By Alyssa Clough

Published on February 15, 2016

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Photography by BRITTANY AMBRIDGE

Everyone rents apartments for different reasons. Whether it’s the amount of space, location, or amenities (rooftop, HELLO!), when you live in a big city, where you gain in one area, you are sure to lose in another. And unless you somehow stumble upon a newly renovated, affordable place (never leave), your appliances, floors, and overall feel and quality of your apartment probably won’t be up to your standards. You could accept your new living situation’s few flaws, or simply make a few easy swaps.

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Photography by MICHAEL WILTBANK

If you already live in your apartment, think of it like this. Imagine your empty, bare-boned apartment. There are walls, windows, floors, lights, and appliances. Think hard about what you would rather disappear AND what you could add in its place. Simply cover up the bad stuff, swap out what you can, and let the more favorable design elements shine.

Important to note: ALWAYS read your lease thoroughly before making any—even small—changes. If you’re extra cautious, run it by your landlord first. Keeping open lines of communication is key to important things like not getting evicted… or losing your security deposit.

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Photography by APARTMENTTHERAPY.COM

add color to your walls

Even if your aesthetic favors all-white walls, still add prints, photos, plants, anything! Most leases require you fill in holes before you leave, but that’s easy. If you’re looking for a low-commitment paint job, consider a statement wall. It will make a huge difference, but is less expensive and time intensive than painting an entire room. Removable wall paper is another obvious choice. This will create a much homier—and impressive—look.

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Photography by MYDOMAINE.COM

cover uglier than average floors

Sometimes, the weathered, creaky floorboards add character. If that’s not the case, your easiest route to covering up hideous floors is to invest in rugs—and lots of them. A large area rug for your bedroom will do the trick while smaller rugs will often suffice in the bathroom and the kitchen. If you have a long, narrow hallway they make longer runners for that. To keep rugs from sliding around, invest in a role of double-sided adhesive tape. Depending on your taste in decor, these rugs can blend in or stand out—just as long as they’re covering your hideous floors.

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Photography by Monika Lewandowska

temporary flooring

Rugs not your favorite? (Keeping an apartment full of rugs clean will take effort.) Depending on how large your space is and how desperate you are for a change, temporary flooring is a route you can take. Though this endeavor will take planning, there a a few easy options in the form of adhesive and interlocking vinyl tiles that can mimic various types of stone and wood and won’t damage your original floors.

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Photography by BHG

diy open shelves

A compromise between the beautiful, open shelving currently trending and ugly, heavy cabinets in a stain you probably don’t like does exist. Step one: Unscrew your cabinets and store them in a closet—you’ll have to reattach them before you leave. The insides will most likely be white or unfinished wood. Paint if possible, or add removable contact paper to create a more visually pleasing open space. Bonus: You get to show off your pretty dish collection.

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Photography by oldbrandnew.com

don’t be afraid to add more shelving

If you need more shelving, make it happen. Hanging a bunch of floating shelves or picking up an inexpensive ikea bookshelf (or other storage options!) are quick, easy improvements to accomplish. If you go for faux-custom, just make sure it doesn’t cost you too much, unless you’re planning on staying for at least two years. Transporting and translating your creation to your next place will be difficult and you’ll most likely end up eating the cost. If you do decide to add unique shelving, shelf brackets only cost around seven dollars and you can get hardware store employees to cut plywood for you at any length.

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Photography by MICHAEL WILTBANK

bleach your bathroom

Hopefully, when you move into your apartment it’s bright, shiny, and maybe even new. Oftentimes, it could still use a good clean—especially in the bathroom department. City dwellers’ bathrooms are usually the tiniest room in the apartment, and unfortunately, there’s not much room for change. Instead, add your ideal shower curtain, bath mat, towels, and a framed print (for good measure) to make the place feel personalized and spruced up. Other than accessorizing, keeping your bathroom squeaky clean is the easiest way to improve it.

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Photography by Wall Street Journal

make your own backsplash

Just as there are removable tiles for your floors, there are sticky, removable tiles for your kitchen. Another simple option is adding removable contact paper that you can wipe clean or taking a page from Grace Coddington’s book and adding framed pictures.

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Photography by BRITTANY AMBRIDGE

change the knobs

Ditch ugly knobs and replace with pretty, modern ones you love! This is one of the easiest, most underrated switches a renter can make. Just make sure not to loose the old, ugly ones.

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Photography by Mia Baxter Smail

customize your lighting

Lighting. Is. Important. Make a mix of overhead lighting (with LED bulbs to reduce the harshness), floor lamps, and table lamps. Changing your overhead fixture will most likely not be worth your trouble, but if it’s imperative to your happiness, contact your landlord before taking any action.

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Photography by LAURENCONRAD.COM

window treatments

Luckily, most apartments in big cities come without window treatments. We say luckily, because if they did, they would be filthy, from decades past, and you’d want to switch them out anyway. This is your chance to personalize and capitalize on the single most important built-in feature of your apartment—your natural light! Hang a rod as close to the ceiling as possible and find drapes that just skim your floor. This will elongate your walls (making your space feel larger) and create a nice little frame for your natural light.

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Photography by Zeke Ruelas DEsigner: Emily Henderson, oh joys studio

personalize it

The easiest way to improve your apartment is to make it your own. Bringing in furniture and decor you love will instantly improve any terrible space, while helping you conceal rough spots, or pop color into an otherwise dull rental. If you don’t love it, lose it (or slipcover it), until everything in the room is something you like seeing when you get home.