How to Decorate a Rental

Finn and I have been renters for the past 5 years, and we’ve learned a lot about rental living during that time. From Wisconsin, to Missouri, and now back in Chicago we’ve had to make many temporary places feel like home. I guess you can say we’re like gypsies…without the glitter-filled, over the top weddings.

Casey_Mike_Chicago_Home1I’m not gonna lie…it can be really hard to run a home decor & DIY blog when you’re not living in your “forever home.” I see all of these amazing projects that Bridget tackles at her house and get a bit jealous. Her marble backsplash, the gorgeous board & batten wall, her blue front door..they’re all such amazing projects that I would love to complete in my own pad, but simply can’t.

I know a lot of you guys are in my shoes too (in fact, a few of you chatted about it back when we did our survey), so I thought it was finally time to talk about the things you CAN do to make your rental feel homier and more personal to you & your style. Family-Room-002


First things first…I don’t care if your lease expires in 6 months or your landlord says you absolutely can’t put a nail hole in your wall…in our playbook there are no excuses when it comes to “waiting” to decorate. I used to always be in the mindset of “when I have a home, I’ll buy this,” or “when we move into our own place I’ll print those pictures and hang them.” Instead of living in the present and enjoying the space I’m already living in. You may not be able to put up your own board & batten right now, but there are many things you can do to spruce up your rental. You need to celebrate your home, regardless of your living situation. Your home should be a place that makes you feel happy and proud, and living in a space devoid of personality isn’t going to help you feel that way.

Picture Ledge Wall2. START WITH THE WALLS

Okay, now that you’re officially on board the decorating train the first step is to think about the walls. And at this point you’re probably thinking, “Casey, I want to get my deposit back…there’s no way I’m painting my walls.” I totally hear ya. But I also know that painting is an easy & affordable DIY project that makes a HUGE difference in a space.

Here are some options…

1. Ask your landlord for permission to paint your walls a nice neutral color (& check out this post for some color inspiration). If your landlords are smart, they’ll understand that you only want to improve their property, which make it a win-win for all parties. That’s what we did in our current pad, and our landlord gave us the green light. #rentersforthewin

2. If your landlord says the walls must be white when you move out, then you can always paint them back at the end of your lease. Which (while being a pain) is still an option. Or you can paint an accent wall in a prominent spot and then you’ll only have 1 wall to paint when you leave.

3. If #1 or #2 don’t work…leave your walls white, and spruce them up in other ways.

  • Make a Plate Wall in your Kitchen
  • Create a gallery wall of picture frames and art: Yes you will have to fill nail holes when you move out, but c’mon that won’t take you long at all. Here’s a video tutorial. Don’t let nail holes be an excuse for blank walls. Art is an easy way to bring life to a space, and it will definitely make your rental feel more like a home. We’ve also used heavy-duty 3M command strips to hang art…so that could be an option too if nail holes really scare you!
  • Hang some shelves: These will leave larger holes, but again it’s an easy fix. Here’s a video tutorial to fix holes in your wall.

Blue-Gray-Bedroom-Pillows3. INVEST IN PIECES YOU LOVE

Just because you live in a rental, doesn’t mean you have to live with furniture from your college days. In fact, furniture is going to go a long ways to help transform your look from college-dorm to grown-up glam. Many people assume that whatever they buy now, simply won’t fit in their future home, so they live with pieces they hate. Maybe you should avoid buying a 10-person dining table or uniquely shaped bookshelves, but I’m guessing it’s a-okay to buy a coffee table, a nightstand, or a dresser that you love. If you adore a piece, you’ll find room for it in your next home.

Bedroom-Dresser-LampItems Renters Can Buy:

  • Headboards
  • Accent Chairs
  • Rugs: In fact, this is a MUST on the rental to-buy list. If you have ugly stained carpet or scratched hardwood floors you can cover those suckers up with a nice area rug of your choice. Rugs are great investment pieces and make any space look that much more complete. Plus, they’re comfy on your feet and absorb some noise. Your neighbors will thank you!
  • Good Lighting: Harsh lighting isn’t going to do your home any favors. Instead get some table lamps and standing lamps to light your space. They’ll create a warm moody vibe and they’ll definitely up the coziness factor. If you really want, you can even change out some light fixtures with ones that you love. Hiring an electrician for an hour might be worth it to you, and you can bring it with you to your next pad. And if you really want to set a mood in your home, think about installing a dimmer switch.
  • Coffee tables, nightstands, dressers, etc.


Now that we’ve got the basics covered…it’s time to really add your personality to your space (our favorite part!)

Here are some great rental options…

  • Change Kitchen, Bath, & Closet Hardware: Just be sure to keep the bag of old hardware to trade out when it’s time to move.
  • Ditch the Rental Blinds: Pull vertical blinds to the side and horizontal ones all the way up, and instead go for curtains or drapes. If you aren’t allowed to install them, use this rental curtain trick.Succulent Garden
  • Buy some plants or succulents (or make our faux succulent planter!)
  • Add color with pillows & throws
  • Style a bookshelf with your favorite reads, photos, and souvenirs from your travels
  • Add a bar cart
  • Invest in quality bedding
  • Keep your Kitchen Organized (try this & this!)

Casey-bed5. LOVE YOUR HOME

Whether you’re a lifetime renter, or you just put a down payment on your slice of suburbia, we think it’s important to show your home some love. Home is a place to gather and make memories and in the end that’s the most important tip I can give you. Fill your home with special people, and it will automatically become a special place to be.renter decoratingcasey_sig

P.S. Moving out soon? Here are 9 tips to get your rental deposit back

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Leave a Comment

  • Diana

    Congratulations on starting the home search! I feel a lot of this can apply to me, even though we’ve been homeowners for years. In the beginning it was often “we’ll wait for our next house to do that” but after 9 years here with no plans to move anytime soon…no time like the present!

    • DIY Playbook

      Thanks so’s exciting, but seriously overwhelming!

      You’re time like the present! Happy decorating!


  • Telework Recruiting

    You have a beautiful home. We lost our home several years ago and were “forced” into an apartment. I pouted about it for over a year, feeling frustrated because I couldn’t felt like it was impossible to make it a home. Years later, we chose not to live in a house. I love my apartment because I’ve made it personalized. It is home.

    • DIY Playbook

      So sorry to hear about the loss of your home, but happy to hear that you made the most out of the circumstances! That’s amazing that you made your apartment feel like home sweet home.

  • Nikki Simmerson

    Yet another reason I love your blog: one of you can discuss the pros and cons of home ownership, while one of you can reach the demographic of people who rent. I’ve done both and can attest that each comes with it’s own set of perks and drawbacks. Thanks for showing us both worlds!

    • DIY Playbook

      You are too sweet Nikki! I guess we never really looked at it that way…it is nice to be able to chat about home decor & DIY from both a renter’s perspective and a homeowner’s!

  • Megan

    Hi there! Great article! What kind of wall shelving using your living room? Name/brand?

  • Jill

    Just found this article on Pinterest and I LOVE it! I’m moving into a new apartment and two weeks and I’m hoping to do a similar color scheme with my bedroom. What color is the paint you used on your walls? It really makes the other light color pop!

    Thanks again for the inspiration!

  • DIY Playbook

    We’re so happy you found us! Have fun decorating your small apartment!

    B & C

  • scarlette6

    Those plates on the wall are such an over-rated, over-used, and not attractive decorating idea.

  • Jannifer Lassiter

    Love all your ideas and suggestions!

    • DIY Playbook

      Thanks so much Jannifer!

  • Plush and Sundry

    Great post! And an inspiration for renters out there to change their mindset and know that more can be done to make their rental feel more homely and inviting. After all, what’s better than a home that says YOU…We love your mindset! @

    • DIY Playbook

      Thanks so much! Couldn’t agree more :)

  • Marisol

    Could you please share where you purchased the dresser? Thanks!

    • DIY Playbook

      The white dresser? It’s from Value City Furniture a few years back. If you’re local to the Chicagoland area, I’m actually currently selling it.

      Email if you’re local and interested.


    • Chrystal Reigle

      Value City…. My first job! … the good old days!