Decorating a rental apartment can be tricky business. Landlords love to scare you into keeping your space as bare as possible with rules and the menace of losing your security deposit: Don't paint the walls; don't hang nails; don't make any changes to the flooring, doors, or windows. You'd think they secretly wish you'd move in a futon and a TV and call it a day. Disclaimer: That will never happen. Sadly, rental apartments rarely have all the bells and whistles that we'd love to have in our home: built-in bookcases, beautiful floors, or elegant lighting fixtures. To top it off, when living in a space that isn't permanent, we tend to err on the side of budget-conscious—why should we splurge on a space if we're to start again in a year or two?
Contrary to popular belief, however, it is possible to love your rental and decorate it how you see fit without spending a fortune or losing your security deposit. How is it done? With just a few clever workarounds, you can make your space feel custom and comfortable without breaking any rules. Give your rental living room that custom look you love—here's how it's done.
Layer Your Lighting
Courtesy of Emily Henderson
Rentals are notoriously short on lighting fixtures, so don't be afraid of going to town on table and floor lamps. After all, you'll always be able to take them with you. Layering your lighting will make your space feel more multidimensional and give it ambiance come nighttime. One easy trick is to arrange lamps in a triangular shape around the room to create the optimal glow.
Invest in Versatile Pieces
Courtesy of Alexander Design
Some items are tricky to bring from one home to the next: sofas and rugs being the biggest culprits. Other items are so versatile, they would fit in virtually any space. When shopping for furniture for your rental, focus the larger portion of your budget on these pieces, and spend less on larger items that might not fit in your next space. That way you won't regret splurging on a premium sectional that doesn't work in your new apartment. The living room layout above by interior designer Vanessa Alexander is ideal for rental living rooms as it uses a variety of more versatile pieces as opposed to a bulkier sectional.
Hang Art With Ease
Courtesy of Homepolish
Some landlords can be funny about putting holes in the wall, but that shouldn't mean that you have to leave them bare. Adhesive hooks and picture hanging strips are great alternatives to classic nails for hanging art without leaving a mark. If you are allowed to drill holes but have a tendency to hammer in a few too many nails before getting your art placement right, try a technology like Hangsmart. It allows you to move your frame vertically and horizontally easily, and automatically levels your frames so they always look good. Better yet, you can easily take it with you when you move and reuse it in your new space.
Don't Neglect Storage
Courtesy of Tali Roth
Built-ins and large closets are a rarity in most rental apartments, but that shouldn't mean you need to let clutter accumulate everywhere in your living room. Invest in storage pieces that can hold all your stuff—from electronics to toys and books—and leave your styling to a minimum for a clean fresh look.
Consider Light-Filtering Curtains
Getting curtains to look expensive is a tricky game. Often, they need weight and lining—which can quickly get expensive. The alternative? Breezy light-filtering linen curtains like in the Jeremiah Brent–designed living room above can make your living room look insanely chic without the price tag of heavy drapery. Better yet, it doesn't block the window, so the room appears larger. Opt for a shade that matches your walls to create a seamless custom look.
Layer Expensive Rugs
Courtesy of Simo Design
The odds of a rug fitting perfectly from one living room to the next are slim, but that shouldn't deter you from investing in a rug you love and having the right size rug for your space. The solution: Buy an inexpensive jute rug to fill the space, and invest in a smaller statement rug to layer on top. You'll get the look you love with the guarantee that you'll be able to keep your investment rugs for many apartments to come.
Swap Ceiling Fixtures
If your ceiling fixture is a true eyesore (or if your room has none), consider adding a simple pendant to instantly elevate your room. It might require minor electrical work, but the impact will be well worth it. If you want to avoid calling a handyman, you can also use a plug-in pendant and let it hang in the right spot with just a well-placed hook on the ceiling.
Next up: the number one small-space hack New Yorkers swear by.