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

‘Roly’s parents gave us the chest of drawers, which we sanded down as the wood was a bit orange. The tall mirror is from Maisons du Monde’

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.

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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!

Woman on sofa in a living room

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

Artwork

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.

Kate has broken up the white walls with a gallery display of prints from Oliver Bonas, Etsy and Society6. The corner is also a reading nook with a metal frame chair from West Elm
Kate has broken up the white walls with a gallery display of prints from Oliver Bonas. The corner is also a reading nook with a metal frame chair from West Elm

‘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

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.’

Real rental inspiration: 'our bold look is only temporary'
Maisie Rees has used washi tape to decorate throughout her incredible rented home

‘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 update them with a lick of 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!

‘At first, I wanted a dark blue kitchen, but soon realised it wouldn’t work in a small space. I’m really glad I changed my mind as I love the white’

Furniture

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.

Living room makeover showing a wall mural and mustard velvet sofa
Keen to style up the bland décor in her rented home, Hazel hasn’t let being a tenant limit her vision for a moody exotic-inspired living room

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 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.

‘Colour coding my accessories on these simple IKEA shelves has turned them into a real statement piece of furniture, and nothing beats a rainbow in my eyes!’
Sarah has added pattern and colour into her living room with cleverly styled shelves

‘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 Scandinavian 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!’

Lighting

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!

Anne Marie’s bold colour choices and panelled wall have given her bedroom a glamorous aesthetic, and the chic boutique hotel-style vibe she had in mind
Anne Marie’s bold lighting choices have given her bedroom a glamorous aesthetic, and the chic boutique hotel-style vibe she had in mind

‘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.

‘Table lamps also help to add another layer, and candles can be great for mood and atmosphere’ she adds. ‘I personally love LED strips. 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.’

‘We’ve gone for brass accents in here, such as the shelves from La Redoute and ceiling pendant from Iconic Lights. The wall lights from Amazon are supposed to be wired in, but I took the wiring out and put some remote control LED lights inside instead. The throw and front cushions are from H&M Home and the large cushions are from Secret Linen Store’
Ruth’s wall lights from Amazon are supposed to be wired in, but she took the wiring out and put some remote control LED lights inside instead.

Mirrors

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.

Marnie chose a full-length mirror, which she’s leant against the wall, allowing her to move it around as and when she likes. A rustic rug and soft grey carpet add cosy comfort to the room
Marnie chose a full-length mirror, which she’s leant against the wall, allowing her to move it around as and when she likes. A rustic rug and soft grey carpet add cosy comfort to the room

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.

Accessories

‘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.

Monochrome artwork, like the wall hanging from La Redoute and print from Alice In Scandiland, work well against the dark walls while a geo cushion from La Redoute adds warmth and pattern. ‘I’m always chopping and changing cushions and wall hangings,’ says Louise
A geo cushion from La Redoute adds warmth and pattern in Louise’s bedroom. ‘I’m always chopping and changing cushions and wall hangings,’ she says

‘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.

Soft furnishings

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.

Home makeover: 'I need a sense of calm in my home'
Laura sourced her light fitting and headboard from eBay. They fit in perfectly with the mid-century-style bedside tables from West Elm and curtains from John Lewis & Partners

‘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.’

Fixtures

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.

Home makeover: 'We’ve proved that small is beautiful!'
Niamh painted her kitchen cabinets in Night Series by Dulux and added handles from IKEA

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.

Peel-off wallpapers or stickers

If paint or artwork alone won’t satisfy your creative cravings, why not investigate temporary wallpapers and stickers? Born with the rental market in mind, these peel off papers are super easy to apply and peel off after use – like a sticky label – with virtually no residue.

The third bedroom is used as a snug, with a daybed from IKEA and Berber cushions from Next. ‘I tried hand-painting a Dalmatian-print mural in this room, which went disastrously wrong,’ says Amy. ‘So, I bought this wallpaper from Graham & Brown instead!’
‘Adding wallpaper to this bedroom has completely transformed it!’ says Amy

‘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!

‘It was always my dream to have a Smeg fridge in a cool colour in my kitchen! It’s the first thing everyone notices in our open plan space,’ she says. The metal ironwork bar stools are an Amazon find and the hanging pan rack came from eBay. ‘We sanded back the worktop to revive the wooden surface and we make sure we oil it frequently to keep it in top condition’

Houseplants

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!

‘I painted the window frames black as they were typical uPVC white before. I wanted to create a Crittall- style window look and I’m so happy with the result! The shelf above the window was a floorboard I got from B&Q and I love being able to hang plants from it’
‘I painted the window frames black as they were typical uPVC white before. I wanted to create a Crittall-style window look and I’m so happy with the result! The shelf above the window was a floorboard I got from B&Q and I love being able to hang plants from it’ says Ellie

‘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 a shelf, 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.’

Paint

‘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.

The couple painted their main bedroom in Pimlico by GoodHome at B&Q. ‘It took me quite a while to feel confident enough to use bolder colours in the house,’ says Amy. ‘I always tell myself I can change them if I really hate it!’ The gold side table is from Maisons du Monde and the pink chair is from eBay
The couple painted their main bedroom in Pimlico by GoodHome at B&Q. ‘It took me quite a while to feel confident enough to use bolder colours in the house,’ says Amy. ‘I always tell myself I can change them if I really hate it!’

‘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 tip 

If 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! 

An earthy terracotta colour on the walls works perfectly against the blush metro tiles, which have been laid in a vertical formation rather than the usual brick- style pattern. A rimless loo from B&Q was chosen for its hygienic design, while the sink from BC Designs, mirror from Drench and taps from Crosswater all add a modern, sleek feel to the room. ‘I’m so pleased with how the bathroom has turned out,’ says Riannon. ‘I think the use of colours together makes a change to the standard white tiles and grey grout’

Rugs

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.

Overhead lighting from House Doctor at Amara provides a touch of glam at mealtimes, while the Viscose blue rug from Benuta and Shaneen Rosewarne Cox wall art adds a homely touch
Hayley has styled a blue antique-inspired rug under her table to add a homely touch

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.

Home makeover: 'I've updated my period home'
In her loft extension, Sodia has created a beautiful guest bedroom with the help of a new rug, throw and bespoke panels for the bedside cabinets, all sourced through Beldi Maison

‘When I moved into my second rental, the landlord had decided that floor 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.’

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Feeling inspired? Check out our home decor section for even more fabulous ideas and guides for using the latest decor trends.