How to make a rented flat feel like home
Just because you're renting doesn't mean you should have to compromise on style. Here’s how to make your rented place feel cosy and personal without losing your deposit
If you’re in a rented house, flat, or student accommodation, sometimes it’s easy to feel like your hands are tied when it comes to transforming your home's interior.
Unless you're especially lucky, the decor in rented accommodation usually leaves a lot to be desired, and on top of having to consider security deposits and tenancy agreements, landlords aren’t always overly keen for you to redecorate... even though a refresh is likely to make the property so much more appealing in the long run!
Get inspired with real rented homes...
The good news is that there are many ways you can make your rented home feel as homely, cosy and personal as if you owned the property, but with little risk and limited budget!
Read on to discover our ultimate rental decorating guide, including top tips on hanging artwork, transforming old appliances and advice from expert designer and Instagram star Sarah Akwisombe. Happy decorating!
How to make your rented house feel like home
Whether you’re a fan of boho wall hangings, bold abstract prints or personalised wall art, adding well-chosen wall décor into your space will instantly inject personality, whilst giving even the plainest magnolia walls that all-important focal point.
The great news is that you don’t need to drill nails into the wall to introduce statement art. You can use no-hole picture strips, prop frames up on open shelving and bookcases or invest in some Command Strips to hang art on the walls with minimal damage.
‘Creating a feature wall with a gallery of prints is such a cool way to instantly brighten up your pad, and Command 3m strips are a great way of making it happen, damage free’ says Sarah. ‘The strips are like Velcro that stick onto the wall via an adhesive back. I know it sounds a bit dodgy, but the genius part is that it has some kind of wizardry that allows you to remove the strip and leave zero residue.’
‘Washi tape originates from Japan and is like masking tape but way cooler!' explains Sarah. ‘It comes in a variety of colours and patterns and the only limit here is your imagination. It’s really easy to peel off so can be used to highlight areas with great effect.’
‘Think about blue tacking pictures to the wall and then framing them with washi tape. What about lining the inside of a door frame or even the door itself? Personally, I enjoy creating graphic wall murals that can totally transform a room. Here’s your chance to get really creative and have fun with it’ she adds.
Renting makeover tip
If you can’t afford to totally replace the kitchen cabinetry for new, you can easily give your kitchen a brand new look on a budget by painting your kitchen cabinets with a lick of chalk paint. Alternatively, try to cover them in sticky-back vinyl. You’ll also be surprised what a good scrub will do, too! If the cabinets are in a good condition, and you have a bit of spare money, you could replace the worktop or try a company – like Dream Doors - that can put an overlay over existing cabinets to give them a refresh. Remember… lot of builder’s merchants sell short off-cuts of worktop cheaply, so be sure to ask; you may get a bargain!
Your furniture makes a huge difference to your interior regardless of whether you live in a rented home or not, so switching it up is one of the simplest and quickest ways to change the entire look of your home.
If your rental comes unfurnished, this presents you with a great opportunity to get creative. Measure out the different spaces, looking at where your current pieces go, and then indulge in a shopping spree to get exactly what you need.
On the flip-side, if your rental comes ready-furnished, something as simple as repositioning furniture (check out these soothing feng shui ideas) can still make a big impact, giving your space a new lease of life.
By grouping certain furniture with particular accessories, you create ‘nooks’, before coming up with the final finishing touches by using something like pillar candles or a floor lantern.
If you find you’re on a tight budget, there are still plenty of options. Flat pack furniture can be cost-friendly and transformative in a home, and it’s also worth checking out online marketplaces and second hand furniture stores. If you can’t find exactly what you want, you can easily give any pieces you find a brand new look with Frenchic or Annie Sloan chalk paint and a few inspiring upcycling ideas.
‘I’m a big fan of retro furniture in rented homes’ says Sarah. ‘I think people can see a typical style in their heads when the word ‘retro’ is banded about, but don’t let that put you off. Modern furniture at the moment is very influenced by mid-century Scandi style design, so you’re likely to find lines and shapes that occur in off the shelf pieces at a fraction of the price.
‘Not only that, they will add interesting depth to your place and provide much needed storage that can sometimes be off limits if you can’t (for instance) put up shelves. Head over to eBay and get browsing. You’ll be shocked at some of the bargain prices available, and how easy it is to create a cool, eclectic vintage scheme!’
The right lighting can completely change the look and feel of a space, so as long as you keep hold of the original fixtures and do your research on what type of lighting is right for every room, there’s absolutely no reason not to switch up your lamps and shades for something more striking!
‘So much can be achieved purely with lighting. I once read a quote from Aaron Rose that summed it up – "In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary",' says Sarah. ‘As a rule of thumb in interior design, we recommend that each room should have 5-8 light sources. If you have space, work in a floor lamp that’s both decorative and casts a nice glow in the room.
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‘Table lamps and sunset lamps also help to add another layer, and scented candles can be great for mood and atmosphere’ she adds. ‘I personally love using LED strips to create a neon aesthetic. Readily available and affordable, they are the perfect way to backlight something to add interest and depth. Try the back of a TV for instance, to create a cosy glow when watching a movie at night-time.’
While knocking down walls or installing extra windows are a viable way of making your home feel lighter when you own the property, they’re – thankfully – not the only options when it comes to enlivening your space.
If there's a room in your home that tends to feel dark and gloomy on dull days, bring in a couple of mirrors and you'll completely change the space. You don't even have to hang them - simply lean them against the wall, style them on top of dressers or a mantelpiece and they'll bounce plenty of light around the room, especially if hung opposite a window where natural light can stream through.
‘Get accessorising like mad!' says Sarah. ‘A few well-placed ornaments and objet d’art (if you want to get all fancy with it) can provide interesting focal points and conversation starters. Interesting accessories don’t need to cost the earth either, try scouring vintage markets or charity shops for unique pieces that have a history.
‘You can also pick up inexpensive bits on the high street too, check out places like H&M Home, Oliver Bonas or Dunelm to add a bit of chic cool that can distract from the areas you don’t want to focus on’ she adds.
Curtains, window dressings and blinds are a bit overlooked in most rentals, but these can add a lot of drama and comfort to a space.
‘If you already have a curtain pole up then it’s very easy to switch out the landlords curtains with a fresher more contemporary pair that are to your taste’ adds Sarah.
‘Cushions and throws also go a long way when it comes to diverting your attention from less interesting walls, and again the high street shops have a fab selection of modern prints, patterns and fabrics that can update your interior instantly.’
As a renter, it can be difficult when you don’t have a say on the choice of fixtures and fittings you have to live with. The great news is that you can give wardrobes, chests of drawers and kitchen cupboards a completely new vibe by swapping out their handles with some temporary statement handles. It’s a little change which will make a big difference to the room’s appearance.
You can statement handles new from most home stores, or if you’re on a budget, you can pick up some vintage versions from antiques shops. Just make sure you keep all your old fixings in one bag, ready to reinstall when you leave.
Stick on tiles
Made from a variety of different materials, peel and stick tiles are a thin, flexible and affordable alternative to traditional tiles, and can be used in kitchens and bathrooms, as well as in the place of regular floor tiles. Stick on tiles feature an adhesive backing that can be applied on top of a number of surfaces and removed with minimal or no damage, making them a great, non-permanent option for renters who want to inject personality into their space without risking their deposit or spending lots of money to replace existing tiles.
On average, stick-on tiles can last anywhere from three to 25 years, and come in all sorts of colour combinations, textures and designs. Check out our round up of the best stick on tiles here to discover the best designs available on the market right now - it has everything from peel and stick backsplash tiles to self adhesive floor tiles!
Self adhesive wallpaper
If paint or artwork alone won’t satisfy your creative cravings, why not investigate temporary peel and stick wallpaper? Born with the rental market in mind, these self adhesive wallpaper designs are super easy to apply and peel off after use - like a sticky label - with virtually no residue.
‘When it comes to wall stickers, there are loads of great options out there’ says Sarah. ‘As a concept I think it’s a great idea and really allows you the creative freedom to go all out, even when renting.’
If your landlord is against the idea of wall stickers entirely, you can bring the same pops of pattern and colour with wallpapered plywood panels.... just lean them against walls or use no-hole picture hanging strips for a similar effect.
Renting makeover tip
Are your white goods looking a bit worse for wear? Are you bored of your plain fridge and fancy a pop of colour in the kitchen? If your budget is tight, then avoid buying new and refresh your old appliances with paint instead. It only takes a day or so and you’ll save a lot of money. Plus, you can choose exactly the colour you want to fit with your interior style!
The concept of shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing’ swept across Japan in the 1980s, and studies soon found that spending time around plants lowered pulse rate and reduced signs of depression. This is why when it comes to sprucing up rented accommodation, houseplants are perfect for giving rooms an instant lift for little cost!
‘Greenery is huge right now’ says Sarah. ‘The indoor plant has really made its comeback and the variety on offer can make for a really fun display. From cacti and succulents to towering Edwardian style palms, there really is something for everyone. Try adding succulents lined up on open shelving, jarred herbs in the kitchen or a big snake plant next to your sofa – all in a mix of different pots – to make your space feel fresh and vibrant.
‘Bigger indoor plants like palms or monsterosa can cover up boring corners or unsightly bunches of wires’ Sarah adds. ‘Most of all, plants breathe life into a room that can seem stale, helping it to feel fresh and homely.’
‘Ok, I know not every renter is allowed to paint walls, but it’s worth asking your landlord if you could do it on the basis that you will paint them back to the original colour on leaving’ says Sarah. ‘Painting is a fairly inexpensive way to dramatically change a room’s style and vibe, and it doesn’t take too long either.
‘If they’re ok with it, ensure that you really go overboard with protecting surfaces and flooring. Plastic sheets can be bought from local DIY shops (layer up to be absolutely certain you won’t leave any marks) and use masking tape to tape off windows, skirting and anything else that could be ruined with a stray splash of paint.’
Renting makeover tipIf you want to quickly change the look of your kitchen or bathroom, it's super inexpensive and fast to update your tiles with paint. One coat over ceramic tiles and a refresh with a grout pen and your bathroom or kitchen will look totally different in a matter of hours!
Carpets and flooring in rented properties usually leave a lot to be desired, so when you rent a furnished home, a rug can quickly become one of your best friends.
Investing in a new rug has many advantages – they’re great for covering up an unappealing floor, giving your deposit some protection from any accidental spillages that could occur, and they can be moved around to switch up your interior’s look too. If you have multiple rugs, you can even take it one step further and try swapping them around to create a fresh appearance every few months.
‘When I moved into my second rental, the landlord had decided that carpet tiles (yep, the type found in 70s office blocks) were an acceptable look’ says Sarah. ‘Obviously as a creative they drove me mad, but rather than ripping them up and paying my own cash to have the floor replaced I instead invested in a large, patterned rug that would cover most of the floor space and provide a healthy distraction from the unsightly tiles below.
‘There are many benefits other than distraction though, such as the added insulation, which will keep your room warm and as you own the rug you can take it on to your next place or eventually your own home.’
Feeling inspired? Check out our home decor section for even more fabulous ideas and guides for using the latest decor trends.
Thea Jeffreys is the Digital Writer on YourHomeStyle.uk, and is passionate about all things home décor. When she’s not scouring the internet for budget-friendly homeware finds, you’ll find her writing about the latest interior trends and handy upcycling tricks.