Design Inspiration Rentals

How I Completely Upgraded My Rental With a Fresh Coat of Paint and a Pop of Wallpaper

You don’t need to renovate to totally transform your space.

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Every renter knows all too well the drab, beige paint favored by landlords for everything from the trim to the ceilings. It can be a sickly hue hard to hide with just decor and furniture, so I knew that a new color scheme was in order when I wanted to makeover my small Brooklyn apartment.

I painted the living room a pale green shortly after moving in three years ago, but the rest of the space was starting to look worse for wear. I was considering something dark and bold in the bathroom, and I knew I wanted to fix up the under-sink cabinet, but I couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger. It had taken (what felt like) months to choose the perfect shade of green for the living room, and the idea of making multiple trips to hardware store and spending hours comparing paint chips was just too overwhelming.

Photography by AARON BENGOCHEA

But then I discovered Farrow & Ball’s color consultation service. It completely eliminates the process by sending a color expert—a real live human being—to your home to help you choose your colors. For just $250 an hour (and an hour is all you need for a small space), you can have a professional evaluate your space, listen to your inspirations and concerns, and work with you to determine what’s best—and in my case, show me things I didn’t even know I wanted.

I was set up with Nicole Collado, who went to school for interior design before undergoing Farrow & Ball’s unique and extensive color training. Her aesthetic is driven by the constant inspiration she finds living in NYC (much like my own), as well as the 10 years she spent living in the Dominican Republic.

She showed me that Farrow & Ball has a depth of color unlike any I’ve ever seen. I understood the value color on the walls could bring to my space since I’d already painted one room, but I know that a lot of renters (i.e. my friends) don’t want to invest the time and energy into painting their entire apartment. That’s where the accent wall comes in: Even a single wall can go a long way in transforming a space.

I imagined a statement-making moment on a small wall you see right when you open the door. I thought I wanted to incorporate dark colors or a really bold wallpaper from their new line: the Feather Grass pattern in black or Hegemone in turquoise and yellow. My aesthetic is fairly neutral, and my apartment benefits from a lot of natural light, so I thought this would be the perfect spot for something fun without it clashing with the rest of my decor.

Photography by AARON BENGOCHEA

[The bathroom, before.]

After I walked Nicole through the space, we started in the bathroom. Wallpaper was out of the question; there’s no window, so the steam would just make it fall off. I quickly dismissed dark green since that’s the color I used in the living room, and I wasn’t feeling any of the moody grays.

Photography by AARON BENGOCHEA

[The bathroom, before.]

We looked at a few of deep blues: Drawing Room Blue was clearly too dark, Pitch Blue felt too bright, but Stiffkey Blue hit the mark. I was concerned that it would make the already small room feel smaller, especially since she said we should paint the ceiling, but Nicole likened it to creating a cozy jewel box.

stiffkey blue farrow and ball ground pink
Photography by AARON BENGOCHEA | Styling by Anna Kocharian

[The bathroom, after. Wall paint Stiffkey Blue, Farrow & Ball; Cabinet paint Pink Ground, Farrow & Ball.]

For the cabinet and bathroom door, she suggested a pale pink to have a little more fun and add some lightness. I never thought I would agree to using millennial pink in my house, but the pastel shade of Pink Ground looks so sophisticated against the inky blue walls. My tiny bathroom suddenly feels like a spa.

stiffkey blue farrow and ball molger ikea shel bathroom
Photography by AARON BENGOCHEA | Styling by Anna Kocharian

[The bathroom, after. Molger shelf, Ikea, $49.99; White vase, CB2, $12.95 for three; Wall paint Stiffkey Blue, Farrow & Ball; Banded Border Bath Collection,

serena and lily

from $8; Cabana Stripe Beach Towel, Serena and Lily, $68.]

In the hallway, Nicole quickly, and politely, shut down my idea of an accent wall near the door. “The more you chop up this space, the smaller it will feel,” she said. And once she held up the wallpaper samples, it was clear that they were much too dark.

Being the expert, Nicole predicted this would happen and brought a different sample for me to consider: Helleborus, a large floral pattern in subdued shades. And instead of a small wall, which “wouldn’t be worth it,” she suggested the wall behind my bed.

Photography by AARON BENGOCHEA

[The bedroom, before. Pillow by Loloi, Domino; Percale Venice set in slate, Parachute, from $239; Throw blanket, Ikea, $19.99.]

It seemed like a huge commitment. I love looking at beautifully wallpapered rooms as much as the next Domino reader, but in my own apartment? Wallpaper is something that my parents’ generation used. Would it look stuffy? Old-fashioned?

Absolutely not. The bedroom is now my favorite room in the apartment. I didn’t know a wall covering could bring me this much joy. (Pro tip from Emrys Berwick of the full-service premier paint and design company, Berwick and Edel: Always order more wallpaper than you think you’ll need. You can’t just calculate the square footage and call it a day. You have to have enough to ensure that the pattern lines up. Farrow & Ball has a convenient calculator for guidance.)

For the rest of the bedroom, Nicole took cues from the wallpaper pattern color. (All of Farrow & Ball’s wallpapers are created with their paints, so you can perfectly match your paints and papers). We went back and forth between BlackenedSkylight, and Dimpse, with the latter coming out on top. It’s a delicate gray that complements the pale blue of the paper and makes the whole room feel so serene. Farrow & Ball’s paints have such rich pigmentation that even the paler colors seem to change with the light. In the morning sun, the gray feels warm and bright, but it’s still very soothing at night.

blue and white bedroom wallpaper
Photography by AARON BENGOCHEA | Styling by Anna Kocharian

[The bedroom, after. White bottle vase, CB2, $12.95; Siena marble base table lamp, CB2, $159; Helleborus wallpaper, Farrow & Ball; walls are Dimpse, Farrow &Ball; Sateen sheet set in powder, Parachute, from $109; Mar Vista Matelassé Duvet CoverSerena and Lily, from $188; Metallic Pickstitch Lumbar Pillow Cover, Serena and Lily, $58; Kupa lilac vase, CB2, $19.95; White linen curtain panel, CB2, $49.95.]

To tie the space together, Nicole suggested keeping the hallway a light neutral (and all one color), and using that same color for the doors and trim. Choosing the right

white paint

is an art form I have not mastered, so I completely let Nicole guide me here. She suggested Wevet, which has cool undertones that work with the deep blue of the bathroom, the pale gray and blue in the bedroom, and even the light green in the living room.

She also helped me understand which

paint finishes

I needed. My instinct was to go with the least shiny, because I learned somewhere along the way that a matte finish is the best at hiding imperfections on the walls. But Nicole pointed out that it’s impossible to clean, and impractical for high-trafficked areas like an entryway and hall. So I went with Modern Emulsion for the walls (great for the bathroom because it’s mold-resistant), and Estate Eggshell for the walls and trim since it has a bit more sheen.

The end result? A clean, polished space that feels like it was professionally decorated. Without Nicole’s expertise and creative eye, I never would have opted for the floral wallpaper or painted my bathroom cabinet anything other than white. She steered me toward colors that not only work with my decor and furniture, but totally amplify the layout and architecture of the space. I feel like I live in an entirely new apartment, and I never even had to step inside a hardware store.