Personal Spaces: Ideas for Making a #Rental Your Own
Whether you plan to rent for only a little while or see yourself making your rental a long-term home, it’s worth putting in the effort to make your space work for you. Gather inspiration from these creative renters, who’ve come up with some pretty ingenious solutions to common dilemmas, from working around the no-painting rule to making room for family life in a small space.
Who lives here: Kathleen Tarrant and Christopher Harrell; their cat, Stevie; and their schnauzer-poodle-mix puppy, Jones Location: Queen Anne Hill neighborhood of Seattle
In always-gray Seattle, finding an apartment with great natural light is a real blessing, which is why Kathleen Tarrant and Christopher Harrell snapped up this sunny space on the south side of Queen Anne Hill. To maximize the light and help the space feel as open and airy as possible, they chose to keep the walls fairly bare and the window treatments minimal. A large glass-top coffee table in the living room takes up little visual space while offering ample surface for spreading out.
When combining possessions in their new space, the couple homed in on a style they could both get behind: midcentury modern pieces paired with cheerfully bright fabrics. The cohesive color palette and focused style help the space feel put-together.
Sit down early on with your partner or housemate and come up with a palette and style you’re both drawn to. Seek out common ground.
“The great advantage of our situation,” Annie McDonald-Johnston says, “is that I can keep my lofty renovating ideas intact without ever having to come to Earth long enough to consider budgetary or structural concerns. I just paint and change light fixtures and generally squeeze in every beloved and relatively portable thing that I can.”
This positive attitude has helped McDonald-Johnston take full advantage of the benefits of renting — saving money (and time and stress) while creating a richly layered, colorful space. Having a painting-friendly landlord helps a lot, since choosing your own paint colors is a wonderful way to personalize a space.
A lot can be done with a few cans of paint, so be sure to ask your landlord if you can change the wall color. Offering to repaint in the original hue before you move out can sometimes help sway reluctant landlords.
Use new (or revamped vintage) light fixtures to give your space a fresh look.
Who lives here: Bronwyn Ferguson and Dave Lavelle; 2-year-old daughter Billie; newborn Macy; and Tailer, a Labradoodle Location: Queenscliff, Sydney
“If we splurge, it’s on artwork,” Bronwyn Ferguson says. It’s a great strategy in a rental where you’re not allowed to paint: Let large-scale, colorful art take center stage instead. Now, thanks to its infusion of original art, the apartment looks and feels warm, creative and personal.
Also key to making this 1970s rental feel like a home are the small updates the couple have made over the years, including upgrading the stove, hanging fresh curtains and installing ceiling fans and floating floorboards.
Boho Chic in Hawaii Who lived here: Kelsi Vande Velden and Garrett Ahrens Location: Haiku community of Maui, Hawaii
Being forced to work under decorating constraints can lead to some really creative solutions. Case in point: this dreamy bedroom in Maui. Before Kelsi Vande Velden’s magic touch, the bedroom of the rental was cramped and featured an orange wall that was not at all to the couple’s taste.
Vande Velden hid the orange wall behind white cotton curtains and a headboard fashioned from an antique Balinese door. To solve the no-room-for-nightstands problem, she opted to hang a pair of gold hammered-glass lights from the ceiling; the windowsill acts as a stand-in surface for bedtime reading and cups of tea.
Can’t paint? Try covering an entire wall with curtains or panels of fabric to hide a color you can’t stand.
Save floor space in a compact room by hanging lighting from the ceiling.
Who lives here: Andrea Cummins Location: St. Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia
From the Champagne bottles lining the dining room wall (collected at a large family celebration) to the dining table (a converted door, made by an aunt), everything in Andrea Cummins’ home has a story behind it. The result is a warm, welcoming and highly personal space that exudes charm — and doesn’t feel at all like a typical rental.
Use memorabilia and family heirlooms to create your own decor that tells a story.
Repeat a favorite color throughout your space for a cohesive feel.
Family Living in San Francisco Who lives here: Matthew and Sandy Lynn Davis, 1-year-old son Dylan and cat Bella Location: Mission District of San Francisco
Figuring out how to cover a nonworking fireplace in the center of the living room was a decorating dilemma for Matthew and Sandy Lynn Davis. “We tried to find ways to cover the opening that wouldn’t involve covering up the great tilework, and strangely enough that painting seems to work in there,” Sandy says. Now, what could have been an eyesore is a unique focal point in this creative, eclectic space.
Planning how to best use the available space in the one-bedroom apartment is a top priority for the couple. Currently, they share a bedroom with son Dylan, but he’ll soon be making the shift to his own space. “We’re not yet sure if we’ll convert the studio-office into his bedroom or if we’ll move into that room and make the current bedroom all his,” Sandy says. “Either way, we’ll have a lot of rearranging to do.”
If you’re stuck with an eyesore in your rental, brainstorm creative ways of covering it up. Hang a painting, a mirror or curtains in front of the area, or disguise it with a cluster of potted plants.
For parents in a compact space, consider sharing with baby at first, then changing as your little one grows.
Who lives here: Jose and Danielle Herrera, 10-year-old son Elijah, 5-year-old daughter Dahlia and 2 parakeets Location: Toledo, Ohio
Artists Jose and Danielle Herrera used their creative eye to artfully curate and display a large and ever growing collection of bugs, butterflies, original artwork, vinyl decals and repurposed materials on the walls of their rental. So what if underneath are plain white walls they aren’t allowed to paint — the surface is hardly visible anymore beneath the gallery-style assemblage!
Collect small pieces of artwork, ephemera and nature specimens and hang them close together to create a gallery-style display that distracts from the paint color underneath.
Who lives here: Kristen and Michael Parker Location: Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle
Plants can clean the air, make a small space feel larger and inject personality into any room — and judging by the lush greenery in their Seattle home, Kristen and Michael Parker are well aware of the power of plants.“Friends will come over and make comments about how many plants we have,” Kristen says, “and it’s always surprising, because I forget how much it can look like a jungle in here.”
By shopping almost exclusively at thrift and antiques stores and on craigslist, the couple have managed to put together an eclectic look full of one-of-a-kind pieces on a budget. By forgoing pricey new furniture, they are able to prioritize saving for travel and business expenses.
Save on your furnishings budget by shopping for unique pieces at thrift and antiques shops.