If you own your home, you can knock down walls, paint with bright colors, and make as many modifications as you want. Not so if you’re renting. Many landlords specify how much their tenants can upgrade and decorate—conditions you can usually find in your lease. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative.
There are many ways to personalize your space without leaving a mark. But before you make any changes to your rental, carefully read your lease. It may include requirements or limitations for painting walls, hanging art, and changing appliances or fixtures.
If your lease doesn’t include these details, have a conversation with your landlord about your plans, especially if any of the things you want to do might need to be reversed at the end of your lease. Major changes and damage often require your landlord to spend some time, effort, and money to return your unit to its original state before it can be rented again, and that cost could come out of your security deposit.
Here are five low-risk ways to decorate your rental.
1. Use area rugs
Rugs are an easy way to cover ugly flooring, add color and texture to a room, and section off parts of a larger space. Try rugs under your sofa, bed, and dining area, and play around with layering different sizes, shapes, colors, and textures. Or offset one rug diagonally on top of another. Erica Leigh Reiner, owner of E. Leigh Designs in Los Angeles, says contrasting rugs can even look great on top of carpet.
“Area rugs have a way of setting the scene and grounding each space,” she says. “They make your furniture and decor look more coordinated and put together.”
Rugs serve another purpose: they help prevent furniture from scratching wood floors or spills from damaging carpet. You can take rugs with you from rental to rental, and options are available in every price range.
2. Put up temporary wall decorations
If your landlord says no nail holes—or if you don’t want to spackle and paint over them when you move out—try temporary wallpaper, decals, and other ways to hang your artwork. Removable wallpaper is usually self-adhesive, adds patterns and color to your space, and is available from a number of specialty designers, as well as Etsy and Target. Use washi tape and DIY wall decals to create your own murals and patterns. Try displaying your art and prints on easels. Prop mirrors against walls.
“Lean your artwork against the wall without spending too much time hanging it precisely and patching it up afterwards,” says Cassie Crooke, studio manager at Rumor Designs in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. “This method allows you to layer various sized pieces on any dresser, console, or mantle.”
If you prefer to hang your art, try adhesive hanging strips, which come in a variety of sizes and shapes to accommodate different frame weights and are easy to remove.
3. Choose multipurpose furniture
With functional furniture, you don’t have to hang or build out shelves, stuff your belongings into limited closet space, or live with a lot of clutter. Use a large freestanding bookcase to display your personal items and divide a room into separate areas, for example.
If storage space is hard to come by, find furniture that can be used in multiple ways. Anitra Terrell, a designer with Reflektion Design in South Pasadena, California, notes that multipurpose pieces also eliminate the need to buy a lot of separate items. Instead, choose coffee tables with storage underneath, book shelves that also serve as desk space, or ottomans with storage, she says.
4. Add color
If your landlord doesn’t allow you to paint walls, you can still add color in inexpensive, non-harmful ways. Aside from art and area rugs, throw pillows, curtains, and bedding are good accessories to break up otherwise neutral spaces.
Reiner recommends choosing one or two colors you love—more than two can look chaotic. “The colors don’t need to be bright,” she says. “Repeating them across at least three places within your accessories and decor will create a unified look even if they are soft or neutral colors.”
Accessories are portable and interchangeable, so you can change them more easily than a large piece of furniture and take them with you when you leave.
5. Adopt a plant
Plants are the simplest way to bring life into your rental—literally. There are plenty of easy-to-care-for options for those who lack a green thumb, and some indoor plants even work to purify and remove toxins from the air. If you are new to caring for plants, start with some that aren’t as picky about their light or watering schedule, like snake plants, succulents, and cacti. Reiner recommends repotting in color-coordinated containers that have trays to catch water runoff.
If your unit has a patio, balcony, or outdoor space, try container gardening.
Renting doesn’t mean sacrificing design, functionality, or comfort. Try these simple, rental-friendly upgrades to bring your own aesthetic into your home.