Make your rental house or apartment feel like home! You may not be able to make many permanent changes, but there are plenty of ways to get a look you’ll adore! Find more below about my story moving into an apartment without ever having set eyes upon the space, as well as 10 Basic Ideas and Tips for Creating a Home.

NYC real estate and true love will make you do crazy things.

Like when I agreed to move with my now husband, sight unseen into a old tenement apartment in a 19th century building in Manhattan’s lower east side! He had inherited the apartment from a family member, and recently having returned from Brazil, it was time for us to settle in, and work. My office at the Guggenheim Museum was a few blocks away, and his photography studio merely two blocks down.

I took the leap and it was the picture of a flop house. It did not have good bones.

I had learned that even if worn down, an apartment or rental with good bones (e.g. notable features like wainscoting or high ceilings, large windows, and pretty wood floors) can handle minimal decor. Not so for a place without redeeming features. Generally, a dated rental or worn space is made more personal and warm by using an eclectic or bohemian decor style.

Personalizing the Space

Our place needed color to make it seem more personal! We went with a colorful eclectic approach and started by adding velvet curtains to our bedroom for a sense of true home, extra warmth, and privacy.

Images courtesy of Anthropologie, Decozilla, Melissa MichaelsArianne Belle, and Jane Lilly Warren

Living Rooms

No matter your decor style, every rental needs a comfy place to relax, read, or watch a movie to truly feel like home. Arrange your living area with a chaise lounge or cozy couch and you will want to come home to this space. In every room you should have “lighting alternatives” a softer table or floor lamp for cozy nights or reading, and a brighter overhead or an extra floor lamp for day time activities.

Bright color and character come into play with the fantastic DIY idea pictured above–this creative project involved taking ceiling roundels (Home Depot) and painting them a bright yellow, and voilà decor!

To warm up our space, we hung some handmade tapestries from our travels, mirrors, and vintage prints to give a personal feel, and added in warm and welcoming sitting areas, with brightly colored curtains, throws, and pillows.

Images Courtesy of Blood and Champagne, Project Bly, and Design Sponge

A Happier Kitchen for You

We chose bright sari fabric sheers in our kitchen. To liven up the place, and distract from the worn down space, we painted our chairs different bright colors, so homey! Flowers and plants were key to brightening the space as well.

I painted the kitchen a light color I found on sale in the seconds bin of the local hardware store, it was under $15–I usually refuse to paint rentals, but this was an extreme case, after all the kitchen was a strange pea green accented only with stains.

Images courtesy of Hugh AchesonCape Code Collegiate, and Stilzitat

Think Smart: Convertible Storage

In our mystery rental, there was no kitchen cabinet, only a single broomstick holding up some floor tile that had been repurposed as a counter. We got a small storage unit, and covered our counters with plants in mason jars, and old vintage bottles. I recommend purchasing a credenza, buffet, side table, or any other attractive “dining room” cabinet. These convert the very best, you can use it in any room now or in another home. They look great in living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, and even bathrooms.

Images courtesy of Bohemian HomesJessica, and Lay Baby Lay

Your Bedroom, Sanctuary

The most personal of spaces. A bedroom should be a place of great coziness and comfort, a place you look forward to. Warmth and welcome is so important, it will feel like your private oasis. We love the new cable knit bed linens, faux fur throws, and duvets in lots of colors.

Images courtesy of Digs Digs, At Home Arkansas, Lauren Conrad, Virginia, Live Love DIY, and Share More Love

Your Rental Decor Cheat Sheet

Six Basics

Images courtesy of Beneath My Heart, House Beautiful UK, Beneath my Heart, Mayan Rocks, and Kylie M Interiors 
  1. Curtains for windows or room dividers can soften your rental instantly.
  2. Area Rugs great for concealing unsightly or dated floors.
  3. Bedroom use textures and throws to give a warm welcoming impression and feel!
  4. Cozy chairs and sofas 
  5. Storage that converts  instead of just one basic storage unit or low bookshelf, get a stylish cabinet.
  6. Kitchen or dining table that welcomes.

Four Decorative Tips

Images courtesy of Home Depot, Melissa Michaels, and Style by Emily Henderson.
  1. Replace knobs on cabinets with fun or well designed alternatives. Keep the old knobs and hardware.
  2. Hang mirrors and artwork! We transformed our bathroom by adding an old antique wood mirror we found at a flea market. Collect a series of old framed prints from flea markets, thrift stores, or Ebay and combine them with newer pieces like posters, or prints from artist sites like society6 or Etsy. Hang salon style.
Images courtesy of Eleni, My Paradissi, Saffron & Marigold, and Project Bly. 

3. Bedspreads, throws, and throw pillows go a long way. Source them handmade online at custom shops such or at thrift stores and Ebay. Kantha quilts are a winner always, they are affordable and artisan made. Just wash in cold water always with nothing else, as they are often not color fast.

Images courtesy of Smitten Studio and One Good Thing By Jillee. 

4. Personalize the rooms with vignettes such as kitchen pieces, stacked art, or special interest books with a collection of shells, old keys, sculpture, or whatever you collect. We love color coordinated book shelves!

A Few Sources For Your Upgrade!

Mason Jars/ Vintage Glass: Home Depot and Vintage Supply Co.

Storage: SafaviehCrosley, and Home Decorator’s Collection

Bed & Comfort Quilts and Kantha Blankets: Home Decorator’s Collection, Rosalina’s Etsy Quilt Treasury, and Lavish Home

Cable Knit & Plush Blankets and Handmade Throws: Mocha Throw, Wool Pleasure, Cosenza, or make your own–Martha Stewart

Cozy Chairs: Safavieh, Home Decorator’s Collection, Eames Lounge Chair, Crate and Barrel, and Durham

Plants and Pots: Home Depot, Brussels Bonsai, Costa Farms, or grow your own Cubits Organics

Knobs: Liberty, Topex, AtlasTrincaFerro, and Veritas Inspired

Curtains: Lavish Home, Sew Panache, Saffron and Gold, and Martha and Ash

For more artisan tradition fabrics and ideas, check out this blog about hand-loom traditions and more at The East Coast Desi.

And see, with a little imagination & resourcefulness, we survived the mystery rental. So can you!


Image courtesy of Rosalina B. ©


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