8 Rules for Decorating a Rental

Rentals are notoriously low on style and (sometimes) high in practicality, sacrificing beauty for blandness to cater to more potential tenants. A typical rental features a lot of beiges and other neutrals, and it can be hard to put your personality into a blah space with the restrictions often imposed by landlords. No painting, no flooring changes, no nails in the walls, no window treatments, space restraints, ugly furniture (in furnished rentals)… it seems that pretty much anything you’d do to make your rental feel like home is not allowed.

Don’t resign yourself to boring walls and uninspired decor! Read on for clever ways to put your (temporary) stamp on your living quarters, no matter how long you’ll be living there. Follow these rules and you’ll never dread decorating a rental again!

Buy removable decor.

Perk up the house with decor that you love but can be removed without leaving a trace when you move out. Try wall decals or temporary wallpaper, area rugs or carpet tiles (perfect for covering for ugly, scuffed, cracked, cold no-personality floors), peel-and-stick tiles for floors, walls, and backsplashes, or even a removable dishwasher cover! (Yes, it’s a real thing.) Most don’t leave any residue, but you should check before you apply them. Plus, you can change it when you get tired of it!

Giant fingerprint wall decal
Race track wall decal
Lamp & bicycle wall decal
Gear wall decals by Ilan Dei for Blik
FLOR carpet tiles
Mibo Tile Tattoos in Shanklin Taupe & Black
Mibo Tile Tattoos in Shanklin Taupe & Black
Peel & stick dishwasher cover

Let your personality reign in your home, even if you can’t permanently (or semi-permanently) alter anything. Lamps, pillows, drapes (use tension rods), shower curtains, towels, and even pretty soaps make a difference.

Living room by Tobi Fairley Interior Design
Cafe curtains on tension rods
Apothecary jars from Homesense
Garnet Hill shower curtain, towels & rug
Update (or hide) existing furnishings.

If your rental is furnished, chances are the furniture is not quite your taste. Cover them up with linens, slipcovers, and tablecloths; give cabinets a facelift with new hardware (just swap it out when you leave). Equip closets with modular systems for organizing – it’ll feel custom and you can take it with you to your next house. Hate the shower? Splurge on a new shower head or hand shower and remove it when you move out.

Closet system by ClosetMaid
Slipcovered chairs by Pottery Barn
Slipcovered chairs by Lee Industries
Bring it to life.

Get rid of the lifeless, personality-free rental feel with a pet if your lease permits it. Even a lone fish in a bowl can liven the place up, and it’s pretty low-maintenance. No animals allowed (or not an animal lover)? Try houseplants – even fake ones! – for a burst of vitality.

Living room by DKOR Interiors Inc.
Wall-mount fish bowl
Bathroom by Schippman Design
Bathroom by beth kooby design
Home office by New York Architects & Building Designers Incorporated
Freestanding art.

Just because you can’t bang holes in the walls to hang your favorite framed lithograph doesn’t mean you can’t have art in your home. Try standalone pieces like sculptures or oversized art that can stand against the wall, or prop standing frames on the mantle or any horizontal surface.

Dining room by Jiun Ho Inc.
Abstract landscape painting by Blue Tangerine Art
Living room by Thom Filicia Inc.
Photo by Kimberley Bryan
Banish the blah.

Use color! The great thing about most blandly-decorated rentals is that you have a neutral backdrop and no potential color clashes. Storage bins, towels, dishes and accent pieces should be colorful to counteract too many white (or worse, dingy) walls. Hunt for things in shades that make you happy.

Playroom by colorTHEORY Boston
Plate rack via Beach Vintage
Bathroom by Eric Aust Architect
Colorful kitchen by UB Kitchens
Make it homey.

Be sure to incorporate pieces that mean something to you, like the blanket that Grandma crocheted for you, as decor. Display memorabilia, keepsakes, collections and art projects. Put your passion out there!

If you’re buying furniture, don’t go for junky (“why spend on a rental?”) or just plain functional; it should reflect your personality and be versatile enough to use it in your next home. Be creative and think ahead; buy pieces that can serve multiple purposes so that you’ll be able to use them elsewhere in the event of a move.

Living room by Holden Design Group
Photo by Rikki Snyder
Photo by Corynne Pless
Live in it.

Don’t let your rental just be a place where you crash at night. Throw parties, invite neighbors, make movie night – when you treat it like home, it will feel like home.

Via Jeanette Lunde
Via Sarah Greenman
Dining room by Robertson Lindsay Interiors
Do you rent or own? How do you make your decorating style work under restricted conditions?