Basic Apartment Decorating Tips

By January 28, 2014Apartment Living Hacks

Decorating does more than just make a home look pretty. Home decor is also an external expression of your inner life. Paint, furniture, lighting, floor covers, window treatments and wall hangings all reflect how you feel, how you think and what you value. Decor makes a statement — whether you mean it to or not. Don’t let living in an apartment hold you back from expressing yourself.

Decor need not be expensive to be effective — or tasteful. A creative decorator can do more with $1,000 worth of thrift store knick-knacks than $100,000 spent carelessly on over-the-top kitsch. Good decorating is about having an intention, and then making the most with what you have.

However, when decorating as a renter, you are often more limited than home owners when it comes to decorating options. Because your house or apartment actually belongs to someone else, you don’t have the freedom to move walls, add light fixtures, or make other “permanent” alterations to the physical structure. You also have a strong disincentive for doing any large-scale remodeling; since renting tends to be a limited-term proposition, any investments you make in physical upgrades — like new flooring or kitchen cabinets — would be money left behind when it comes time to move. It can be difficult to decorate an apartment but it is doable!

Here are some basic apartment decorating tips to help you, as well as some apartment decorating no-no’s to avoid:


When you move into your new apartment, you’ll probably find the walls to be an even shade of off-white or beige. These are considered “neutral” colors that anyone can live with. But that doesn’t mean you have to. Check your lease. Chances are you’ll have the freedom to re-paint your apartment any color you like, as long as that paint can be later covered over with a single coat of — here they come again — off-white or beige. Take advantage of this opportunity to upgrade to the designer shade of blue, green, gray, yellow or brown of your choice. Maybe even mix-or match by “color-blocking” different walls. You may, however, stay away from the blazing reds or midnight black.


As a renter, you’re pretty much stuck with the floor treatment your landlord provides. It’s not like you’re going to rip out the wall-to-wall carpet and lay down porcelain tiles, then tear out the tiles and replace the carpet when your lease is up. But such limitations don’t mean you don’t have some flexibility. Throw rugs — even on top of carpet — are great for adding a touch of style and color to the surface upon which you walk. Rugs are easy to roll up and take with you when it comes time to move.

Wall Art

Most leases have few limitations when it comes to wall art, as long as the hangers you use don’t permanently damage the walls. (Easily spackled nail holes don’t count.) Paintings, prints, posters (Framed, please. You’re no longer living in a dorm.) and personal photographs are all fair game. Mirrors are especially useful in small apartments because they add the illusion of additional space. Wall are is one of the easier things to take advantage of when it comes to decorating a rental.

Window Treatments

There’s no rule that says you have to keep the curtains or Venetian blinds that come with your apartment — if they come with any at all — as long as you return the originals before you move. Curtains, drapes, shades or mini-blinds (vertical or horizontal) can be both functional and aesthetic. One way to make a small space look bigger is to hang curtains outside the frame to make your windows look bigger. Going floor-to-ceiling can create the illusion of height.


Free-standing shelves and bookcases give you another opportunity to combine style with function that can also move with you from apartment to apartment. When possible, coordinate your shelf style with your furniture to make a strong, consistent aesthetic statement.


Table-top and free-standing lamps can add both light and atmosphere to any sized room without adding permanent fixtures. Also take a hard look at any dining room chandeliers that come standard with your apartment lease. As with window treatments, you should be able to replace the standard-issue fixture with one of your own as long as you replace the original before you vacate.


Here’s where you can really make a personal statement — and create a living space you can really enjoy. In addition to choosing a style that reflects you personality — traditional, transitional, contemporary or ultra-modern — incorporate time-tested design tips to optimize the space you have available.

For example, choosing furniture with lots of curves — including round-edged chairs and sofas as well as circular or oval tables — gives needed visual variety to often boxy apartments. Buying furniture that is intentionally undersized increases the feeling of space and prevents overcrowding. If your space is particularly limited, invest in furniture that performs multiple functions, such as a “captain’s style” platform bed with build-in drawers, sleeper sofas that transform into guest beds, or bookshelves with built-in work surfaces to double as desks.

As a renter, you may not be able to rip out floors, install permanent fixtures, or enhance your bathroom with a polished marble shower stall, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a lot of creative design options to make your apartment an expression of yourself! On a positive note, if you are successful in decorating a rental, it will make it a breeze once you graduate to being a homeowner.

Looking for a rental in Orange County, San Diego County or Silicon Valley upon which to make your mark?  Try our apartment search feature to find the perfect new community to call home throughout Northern or Southern California.