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Decorated apartment living room.

DIY Projects and Apartment Decorating Ideas that Make a Dramatic Difference

Temporary Upgrades to Make Your Rental Feel Like Home

Your rental is your home, but as a tenant, you can’t knock down walls or upgrade the carpet to hardwood. But there are a few ways to make your temporary home feel like your own without creating a permanent imprint. 

"It's important to make your rental feel like home. Even if you are only living in it for a year, that's a year you should love coming home."
Jenny Bess | Sweet Teal

Can You Make Apartment Upgrades?

Before you get too excited about improvement projects, double check your lease to see if it specifies what alterations will be allowed. If you’re not sure, it’s best to talk to your landlord or property management company. While temporary changes are typically OK, it’s always best to communicate your plans upfront.

If your landlord approves your plans, make sure that you get the approval in writing. Save this for your records in case the property management company requires proof, or your landlord forgets that he gave you permission. 

Keep in mind that even if you get permission, you may need to revert or remove the changes before you move out. So keep all the original hardware on hand.

 Ready to transform your rental? Let’s get started. 

Tools You'll Need Before Upgrading and Decorating Your Apartment

Tools
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Basin wrench
  • Screwdriver
  • Measuring Tape
  • Hammer
  • Nails
  • Level
Organization Supplies
  • Plastic bags
  • Permanent marker
Storage and Decor
  • Shelving units
  • Baskets

How to Decorate Your Apartment With Upgrades That Won't Worry Your Landlord

Replace Hardware

Faucets and Shower Heads
This is a two-for-one deal. Replacing faucets and showerheads will upgrade the look and feel of your bathroom and kitchen and make these rooms more energy efficient. Pick a statement piece for the faucet to create a focal point in the room. 

Here's how to replace your faucets:

  1. Make sure the new hardware set matches your current setup. If not, you will need to swap out for a different set, or purchase faucet hold covers if there will be one exposed. 
  2. Shut off the water valves underneath the sink. If you cannot disconnect the supply lines with your hands, use a basin wrench. 
  3. Locate and remove the nuts from under the faucet.
  4. Remove the drain and disconnect the drain flange. Keep a bucket underneath to catch any water that may be in the pipes. 
  5. Clean your sink and faucet holes.
  6. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for installing your new faucet and handles.

Replacing a showerhead is much less work: all you have to do is unscrew the existing fixture and replace it with your new model. 

Door Knobs
Apartment buildings go through new tenants like a revolving door, and if knobs aren’t updated often, you can often spot wear and tear. Replace door knobs in your apartment with ones that match your current decorating scheme to pull everything together. Don’t forget to keep the old knobs and hardware in bags marked with which door they fit for when your lease is up. 

Cabinet Hardware
Remodeling a kitchen is costly - and probably prohibited in you lease -  but you can redecorate your apartment’s cabinets. If your kitchen cabinets are standard two-hold pulls, simply measure the distance between the two holes and purchase new handles that fit your style. When swapping out the handles, carefully unscrew the old piece and keep all the original hardware and accompanying screws in a bag. Remember to label each one and store all of the pieces together until you move out.  

Let There Be Light
Better lighting can transform a dark space. Replace fixtures in each room to complement the décor in your apartment. 

Speak to your landlord if you are replacing anything major, especially a ceiling fan unit. They may allow you to upgrade it and deduct the cost from next month’s rent check, so it pays to keep them in the loop! 

Decorate Apartment Walls and Windows

Paint, If You Can
If you are one of the lucky few whose landlord approves, pick a wall to paint a bold accent color. Avoid painting the entire apartment, since your landlord might require you to repaint anything you changed before you move out. Selecting one wall in your living room and one in the bedroom creates a striking look, without all the extra work. 

Temporary Wallpaper
When paint isn’t allowed, temporary wallpaper can do the trick. Peel and stick options are relatively simple to install and should not damage the walls. Create an accent wall or make a statement with something textured.

Hang Wall Art or a Tapestry
Looking to avoid the hassle of wallpaper and paint? Hang an oversized piece of wall art or tapestry, creating a feature wall to elevate your apartment décor. Pick pieces that mesh well with your existing decorations and cover up enough wall space to make an impact.

Window Treatments
Nothing says “rental unit” quite like white plastic blinds. To make your apartment feel less cookie-cutter and more lived-in, replace them with new blinds or cover them using roman shades. If you go the replacement route, keep track of all the original pieces to reinstall when your lease is up. 

Design and Install Custom Storage Options

Pull-Out Shelves
Make the most of your apartment’s cabinet space by installing pull-out shelves. Use these in spaces that don’t have existing shelves, but measure twice before you head out to the hardware store. This requires precise measurements and DIY savvy, but it’s well worth the effort.

Hanging Shelves and Decorative Baskets
A cluttered room won’t do your apartment design work any favors. If you lack ample storage space, install floating shelves equipped with hooks or baskets to hold and organize items. Use a level to carefully mark the wall before hanging up your shelves. 

Apartment Decorating Ideas to Complete Your Space

After you’ve completed the hard work of hanging shelves, updating hardware and measuring your temporary wallpaper pieces, add a few finishing touches. 

  1. Accent Pillows: Buy mismatched, but color-coordinated throw pillows and blankets. Arrange them in your living room to make it seem airy and give a bit of depth to your most-used apartment room. 
  2. Cover Your Floor: Cover up worn out floors or outdated carpet with an area rug. 
  3. Functional Furniture: Finding functional furniture is especially important in smaller apartments. Look for benches that double as shoe storage, or an ottoman with plenty of room for extra blankets.
  4. Hang a Mirror: Hang a large mirror across from a window in your apartment to reflect natural light throughout the room. 
  5. Install Curtains: Use these to your advantage and hang the curtain rod a few inches above your actual window. This creates an optical illusion and will make your windows seem larger.
  6. Go Green: Bringing in a few plants can make even a small space feel lighter. If you don’t have floor space to spare, try a hanging plant instead. If you’re looking for something low maintenance, plant a few succulents in pots to place by your window. 

Important Advice to Keep In Mind When Decorating Your Apartment

Stick to a design theme and color palette. Avoid bringing in clashing colors that would end up making your rooms feel disjointed. Don’t be afraid to get creative either! The HGTV blog has a collection of creative ways to spruce up your apartment, including putting gold duct tape on your refrigerator like Kristin from hunted Interior. 

"The best ways to make it feel like home are to decorate in a style that makes you feel happy and stick to that theme. If you love the beach, give it a tropical feel. If you love minimal design, find a few pieces that really speak to you like a wood slice coffee table."
Jenny Bess | Sweet Teal

Have any tricks for customizing your space while keeping your landlord happy? Let us know your favorite DIY project in the comments!

Stay on top of the latest trends in home design. Check out our other articles covering home organization, DIY projects and room inspiration to find your next home improvement project.