apartment therapy: a few tips and tricks
How you can make your home, even if you're renting,
fabulous and something to be proud of.
fabulous and something to be proud of.
Let's face reality. There are a large amount of people these days that don't have the means to own a home, and by no fault of their own. In a economy still recovering from a major crash both older and younger generations are finding the cost of living quickly continuing to outgrow the normal wage. Many people, myself included, have no choice but to rent, whether it be an apartment, condominium, or even an entire house. And while I would love to say hire a designer, unless you own your home, the money spent on a designer isn't a worthwhile investment.
Yes, with renting comes the mindset that designing it isn't worthwhile. Even those who do want to often find themselves settling simply because they think, "It isn't my home. I can't color the walls red and redesign the kitchen." Yes, you may not be able to knock down walls and take over the spare room for a bathroom extension, but there are plenty of things that can be done to make any rental home unique, personalized and cozy and you don't necessarily need to hire a designer to do it. Here's a few great design ideas to consider about making your, for the sake of this article, apartment feel like a house you own.
First and foremost I would say if you plan on being in the home less than 2 years, don't bother with the more work intensive things. Focus on furniture, accessories, and worry less about the wall colors, light fixtures, etc. If you are staying for awhile, then the biggest, easiest and cheapest thing you can do is treat the walls.
"You can't paint, it's an apartment. They wont let you do that!" That is a complete misconception and more often than not incorrect. Having rented numerous apartments all over Los Angeles and several here in the Pacific Northwest, I can assure you that you would be completely surprised at how many landlords are willing to let you paint, so long as you know how to ask and approach them.
Start with your color palette. Figure out your long term design goals for the space and pick a couple accent colors. Avoid red, yellow, bright green... anything that could be seen as loud, or more importantly, difficult to paint over. Once you have colors picked, do a quick sketch or floor plan of how you want to incorporate the colors into the space. Pick your walls, being mindful not to make it seem like you're doing major alterations and painting every square inch of the place.
Take this design and approach the landlord. Explain your plans to stay and that you really just want to add a few minor accents to really make it feel like home. Before they say no pull out the guns and show them the thought you put into the color selection and walls you want to tackle. Follow this up with acknowledging that you will have to paint it back to it's original state prior to moving out and that you are happy to do the work and pay for it. I if you don't, obviously they keep your deposit, right?
If that doesn't work and they really just have a no-paint policy, which does happen sometimes, then you have to get a little more creative. My apartment complex currently does allow me to paint accent walls with approved colors, however I don't plan on being here more than my one year lease so I took the next approach. Walls can easily be treated with a less permanent solution. Fabric, decorative paper, or anything really can be stuck on a wall. I bought a roll of burlap on amazon and used it as an accent wall treatment in my office. I stuck it up with silver flat push pins to create a decorative flare while keeping the burlap tight and secure to the wall. It looks great. When it's time to pack up, a few minutes and the wall will be bare and require no additional work.
The next big thing you can do is add some function. A lot of apartments anymore are all generic and lack storage and functionality. Places like The Container Store, IKEA, and even Target have cost effective, non-permanent ways of adding a whole new world of function into your apartment. Wall shelves, closet components, and furniture with storage space can be your best friend. If you're a DIY type of person, you could find hundreds of easy solutions that you could make, use and then take with you when you leave. It's critical when living in a generic, cookie cutter home to add as much functionality as possible. The best part is, none of that is permanent.
Back to the kitchen remodel, no you cannot do that. You can however add drawer inserts, cabinet storage modifications, wall hanging storage, and lots more to make your small kitchen stretch. Even having something simple like a wall mounted spice rack can free up one or two entire cabinet shelves. leaving you more space for more important kitchen items. Simply by using drawer organizers, wall shelves, the spice rack and a few other miscellaneous storage solutions we were able to make our cabinets super organized, easy to access, and have room to spare now.
The third important tip is to furnish smart, and that goes beyond functional furniture with storage. I don't know many people who rent that can simply go furniture shopping and do their entire place in one go. Bite of one room at a time and do not settle - especially when it comes to your core pieces like the sofa. Figure out what you like and do it as you can. As a former furniture salesman I cannot tell you how many customers settled simply to get more at once rather than waiting and getting what they really want a little at a time.
Not only is it key to actually buy furniture you are going to keep for years, be willing to think outside of the box for smaller accent pieces that you wont necessarily keep and hand down to your children. I have two accent chairs in my office that I bought at Ross back in college, and they are great. I think I paid under 100.00 bucks for both. They are definitely about ready to be burned, but it cost me a few bucks and provided a look and function that served me for years. Totally worth it. I've also built and refinished numerous pieces of furniture.
Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity, Ross and garage sales are a few of the easiest, cheapest and most universal places to find 'throw away' furniture that just needs a little time and love. You don't need a shop or big back yard to do this either. I built a suspended coffee table out of an old door inside of my tiny apartment of the fifth floor of the building. I laid down tarp in the fire stairwell and spray painted it in there, and did the rest of the work on the floor and dining table. All you need is Pinterest, Instagram or similar, a few bucks, possibly a friend with a truck, and a few hours of patience and work.
There are plenty of other little things you can do too, but these are some of the bigger design tricks that I've found have allowed me to make all the places I've rented feel like home for the time I've been there. Happy decorating!