How To Make A Rental Feel Like Home

Advice on getting around those pesky rules in your lease to create a place you can truly call home.

kevin dumais tribeca apartment
Eric Piasecki

The Manhattan real estate market recently reached a new low. After six straight quarters of declining sales, the city is experiencing the longest drought it has had in three decades, according to . It seems we’ve all become renters, but that doesn’t mean we have to eschew our need to decorate—even if your home doesn’t belong to you. No matter where you live, it should always be a reflection of your personality and taste. It’s time to make it feel like your very own. “I am a firm believer in living like you own the place,” says Siweb A-List decorator Miles Redd. “Otherwise you never really feel like you are vested.” Unfortunately, with a new lease comes strict rules that vary from landlord to landlord. It’s common for most renters to feel hesitant to throw up a loud chintz wallpaper to liven up the living room. A security deposit, after all, is something you’d like to have returned to you one day.

With input from Redd, we've rounded up some practical apartment decorating tips. Below is a starter course in making your rental feel like you own it—one that involves cutting corners, pushing limits, and breaking the rules (just a wee bit).


PAINT YOUR FRONT DOOR

milan apartment
A door hand-painted in a floral motif in a Milan apartment designed by Studio Peregalli
Simon Upton

This is the pulling-off-the-bandaid portion of the story. They always tell you not to paint the walls of a rental. OK, so don’t! Instead, buy a can of paint from Farrow & Ball like I did and go to town on your front door. I used a Morocco-inspired “Babouche” yellow, and it makes me smile every time I look at it. If the day ever comes that you decide to move, you’ll only have to paint over that one spot. Believe me, it’ll totally be worth the one hour of backache.


CHANGE THE SHOWER HEAD

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The golden shower head of your dreams in an apartment Carolyn Kressley designed for herself
Patrick Cline

Water pressure isn’t something many of us can regulate. Sometimes we just have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that taking a shower in our rental will feel like sprinkles poured over a scoop of French Vanilla. What I’ve done to avoid that is by investing in a rain shower head, which, when positioned at a perfect 180-degree angle, gives the illusion of luxury. The water comes down a bit harder and more evenly over your head and shoulders. If you close your eyes, you can almost picture yourself showering in a seven-star hotel.


MAKE A GALLERY WALL

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A detail from a Miles Redd project in Beverly Hills
Trevor Tondro


Every home, regardless of whether it’s owned, shared, or rented must feature a gallery wall. Not only are they fun to plan and put together, but they allay all concerns about art. “Hanging art in a thoughtful way, goes a super long way and can hide a lot of boring off-white walls, which seems to be the predominant color of rentals,” Redd says. If you have 10 works framed, ranging from photos and prints to posters and your child's finger-paintings, the eye—yours or that of a critical house guest—won't land on just one. You’re creating a gestalt here, one that you can say is a reflection of your personality if you receive compliments, or just blame it on your significant other if you don’t.


CHANGE THE LIGHT FIXTURES

Living room with floor-to-ceiling windows and oval table
A Michael Anastassiades chandelier in a home designed by Oliver M. Furth
Joe Schmelzer

So this is major! “Changing a light fixture is not as big a deal as one would think,” Redd says. “The right light in a bathroom or bedroom can really go a long way to improving quality of life.” Lighting is so personal, and landlords typically opt for something plain and forgettable. I have actually taken into account the fixture choices of landlords during apartment showings. Southern facing views? Check. Lots of closet space? Check. A plate of glass taped to a bulb on the ceiling? Bye! The piece you choose should make you happy, and remember that it’s coming with you if you move, so spending some extra dough on it isn't foolish—it’s an investment.


HANG SOME COLORFUL CURTAINS

Brian J. McCarthy
Brian McCarthy used bubble-gum pink curtains made from Macondo Silks silk taffeta in this Park Avenue apartment.
Björn Wallander
If you’re satisfied with the dusty, off-white Venetian blinds that came with your apartment, I’m happy for you. The other 99.99% of us are not. Curtains bring the drama and the color pop you absolutely need in a living room. My suggestion would be to keep the blinds raised to their highest level so as to avoid seeing them at all, and have a professional install them. It shouldn’t cost a lot of money if you go to The Shade Store—where they take care of everything from soup to nuts—and will be very easy to remove and take with you when you decide to break the lease.


UPHOLSTER YOUR BEDROOM DOOR

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A door upholstered in royal blue velvet and nailheads from a New York apartment designed by Nathan Turner.
Mikkel Vang

You must upholster a door. Not the front door, though. No, you already painted that. “Decorating your door, as I like to call it, can go a very long way, and is somewhat easy to reverse,” Redd says. “Upholstery is not as easy as paint, but you might as well.” I would do your bedroom door, but only the inside. It’s a fun surprise that only you’re aware of and can enjoy. Leather is pricey, but there are plenty of fun faux-croc fabrics that don’t cost a lot but look expensive.


HANG FABRIC FROM THE WALLS

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Draped gingham fabric wrap a bedroom designed by Charlotte Moss.
Michael Mundy

This is the ultimate design hack. Take a look around your living room or bedroom at those many vertical feet of a blinding shade of white. A new paint job isn’t an option because you’ll have to restore the apartment to its original color when you leave, so either your wallet or your back are going to suffer greatly at some point. Same goes for wallpaper, but worse. Well, lucky for you, nail-holes are typically considered “normal wear-and-tear,” so pick a wall—I suggest the one behind your headboard—and hang a colorful, patterned fabric across it like Charlotte Moss did in the photo above.


INSTALL A NEW KITCHEN FAUCET

georgia tapert howe hancock park
Douglas Friedman

For the most part, the faucets in rentals are pretty heinous. I’ve encountered some that were so sad and grimy, I took my life into my own hands just by using it to wash them. Yuck. I have the Litze from Brizo in black and gold, which brings a contemporary (read: expensive) feel to the sink you’re stuck with. Don’t throw out the original, though, because: A) As with the lighting fixtures you replaced, you’ll need to reinstall it before leaving; and B) This is an investment faucet, so take it with you wherever you end up.


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