Blah — that’s probably the nicest thing that can be said about a lot of rental housing.
Apartments, dorm rooms and other rented spaces often share the same bland decor — builder beige walls, utilitarian cabinets and flooring that’s uninspired or just plain ugly. Yet rental contracts or residence hall rules may prohibit permanent changes such as painting or putting holes in plaster or drywall.
That doesn’t mean you have to live in a boring box, though.
We’ve gathered some damage-free decorating ideas to perk up the place where you live. They might not turn your digs into your dream home, but they’ll make your rental a more pleasant place.
THINK LIKE A HOMEOWNER
Renters can be reluctant to invest much money or effort into decorating temporary quarters, but David Bromstad thinks that’s a mistake. If you don’t personalize and beautify your space, “it’s always going to feel like it’s not your home,” said Bromstad, an artist and interior designer who rose to fame as the winner of HGTV’s first “Design Star” competition and is now a familiar face on the network.
Think beyond posters and invest in some homelike decorative elements, such as wall sculptures, sconces or framed artwork. Beautiful bedding and window treatments add panache, and some luxurious towels and a handsome shower curtain can do wonders to distract attention from ugly tile or tired bathroom fixtures.
Consider changing unattractive lighting fixtures and cabinet hardware, he suggested. Save the old ones so you can re-install them and take yours with you when you leave.
HANG THINGS SAFELY
Thank goodness for adhesive technology. Now you can stick all kinds of things to a wall without risking damage to the wall surface — or to your head from falling objects.
3M has an extensive line of hooks, picture hangers and other hanging hardware using its Command adhesive. They can support a surprising amount of weight — up to 16 pounds, depending on the product — but they’re removable without damage or residue, provided you follow the instructions.
You can even get hooks in decorative metallics that add beauty as well as function. Support both ends of a curtain rod or dowel with metallic hooks, and you can hang curtains without putting a single hole in the wall.
Just because your walls are boring doesn’t mean your room has to be.
“You don’t need color on the walls to have color in your space,” Bromstad said. He prefers to bring color into a room with changeable elements such as accent pillows, art and accessories.
In fact, he said that in his most recent decorating projects, he’s painted the walls in light neutrals and brought in color with other features.
Don’t be afraid to paint furniture, he said. An old chest painted lime green or fuchsia suddenly becomes a statement piece that enlivens an entire room.
Stretched canvas prints are an inexpensive way to add color and character to plain walls, said Gillian Andrew, an interior designer with Garth Andrew Co. in Bath Township, Ohio. Often they’re available in groups of three or four prints, which take up a large space. They’re lightweight, because they have no frames or glass, so they can be hung easily with damage-free hangers.
Wall murals are another option for large-scale artwork, she said. Many are backed with a low-tack adhesive, making it easy to put them up, take them down and reuse them.
You can find murals in an almost unlimited array of motifs, from comic-book characters to city skylines. Like Bromstad’s style? Online retailer Murals Your Way sells a line of murals featuring his designs.
Or you can have a mural custom made in a specific size and design, perhaps using your own favorite photo or a picture purchased from a stock image company such as Shutterstock, Andrew said.
Murals can even be cut to size and adhered to flat, plastic-laminate kitchen cabinet doors, “which would be amazing,” Bromstad said.
Like wall murals, wall decals have a repositionable adhesive that allows them to be removed easily and reused repeatedly. As long as you’re careful to put them on a clean wall, they can be reused almost indefinitely, said Paula Berberian, creative director for decal brand WallPops. In fact, Berberian said she’s been to trade shows where decals are removed and replaced maybe 60 times a day.
The decals add large-scale graphics and personality to walls and other surfaces without a long-term investment. Some have gems, flocking or mirror embellishments for a little extra bling, Berberian said. And she noted that more youthful motifs make cost-effective decorations for children’s rooms, because they can be swapped out as a child’s interests change without having to redecorate.
PAPER THE WALLS
You probably wouldn’t think of wallpaper as a temporary decorating solution, but it can be. Berberian said improvements in wallcovering materials have resulted in papers that are easy to strip, as long they’re installed on walls that have been properly prepared.
WallPops’ parent company, Brewster Home Fashions, makes a number of wallcoverings with a nonwoven substrate, some of them prepasted and others requiring wallpaper paste.
Other wallpapers use a low-tack adhesive. Karen Starr of Akron’s Hazel Tree Interiors, who described herself as “a wallpaper lover through and through,” is partial to the removable wallpaper tiles from Hygge & West. They could be mounted on a wall behind a bed in place of a headboard or used as artwork, surrounded by a simple frame, she suggested.
ADD ARCHITECTURAL INTEREST
Maybe your rental lacks built-ins, paneled doors and similar architectural elements that give a space character. With a little ingenuity, you can add a little of that character yourself.
Flank a doorway with tall, freestanding bookcases, perhaps, or position a bookcase in front of a window — maybe with a cushion on top to create a window seat. Add an electric fireplace, which requires no venting or installation but is more like a piece of furniture that plugs in. Shop flea markets and antique stores for vintage furniture pieces or accents that add a timeworn touch.
Doors can be dressed up, too. Starr once created stained-glass inserts for each pane of the window in a client’s front door, and then mounted them using silicon in a color that matched the wood of the door. The inserts could be removed easily and then reused as wall hangings.
Or try this idea from the folks at 3M: Add interest to a plain painted door with moldings created from stretcher bars, which are wood frames you can buy from a craft store that are usually used to make painters’ canvases. Configure the bars into rectangles, paint them to match the door and adhere them with Command picture hanging strips. (To see photos of this idea, go to http://tinyurl.com/doormolding, and then click through the pages until you find “Custom Closet Doors.”)
PERK UP THE FLOORS
Your floor is one of biggest surfaces in your room, so Bromstad said it’s a logical place to add color and texture.
He prefers an area rug that’s big enough to extend under all the furniture. It’s OK to put a rug on top of carpeting to break up “the wall-to-wall monotony,” he said. Just use a rug pad that’s designed for that purpose, so the rug won’t wrinkle.
On hard-surface floors, carpet tiles can be installed to add softness and color, Andrew said.
Carpet tiles such as Flor install easily and adhere only to one another, not the floor. You can install them wall to wall or create an area rug from them.
And when you leave, you can take them with you.
Because your next place will need some decorating, too.