Decorating doesn’t have to go the wayside just because you’re renting …

By Tammy Adamson-McMullen

If you’re renting an apartment or home, you may feel leery about decorating it. Maybe you’re living under a stringent rental agreement that doesn’t permit many changes to the space. Or maybe you’re worried about losing your security deposit when you leave. Or maybe this space just doesn’t feel like “home.” However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t make a decorating statement that reflects your style, tastes and personality. And making a few enhancements here and there can make your space as homey as any other.

One key to decorating a rental is to update it responsibly and with an eye toward hitting an easy “reset” down the road. The decorating tips below should pass muster, but be sure to check with your rental agency before making any changes that are more ambitious …

Paint Color

One of the best ways to add color to a space is with paint. Many rentals will allow you to paint walls as long as you repaint them at the end of the rental agreement. If you want to keep the repaint to a minimum, paint smaller areas, like the wall behind a fireplace or bed. Entryways also are good places to paint, since they help to set the tone for the rest of your space. Choose colors that work with the rest of your décor or opt for a soft neutral (which the rental agency might prefer to the original paint.)

Peel-and-Stick Wallpaper

Color—and pattern—also can be added with removable peel-and-stick wallpaper, sometimes called “temporary wallpaper” or “removable wallpaper.” This product is the perfect solution for rental living, allowing you to fully customize your space without the commitment of time, labor, materials and costs associated with traditional wallcovering. Look on the internet or check with your local paint store to browse through all of the available patterns, colorways and themes. Be sure to check out peel-and-stick murals, too, like those from WallPops. Murals are a great way to add art to your space, too.

Swap out Window Treatments

Window treatments often are worn and tired-looking in rental units. If your window treatments have seen better days and if your budget allows, replace the treatments with something that complements the space and the rest of your furnishings. Blinds are a good solution, especially in more budget-friendly materials like vinyl or composite wood, as are roller, Roman, pleated and honeycomb shades. For a layered look, top the treatments with sheers or draperies; however, don’t overdo the top treatments if your rental is small since they can make a space look more cramped.

If the window sizes are standard, new treatments won’t be too hefty in price. Otherwise, you’ll have to decide whether custom treatments are worth the expense. One way to easily and inexpensively decorate a window, regardless of its size, is to install a tension rod within the window frame and hang a sheers, rod-pocket draperies or valance on it. This type of treatment, which requires no screws or drilling, is easy to take down later. Remember to keep the original window treatments that came with the rental, so that you can re-install them when you leave.

Floor Options

One way to brighten up your rental space is to make sure the carpets, vinyl, tile and other floors are thoroughly clean. Once this done, try adding area rugs on top. You may think your space is too small for an area rug, but think again! Area rugs help to define the boundaries of a space and can set apart a small dining nook from the living room, for example.

Area rugs offer many more benefits, too. They’re ideal for providing extra color, pattern, texture and comfort underfoot and help to hide imperfections in the flooring below. And remember, they’re yours to keep when you leave. So choose rugs that are the best quality you can afford and in a style you think you can live with for the long haul.

Update the Hardware

Hardware often is pretty lackluster in rental spaces. You can rectify this by purchasing new cabinet pulls, handles, switch plates and even door knobs in the latest finishes and styles. If purchasing new hardware is beyond your budget, then ask the rental agency if you can spray-paint the existing hardware in a new finish—such as a matte black or maybe a brushed stainless. If the hardware is particularly worn or outdated, the agency might jump at your suggestion for an update.

Add Lighting

It’s difficult to achieve adequate lighting in any space, and rentals can be especially challenging. Try to add as much light as you can to make your rooms feel warm and inviting. If your overhead lighting is poor, then add floor lamps behind chairs and sofas, lamps to tabletops, pin lights to desktops, reading lamps in bedrooms, and so on. As with area rugs, lamps are something that you can take with you later, so try to buy the best you can afford.

Add Art

You may be prohibited from putting nail holes in your wall, but this doesn’t mean you can’t display your favorite painting, photographs and other art pieces. Rather than nailing up artwork, think about placing it on tabletops, shelves, countertops or mantlepieces and leaning it against the wall, or use a small easel or stand to support it. If the artwork is large enough, it can rest on the floor and be layered with other art—a look that works really well in urban spaces.