Published on July 13, 2019

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photo by seth caplan for crystal sinclair designs

Unless you’ve hit the real-estate lottery—which, like the actual lottery, feels like a one in a million likelihood—there’s a good chance your rental apartment has some flaws. Sure, you may have a fantastic location, plenty of natural light, and a reasonable monthly rent, but those cheap blinds or unsightly radiators might be totally cramping your design chops. 

When you need a place to live, small design details aren’t a complete deal breaker. After all, you wouldn’t pass on an almost perfect place that happened to have a less-than-fabulous kitchen backsplash. A little creativity can help you transform a rental—even one you don’t plan on staying in for long—into your dream home. “So many people feel that since you are living in a rental, things are temporary,” says Brady Tolbert, a creative director and prop stylist. “But so is bad breath. Just because it is temporary doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fix it with a little mouthwash.”

These experts’ advice will help you to overcome five common (and unfortunate) apartment features—all in ways that are totally landlord-approved.

If you have wall-to-wall carpeting…add a rug.

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Design by Emily Henderson Design Photography by Sara Tramp

Put your layering skills to good use by adding a rug on top of your all-encompassing carpet. 

“Some people will say never to layer a rug over wall-to-wall carpet, but I’m a firm believer in putting a Band-Aid over something that doesn’t look as good as it could,” Tolbert says. “In this case, the rug is the Band-Aid.” Not only will it limit your contact with that questionable carpet, but it will also give your space a cool, bohemian vibe.

But first, it’s important to give your carpet a thorough cleaning. “Don’t move in anywhere with wall-to-wall carpet without cleaning it first,” says Jade Joyner, cofounder and principal designer of Metal + Petal. “You just never know what’s been left behind.” You could invest in a great rug cleaner, but when in doubt, enlist the professionals. Trust us—this is one investment that won’t give you any buyer’s remorse.

If you have an ugly backsplash…try peel-and-stick tiles.

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photo courtesy of brady tolbert

Peel-and-stick decals are a great solution for any unsightly surface. They’ll instantly change the look of your temporary space, and when you want to try something new or move out altogether, you can peel them off and start from scratch. “When I first moved in, my kitchen had a-less-than-desirable linoleum on the floors,” Tolbert says. “I gave it a new look by using peel-and-stick tiles, which I just placed on top of the existing floors. When it was all said and done, it made such a big difference to the entire look of the kitchen.”

Whether you use peel-and-stick tiles for your backsplash or floors, this DIY is both time- and cost-efficient. Tolbert says the entire project took him about a half a day and cost less than $50. Consider that a win-win.

If you have built-in furniture…make small swaps.

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Design by Emily Henderson Design | Photography by Sara Tramp

You might not be able to remove the Murphy bed from your studio apartment or rip that built-in media center off the walls, but you can give your prefurnished elements a personal flair. While paint is a surefire way to refresh your space, your landlord might be less than thrilled about this design decision. Instead, opt for even more temporary fixes.

“If you can’t paint it, you can always swap out the hardware on any built-in units or cabinets,” Tolbert says. “It’s an affordable and easy fix that can give the entire piece a different look.”

Similar to your kitchen backsplash or tiles, you can also remedy the design woe with some temporary wallpaper. “There are so many cool peel-and-stick options that are removable and can easily be added to built-in bookcases for a pop of personality,” Joyner says. 

If you have a massive AC unit…add sheer panel curtains.

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Design by Emily Henderson Design Photography by Tessa Neustadt

Fortunately, it is possible to make your air conditioning unit look less harsh in your rental apartment. “Don’t underestimate the power of sheer panels,” says Tolbert. “If you have an unsightly air-conditioning unit, you can hang them on a double rod.”

Not only can you keep that unit out of sight—these light, airy panels will also allow natural sunlight in. Once you’ve hung them, Tolbert suggests adding a decorative curtain to the top rod.

If you can’t paint…add a gallery wall.

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photo courtesy of brady tolbert

For most maximalists, very few design dilemmas can compare to white walls that you’re not allowed to paint over—but this is a super-simple fix. “My dining room had white walls, and to add some interest, I decided to do a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall gallery wall,” Tolbert says. “It took a little bit of time to figure out the measurements and how everything would fit, but it now creates such a dramatic statement.” 

The good news is a gallery wall isn’t as challenging or permanent as you think. Once you map out where you want to put everything, you can use adhesive strips to affix your frames to the walls. If you want to make even more of a statement, mix and match the color of your frames.

See more small space ideas: 
IKEA’s New NYC Store Is Chock-Full of Small-Space Ideas
11 Room Dividers Ideas That Are Perfect for Small Spaces
8 Ways I Sneak Extra Storage Space Into My Tiny Studio

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