New rental? How to turn a bland space into a personal haven

Despite moving into a rented apartment, Alexa d’Argence was keen to put her personal stamp on her.

“Loving my place is more important to me than my deposit. So I just went with it with paint, shelving, window treatments and upgrading the medicine cabinet,” says d’Argence, who, as a senior designer at BAR Architects in San Francisco, knows something about creating a stylish space.

“My landlord actually appreciated the improvements. I’d say consider changes that add value that wouldn’t be removed when you move out,” she says.

Non-designers may not feel comfortable with this, as most leases state that you cannot change anything permanently. Another approach: Talk to your landlord to discuss possible changes and maybe even offer to pay the bill.

Or just make a few temporary adjustments, small personal touches that can be turned boring and easy into hip and homey with just a trip to the hardware store.

“Personalizing a rental is really easy these days; There are so many great touches that are meant to be temporary,” says Jessica Dodell-Feder, Editor-in-Chief of HGTV Magazine.


Jessica Shaw, interior design director of The Turett Collaborative in New York, is a fan of removable wallpaper. “I have used it in my own house. Etsy, where I found mine, has prints, wall art, and custom options. When your lease is up, you can remove it gently, leaving no residue,” she says.

And don’t forget the blanket. In one project, she created a wow factor by attaching a colourful, removable geometric motif to a bedroom ceiling using Flavor Paper. Night sky patterns or forest murals could be especially beautiful for city dwellers.

Denver designer Rachel Hoback covered her stair treads with eye-catching star mosaic wallpaper. “This was a very quick and affordable project that made a huge difference in the look of our staircase,” she says.

Removable wallpaper can also add oomph to kitchen splashbacks, bathroom walls and closets. For example, Tempaper offers a range of designs including those that look like painted ceramic tile, terrazzo, marble or embossed metallics.

Liz Morrow from Tacoma, Washington temporarily wallpapered her fridge.

“A refrigerator can be ugly or boring, but removable wallpaper can easily turn it into the most interesting part of the whole kitchen,” she says.

Dodell-Feder agrees: “This is a no-strings-attached, fun solution to a blah-blah kitchen.”


“We don’t typically think about customizing our rental storage units,” says Shaw, “but there are ways to improve their aesthetics and functionality.”

Set up custom organizers in closets to store wardrobe and household items efficiently. (The Container Store and California Closets are among the larger retailers with options.) Coordinating containers and baskets are inexpensive and ubiquitous in home furnishing stores.

Or create a spacious closet against one wall. If you move, you can take a clothes rack with you. For example, Rebrilliant’s Liddle heavy-duty adjustable shelf has rubber feet that anchor to the floor and ceiling.

In a small kitchen, shelf risers and slide-in containers that slide into the cabinet shelves increase your storage capacity. And adhesive hooks are not only suitable for hanging artwork, but also for pans and utensils.

Metal trolleys are available in different colors; if you can paint, stencil or decoupage one yourself. They come in handy for frequently used cooking utensils or bar supplies.


Gita Mirchandani, a PR executive in New York City, has gradually added colorful and meaningful pieces from her favorite designers to her all-white apartment. There are Eames chairs, a George Nelson bench, Jonathan Adler screens and Philippe Starck dining chairs. “Each serves as a significant milestone for moments in my life,” she says.

She’s also personalized her bedroom and honored her heritage. “My headboard is a colorful, hand-painted Indian screen that reminds me of my fascinating heritage every day,” she says.

Convertible furniture allows you to create defined spaces that weren’t there. Murphy-style beds fold down into a closet, with options like an attached sofa or table. Tables like those from Resource Furniture are transformed into dining, office or coffee tables or consoles.

And a simple room screen can be a workhorse. There are rigid-framed panels and folding screens made of colored canvas, fabric, paper, metal and wooden slats.


Curtains or blinds can add texture, color and privacy.

If rods are not already installed, spring tension or pivot rods adjust to different window sizes and have protective rubber ends. Kwik-Hang’s mounts tap into window trim without drilling. Or look for Redi-Shade’s peel-off window treatments; Some also offer improved light control.


Paint – especially spray paint – is an inexpensive way to enhance a space. Some species can be used on carpets and on decorative fabrics on furniture or curtains. (Gliddens Max Flex is a trademark.)

Buy some basic cabinet hardware or switch panel covers from a hardware store and paint them your favorite colors. Follow product instructions for preparing and testing surfaces prior to painting.

Swapping out knobs and handles is another easy way to change the ambiance of a room, and there are plenty of creative options.

Spice up your bathroom by swapping out your showerhead for a colored one or one that sprays like rain or in colors; Sproos!, SparkPod and DreamSpa are a few brands.


New York-based author Kim Cook regularly covers design and decorating topics for The AP. Follow her on Instagram at @kimcookhome.

Kim Cook, The Associated Press

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