8 Affordable Decorating Tips to Turn Your Rental Into a Home

Settling into a new apartment can be an emotional rollercoaster. Decorating your own space is exciting, but the moving part is anxiety-inducing. Well, ditch the fear because it's finally time to put all those hours scrolling Pinterest for dreamy rental décor inspiration and this season's must-haves to good use. Of course, when you’re working with a leased space, it can feel like there’s a lot more you can’t do—remove the bathroom tiles, upgrade the kitchen cabinets, lay fresh carpet—than what you can. We also know that working within a budget can be challenging, but don't stress—we've got you covered.

We asked interior designers for their apartment decorating tips so that your space looks less like a rental and more like your ultimate sanctuary. So before that where do I start? moment kicks in, read on to find a few nuggets of wisdom from industry experts as they get down to the nitty-gritty on how to tackle this project head-on. Think of it as your affirmative guide to apartment decorating. Repeat after me: I will turn this apartment into a home.

Apartment decorating
Marina Hanisch Interiors ; DESIGN: Marina Hanisch

I Will Create an Action Plan

Possibly the most important thing you will invest in when taking on this project is a measuring tape. According to Marina Hanisch, space planning is the number one tool when it comes to designing a small space. “Taking into account where your natural light source is, circulation of the space and the client's goals will help you find the perfect furniture orientation and make a smaller room feel larger,” she says. Map out your plan of action before you even start pursuing those flea market finds.

How to style an apartment
Fantastic Frank

I Will Optimize My Space

I Will Optimize My Space

When working with a smaller floor plan, getting imaginative with how you utilize the room is key. Designer Tina Ramchandani suggests using decorative elements, like rugs and art, to help define different zones. ”These items can actually create space that isn’t otherwise evident,” she adds. Remember Carrie Bradshaw’s studio? With a few drapes, she divided the space into a living room and a private bedroom. It just goes to show that with a few purposeful furniture positionings, dividers, or area rugs, you can create the feeling of a much vaster space. 

How to decorate an apartment
Fantastic Frank

I Will Find My Best Light

“Lighting is key to any good space,” muses Allison Petty of Hyphen & Co. “Take a look at your lights. Are they reading too cool? The most flattering light falls in the warmer temperature range; think how you look in candlelight. Take a look at the lights in your house and see what temp they are.” Then, she says to take inventory of your light fixtures and make a trip to the hardware store. “Switching out lighting is an easy fix to make that room feel a little less like a hospital waiting room and more like your favorite restaurant.” Taking ambiance even further, Petty also prompts you to consider dimmers—a real mood enhancer.

How to decorate a rental
Victoria Smith ; DESIGN: Victoria Smith

I Will Find Function in the Fashionable

Having shape-shifting pieces is a good design junkie's best-kept secret. Victoria Smith of sf girl by bay leads us to consider the possibilities before buying. “Think about furniture pieces that do double-duty—a coffee table with storage (like a vintage trunk), or one with a shelf for books and keepsakes is a good example. A sofa or trundle bed can be a great space saver. Also, think vertical with your storage—in kitchens, wall racks or pegboards are great space savers for kitchen tools. In living rooms and bedrooms, vertical bookshelves are an ideal way of storing books and treasures without taking up a lot of floor space," she explains.

How to decorate a rental
Lily Glass ; DESIGN: Victoria Smith

I Will Accessorize

Decorating your dream space doesn’t have to be all work and no play. Ella Hall, founder of Stitchroom, suggests a few key accessories. “Throw pillows are key to completing any space and the easiest way to add a personal touch to your apartment," she says. "They bring in textures and pops of color that are easily interchangeable.” This minor edit can work wonders for those of us who like to change things up each season. It's also an affordable update. “Depending on the season or your mood, just switch the covers and experience a completely transformed space,” says Hall.

Decorating your apartment
Fantastic Frank

I Will Follow (Some) Rules

We tend to get a little self-centric when decorating—after all, we're the ones who will be impacted most. However, Allison Petty suggests we follow a few of the golden rules of design when it comes to nailing it. “People tend to think that since it’s your space, your eye level should dictate the height of things," she explains. "This is terribly incorrect.” Do a little Google search for the universal standards when hanging art, shelves and light fixtures. “This is an easy way to give your space a more cohesive look,” adds Petty.

Decorating an apartment
Marina Hanisch Interiors ; DESIGN: Marina Hanisch

I Will Size it Up

It’s a common misconception that you need a lot of small furniture in a small space. Marina Hanisch tells us this is actually visually overwhelming and creates clutter. Simplify with sizes that complement the space instead. “It’s better to find a larger statement piece that defines the room and produces a maximum impact," she says.

Apartment Décor
Anna Leena

I Will Be Transparent

When picking the furniture for your apartment, it may be worth searching for a visual space-saver. Gregory Augustine, creative director of Lucas Alexander Collection, guides us towards the transparent: “A glass top dining table or coffee table can give a more open appearance, while still being functional,” he says.

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