No Brainer Design Ideas that Won’t Ruin Your Rental

Shannon Quinn - November 6, 2022

When you rent a home, it’s rare for you to be 100% happy with how everything looks. After all, since the property doesn’t belong to you, it’s not possible to do major renovations. And a lot of people out there are afraid to do too much to their rental, for fear of losing their security deposit. Here at Home Addict, we’ve put together some of the best rental design hacks where you’re guaranteed not to ruin your apartment.

Don’t be afraid to ask your landlord if you can do some improvements. Credit: Shutterstock

Ask Permission From Your Landlord

Before we get into any of these suggestions, it’s better for you to be safe than sorry. If there is anything that you’re worried might not go over well with your landlord, it’s always best to ask permission. More often than not, your landlord will probably say “yes”, especially if it’s something that will improve the look of the apartment. On top of that, you can always keep the original fixtures and replace them back before you leave. In the past, I worked as a leasing consultant. One of the tenants in an apartment replaced the light fixtures, and it made the place look a lot more expensive. So when they moved out, the landlord actually charged more for that apartment compared to the others! Sometimes it can truly be a win-win situation. (via How I Rent)

Even if it’s not your “forever home”, it’s OK to take your apartment seriously. Credit: Shutterstock

Take Your Rental Seriously

When a lot of people rent a property, they see it as a temporary living space. They might watch design TV shows, find inspiration on Instagram, and even keep a Pinterest board of the house they want “one day”. However, anything can happen. And in today’s housing market, it might be easier said than done to buy a home. You deserve to have a beautiful house now, not later. So one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give you is to treat yourself to a lot of the design ideas you love, even if it’s just a rental space. You will feel much happier once the project is done, and it may even convince you to stay a bit longer and make your down payment for your house just that much bigger. (via Remodelista)

Having a minimalist kitchen makes even a modest apartment look far more stylish. Credit: Summery Touch

Make Do With Less

Clutter always makes an apartment feel much smaller than it actually is. It also takes away from any sort of style and interior design you’re trying to bring to the place. So whenever possible, try to downsize and make due with less in your rental. For example, you don’t really need both a toaster and a toaster oven. Maybe it’s time to say “goodbye” to your DVD collection and switch to a streaming platform like Netflix. When you have fewer things in your rental, you’ll feel a breath of fresh air. Be sure to donate your unwanted items rather than throw them away, because you never know who may need them. (via Love Property)

Bookshelves make a great room divider. Credit: Remodelista

Divide Up a Room With a Bookshelf

One of the best hacks for a small apartment is to create different “zones”. An easy way to do that is with furniture- especially a bookshelf. The cube bookshelves at Ikea are a popular choice to do this, because it is transparent, and yet you can build it tall enough to give another area of the room some privacy. This is especially important when you have a studio apartment. You might want to enclose a bedroom area with a bookshelf like this. Of course, it also gives you a lot more storage space for your books, plants, and collectables. (via Apartment Therapy)

This “Sputnik” chandelier makes a huge statement, and increases the value of a property. Credit: Shutterstock

Upgrade Your Light Fixtures

A really easy way to instantly transform the way a room looks is by swapping out the light fixtures. When a landlord fixes up a rental, it’s common for them to go with whatever the cheapest lighting option is at Home Depot or Lowes. In today’s world, it’s so easy to find amazing discounted lighting options from websites like Wayfair and Amazon. You may need to hire someone to help you change the light fixture, if you’re not very savvy with wiring. And once you leave your apartment, you can actually take the new light fixture with you. Just keep your landlord’s original fixture in a closet somewhere, and put it back before you leave. In other cases, if you get your landlord’s permission to swap them, they might be happy to keep it when you leave. (via The Spruce)

Swapping out the original knobs for something new and colorful can help with furniture. Credit: Apartment Therapy

Swap Out The Knobs

Just like light fixtures, your landlord probably found cheap standard knobs at the hardware store. So swapping them out for something more stylish is an easy way to bring some style to your space. This can work on your cabinets in your kitchen and bathroom. But it also works incredibly well with old furniture you might have had for a while. For example, I have a set of dressers that I inherited from my mom’s first apartment. I swapped out the original brass knobs for these gorgeous hand-painted knobs from India that I ordered online. In just a few minutes, I turned an outdated-looking piece of furniture into something that looked like it came from Anthropologie. (via Apartment Therapy)

Peel-and-stick subway tiles are a popular choice for a temporary backsplash. Credit: The Spruce

Install a Temporary Backsplash

Your kitchen backsplash makes a huge difference when it comes to style. Most people assume that this is something they can never do in a rental, because you usually need to hire a professional to come in and install everything. But in reality, there are actually peel-and-stick tiles that can be used to install a temporary backsplash. When you’re ready to move out, you can just remove the tiles before you go. Before you get started, though, be sure to watch tutorials online for help, to be sure that you don’t accidentally cause any damage to the walls. (via Bob Vila)

Removing the doors from kitchen cabinets can create beautiful open shelving. Credit: Houzz

Remove Your Kitchen Cabinet Doors

If you move into an older apartment, it’s really common to run into ugly kitchen cabinets. Since a kitchen renovation is so expensive, most landlords will continue to use the same cabinets so long as they’re still functioning. Some people will opt to paint the cabinets, if they can get their landlord’s permission. But if you’re not allowed to do that, another option is to remove the cabinet doors all together. Once you remove the doors, you’re creating open shelving, which can look a lot more attractive. Store the cabinet doors in your hallway closet, and re-install them before you leave. Just be sure to style your shelves properly, and keep everything neat and clean.(via Better Homes and Gardens)

It’s possible to clean your grout so that it looks brand new. Credit: Bob Vila

Clean the Grout

It’s standard for landlords to hire a cleaning company to come through their rental before a new tenant moves in. But it’s incredibly rare for a cleaning company to really get into the nitty-gritty projects, like cleaning grout. If you notice that your floor or shower tiles are looking discolored, it’s actually possible to clean them and get it back to looking new and white. Before you get started, search for a grout cleaning tutorial online. Once the grout is clean, it will feel like you just received brand new tiles in your living space. (via Bob Vila)

This is a great example of how you can add more color and personality to a child’s bedroom. Credit: Sunset

Add More Artwork

Even if you already have a few pieces of art hanging in your home, you can almost always use more artwork. Hanging pieces of art in unexpected rooms, like your bathroom, is a great way to add style to your rental without causing any damage. You might even want to consider hanging a gallery wall somewhere in your apartment. When you’re done with this article, check out our article “Gorgeous Gallery Wall Inspiration to Elevate Wall Space“. Just be careful, and don’t create too many holes in the wall unnecessarily. You can also use Command Hooks, which are easy to remove when you’re ready to move out of your apartment.

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)