10 Tips for Decorating a Rental


It can be hard to reconcile your Pinterest-perfect dream house with your reality--especially when you live in a rental plagued with cheap blinds, outdated light fixtures, plain white walls, and (my least favorite) ugly tan carpet. But never fear, renters, there are some things you can do to add some style to your rental and make it feel more like home (without losing your damage deposit!). Here are my favorite tips & tricks for decorating a rental. What are yours?

1. Be patient and resist the urge to buy too many cheap furnishings. I know the temptation is great when your place is empty and your budget is small. But don't just go out and fill it with Ikea or Target, unless you want it to look like a dorm room! It's totally fine to get some things from Ikea--but mix them with pieces from other stores. Your house will look so much more homey and collected, I promise. If your budget is small, don't despair--thrift stores, Craigslist, and flea markets have an abundance of well-made pieces for a bargain (check out more of my budget decorating tips here). And be patient. You don't have to furnish the entire house in one shopping trip. It's worth waiting to get pieces you will love for years to come.

Good mix of furniture

2. Change out the lighting. Don't just deal with the boring, outdated lighting fixtures that come with most rentals. Lights are so easy to change, and they make a big difference (check out Kichler lighting, it’s a great place to start)! Plus, they're something you can take with you when you leave. Just store the original lights somewhere and put them back when you move out.

Tip for decorating a rental #2: Change out lighting

3. Hang things on the walls. Don't be afraid to make a few holes--that's what spackle is for! Honestly, nothing is more depressing than blank walls. Artwork, photos, and decorative touches are the soul of a house.

Tips for decorating rentals #3: hang things on the walls!

4. If you can't paint the walls, paint some furniture! Not being able to paint is one of the biggest things renters complain about. But your landlord can't stop you from painting your own furniture--and a coat of paint can really breathe new life into your thrift store finds, anyways. Having some big painted pieces (like a hutch, a desk, or an armoire) goes a long ways toward cheering up a blah apartment.

Decorating a rental tip #4: if you can't paint the walls, paint some furniture!

5. Removable wallpaper. If white walls really bum you out, try the new trend of removable/temporary wallpaper. There are quite a few companies that sell it, in lots of stylish patterns that will add instant style to your walls! They're easy to install (just peel & stick) and just as easy to remove when you move out.

Tip for decorating a rental: removable wallpaper!

6. Don't wait til you're settled somewhere "permanent" to buy furniture you love. I know a lot of people who have put off investing in nice furniture because they're waiting til they buy a house. They get by with stuff they hate because they're worried whatever they buy won't work in their someday house. But unless you're literally on the brink of buying a house, I think that's silly! Sure, you might not want to get a giant sectional or custom bookshelves that are very specific to the apartment you're renting. But invest in a nice, quality sofa that you love, maybe a bed frame, and a good dining table. Chances are, if you love them now, you'll find a place for them in your future house. Or you could always sell them! But really, just because a place is temporary is no reason why you should live with furniture that you dislike.

Tip for decorating a rental #6: Don't wait to invest in furniture you love

7. Use rugs to add color and cover ugly carpet. Wall-to-wall carpet is my biggest pet peeve in rentals. Of course, if you can find a place with gorgeous hardwood floors, get it!!! But if you can't, spruce up all that beige blah-ness with a colorful and stylish rug. I know, you might be thinking that a rug over carpet is a design no-no, but you can make a rug look stylish and purposeful over carpet--as long as the carpet is neutral and low-pile (which most rental carpet is) and the rug is interesting and different enough.

Rug over carpet | At Home in Love

8. Similarly, use drapes to cover ugly blinds. Nearly every rental comes with some sort of beige blinds--vertical or horizontal. Not stylish!! Install drapes right over those to hide them. They don't have to be expensive either. I know I said not too much Ikea, but they have some great basic white drapes that are super inexpensive ($9.99 for a pair!)...and you can customize them by adding your own ball fringe. That's exactly what I did in my living room (except my fringe is yellow)!

Ball fringe drapes | At Home in Love

9. Store your stuff in "collections" that double as decor. If you're in a small space that's short on storage, a great trick is to group your things so they can be stored in the open and double as decor. The kitchen is the perfect place for this, with cake stands, mugs, glassware, and so many other things that are both practical and beautiful. But it also works in other rooms of the house--like a group of empty white vases displayed artfully on a table, ready to be put to use when the need arises.

Display things in collections so they serve as both storage & decor

10. Fresh flowers & plants. Fresh flowers and plants are one of the best ways to make a place feel homier--rental or not. If you live in an apartment without a backyard to connect to the outdoors, they're even more essential! Of course, dead plants are even more depressing than no plants, so try ones that are easy to keep alive--like succulents, cacti, air plants, and african violets...or buy fresh cut flowers from the farmer's market or grocery store and switch them out when they start to wilt. Trader Joe's usually has a good selection of pretty flowers at fair prices.

Keep plants in the house to cheer it up

I'm curious, how many of you are home owners and how many are renters...and if you rent, what are your biggest pet peeves? What advice do you have for fellow renters to make their place feel more like home?

If there is a topic you'd like for me to share advice on next, please let me know!

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  1. Posted by kelsey on Thursday, June 20th, 2013

    this is gorgeous and so timely! definitely going to try to apply these methods to my new apartment (moving to a townhome-style apartment in july). we have pretty, new pergo right now for floors and it simulates wood so well. we're moving to carpet, boo! but the rest of the place is super gorgeous. i need the bright rugs, for sure!
    kw ladies in navy
    Enter our giveaway!
  2. Posted by Debbie on Thursday, June 20th, 2013

    Great ideas! I told Jim if we end up living in a cardboard box, even it I would make pretty! :) For other "cheap" fabric, you can use flat sheets for a lot of yardage for covering those blinds you don't like. I love dressers as end tables or occasional tables. That gives you great storage for smaller places. beautiful photo's with great ideas!
    • Posted by Aileen on Thursday, June 20th, 2013

      Cute! I'm sure you would make a cardboard box look good. Love the tip about flat sheets as yardage.
  3. Posted by Jenn V. on Thursday, June 20th, 2013

    Great post Aileen, I love it! I feel like you are talking to me, especially about the beige carpet, the mini-blinds and the nasty furniture!! Yuck. For so long we have been keeping our college furniture because we are being cheap. But we hate what it looks like. (At least lazy boys are comfy...Matt wont get rid of them) The last year or so I've been trying hard to make my house a little more homey, we hopefully will move soon, but maybe not! So why live in an ugly space? We spend so much time at home, after all. :)
    • Posted by Aileen on Thursday, June 20th, 2013

      I totally agree! The state of your house can really affect your mood (for me, anyways!). Being surrounded by things I love makes me feel happy--especially ones with good memories associated with them. I love what you've been doing with your baby room; can't wait to see it in person :)
  4. Posted by Renae on Thursday, June 20th, 2013

    I just love that rug! Wish I could find one like that! And I agree its not worth it to keep things "bleh" just because you're renting. Not sure where we will be next but I will be trying to make it more us than our previous rentals if we rent again. Also why is it that on Pinterest and magazines, spaces with white walls look so amazing but in rentals they always seem super depressing?? I couldn't wait to paint when we bought our house but obviously, white walls can look awesome...
    • Posted by Aileen on Thursday, June 20th, 2013

      I actually love white walls! But if they start to get dirty and smudged, or if there isn't any artwork on them, they can definitely be super depressing.
  5. Posted by Courtney on Thursday, June 20th, 2013

    LOVE these tips!! Thank you so much! We are just about to move into a different rental and I really want to feel more settled than I have in our last two places. These are perfect to get my mind thinking!

    xo, Courtney
  6. Posted by sarah cotton on Thursday, June 20th, 2013

    Fun read! We are renting a home with very dated fixtures in the bathroom and kitchen. We plan to do a peel and stick tile to cover the kitchen floor, but the bathroom appliances are golden yellow. It's tough to make that cute. I appreciate your insight and tips.
    I always love advice on how to make a room that is open cohesive - for example in our home you walk in and see the living room, dining room & small sunroom. I want to make it all coordinate, but it's difficult to know how much pattern to put together so it flows smoothly yet is not boring to look at.
    • Posted by Aileen on Thursday, June 20th, 2013

      Thank you; I'm glad you liked the post! Open floor plans are very "in" right now, and I really like how they make it easy to socialize. But they can definitely be a decorating challenge. I'll work on a post about that! Thanks for the suggestion.
  7. Posted by Eleni | My Paradissi on Friday, June 21st, 2013

    Great ideas Aileen! Your tips are perfect even for those who own their house =)
    I always use plants and pay extra attention to the lighting to create a cozy feeling in my place.
  8. Posted by Lisa on Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

    Love this post Aileen! We've been living in our new rental apartment for a couple of months now and I just really started hanging things on the walls and it makes it feel so much more like home! Awesome! Thanks for sharing!
  9. Posted by Audrey - This Little Street on Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

    Love all of these tips, Aileen! Going to come in handy when we move to our new rental in August :) xx
  10. Posted by Pamela on Sunday, July 7th, 2013

    Thanks for posting your ideas~seems like renters are mostly forgotten about on design blogs & Pinterest. My husband and I are rare birds~we've NEVER "owned" a home, but have raised 5 kids in 30 years of rentals! My favorite tips:
    I have stapled wallpaper on a wall or two of a rental-you really cannot see the staples, esp. on a patterned paper & it's easy to remove! I have also removed the doors on a couple of upper kitchen cabinets to mimick open shelving-
    you can display dishes & other fun kitchen pieces without adding furniture. Your idea of changing out light fixtures is a fav of mine too! We were gifted a fabulous dining room pendant & paid an electrician $25 to install it-such a huge improvement!
    • Posted by Aileen on Sunday, July 7th, 2013

      Ooh, I love the idea of removing doors on kitchen cabinets to get the look of open shelving! I may need to try that one.
  11. Posted by Kandace on Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

    Hi Aileen!
    Your tips are great! Most of them I have figured out myself being a fourth year college student who has moved into two rentals already. I really appreciated however your comment about not just buying a bunch of generic things from Ikea or Target to fill space; I feel like a lot of people do this out of habit. The best thing I learned to do was to work with what I had. That’s another reason why I also liked your idea to paint a piece of furniture you already own. My dresser was a hideous piece of family heirloom furniture I dragged out from my parent’s storage two years ago, but after a coat of a cheerful yellow and installing hand-picked mismatched porcelain knobs, it not only looked brand new but also customized! Doing things like this is what makes a space look “cozy” as opposed to “cold” or “busy”; not to mention, it is a neat way of displaying parts of your personality to anyone who may come to visit. One of the other things I also did in my apartment that got a lot a great feedback (and was really cheap too!) was making customized frames onto which I stapled fabric for wall décor. Now THIS is what you go to Ikea for (and also for $9.99 curtains!); I bought all of my fabrics there for this project, mostly because they have bold patterns and colors that are large enough to not look too busy from across a room and also because they are fairly cheap and most are printed on durable canvas material that works well for stretching and stapling onto wooden frames. As for the frames, I just bought some wood at Lowes that were pieces already cut into 1” by 2” strips, cut them to size and nailed them into the shapes I desired. What really looks good is doing frames in series of three; I did this as décor to hang over my couch. I also made a large rectangular piece to hang over my bed in place of a head board. Honestly, as many DIY tutorials will tell you, there are LOTS of things you can do with a space, rental or not, that is both cost efficient and still very tasteful! My main advice is to just let your décor speak for itself and to only have very select pieces of furniture in a space that are functional but can also double as conversation pieces. But most importantly, just have fun with it! So that’s my decorating tips when it comes to apartments. Thanks again for the advice! :D
    • Posted by Aileen on Friday, July 19th, 2013

      Thank you Kandace!! Love your advice as well. Your dresser sounds like something I would love (before and afters always make me excited), and those frames sound great too!
  12. Posted by Mollz on Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

    What a treat! Thank you for these fantastic tips and photos; my hope is restored for my next living situation: a duplex basement.
  13. Posted by Lori on Sunday, January 12th, 2014

    I LOVE that rug in your #7 picture under the kitchen table. Where can buy it?
  14. Posted by Jasmine on Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

    We have been renting for a few years now, so I have bought a lot of wall decals :) That way I can change the look or theme of a room, without leaving any holes or having to repaint :) I use http://buywalldecals.com usually, lots of different styles on there :)
  15. Posted by Brittany on Thursday, January 30th, 2014

    I loved this post-- very fitting for my current situation! I moved into an old farmhouse rental about five months ago. Cute, right?


    It's straight out of the sixties/seventies inside! I'm talking Brady Bunch kitchen...orange counters. I'm talking green carpet in my bedroom. Yellow in the living room. Even one carpeted wall upstairs! (Luckily, I reside downstairs!)

    Any advice on how to use this current decor to my advantage? I've dealt with the yellow living room carpet well, I think. Otherwise, my bedroom always seems to clash and so does my kitchen.

  16. Posted by Rebecca on Thursday, February 27th, 2014

    Great advice! I am just moving into my first home with my boyfriend and we are renting. The house has been newly painted white and i love the layout, im very happy that we got a pretty good deal. The only problem is it was a hideous chocolate brown carpet and our couch set is also a darker brown leather! im struggling to figure out what colours and decor would work best in the living room. I designed two one is a pale green with a darker greek strip on the walls with red accents and a large area rug. The other was a pale turquoise and white with red accents. I like shabby chic. But this Brown is really throwing me off. Any advice?
  17. Posted by Azaria on Monday, March 17th, 2014

    Eeeeek! Green carpet in all bedrooms!! What to do?
    One is a child's room... Thought perhaps deco art some grass around the edges but the other rooms?!
    Any ideas?
    • Posted by Aileen on Monday, March 17th, 2014

      Man, that is a challenge!! I like your idea of playing it up like grass in a child's room. Working with it, rather than trying to hide it!
  18. Posted by alyson on Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

    would if you dont have a lot of things and cant get thoes things that you wish you could have
  19. Posted by Thuso on Sunday, September 7th, 2014

    Wow dis is so super great, I'm moving to a new city and the apartment is so small and I was worried how was gonna put all my things but now I'm excited I found this page, helpful tips!

    Thanks a lot
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  25. Posted by Mary holt on Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

    This is the most helpful information I've found and is exactly what I needed. just rented a home and have very little furniture and no idea where to start or how to decorate . Thank You
    • Posted by Aileen on Monday, March 16th, 2015

      So glad you found it helpful!! Best of luck as you decorate your new home...remember to have fun! :)
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  28. Posted by Alannah on Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

    These are already pretty rentals already, love to see something where ugly rentals (which are the majority) are used
  29. Posted by Rachel on Friday, August 28th, 2015

    Renting and will probably always rent because we are self proclaimed nomad drifters. Biggest pet peeves: WHY for the love of God do so many apartment complexes insist on light beige carpet. It gets FILTHY! Also why are their no knobs on my cabinets (I did find a DIY to add them without drilling holes though. WIN!). And finally, why flat paint...again filthy. Also apparently our fireplace doesn't come with doors just a metal mesh curtain...because that will definitely keep my one year old from shoving her hands in there. ON THE PLUS SIDE: If anything goes wrong I just call maintenance and I don't have to pay a cent to get it fixed. That's the biggest plus with renting for me. And then in a year if we want to move, we just move! To a different state, country, or just down the street (like what we just did :) Now if I could just figure out how to change the horrible orangish 70s wood cabinets in my kitchen -_-
  30. Posted by Rachel on Friday, August 28th, 2015

    ^^^^^^ there**** not their. -_- oops
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  32. Posted by Samantha McC on Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

    I have this ugly dark blue carpet at a rental of mine. I need edgy ways to decorate my bedroom without tearing it out. What are some ideas I could use?
    • Posted by Aileen on Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

      Hi Samantha, You could try painting your walls dark blue as well. I love the 10th picture in this post, with the dark floor and matching half-painted wall: http://www.athomeinlove.com/dark-walls/

      Also, if you hate that carpet, don't be afraid to layer a rug over it! It can actually work: http://www.athomeinlove.com/rugs-over-carpet/
  33. Posted by Karen Murray on Friday, January 29th, 2016

    My living room has fauzi waluyo wood persneling, medium blue wall to wall marketing, sky blue tanahair, peach corak sofa and a rusty sos green movement. PLEASE HELP WITH DECOR
  34. Posted by home décor on Monday, February 1st, 2016

    Absolutely amazing idea! Thank you for sharing! There are a lot of things that people have wanted in their apartment or homes but the main constraint is their low budget. I always love to read about the ideas which are budget friendly and love share it with my friends and family members to help them out. Thanks again and keep updating us.
  35. Posted by Brooke w on Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

    I just rented a three bedroom house. The landlord left her stuff all over the house and yard. The curtians are ugly and dirty. They wont let me touch anything. Its horrible. I also have to purchase my own rugs any ideas for i expensive carpets. That is of i stay here.
  36. Posted by Claire on Friday, August 19th, 2016

    Hi, I need help!! I'm moving into a new flat which is really nice except for the bright red carpet in the living room. The landlord can't change it because it will cost them too much. We have grey sofas and not sure how to make it all actually look nice. Please help!!
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    Thanks for the tips, so cool!! it's so unique and creative :)
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  39. Posted by Kaitlyn on Friday, February 3rd, 2017

    I'm a renter and my biggest pet peeve is ugly wall paper that my landlords won't let us remove! Any tips on covering up pre-existing wallpaper without ruining it after we move out?
  40. Posted by mickey on Friday, July 28th, 2017

    As a girl who just rent a house,your article is really useful for me for decorating my house, so that i could make it warm and comfortable. I am sosososo happy. your suggeation of using drapes to cover ugly goods is such a great idea. Besides i've also read a article which shows 11 perfectly pretty painted curtains. The curtains there are not cheap and look so nice ,i hope it could also help you.
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