It wasn’t the bright sunroom or rich wood molding that sold Courtney Favini on her Point Breeze, Pittsburgh, rental when she first saw it listed on Craigslist. It was the basement. “I immediately put my deposit down,” she says. Favini’s job as an interior stylist (she works for numerous HGTV personalities, including Leanne Ford) lends itself to accumulating a lot of stuff—think: umpteen side tables, ceramic vessels, and vintage chairs. So having a storage unit practically built into her apartment was, as she puts it, a no-brainer. “I have a bit of a hoarding problem, but don’t we all?” she says, laughing. 

The first question she asked her landlord was if she could paint anything white (a quick decorating fix that Ford famously swears by, too). The answer was no. “It was a good challenge for me, creatively,” explains Favini. Instead she had to find other ways to lighten the mood, with caramel-toned furniture, soft linen bedding, and airy lighting. “I ended up being really glad I didn’t paint anyway,” she says. 

Rug, Anthropologie

The challenge of not being able to renovate the space was balanced out by the freedom to move items around to her heart’s content. (Favini and her husband had recently separated, which sparked her return to Pittsburgh in the first place.) “Changing your mind is a big part of the creative process,” she says. For example, she ended up shifting her living room coffee table to the closet (more on that later) and swapped the sunroom and living room sofas approximately four times before she figured out the right flow between the two adjacent spaces. “It allowed me to just explore and expand my style more,” she recalls. “There was no one to tell me I couldn’t have a glass of wine and do that every day.” 

The only things she fully revamped in the apartment were the light fixtures (she stored the old ones in the basement with her surplus treasures). Among her favorites are Hay’s Noguchi-inspired rice paper lanterns, which require care (the 31-inch-wide finds are super-fragile) and patience (they’ve got a long lead time). All she needed was a few white cord kits and an electrician friend (who charged her $200 to change all the pendants) to make the upgrade. “I love hanging them really low,” she explains. “It makes a room feel more vibe-y.” Plus you don’t have to worry about running into it or bumping your head if it’s already situated over a piece of furniture. 

Aside from a charming built-in cabinet where Favini could display her prized dishware collection, the kitchen was a dud. “There’s no dishwasher, which I will probably never do again,” she says, laughing. For extra storage, she mounted a series of peg hooks to the wall and hung up her mugs, tools, and cutting boards. The quick fix sums up how she stays so organized: “If I wouldn’t want to display it, I won’t buy it,” she explains.

Runner, Anthropologie; Nightstand, Burrow; Bedframe, IKEA

The basement became a graveyard for dated light fixtures and a furniture storage unit, as well as a mini art studio. Making large abstract pieces on canvas turned out to be a therapeutic experience for Favini while she was navigating her separation and the pandemic. “Who knows if I’ll love the work in 10 years, but it was a nice outlet for me,” she recalls. Plus the earth tones and geometric shapes were an affordable way to fill the wall space and bring in warm shades. “I’m reminded of a really bright spot in a time in my life that was otherwise pretty sad and dark,” she adds. While she hung these pieces up with proper nails, most of her other small drawings and photographs are adhered to the walls with chic-looking washi tape. 

Favini doesn’t follow any conventional rules when it comes to storage. Example A: the large coffee table in her walk-in closet that’s topped with all sorts of lifestyle finds, from a whiskey bottle to rocks to jewelry. Even the books aren’t what you’d expect. “It’s all about the color story,” she says—not curating a specific subject matter. “The point is that they spark conversation, so why would you not have books that are about music, nature, and philosophy?” 

If a copy of America’s Wild Woodlands can double as art, so can her wardrobe, which she’s color-coded out in the open on $25 hanging racks she scored on Amazon. Who said a reno-free rental can’t still feel personal?

3 Things to Do Right After Move-In, According to the Pro Stylist

  • Light a musky-smelling candle. “Scent creates an ambience. I would live my life by candlelight if I could,” says Favini. 
  • Forage for florals. “Go outside, cut some greenery, and put it in your favorite vessels. It automatically adds an element of life inside,” she explains. 
  • Sleep on linen bedding. “I’m a sucker for really nice sheets (mine are from Parachute),” she notes. “Even if you’re sleeping on an IKEA mattress on the floor, it makes a huge difference.”

Photography by Erin Kelly; Styling by Courtney Favini.