Do you love interior decorating but live in a rental apartment or home and aren’t sure how you can decorate a rental? With the price of housing skyrocketing and less mobility happening in general (per The New York Times) many people are staying put. If you’re staying put in your rental but want to make some changes and make it feel like it’s more YOU, or you’re moving in a new (to you) rental home you may be stymied by what you can do to personalize what might be a fairly generic space. I’ve got some tips from first hand experience!

I moved into my current home – romantically dubbed Nook Cottage – eight years ago. It was meant to be fairly short-term but here I still am because it’s a good location with a sweet view and a nice landlord. And let’s face it, moving is a daunting task!

Of course, when I was looking at the house for the first time, I asked the landlord if I could re-paint the rooms (promising him that as a designer, I would do a good job and it would look nice!)  and he was kind enough to say, no problem, you’re the one living here!

“Romantic” took a little bit of imagination in this sea of beige and blue.


Linda Merrill Nook Cottage Before move-in decorate a rental


Linda Merrill Nook Cottage After move-in decorate a rental

Obviously, being able to paint made a huge difference. I didn’t want to invest in repainting every wall and I didn’t want to have to repaint back to neutral if I moved a year later. The house is basically an open floor plan with semi-vaulted ceilings which is great in a 900 sq. ft. house – it feels much bigger. I painted select walls in the main area pink and left the rest the neutral beige. There are a lot of designers who eschew the accent wall concept, but for practical reasons, they can be the right choice. There are two bedrooms. I painted the larger beige bedroom the brilliant green for my bedroom and the smaller blue was painted an off-white because I wanted my office to be brighter and neutral. I briefly though of leaving the bathroom the dark blue, but once I really got a good look at it, it was in need of a good sanding and re-painting. You will note there are no kitchen photos. The cabinets are a dark dated oak with a formica counter. Not exciting. I briefly considered asking if I could paint the cabinets which I’ve done before, but never did. And now I have a small dog who jumps against the cabinets when food is in the offing, so am very glad I didn’t paint!

#1 Tip to Decorate a Rental – The Walls

If at all possible – paint! It’s fresh and new and really makes a huge difference. If painting is not an option, and usually in a rental, it’s not, then:

  • Removable wallpaper – there are great resources available for paste-and-stick removable papers. Maybe not for the whole space, but accent walls, backsplashes etc.
  • Faux millwork – if you’ve got large walls to deal with, create the feeling of millwork by buying large frames or art canvases and cover with a pretty fabric, wallpaper or even just paint.


#2 Tip to Decorate a Rental – Carpets and Flooring

Linda Merrill Nook Cottage Office Before and After rugs decorate a rental

As you see in my images at top, the two bedrooms and living room have beige wall to wall berber. Very dull. Luckily, I had large hand knotted carpets to lay on top. This meant, however, that the bi-fold closet doors in my bedroom no longer worked, so I had them removed and stored and hung drapery on a tension rod to close the closet (not that I ever do). The carpet in the office is fine, boring and utilitarian, but fine.


#3 Tip to Decorate a Rental – Window Treatments

Linda Merrill Nook Cottage Office Before and After window treatment decorate a rental

My #3 tip to decorate a rental is about window treatments. Most of the windows in my little house had metal mini-blinds. I bought very inexpensive woven-wood looking roman shades and mounted them on top of the mini-blinds. I didn’t remove the minis, I just covered them up. You can see this in the image of the blue room with the minis, and then my home office showing the roman. In the bedroom, I had custom drapery made and installed store bought sheers. So the minis are still there and I do use those at night, but with the two layers over them, you never see them during the day. You can’t see it, but in the dining are photo, the drapery is the side panels on a bay window. When I moved in, there were ugly vertical blinds on the bay. My initial plan was to hang the drapery over them obscuring the hanging verticals behind the drapes. This is why I hung the rod on the molding versus above. Then, when I was fussing with them, it turned out the end cap of the verticals was missing or broken and they suddenly slid off the ends. Oops! So that solved that problem!


#4 Tip to Decorate a Rental – Lighting

Linda Merrill Nook Cottage Lghting decorate a rental

Lighting is obviously an important element in design. But there can be limits in a rental property. In the case of Nook Cottage, there are few recessed lights and none over the dining area. I had a pair of crystal sconces that were meant to be hardwired that I wanted to hang but obviously didn’t want to hire an electrician. So, I had them converted to plug-in which an inexpensive change. (Full disclosure – the cord is photoshopped out for these portfolio images. But they are there every day running down the wall behind the art.) The living room is tiny, there is a ceiling fan with a light (objectively awful) and a couple of recessed on the side. There is only room for 1 side table and no space for floor lamps. The wall sconce over the sofa is one of three in the room that I had hung and they are plug-ins (yes, cords photoshopped out!). I also added two of these same wall sconces in my office – they were on sale at the time! In reality, I never notice the cords anymore. So, there are creative and attractive ways to add lighting if what’s there isn’t sufficient. A single overhead light in the center of the room is the worst, never use them if you can avoid it!


#5 Tip to Decorate a Rental – Swap out Hardware

Linda Merrill Nook Cottage hardware decorate a rental

Ok, so here’s a little glimpse of my kitchen cabinets. I swapped out the dated hardware on the left for the simple black pulls on the right. Given the look of the cabinets, there was no point in putting on anything fancier, like lipstick on a pig, as it were. The original pulls are in a baggie in the back of a drawer somewhere.


So, there’s a few tips for you to consider when you decorate a rental condo, apartment, townhouse or house. And really, all these tips are perfect whether you rent or own!

Pin for future reference. Linda Merrill Nook Cottage 5 tips to decorate a rental




br>xoxo Linda