If you live in a rental property, you've probably learned to make peace with a certain amount of interior imperfection. Many landlords place strict limits on what you are and aren't allowed to change in your apartment, and none of them are going to let you knock down a wall to create that open-concept kitchen you saw on HGTV.
But while major renovations are out of reach for renters, there's no shortage of temporary solutions that can completely transform your apartment into a place that feels like home—without sacrificing your security deposit. From inexpensive changes that take just a few minutes to major projects that'll make you feel like a bona fide weekend warrior, here are a few ways to make your space more livable that won't leave a mark after you move out.
1. GO WILD WITH YOUR WALLS.
Courtesy Urban Outfitters
Wallpaper is rarely found in rentals because it's such an investment: It's arduous and messy to hang, and even more obnoxious to strip off. Fortunately—for renters and commitment-phobes alike—there's a burgeoning marketplace of self-adhesive, temporary wall coverings that stick on and peel off in a flash. Use vinyl decals in the shape of birds or branches to create a whimsical accent wall, or go bold with an all-over pattern. Sites like Tempaper deal exclusively in removable wallpaper, but Millennial favorite home decor stores like CB2, Urban Outfitters, and West Elm have begun to stock it as well.
2. PUT SOMETHING PRETTY UNDERFOOT.
Grubby floors are an unavoidable hazard of apartment living, but you can put them out of sight and out of mind for the duration of your lease. If you have a smooth surface to work with (e.g. linoleum or tile), inexpensive, interlocking laminate flooring goes on in a snap and comes up just as quickly when you move out. And if you don't mind a little work on moving day, peel-and-stick flooring can be found at home supply stores in a huge variety of finishes, from hardwoods to tile. (Just allow some extra time on move-out day uninstalling it; you'll have to melt the adhesive with a hairdryer, section by section, to pull it back up.)
Things are trickier for those stuck with wall-to-wall carpeting. While some intrepid renters do lay down laminate on top of carpet, the results can be uneven at best and mold-inducing at worst. Instead, your best bet is to carpet the carpet, either with modular tiles or area rugs that are more your style. But if the situation is really egregious (think: wall-to-wall 1970s shag in a super-outdated color), don't be afraid to float the suggestion of an upgrade to your landlord.
3. GET CREATIVE WITH PAINT.
Unless your landlord is a super stickler, your lease probably grants you the freedom to paint your place—and to get creative with it. The DIY possibilities are endless: Use stencils or painter's tape to create a patterned accent wall, or play with sponges and dry-brush techniques to add some color and texture.
Don't be afraid to think beyond the walls, either. With your landlord's permission, you can transform your kitchen cabinets with colorful paint and a couple hours' labor, or give your whitewashed apartment a bold sense of style by painting just the moldings in a dark semi-gloss black or navy blue.
4. SWITCH OUT THE HARDWARE.
Little things can make a big impact: Doorknobs, drawer pulls, curtain accessories, faucets, shower heads, and even some appliance hardware can be removed and replaced with more attractive alternatives, with endless possibilities. Class up your bathroom door with a glass knob, or add vintage style to your kitchen cabinets with some mid-century drawer pulls. In the bathroom, switch out the grimy shower head for one that makes you actually enjoy bathing. And if you're feeling really adventurous, you may even be able to give your fridge a makeover with a new set of handles. Just make sure to keep all the old hardware in a box, so you can swap it back in on moving day (and take your pretty knobs and pulls with you to the next apartment).
5. ADD A SPLASHY BACKSPLASH.
Courtesy Home Depot
Peel-and-stick tile isn't just for floors. You can also put it straight over an outdated or ugly kitchen backsplash, and peel it off when you leave (although, depending on how much it improves the apartment's aesthetics, your landlord might not want you to). If you like a more graphic look, contact paper or vinyl peel-off wallpaper are also attractive, commitment-free solutions; so is double-sided tape and PVC paneling made to look like classic pressed tin.
Or, if you can get away with putting a few screws in the wall, cut a piece of plywood to size and mount it over the existing backsplash—and you'll have a blank canvas for anything from wallpaper to fabric to subway tile that can be removed without a trace when you leave.
6. CHANGE OUT THE LIGHT FIXTURES.
Courtesy West Elm
The right lighting can completely change the look and feel of a space, so as long as you hang onto the old fixtures for moving day, there's no reason not to switch up your ceiling lamps and wall sconces for something more your taste. The generic glass shades on most overhead rental fixtures can be swapped out without even touching the wiring, but if you want to go bigger, replacing the entire fixture is straightforward enough that most people can handle it on their own (or with a little help from YouTube.)
One caveat: For more complicated jobs—replacing a dome light with a chandelier, for instance—you'll probably need an electrician (and possibly the blessing of your landlord). But if you're going to be there for a while, and you're willing to foot the bill for the work yourself, shelling out might be worth it to make your house feel more like home.
7. GIVE YOUR PLACE SOME CHARACTER.
Nothing beats elaborate plasterwork, a fireplace, or built-in cabinetry to add character to your space; but if your rental doesn't have these things, it's fully possible to fake them without messing up the existing structure. If your walls or ceiling are bland, home supply stores sell inexpensive, off-the-shelf molding and medallions that you can mount using 3M tape or a couple of discreet screws. Aching for built-in bookshelves? There's an IKEA hack for that: All you need is a BILLY shelving unit, some decorative trim, some basic carpentry skills (or a talented friend), and a design of your choice.
And while you'll probably have to wait for home ownership to enjoy a roaring fire, you can give your living room a gorgeous faux fireplace as a focal point by scoring a $50 free-standing mantlepiece on Craigslist and placing it on a blank wall. (If you're willing to shell out more cash, you might even be able to get one with the hearth included.)
8. AND IF YOU STILL WANT TO MAKE AN IRREVERSIBLE IMPROVEMENT? JUST ASK.
Depending on who you're renting from and how long you're staying, your landlord might be more willing than you think to let you make some changes, especially if they increase the value of the place—and even more especially if you're willing to put in the work yourself.