Designers Agree—This One Upgrade Makes a Rental Living Room Look Expensive

Decorating a rental living room can be a tricky task. We get it: With the ever-looming threat of losing your security deposit, giving your space a fresh coat of paint, swapping out light fixtures, or even hanging up artwork with nails is discouraging, to say the least. Though replacing laminate wood flooring with the real thing may be out of the question, it is, however, possible to transform your standard leased living room into a space you love without sacrificing thousands of dollars in the process, contrary to popular belief.

To demonstrate how it's done, we turned to the experts. We tapped interior designer Emily Henderson of Emily Henderson Design, Homepolish designer Mandy Cheng, Nathelie Macchioni of Hyphen & Co, San Fransico-based designer Nicole Newkirk, and Leanne Ford of Leanne Ford Interiors for their go-to rental living room hack. Read on to find out how these pros make a leased living room look expensive. (Spoiler alert: There was a clear consensus on the number one upgrade renters should make.)

Emily Henderson

Rental living room light fixtures
Sara Tramp ; DESIGN: Emily Henderson Design

"My number one tip is to change out your lighting or add plug-in fixtures like sconces and pendants," divulges Henderson. "It's an instant, high-impact update with a totally customized, expensive feel," the interior designer explains—and the small rental living room pictured above can attest to. "Lighting is one of those things that feel like a hard, permanent finish (like tile or flooring) but isn't because you can swap them right back out when you move and take them with you, so I say dive in and change it out for something your love."

Isamu Noguchi Round Akari Pendant Light
Isamu Noguchi Round Akari Pendant Light $169
Schoolhouse Donna Floor Lamp
Schoolhouse Donna Floor Lamp $699

Mandy Cheng

Living room artwork ideas
Madeline Tolle ; DESIGN: Mandy Cheng

"Go big with your artwork," advises Homepolish designer Cheng. "A large, beautifully framed piece can really elevate the level of design, regardless of whether you rent or own," says the designer.

The geometric prints in the living room pictured above, designed by Cheng, exemplify the impact larger works of art can have in a space. "For rental living rooms where ceilings are typically lower, lighting is less prevalent, and the walls can feel kind of blah, I suggest going for a large statement piece of art and saving the gallery wall with smaller art pieces for an adjacent room," she explains.

So, where exactly does she advise hanging large artwork in a small space rental living room? "A typical place to hang large artwork is over the sofa," the designer says. "Try to find a framed piece that is over 1/2 the width of your sofa so it feels substantial and eye-catching." 

Jenny McGee Dougherty Comb Grid
Jenny McGee Dougherty Comb Grid $1600
Marleigh Culver #11
Marleigh Culver #11 $1030

Nathelie Macchioni

Apartment living room lighting ideas
Claire Esparros ; DESIGN: Nathelie Macchioni

"Often in a rental apartment, lighting is overlooked since there are standard fixtures already in place," Hyphen & Co designer Macchioni tells MyDomaine. "Adding and changing light fixtures adds an element of uniqueness to a rental. Swapping out a ceiling fixture with a large pendant or installing plug-in sconces by a lounge chair or above the couch are all great ways to elevate the design of any living room."

Target Cara Tripod Floor Lamp
Target Cara Tripod Floor Lamp $47
West Elm Metalized Glass Table Lamp
West Elm Metalized Glass Table Lamp $129

Nicole Newkirk

Living room sconce ideas
Flashpoint Collective ; DESIGN: Nicole Newkirk

"Light fixtures in rentals are usually old and outdated but the good thing is you don't have to spend a ton of money on lighting to make your space look chic," offers Newkirk. "Shopping on sites like Etsy and Chairish or even going to big box stores are good ways to upgrade your lights. Lighting can be an investment but when you move you can bring it with you."

Schoolhouse Simone Double Sconce
Schoolhouse Simone Double Sconce $349
One Forty Three Hardwired Wallace Lamp
One Forty Three Hardwired Wallace Lamp $185

Leanne Ford

Living room pendant light ideas
Alexandra Ribar ; DESIGN: Leanne Ford

"When it comes to rentals, it's all about changing the lighting! Its a quick, easy, simple, and reversible improvement," recommends Ford. "Replace the (usually pretty dumpy) lights in the rental with lighting you love! Make sure to keep the landlord's lights safely in the back of a closet so you can put them back before you move out," the interior designer advises—shop her new Target Project 62 lighting collection for affordable options.

West Elm Sculptural Glass Globe Pendant
West Elm Sculptural Glass Globe Pendant $149

Related Stories