right above to cover it- so it was washi tape to the rescue. I used 2 patterns & 1 solid (all of it is black, white, red) and it looks much better now.

  • Great tips! I would also add asking your landlord if you can do bigger projects, especially if an actual person (like, the owner) is your landlord, rather than a big company. If they trust you and you explain what you want to do (paint, ripping up disgusting carpet, etc) they might be happy for the free labor. Just make sure to make a record of it (like, an email chain, or a confirmation letter) so that everyone is clear what the agreement was when it’s time to get your deposit back.

  • I love how you re-purposed items for other uses, like the bookshelf into a wardrobe/storage space. I’ve found that you can easily decorate by using fun, old empty jars for flower vases and even coming up with a simple beaded wall hanging using fishing wire on a dowel. I think finding ideas to organize a place can make all of the difference!

  • My partner and I painted some of our walls a neutral gray which went well with our black furniture and made the whole space feel more polished. It looked so neutral that the manager said we don’t have to paint it back to stark white when we move out.

    We also repaired a lot of the poorly repaired drywall spots we hated looking at. Even though we don’t own the place, we are the ones who have to look at it everyday. The trick to good drywall repair is patience which most building repair people don’t have in their busy schedules. You can also make a point to just cover with wall art or furniture.

    I highly agree with Rachel’s second point of creating a layout of your apartment. I have never used the tool she is referring to, but I imagine it is easier than what we did. We made a scale model of our apartment and our furniture on graph paper and moved around the little furniture pieces in the room. No matter how you do it try to take into account where your cable is, where your baseboards are and where your outlets are.

    One of the best things we did was to buy a few IKEA wall mounted flip up desks and install them at counter height to add more counter space to our small kitchen. They can flip up when you want them and flip down when you don’t.

    Home this helps. Happy decorating!

  • This is so perfectly timed, I’m moving soon and I have been having so much fun pulling inspiration from Pinterest and trying to think of ways to spice up a rental space. I love all of these ideas!

  • My family moves all the time because we rent. (I think I have moved a total of 8 times now from memory?) So these tips are great! We are really enjoying this new house so we are trying to make it feel more like ours!

    (Still scared to put holes in the wall though! haha)

  • Great ideas! I’m also renting and struggling to make the place feel more “homely”. The difficult part is our landlord wont let us hang anything up – not even the peel off temporary ones. I WOULD love to know where that rug is from!

  • I love those ideas, and I was wondering if you could make a blog post about how to decorate those ugly beige room we found in all the rentals right now? aka beige carpet and paint.

    My pictures are all black and white and I am so sad, no idea how to do!

  • I’m 14, and I’ve moved house 16 times. It’s something I really like, because although it’s not permanent I get to redesign my space all the time

  • Rachel, I’d love more deets on how you finagled that wooden fence. I’m hoping to do the same thing in our rental yard for some privacy from nosy neighbors. Did you just affix with wire?

  • As a military family, we are masters of “make it work” in new spaces. I love re-decorating, so I guess it was meant to be. I love using spray paint to add new life to photo frames. I also love keeping our items really paired down. When you’re moving every 2-3 years you quickly see what you love in your home, and what is collecting dust. I used to purchase items for our “someday” home and I had to ditch that mentality. We work with where and what we have NOW. I can build dreams less costly and save space on endless Pinterest boards instead;)

  • I have moved over 40 times in my lifetime (not all rentals), and I always like to add lots of plants and a splash of colour. Currently I have poles bridging the gap between kitchen cupboards with plants hanging from them. I also have a passion for kanthas and throws, and have a wonderful one on my new plain sofabed with lots of cushions, and used two as curtains for the bedroom. What I don’t like about moving is going back to the old place to clean and tidy up the holes in the walls! Being a bit of a perfectionist I like to make sure it is done to the best it can be to get that deposit back!!!

  • I would love to do something like the wood panels you made to add privacy to your yard. Did you follow a tutorial?

  • Great tips! It can be hard in a rental, especially if you have a difficult landlord. But investing to make the space feel like home is definitely worth it.

  • This is a very helpful post! I’m studying interior design and have no problem helping other people with their design questions, but when it comes to my own place I’m stumped. I want a bit of everything!
    I agree with the decorations on the walls, they make a house feel more like home and it’s fairly inexpensive to patch up!

    Thanks!

    http://www.thethingislemons.wordpress.com

  • LOVED the fence idea! It looks great! I don’t think people always remember that rentals are sometimes actual houses with yards – even our duplex had a (shared) yard that we cleaned up. We just asked the landlord if we could trim some of the overgrown bushes and it freed up a lot of space! We loved sitting out there with friends and had little charcoal grill and picnic table for entertaining.

    We just purchased our first home, and I’ve been reflecting on our rental days. One thing I loved the best was the freedom to explore our decorating styles. Since we’ve been in 3 rentals, we now have our style preferences pretty nailed down and decorating is THAT MUCH easier. It’s totally relieving.

  • I’d love to see a how-to for the wood fence in the backyard! I’m looking to install one very similar in my backyard.

  • YESSSSS. This is just what my sister and I needed! We moved into a rental together and are itching to make it warmer and more inviting. Thanks, Rachel!

  • Although I hope not to be so afraid of putting holes in the wall in our future rental (like shelves), command strips are my best friend. I have multiple gallery walls without using a single nail – love it!! I used a few nails that were already in our walls when we arrived (though they were in awkward places and took some creativity to use them well – hate when people hang things high on the wall!) but the only thing we added was an anchor for a very heavy vintage frame that I knew needed more than even the most heavy duty command strips (though I’ve used them for very large pieces that were not so heavy).
    An idea for smaller spaces that I’ve seen around is to take off a door that’s in the way – like a closet door or folding door in a tiny apartment, and asking your landlord to store it, just like the light fixtures. Sometimes a curtain can be less awkward or more attractive.

  • I would love to hear more about the chain link fence transformation! That’s such a good idea and not something I’ve ever thought of. How did you secure the boards to the fence?

  • I’ve been living in rentals for the past four years and my gallery wall is always the first thing that goes up because it makes any place feel like home! I use command strips to hang up my art, so I get to have my gallery wall but still get my entire security deposit back!

  • Yeah everything needs to be double duty. I prefer to live in a rental (commitment issues with everything but marriage) but still miss the ability to paint walls. Command strips don’t workfor me. They DO have removable wallpaper so that might be interesting.

  • I would love for you to do a tutorial on how-to fill all those nail and screw holes “like a pro”. I’ve tried but it didn’t convince the landlord. Is there a way to do it without painting an entire room/wall if you don’t have the same original paint for a touch up? (Also once I tried to do a touch up with leftover original paint and it had morphed colors with age and ended up being really noticeable)

  • My husband and I are in our second rental. We are allowed to paint but we don’t want to have to mess with painting it back before we move out. It has tan walls which are nice as neutral but I keep seeing all these cute rentals with white walls and it’s making me jealous! Thanks for the tips!

  • As a renter I love these tips! We are working towards minimalism in our family home so I would suggest before you move, remember to pack only those items you truly love. There is no point in carrying your junk from one house to another!

  • Hi Rachel! Would you please consider doing a tutorial for the fence panels you did? We just moved into a new house which we love, but are facing the same issue with unsightly chain-link fencing. On top of that, we’re by a road that gets a little more traffic than we anticipated, so there’s a bit of an ambient noise issue, too. We’ve been thinking about what we can do to combat both the ugly and the noise, so any help you can give on that is appreciated!

    Thanks for all these ideas–it’s always tricky trying to make a rental space your own.

  • Hello,
    Where is that lovely blue/grey chair in #7 from?

    Thank you,
    Kelsey

  • Love this and I’m totally worth you on the hideous light shades. What’s with that?? I’d add curtains to that too. A couple of places I’ve rented have had dusty netting in the windows. Yikes!

  • Great photographs & tips for a better design that will definitely make us feel better in the area.

    Mafer, Concientizando x

  • How do you “fill those holes like a pro”?? Please explain how!!

  • Love the IKEA bookshelf hack. It’s the perfect solution for getting all of our daughters clothes at her level so she can dress herself. Currently her dresses are hanging out of reach.

  • These are awesome suggestions! My husband and I are moving to Los Angeles in January and I was starting to wonder how we’d make our apartment feel as cozy as the home we own in Virginia. I’ll definitely be saving this post for when the move comes! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • fab article but its really hard living in 290q ft apartment, where EVERYTHING is ugly and you can’t change a thing, our landlord won’t let us repaint (the bright yellow and blue walls) OR upgrade the huge chunky pine furniture. we’ve done the best we can but you can only go so far! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

  • You can switch out the light fixtures in an apartment? That’s good to know. I’ve been thinking that it would be nice to personalize our rental, but I didn’t know what I could play around with. I agree that plants can brighten up a place. It will be fun to try to make our new apartment more of a home.

  • The last tip, alternative storage is something that I’ve been looking for with decorating my apartment. I’ve been looking for different ways to store mine and my husband’s clothes, more great tips for organizing and decorating my apartment! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Great ideas. Where did you get the rugs shown in this post? I love the smaller black and white one. Also love that vintage-looking map ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I’m moving into a rented house soon and was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find ways to decorate it in my own way, but this has given me the confidence and ideas to add my own touch to the house, thanks!

  • Thank you so much, Rachel! This looks like exactly the solution we need. I can’t wait to try this out, thanks again for your help (and inspiration!).