10 Ways to Make Your Rental Feel Less like a Rental

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WORDS BY Gillian Grefe

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Published on December 1, 2020

Almost 37% of Americans rent. That’s a lot of security deposits on the line. 

But regardless of what your lease says, there’s no reason you can’t make a personal mark on your rental. And the good news? Small changes in a space can make a big impact, and they don’t have to cost a fortune or risk damage. 

Here, Havenly designer Heather Goerzen presents landlord-approved options that can transform that unsettled, “I’m just renting” feeling into all the “There’s no place like home” feels:


Speaking of landlords, if yours is up for it, launch your rental makeover with a fresh coat of paint. 

“Nothing will breathe new life into a space more than a refresh of the canvas itself,” Heather says. 

Whether you go with a crisp and clean neutral or embrace some bolder color choices, paint your entire space or an accent wall as a way to stake your claim.

Light It Up

Lighting is another dramatic way to immediately add ambiance to a space without risking your security deposit. 

“Table lamps, floor lamps and task lighting are great, non-invasive decor elements that evoke style and visual interest,” says Heather, adding that plug-in sconces are another option for adding warmth and an artful touch to a wall area.

Use them to flank a bed or accent a living room scene. A cord cover provides a cleaner look or you can keep the cord exposed for a more industrial style. 

If your landlord permits it, change out a ceiling light to customize your space. A statement chandelier or a modern pendant instantly refreshes dated track lighting. 

“Just be sure to save the original fixture for when you’re moving out!”

Unroll a Rug

Layer rugs for added coziness in your rental home. 

“Our only rule: Make sure your rug fits your space — meaning at least the front two legs of all your furniture can easily rest upon it, if not all the furniture,” Heather says. 

If your rug from your previous space doesn’t fit, consider investing in a new option. There are tons of cost-effective rugs on the market that deliver serious style without the high price tag.

art of layering

Hang Curtains

Floor-to-ceiling curtains add texture and drama to a room. 

“They make a space feel finished, and can sometimes have the effect of making a room appear larger – acting as an extension of the window,” says Heather.

Her pro tip: hang curtains high (at least 4-8 inches above the top of the window) and wide (extending the rods beyond the edge of the frame) to maximize natural light and create the illusion that your windows are even larger.

Customize with Art

Nothing makes a space feel more you than artwork. 

“It cues to your style, your interests and your unique sensibilities,” Heather says. 

And there’s this bonus: Many landlords are amenable to putting nails in the wall, as long as you patch nail holes and paint over them when you leave. “This falls into the ‘worth it’ bucket,” Heather says.

Art ideas to get you started: 

  • Dramatically makeover a blank wall with a large statement canvas.
  • Hang a gallery wall of photos.
  • Display an eclectic collection of pieces picked up on travels and over time. 

If you have a nail ban on your place, hang smaller, lighter pieces with durable Command Picture Hanging Strips. 

“Just be prepared to use a lot,” says Heather. “And we wouldn’t recommend hanging any precious frames.”

Consider Removable Wallpaper

Don’t be intimidated by the idea of peel-and-stick wallpaper. “It’s very doable and goes a long way to completely transform and tailor a space to your tastes,” Heather says.

Whatever your style, from whimsical florals to moody drama, there is a wallpaper available that delivers a high-definition look at a budget-friendly price. 

It’s a fairly easy install for more adventurous DIYers, but it’s still cost-effective to hire a professional to get such a statement, non-permanent update.

Spruce Up Your Rental Balcony

Personalizing your balcony, patio or porch is a great way to extend your living space. Some thought starters:

  • Design your own outdoor sanctuary by creating a container garden. 
  • Build or purchase a bench, add a side table, string up some lights and relax with a glass of wine in your new retreat. 
  • Borrow inspiration from a city famous for its sidewalk cafes. A bistro table will instantly give your balcony a luxurious Parisian vibe, and its small footprint is perfect for smaller balconies. 

Find more balcony inspo here.

Style the Bathroom

Rental bathrooms deserve love, too. A few easy upgrades

  • Skip a bath mat in favor of a more traditional rug.
  • Use decorative bowls and mugs to hold your makeup, cotton balls and Q-tips.
  • Hang a small gallery wall (or at least one or two pieces of art).

Swap Hardware

You can’t pull up dated flooring in your kitchen or bathroom, but you can switch out hardware past its prime. 

Upgrade cabinets, drawers and even towel racks with contemporary hardware of your choosing. 

Just remember to keep the originals organized and in a safe place so you can switch everything back before you move.

Finally, Edit

When renting over the course of many years and multiple addresses, it’s easy to keep accumulating pieces and moving them into your latest space. 

“While we’re all for starting with what you have and creating a sense of history over time, there are instances when old furniture or decor simply does not fit well within a new home,” Heather says.

Trying to force it will throw off the whole vibe and make your space feel cluttered and awkward. Store items that aren’t working for a time when they might work again, Heather says. And if you don’t have storage room to spare, consider parting ways. 

“You can often sell these pieces for a little extra cash to go back into your new space.”

Ready to own your unique style with help from a Havenly designer? Start here: our design style quiz.

Words by Staci Sturrock