No Brainer Design Ideas that Won’t Ruin Your Rental

Shannon Quinn - November 6, 2022
An example of someone who used contact paper on both the backsplash and the countertops. Credit: Bob VIla

Install Faux Countertops

Just like kitchen cabinets, counter tops are another thing that most landlords leave alone in their rental, so long as it’s usable. But unfortunately, a lot of countertops in apartments are straight-up ugly. The good news is that it’s easy to cover ugly countertops with peel-and-stick paper. These come in a variety of designs that are made to look like marble, wood, concrete, and more. I personally have this type of paper on top of my desk, which was once a damaged table. Now it looks totally stylish, and most people would assume that I spent a small fortune on it. This peel-and-stick paper is also easy to take off when you’re getting ready to move. Just make sure you clean off any sticky residue that may be leftover. (via The Kitchn)

Floating shelves can add a tremendous amount of storage space to your kitchen. Credit: Shutterstock

Install Kitchen Shelving

One of the major downsides to living in a rental is that their kitchens are often tiny. You might not have enough countertop or cabinet space to store everything you want and need. An easy and renter-friendly solution to this is to install floating shelves on the wall of your kitchen. Buying a set of floating shelves should be very affordable, especially at places like Ikea, Walmart, or Home Depot. But if you’re not a very handy person, we recommend hiring someone to come in and install the shelving for you. This way, you’ll make sure that you don’t damage the walls and lose your security deposit. (via The Home Depot)

A few examples of removable wallpaper that you can use for your apartment. Credit: The New York Times

Use Removable Wallpaper

Something you’ve probably seen in almost every interior design blog is having a wallpapered accent wall. This might look stunning, but most renters shy away from doing wallpaper. They assume that it’s going to cost a fortune, or that it could potentially damage the walls. But in reality, there are plenty of removable wallpapers on the market for you to try. Just search on Google for “removable wallpaper”, and you’re going to get countless numbers of options for you to try. Some people even get creative, like putting the wallpaper on the ceiling! It really can elevate the style of your space in a big way, and you don’t have to worry about losing your security deposit. (via NYMag)

It’s common to paint apartments white or beige. Credit: Shutterstock

Go For Light Colors

A very important “hack” in small spaces is to gravitate towards light colors on the walls, furniture, and more. When you have darker colors in a room, it can make it feel very cave-like. This makes you feel more cozy and enclosed in a space. So obviously, if you want more space, go for light colors instead. Luckily, white or beige walls are usually the standard color for most rental spaces, anyway. So your apartment might already have light colors to start. It doesn’t have to be boring, though. You can incorporate pops of colors through your artwork, throw pillows, rugs, blankets, and so much more. For more tips like this, check out our article called “How to Create the Illusion of Space in a Small Apartment.”

These carpet tiles can cover a floor, and they’re totally removable. Credit: Flooring Inc

Install Temporary Flooring

Replacing the flooring in a home is one of the most expensive DIY projects you can try to tackle. So it’s understandable why most renters assume that they need to stick with what they were given in their rental. However, did you know that there are peel-and-stick tiles that can act as temporary flooring? These are perfect for giving a bathroom or kitchen a makeover. There are also a lot of other temporary flooring options out there. Some of them even look like hardwood. These can be expensive and labor-intensive, but it can be worth it if you’re really trying to elevate the style of your space. (via Flooring Inc)

These three large pieces of artwork serve as the headboard. Credit: HGTV

Buy (Or Make) A Large Headboard

Historically, beds were given headboards to help block the draft. This helped keep you warm and protected you from getting sick while you slept. Nowadays, with central heating, people don’t have to worry about that anymore. So a lot of people forgo having a headboard all together. But having a large headboard is an easy way to bring a lot of style to your bedroom. Personally, I love my padded headboard, because I can sit up and type on my laptop comfortably. You can buy padded beds on Amazon for only $250-$300, so it’s a lot more affordable than you think. A lot of people also like to try to make their own headboards. (via HGTV)

Fairy lights look great all times of the year. Credit: Shutterstock

Hang Fairy Lights or LED Strips

This might sound like a tacky or juvenile suggestion to some people, reminiscent of living in a college apartment. But it really is amazing what you can do with a great string of fairy lights. Nowadays, they make string lights in all shapes and sizes. You don’t have to stick with the bog standard Christmas lights anymore. You can choose stars, industrial bulbs, shapes, and so much more. Another great option is to buy a strip of LED lights with a remote control. These can be hidden behind a TV console, under a desk, or behind your bed to give your room a colorful glow. Having LED lights also helps when you throw a party. (via Cosmopolitan)

Adding plants and furniture to your apartment patio makes a huge difference. Credit: Shutterstock

Give Your Outdoor Space Some Attention

Depending on what type of rental you live in, you might be lucky enough to have your own outdoor space. This could be as small as an outdoor patch of grass in front of your apartment, a balcony, or even an entire backyard. No matter how big or small your outdoor space is, you really should use it to the fullest. With a good set of patio furniture, it can feel like you’ve created an entire new room in your apartment. And with a little bit of landscaping, you can make the front lawn of your rental look so much cuter than before. (via Apartment Therapy)

Buying houseplants can truly elevate the style of your rental. Credit: Shutterstock

Buy Plants

A lot of people underestimate the power that house plants have. They truly bring life to a space. Not only is it a pop of color, but a plant is a living thing that is making your air cleaner. There is something about having house plants that just make a space feel more like a “home”. And that’s so important for you to accomplish when you’re living in a rental. Some of you out there might be thinking that you don’t have a green thumb. If that’s the case, buying faux plants will still have the same effect in helping to style your space. However, real plants are often more affordable, and they look better overall. If you’re new to owning plants, check out our article called “Biggest Mistakes People Make With Indoor Plants“.

Organizing your home can simultaneously elevate the style of the space, even if it’s a rental. Credit: Shutterstock

Get Organized

Most of you out there are looking for “design” hacks. But if your home is cluttered and unorganized, it’s almost impossible to do anything to fix the space. One of the most important things you need to do before starting a renovation project in your rental is to get organized. This will most likely require you to buy storage bins, containers, boxes, and maybe even new furniture to accomplish what you need. But once you get the organization done, your life will be so much better. We promise. When you’re done reading this post, check out our article called “My Mom is a Professional Organizer. This is What She Taught Me.”

The beautiful baskets help to hide away unsightly storage, even in the kitchen pantry. Credit: Love Property

Use Decorative Baskets for Storage

In the last bullet point, we suggested getting your rental organized if you want to improve on its design. A great tip for hiding away your clutter is to use baskets for storage. Baskets can look very chic, and are often timeless when you style a home. There are people out there who put baskets in their house that are completely empty, just because they love the style. But if they can double as storage, why not? Baskets come in all shapes and sizes. And they are available almost anywhere, especially in places like Target, Home Goods, and The Container Store. (via Better Homes and Gardens)

A large mirror helps make a small space feel bigger. Credit: Remodelista

Lean a Large Mirror on the Floor

A great hack for making a room feel bigger is to install a large mirror. But hanging a large mirror can be tricky, especially in a rental. You don’t want to put too many holes in the wall and potentially cause damage. That’s why it’s a great option to actually buy a large vertical mirror and have it leaning on the floor. It helps to reflect the room around it, which gives the illusion of your space being bigger. And it works great if you want to take an “outfit of the day” picture for Instagram. You may need to secure the mirror to make sure it doesn’t fall or slip. But if you buy a high-quality, hefty mirror, it most likely will want to stay in place. (via The DIY Playbook)

Even rolling clothing racks can look stylish in the right context. Credit: Shutterstock

Use Clothing Racks for Extra Storage

Depending on your rental, you might not have a closet in every bedroom. Many people would opt for a dresser, and that’s great. But I’ve met people who had so many clothes, they actually bought multiple dressers for each bedroom. It made the room feel a lot smaller, and cluttered. So a design hack you might want to consider is getting a clothing rack. This is especially important for the ladies out there who need to hang things like dresses that don’t work so well when they’re folded up. Just keep in mind that when it comes to clothing racks, you get what you pay for. Cheap $15 metal racks from Walmart might hold a few things, but only if they’re light. Heavier items like coats will cause the rack to collapse. So always try to invest in high quality. (via The Spruce)

Believe it or not, this is a fake fireplace that was custom built for this space. Credit: Twelve on Main

Consider Buying a Faux Fireplace

Cuddling up in front of a fireplace is a truly magical experience. But it’s incredibly rare to find a fireplace in a rental. And even if you’re lucky enough to have one in an older building somewhere like New York City, it might be a fire hazard for you to even try using the old fireplace. So the obvious solution to make your fireplace dreams come true is to buy a fake one. These cost a few hundred dollars, but some of them actually look very real. They work sort of like electric heaters. So they will still emit heat and look like fire, without actually being a safety risk for your rental. (via The Spruce)

This colorful accent rug makes a huge statement in this bedroom. Credit: House Beautiful

Buy an Accent Rug (Or Two)

Never underestimate the power of a good accent rug. These can bring a pop of color and style to your space. Sometimes, people will actually lay an accent rug on top of the existing rug in their apartment, just because they don’t like the style of what their landlord put there. In most rental properties, a landlord will go for some kind of basic beige carpeting in the living room. But by laying a rug on top of it, you can transform the look of a room. Just be careful with this, because sometimes layering carpets can be a tripping hazard. This works best if you can find a rug that fits into the square footage of the room, or at least goes well under the furniture. And if the apartment has hardwood floors, even better. That’s even more reason for you to get accent rugs. (via Apartment Therapy)

This simple rolling rack and curtain helps give privacy too the bedroom area of a studio apartment. Credit: Remodelista

Use a Rolling Rack and Curtain for Extra Privacy

If you live in a studio apartment, you already know how difficult it can sometimes be to have your bed in the center of everything. And since you’re in a rental, you can’t exactly build a wall to divide your bedroom space. We already suggested building a bookshelf to give yourself some privacy. But if you don’t want more furniture, consider using a privacy curtain instead. All you need is a rolling rack, and a curtain to hang on hooks. You might want to opt for a cloth shower curtain, since this will be easy to hang on the rod. This is very easy to assemble and disassemble when you’re getting ready to move. And it’s also relatively inexpensive, so you don’t need to feel guilty if you get rid of it before moving into your new place that hopefully has more space. (via Style Caster)

Credit: Architectural Digest

Hang a Tapestry

Just like string lights, some people might shy away from the idea of hanging a tapestry, because it reminds them of a college dorm. But when it’s done correctly, styling with a tapestry can truly elevate how your space looks. It’s also a much easier way to add a design to a wall, compared to wallpapering. All you need to do is tack up the fabric tapestry to the wall, and you’re ready to go. Some of my favorite examples I’ve seen are a huge mandala in my friend’s spare bedroom that she uses as her meditation space. Then there are some stunning examples of tapestries that look like murals or paintings on the wall. Check them out in the link below. (via Architectural Digest)

This accent wall was made using plus-sign decals. Credit: Shutterstock

Paint an Accent Wall

Earlier on this list, we already mentioned how it’s good to keep lighter colored walls, because it makes a space feel bigger. But if you truly have your heart set on a specific color, try an accent wall first. This is a great way to introduce color to a room without totally overpowering it. Accent walls don’t have to be just solid colors, either. You could paint patterns on the walls like polka dots, geometric shapes, stenciled shapes, and so much more. On top of that, it makes it a lot easier for you to paint over when you’re getting ready to move. (via Apartment Therapy)