Apartment Decorating Ideas

A little decor won’t hurt your security deposit, as long as you play your cards right.

Rentals have their virtues: The maintenance isn’t your problem, and you can move out without having to find a buyer. Yet a temporary living space can often feel a bit … soulless.

You’re usually dealing with standard-grade appliances, budget finishes, and that old classic, “Apartment White” walls. While it’s understandable that a rental is someone else’s investment (and thus needs to be kept as inoffensive to the average prospective tenant as possible), an apartment devoid of any personality can be a bit of a downer to come home to after a long day.

Here are our favorite apartment decorating ideas, ranked by how risky they can be for your security deposit.

Low risk: Creating a gallery wall

An arrangement of photos and artwork that spans the wall is a relatively simple way to bring a lot of impact to a room without causing much damage. Sure, there will be nail holes, but those are easily filled before you end your lease. Another option is to use stick-on picture hooks that promise damage-free hanging, though they tend to work only with lightweight pieces.

Low risk: Adjusting the light

Is the only source of illumination in your apartment coming from a sad fluorescent overhead fixture? Most overhead fixtures cast harsh light, creating weird shadows that make everything look odd. Incorporating more lighting at eye level or higher, whether in the form of table lamps, plug-in sconces, or floor lamps, makes a house feel more like a home.

Lowest-of-the-low risk: Adding a rug

The floor is one of the biggest surfaces in a home. Bringing in a colorful element here has huge impact, maybe even more so than painting a wall. A rug also helps protect the floors from damage, which is a plus as far as your security deposit goes.

Pick a large carpet that has either bold color, texture, pattern … or, hey, why not all three? And to use a terrible phrase, let the carpet match the drapes. Or at least pick up a color in the curtains. Most renters overlook window panels, which offer much-needed privacy and style without torching your budget.

Medium risk: Replacing hardware

Swapping out the handles and knobs of cabinets for more stylish options can be a simple task. It’s really just a matter of loosening a few screws and tightening a few others. The only downside: keeping track of the original hardware, or risking damaging the finish of the cabinet accidentally while installing the new knobs.

Medium risk: Decals

On the surface, adding temporary decals to the wall seems as though it should be a low-risk endeavor, right? They even have the word “temporary” in the product name! But with so many options on the market, it’s hard to be certain you’re not going to end up with the decal that acts more like duct tape and peels off a layer of paint when it’s time to remove that inspiring silhouette of a tree.

High risk: Paint

Paint is temporary but generally frowned upon by landlords. All it takes is one tenant with a penchant for highlighter-lime-green paint that bleeds through several coats of white primer to make a landlord flat-out refuse additional painting.

However, the no-paint rule might not be as non-negotiable as you think. First, take another look at your lease. It might be that you could paint, as long as you clear the color with your landlord. Or you can paint, but it can’t be a strong color. The point is: You don’t know unless you ask.

When approaching your landlord about the paint issue, our best advice is to wait until you’ve established a history as a good tenant. Also, have paint samples ready just in case you get a “no” off the bat. Show your landlord exactly what color you plan to use and where you’ll use it.

You might have to compromise on your vision — there is basically no landlord who would be OK with you painting a room bright red. Offering up a pale gray, light blue, or soft yellow is a little less intimidating. You can also swear to repaint the space back to the original color, right? Right.