Giving your rental a refresh without angering your landlord

Renting Style
Dot Comb Blue peel-and-stick wallpaper by Chasing Paper. Anna Spaller

For many people stuck at home over the past year, it wasn’t the walls starting to close in that made us crazy, but the wall color. Maybe you’ve concluded that your kitchen backsplash is dingy or the bathroom will never truly shine because the linoleum floor is outdated. Homeowners wanting a design fix flocked to home-improvement stores, but renters may have felt stuck, not wanting to risk violating their lease.

“During the pandemic, people became more in tune to design by binge-watching HGTV and other networks. They want to make the space they live in beautiful, comfortable, and personalized to reflect their style, even if they rent instead of own,” said Annie Elliott, an interior designer in Washington, D.C.

Businesses have taken notice, evidenced by an uptick in trendy renter/rental-friendly products, said Melanie Berliet, general manager of the Spruce, a home and lifestyle website. “It’s been a few years coming, but with people home all the time they tire of decor or notice areas that need an upgrade. The obstacle is a landlord who may, or may not, let you make changes.”

Kelli Lamb, editorial director of interior design publication Rue Magazine, knows the challenges firsthand. For the past five years, she and her husband have rented a home in Los Angeles and must live with the rules established by their landlord. That hasn’t kept her from having a space that she loves, though. “The homeware market continues to innovate and rental-friendly decor is here to stay,” Lamb said. “Consumers need to seek out what they love and figure out how to bring it into a space.”

Before shelling out money for changes, review your lease. Talk to your landlord. Show them pictures of what you plan. They may like it, Lamb said. And if it raises the value of the property, they may even be willing to chip in. But there are also plenty of temporary solutions for renters (and even commitment-phobic homeowners) that can add personality without being permanent. Here are some options.

Removable wallpaper

Peel-and-stick wallpaper is a beautiful and adjustable option for renters. Pictured: Tree Toile in green by Chasing Paper/Carrie Shyrock. —Anna Spaller
Rising Sun in Pink by Chasing Paper and New Hat. —Anna Spaller

Peel-and-stick wallpaper is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to change smooth, flat surfaces. “I love the idea of peel-and-stick for accent walls,” said Elliott, who suggests you test a small piece in a hidden spot to ensure no residue remains after removal. Look for paper with a high plastic content, so any underlying texture on the walls doesn’t show through.

Lamb used peel-and-stick paper in a spare room. “I chose a bold green leaf pattern, and it looked as if a professional had installed it. Four months later, I realized it was a bit too wild for me and removed it with no issues,” she said. Among the more popular brands: Chasing Paper, Tempaper, NuWallpaper, RoomMates, Kathy Kuo, and Rifle Paper Co. A company called Wallsauce makes peel-and-stick wallpaper murals in thousands of patterns, including tropical rainforests, city skylines, a Monet watercolor, or a star-studded galaxy, if that’s more your style. And if you’re hesitant to go big, ease into it by adding small geometric-shaped wall decals, which are easy to apply and remove.

Peel-and-stick tiles and flooring

Thicker vinyl-sheet products you can trim to fit are popular for creating faux-tile kitchen and bath backsplashes and floors, Berliet said. Not only have the aesthetics improved to the point that the tiles and grout look like the real deal, but the laminated coating makes it water-resistant and durable. As with adhesive wallpaper, stick-on tiles work best over a flat surface so the adhesive can touch every spot. And new technology makes it simple to remove. Use water or a hair dryer to get rid of excess residue.

Floating floor

For temporary flooring, Elliott suggests interlocking cork squares over wood. By fitting the squares tightly from wall to wall, the floor should stay in place without the use of adhesive. Another temporary option to cover any smooth surface is carpet tiles. Elliott uses Flor tiles in her home office. The large carpet squares stick to one another and not the floor itself. The effect is wall-to-wall and it stays put, she said.

Adhesive strips and hooks

No longer relegated to college dorms, the 3M Command Hook has become a go-to product for those who need hangers that can be repositioned or removed without leaving holes or sticky residue on walls, doors, or cabinets. Some new versions will hold up to 8pounds. Both Elliott and Lamb suggested heavy-duty Command hooks and a dowel or curtain rod to hang lightweight curtains or fabric panels over less-than-attractive windows or unsightly blinds.

Stick-on paper

The 21st-century version of contact paper is so realistic it can be used to mask damaged or outdated cabinets and appliances. Try a wood-finish look on cabinets or one that mimics stainless steel on the front of a dishwasher or refrigerator.

Adhesive shelving

Other than a carpenter’s level, no tools are required to install peel-and-stick acrylic shelves, which can be affixed to any smooth wall with adhesive strips. “Just be sure the shelf is level before you peel off the backing and adhere to the wall,” Berliet said. This a great option for adding open shelving to hold lighter items (typically 5 pounds or less) such as mementos and pictures.

Gallery walls

Don’t limit yourself to framed pictures. You can hang an arrangement of hats, clocks, mirrors, or cherished mementos. The beauty of a gallery wall is you don’t need to measure or be super precise in your placement; you can arrange objects to please your aesthetic, Berliet said. Use masking tape, Command hooks, or tiny nails (if allowed) to hang your items.

Closet kits

Adjustable closet systems like the Everyday System from California Closets can be moved and reconfigured easily as needs change. —California Closets

Customizable closet systems such as the Everyday System from California Closets are a DIYer’s dream. These freestanding, modular components are easy to assemble, adjustable, and can be reconfigured to move from room to room or home to home.

Furniture rental

Renting furniture from a company like Fernish is an option for people who move frequently. —Fernish

Much like renting haute couture or designer accessories, you can now lease trendy sofas, dining tables, full bedroom sets, and more from companies such as Feather, Fernish, and Rent the Runway (in partnership with West Elm). Fernish even lets you swap out items at the end of the lease or within first three days after delivery if you decide an item isn’t for you. Because renting high-end furniture doesn’t necessarily save you money in the long run, it’s best for those who aren’t inclined to stay in one city for any significant length of time and want to avoid pricey moving costs. “Unless you can rent a large piece that you really love, I’d opt for buying inexpensive pieces that will last you for one or two apartments,” Elliott said. Still, she said renting an oversized, heavy (and usually expensive) mirror may be worth it to help pull a room together or give a space a more finished look.

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