Tiny Space, Tiny Budget, Big Style- 10 Decorating Must Haves for Renters

Before Richard and I moved to Georgia, we had a tiny ass apartment in the Bronx. It was the first place we shared together as a married couple and my first home in New York city after relocating from California. While the place itself was NOT some pre-war gem like you see in the Sex and the City movies- it was recently renovated when we moved in and it had some amenities (key word- some) that made it desirable.

When we moved into our 950 sq. foot, 2 bedroom apartment the only thing we owned was a cheap bedroom set (that we purchased ourselves as a wedding gift 45 minutes after getting married at the courthouse). When I moved to New York from California, I didn't bring anything except a few duffle bags full of clothes and my bright eyes and optimism (thats going a bit far on the bright eyes, but you get the point). Having to furnish an entire apartment from scratch on a budget in an expensive area like New York city was a BIG job. At the time, we had no car, no access to major tools to DIY stuff and a true love for industrial, rustic decor without a real budget for it.

Our humble, tiny Bronx kitchen area

Our Tiny, Bronx Kitchen area with DIY bar seating and a tiny island to add counter top space. On the front of one of the cabinets, I added peel and stick chalkboard paper so I could write cute messages and reminders for the hubby. Adding that simple upgrade made the space feel more unique and custom and cost me literally pennies.

Living in our tiny place was chaotic and challenging, but beautiful at the same time. Our apartment may not have offered the most space in the world- but it had character and it was OURS. Looking back, I feel proud of the home we were able to create as newlyweds in the Bronx so I am going to break down some of my most favorite ways to update a rental apartment on a budget so you can achieve that same feeling too.

1. Paint- Now I know that some rentals will not allow you to paint BUT typically buildings in urban, metro cities do. Paint is one of the easiest ways to update an old rental and make it feel your own. By choosing warm or neutral colors, you can refresh your walls and make your space feel larger without taking down any walls or throwing the whole apartment away. Some of my FAVORITE neutral paint colors are: Behr- Wheat Bread, Benjamin Moore- Rockport Grey, Schwerin Williams- Perfect Greige

If you are concerned that your landlord will behead you if he sees the paint on the walls, you can always repaint the walls white upon moving out. You know, what the landlord doesn't know won't hurt him, right?

2. Lighting- Apartments typically have fugly lighting. You know, the type of overhead, florescent lighting that makes everything appear green or sickly. An easy, cost-effective way to make your apartment feel less like a dungeon and more like a chic abode is to change out ALL of the lightbulbs and light fixtures in your space. Nice light fixtures can be literally $10- $30 dollars each (think Ikea or Amazon) and there are a million tutorials on youtube on how to install them. If you are not feeling 100% sure of your electrical skills, sites like TAKL will allow you to hire a handyman for the job for a small fee all through the connivence of an app on your smart phone.

To protect your deposit (and save your light fixtures when you move out), remember to save the existing light fixture and any applicable wiring in a large storage container with a lid for safe keeping.

3. Peel & Stick Wallpaper- In our Bronx apartment, Richard and I installed laminate planks on our wall (think fake wood flooring) as an accent wall in our living room. The "Living Room" was really more of a wide hallway, but we were determined to have a dedicated, living room space in our apartment that we could entertain in. Using vinyl planks on the wall required little effort in terms of installation (they are self-adhesive) and only cost us about $70 in materials and 2 hours of time. Peel and stick wallpaper is a great option for renters because the wallpaper comes in a million different patterns and textures and can easily be applied by just about anybody. When you are ready to move, simply remove the wallpaper without causing any messy damage to your walls.

Wallpops.com offers a large selection of peel and stick wallpaper as well as Wayfair and Urban Walls.

4. Benches as Seating- Like I said earlier, we really didn't have a Living Room in our apartment and we were always looking for ways to integrate additional seating in a way that didn't take up the limited amount of space we had. One of my favorite ways to incorporate seating in an apartment is to utilize storage benches as an available seating option. Long, narrow storage benches do not take up a lot of space and can be found at just about any price-point (think TJ Maxx and Ross). More than just seating options, using a storage bench allows you to use the storage space for keeping blankets, pillows or other needed materials that you may not have closet space for. When you do not need the additional seating, tuck your storage bench away and no-one would ever know the difference.

5. Window Treatments- When I was in college, I always dealt with tacky ass blinds in every rental that I lived in. You know, the kind of blinds that are vertical slats attached to a plastic pull? I HATED them and ALWAYS tried to cover them up every chance I could. Vertical blinds are a pain to take down and re-install during move-out so I suggest pulling the blinds ALL THE WAY to the side of the window and installing long curtains to hide the blinds. You can purchase curtains from just about anywhere and discount stores offer great options at about $15-$30 a pair. When installing curtains, make sure to hang your curtain rod HIGH and WIDE. By installing your curtain rod about 3-6 inches outside of the corner of your window and about 5-6 inches above the top of your window, you make the space appear larger and more defined. Please please make sure you purchase curtains that are the proper length for your window as having curtains that are too short (do not touch the ground) looks tacky. If you are living in a small space, I recommend a lighter color window treatment as darker curtains can make the room feel closed in and small.

6. Bar Style Seating- In our Bronx apartment we most definitely did NOT have space for a dining room table. Because we did not want to eat dinner on the couch overnight, we DIY'd a bar table that was installed across the length of a wall in the kitchen. The table was very easy to create (long, wide plank + pipe feet + wall/ shelf brackets= table) and we used barstools from Target as seating which we purchased for $40 bucks. Our bar table always received so many compliments from visitors and really came in handy with the kids completing homework or eating dinner.

7. Open Shelving- Finding storage and closet space in an apartment can be a little like winning the lottery, it can happen but its rare. I love to integrate open shelving in small, rental spaces because A. Its cheap and B. it allows my clients to customize their space in a way that is unique and not cluttered looking. One of my favorite ways to DIY shelving is to purchase regular pine planks and wall brackets from any home improvement store. By adding wood stain and thrifted decor, you can really transform any space on a tight budget. One of the best things about open shelving is its %100 removable so your deposit will not get stolen when you move out which is a major plus.

8. Rugs- Lets face it, apartments RARELY have beautiful flooring. I remember my first apartment in Sacramento had the WORST carpet ever. It was so disgusting and ugly and I remember contemplating pulling it up myself at one point. Rugs are one of my favorite ways to camouflage FUGLY carpet or flooring on a dime. You can purchase inexpensive, good rugs just about anywhere including Amazon Prime (gotta love free shipping). If you are a renter, try using a rug to hide ugly carpet while making your space feel more put together and less renteryyy.

9. Pretty Bath Towels- Our Bronx bathroom was so small that your knees would hit the bathtub when you were sitting on the toilet ( I HATED IT). As a renter, you may feel limited with the amount of changes you can make to your bathroom space since it is well, a bathroom. Adding nice quality towels and washcloths to your bathroom can really distract from the overall bathroom space and make your powder room feel more put together and intentional. Like the curtain suggestion, try to hang your shower curtain higher than it should be to add height and drama to your bathroom space. Ditch the basic towel holder (you know the long, horizontal ones that are in every rental) for inexpensive hooks for a spa-like vibe in your bathroom. Do not be afraid to dress up your bathroom space with printable art or decor either in cheap frames.

10. Greenery- Nothing screams life more than REAL plans (or good quality fake ones). Integrating real plants into your apartment space brings light and life into your home. Do not be intimidated by house plants, snake plants and bonsai plants are inexpensive and are easy maintenance. My general rule of thumb is to include some type of plant or greenery in every room. Walmart and Home Depot all have a pretty good selection of houseplants that are inexpensive and virtually un-killable (if that is even a word). To make your plant feel less old-ladyish- use a woven basket that is slightly larger than your plant width wise and throw your plant inside of it. These baskets can be found in the dollar section of Target right now.

There you have it, my TOP 10 ways to customize your rental while respecting your hard-earned coins. Whether you are renting long term (HELLO New York City) or you are temporarily living in a space until you plot out your next move, feeling comfortable and confident in whatever environment you are in is a major factor in your health and wellbeing. Renting or home ownership- your home is a place where you should feel comfortable and content resting your head at night. Try to consider these tips next time you are strolling the isles of Home-Goods or Target. Remember, you do not need an endless budget or a giant space to have major style, it is all in the details and creativity hunnnayyy.

Until Next Time


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