apartment-decorating ideas inspiration

A little decor tuneup 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 with a lot less hassle. Yet, a sparsely decorated temporary living space can often feel a bit … soulless. You might have to make do 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), it can be a bit of a downer coming home to a bland apartment when you’re renting in Washington, DC, or another colorful, vibrant city.

Pair your city’s personality with your own charm and decorate your apartment to your taste with these apartment-decorating ideas — ranked by how risky they can be for your security deposit.

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

The floor is one of the biggest surfaces in a home. Bringing in a colorful rug 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 bold color, texture, or 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 your curtains. Most renters overlook window panels, but they can offer much-needed privacy and style without torching your budget.

Low risk: Creating a gallery wall

A picture 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 can easily be 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 best with lightweight pieces.

Low risk: Adjusting the light

Is the only source of illumination in your apartment 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.

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 cabinets accidentally while installing the new knobs.

Medium risk: Decals

On the surface, adding temporary decals to a 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 a 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. A hint? Test a small decal in an inconspicuous spot first. That way, you’ll know what you’re dealing with when it’s move-out time.

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 primer to make a landlord flat-out refuse paint for future tenants. 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 can paint, as long as you clear the color with your landlord first. Or you can paint, but it can’t be a strong color. The point is: You don’t know unless you ask.

When you do approach 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 quick “no.” Show your landlord exactly what color you plan to use and where you’ll use it. You might have to compromise on your vision — few landlords would be OK with you painting a room bright red, for example. 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 its original color, right? Right.

Have you personalized your apartment without risking your security deposit? Share your apartment-decorating tips in the comments below!