How to Decorate a Rental

Finn and I spent five years as renters, traveling from Wisconsin to Missouri, and finally home to Chicago, all throughout our twenties. And during that time, we learned a lot about how to make temporary places feel like home. While I couldn’t tear down walls or completely renovate a bathroom, there were still plenty of projects I could do to make our mark on our apartments and make them feel a bit more like us.

My Best Tips to Decorate a RentalOur main bedroom makeover reveal

I know many of you are renters, so I thought it was time to talk about the things you CAN do to make your rental feel homier and more personal to you and your style. Here are my best tips to decorate a rental…

No ExcusesHanging shelves in a bathroom

First things first…I don’t care if your lease expires in six months or your landlord says you absolutely can’t put a nail hole in your wall! 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.” I finally changed my mindset and decided to enjoy the space I was already living in. My new motto is “Don’t wait!”Checking in our home goals for 2021

You may not be able to install a wood wall treatment, 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.

Start with the Walls

Using a paint roller to paint the room

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 and affordable DIY project that makes a HUGE difference in a space.

Here are some options…

Start to decorate your rental with a fresh coat of paint.

1. Ask your landlord for permission to paint your walls a nice neutral color. (Check out this post for some color inspiration and this one has my favorite warm white paint colors). If your landlords are smart, they’ll understand that you only want to improve their property, which makes it a win-win for all parties. That’s what we did in our past rental, and our landlord gave us the green light. And before you paint, check out this blog post with rookie painting mistakes that you’ll want to avoid.

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 one wall to paint when you leave.

3. If those first two options don’t work, then leave your walls white, and spruce them up in other ways.

  • Install some removable wallpaper: I’ve used peel and stick wallpaper in the past and it was a fun DIY project. (You can read the tutorial here.) While I’ve personally never removed peel and stick wallpaper, I put a call out on Instagram and a majority of my followers said it was easy to take off!
  • Display a large leaning mirror on a wall in your entryway  – this one is gorgeous! Just be sure to secure it to the wall so it doesn’t topple over. Decorate your rental with a symmetrical gallery wall

Photo via New Darlings

Invest in Pieces you LoveMy best tips for buying a rug

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 way 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 headboard, or a rug that you love. If you adore a piece, you’ll find room for it in your next home.

Items Renters Can BuyOpen living room space in the city

  • 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! Here’s a guide to finding the perfect rug. Tips to decorate a rental, invest in lighting
  • Good Lighting: Harsh lighting isn’t going to do your home any favors.  (This post outlines my rules for layering lighting.) Instead, get some table lamps and floor lamps to light your space. They’ll create a warm, moody vibe and they’ll definitely up the coziness factor, especially if you choose the right light bulb. Plus, you won’t have to rely on any harsh fluorescent lighting in your rental.
  • Plug-In Sconces: You can make your lighting look more custom with plug-in sconces! These can easily be removed; you can patch the holes and then take them to your next place. This post outlines how to install them and hide the cord.
  • Mattress and nightstands: It is likely that you will be able to move these with you to your next place. Invest in a nice mattress and your back will thank you!
  • Small Ottomans: If you need more storage and space (who doesn’t?!) then a cute, little ottoman is the way to go. You can store things inside, use it to prop your feet up, or for additional storage.

Tweak the Small ThingsFiguring out kitchen hardware placement

Now that we’ve got the basics covered, it’s time to really add your personality to your space.

  • Change kitchen, bath, and closet hardware: Just be sure to keep the bag of old hardware to trade out when it’s time to move. This post goes into detail about choosing the best kitchen hardware.
  • Ditch the rental blinds: Pull vertical blinds to the side and horizontal ones all the way up, and instead go for curtains or drapes. Or even DIY your own faux Roman shades. (These are 100% renter friendly!)  Water your indoor plants once a week
  • Buy some plants or succulents.  (This post outlines the indoor plants I have in my home.)
  • Add color with pillows and throws.
  • Style a bookshelf with your favorite reads, photos, and souvenirs from your travels. This post outlines the dos and don’ts for styling.
  • Add a bar cart and style it up with your favorite decanters and wine bottles.  My best tips to arrange pillows on a king size bed
  • Invest in quality bedding (I’ve always loved this duvet cover) and follow these tips to arrange pillows.
  • Keep your kitchen organized. (Try this setup under the kitchen sink.)

Rental Style – Shop the Look

Decorate a rental with these home decor pieces

Take it Easy Tapestry (no longer sold) // Floor Mirror // Olive Tree // Basket // Headboard // Plug-In Sconce // Upholstered Chair //  Peel & Stick Wallpaper // Wall Frames // Storage Ottoman // Rug // Floor Lamp // Striped Pillow // Pillow // Lumbar Pillow (similar) / Bar Cart // Owl Planter

Rental-Friendly DIY ProjectsHow to make a DIY canvas frame

If you’re itching to dive into some DIY projects, but you’ve held back because you’re not a homeowner, I’m here to tell you that there are plenty of projects you can tackle without owning the property. Here are some of my favorites…

Love Your Home

how to decorate a rental

Whether you’re a lifetime renter, or you just put a down payment on your slice of suburbia, I 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. So please don’t be afraid to decorate a rental. You got this!


If you’re looking for more rental content, this blog post goes into the 10 common mistakes I see when people decorate a rental. Come see if you’re making any of them…

The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m a Chicago gal teaching you how to design, DIY, and maintain your home…by yourself! Learn more about me right here.

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