Due to the cost of real estate in our favorite Seattle neighborhoods and the fact that I'm self-employed (read: saving pennies, not dollar bills!), it will be at least five years before Ryan and I are ready to buy a home. But just because we rent doesn't mean I am waiting to get my decorating skills on. Not owning the place where you live does pose unique decorating challenges (can't put in the built-in-bookshelves I dream of, for instance, and not allowed to paint), but there is hope for us renters yet! Here are my tips:
1. Hang stuff on the walls. Yup, with nails (and drywall anchors if necessary!). Don't be afraid to put a hole or two in the wall - that's what spackle is for. It'll immediately add a sense of comfort and home. And for the love of Pete, get those old concert posters framed! Nothing screams dorm room like posters thumbtacked to the wall.
2. Hang curtains. I know, more holes in the wall. But I don't think there is anything grosser than those vertical blinds that so many landlords insist on. If you can't take those down, at least you can disguise them with a generously sized curtain. To disguise mini-blinds, I'll hang a roman shade right in front of them - when they're up, no one is the wiser (and you can do a faux roman shade if you want and still use the mini-blinds for privacy at night. Not only will drapery add texture and warmth to the boxiest of shoebox apartments, it adds architectural interest as well and can make your windows seem bigger. Just remember to hang them high (at least six inches from the top of the window) and wide (at least six inches to the right and left of the window).
3. Don't fill it with Ikea. I know the temptation is great - after all, who wants to invest in furniture that is specific to this apartment when the next may have totally different needs? I get it. And I think the occasional Ikea purchase is warranted. But for items like a coffee table, a pair of beautiful dining chairs, a console table... those are pieces that can go with you anywhere if they are something you really love. If you have the budget, invest in quality pieces. If your budget is small, search for vintage pieces with character. Learn to see your furniture in new ways. Just because that dresser was in your bedroom in your last apartment doesn't mean it can't be used as extra storage in the living room in your new place. If you move frequently, this may save a lot of "well this doesn't fit anymore so we have to get rid of it" when there may be another use for it.
4. Make it over with lighting. Man, some rentals have the WORST lighting and it's never where you really want it to be. Use a mixture of table lamps, floor lamps, and wall lights (like mine, above!) to bring a lot of lower-wattage lighting into all corners of your home instead of one high-wattage light glaring down from above. Ask if you can swap out a fixture if you pay the electrician and put back the old one when you move out. You can also find hanging lights and chandeliers that plug in the wall and hang from a ceiling hook - run the cord behind a curtain or down the corner to disguise.
5. Finally, don't put off decorating just because you rent. Unless you plan on moving in three months, I don't think that a home being "temporary" is any reason to not make it as beautiful as possible while you're there. Same goes for giving up and not putting in the effort because the place is already drab anyway. Life is too short to live in an ugly apartment! Choose things you love and make the most of being where you are. You can even see it as a chance to take some decorating risks - after all, it's not your forever-home, so try something new!
Have specific questions from your rental? Ask in the comments and I'll answer there (or book me for a mini session and we can really get detailed!)
All photos by Maggie Morgan.