Let me set this straight: A rental—be it a house, condo, or apartment—doesn’t have to be a holding pattern for your life until one day, maybe, you buy a place. A sofa you love? You should invest in it. A piece of art? Buy it. You’ll have it forever. Regardless of not owning the space, the space should still feel like your own.
This was my mindset when moving into a new rental last September. The small unit outside of New York City had potential, but I needed guidance and the right eye—someone who would know it is possible to transform a space with zero construction—to get there. I went on to try out Decorist, an online interior design service that pairs you with a designer based on your style, which allowed me to redo my living room from my phone. It was as easy (much easier, actually) as online dating: You fill out a questionnaire on your style, budget, and inspiration and then are matched with the best designer for your needs. After being paired with Jessica McCarthy, creative director at Decorist and as it turns out, my blush and brass-loving soulmate, the real fun began.
In working with a designer—which gave me a room I never could have created on my own, using furniture entirely from Bed Bath & Beyond—I ended up with the retro glam apartment of anyones dreams, and in the process learned six style secrets every renter should know.
Create an accent wall. Which, yes, can be renter friendly.
When it comes to accent walls, Jessica's rule of thumb is to 1.) always do one and, 2.) make it the main wall in the space, the one you see when walking into the room. When Jessica first asked me my thoughts on wallpaper, my immediate answer was 'yes' followed by a, 'but I live in a rental.' Her solution here was non-permanent adhesive wallpaper, which has become increasingly popular for clients that are renting, since it easily peels off when ready for removal. I went with a pink floral print from Etsy, and since I don't trust myself to actually install it (though there are a ton of DIY tutorials online), I hired a TaskRabbit who got it done in around two hours for $150, which was worth it for how it transformed the space.
Get personal through art.
Nothing makes a space more unique to you than art. I loved this illustration of lips from Chairish, which Jessica suggested I hang on the accent wall above the sofa. And, yes, you can hang art on an accent wall. "This combination works because the art was a large scale graphic compared to the small printed wallpaper, which created balance and a beautiful juxtaposition in shape and pattern," explains Jessica.
Invest in practical furniture you love.
If and when you leave your apartment, your furniture can come with you. I told Jessica I wanted a sectional that was as stylish as it was comfortable, so she recommended this microsuede sofa from Bed Bath & Beyond, and yes, it feels as good as it looks.
"When figuring out what pieces to invest in, I always recommend looking at the large pieces in your space that you utilize the most," said Jessica. For me, and many of Jessica's clients, a sofa is the perfect example of a practical investment. "It's important, especially if your current home is not your forever home, that the pieces you invest in will be able to fit in future homes that may be bigger or smaller. Don't buy items in funky shapes or invest in something custom if you can see yourself moving in the near future," she explains.
Maximize the space by taking advantage of empty walls.
When it comes to designing apartments or small spaces, Jessica never lets a wall go unused. "Because your space didn't have a proper entryway, I saw this empty wall as a perfect spot to put a bench to set your purse down or take off your shoes, as well as a mirror to give yourself a final look before you leave the house," she says.
Style your bar cart with the rule of threes.
No one can pass up a bar cart moment, but especially one that's styled as well as this. Jessica taught me about balance and more importantly, the golden rule of three. "The human eye is naturally drawn to items in threes, so when styling your bar cart, be sure to place them in sets of three," she explains. And, alcohol isn't the only thing to place on your bar cart. "Layer unexpected items to bring life and character to your bar cart. A plant, flowers, a stack of books, a framed art piece or personal photos are all great ways to do this," says Jessica.
With an awkward window ledge, add a dramatic curtain wall.
"Apartments tend to lack architectural elements which add character to spaces. I felt a bit of harshness with the window and large rectangular wall and thought the perfect way to soften and add character was to create a faux wall of curtains," says Jessica. The final touch in the apartment—and what tied the entire space together—was hanging curtains the entire distance of the wall and almost to the top of the ceiling, which made it hard to tell how big the window actually is and, well, isn't. "This tricks the eye and adds a dramatic touch to the space that is cost effective and incredibly impactful," explains Jessica.
Reminder, this is what the space looked like before:
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