You scroll through a design blog hyping some miraculous, budget-friendly kitchen renovation, and that’s when it hits you: homeownership envy. While mortgage holders get to decorate with impunity, those of us still in possession of a lease can feel unfairly limited in our design choices.
But while it may seem counterintuitive to put a lot of effort into that apartment for rent in Boston, it’s still your home — and there are lots of benefits to loving where you live. So why not do a little work to make it a haven instead of a temporary crash pad?
Contrary to popular lore, there are lots of ways to upgrade your apartment without forfeiting your security deposit.
1. Painting your apartment walls
Yes, it really is OK to paint. Not only OK but also highly recommended — there is no quicker way to personalize a space than to customize your colors. Ideally, you should check in with your landlord first, who will usually sign off as long as your chosen shades aren’t too wacky; sometimes they’ll even pay for the supplies, considering a fresh coat of paint could be a point in their favor.
But many a guerrilla renter has been known to paint without permission, with the plan of returning to the original shade right before they move out. If you’re feeling hesitant about changing up your apartment’s colors, at least consider touching up the trim, which more likely than not is dull and yellowed.
2. Removable (and not-so-hideous) wallpaper
No, we don’t suggest permanently papering your kitchen in a custom print that will later take hours to steam and scrape off. But temporary wallpaper has come a long way in the last few years; even CB2 has recently begun offering self-adhesive paper in modern patterns.
Installation takes only a couple of hours; just play it safe and order an extra sheet or two lest you misalign on those first couple of tries. Those leery of their ability to properly DIY can start with an accent wall or opt for a temporary decorative decal. Another, more outré idea: Wallpaper your ceiling.
3. Give your light fixtures an upgrade
Many, many rentals come with those unfortunate booblike flush-mount fixtures. It’s probably impractical to change them all out, but an upgrade in high-traffic rooms is worth the money and effort.
Online pop-up sales are a great way to shop for funky fixtures on the cheap; you can also scour antiques stores and flea markets for chandeliers to strip and repaint. Consider both aesthetics and actual light quality when shopping, and don’t forget to factor in electrician costs to your budget if installation requires rewiring (if there’s a junction box already in place, you might be able to pull it off yourself).
4. Swap out your kitchen hardware
You might be stuck with those honey oak cabinets, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with their original hardware. Swap out those superboring polished nickel pulls for something funkier and even mismatched (antiques stores frequently have drawers full of old knobs). Just stash the original hardware somewhere safe — and easy to remember — so you can replace it all right before your lease ends.
5. Rethink your window treatments
Let us guess: hideous plastic vertical blinds with overly long lift cords, right? Change those out immediately for cordless blinds or Roman shades, which look far cleaner and don’t break. If you decide to hang curtains as well, spring for opaque rather than translucent curtains, which tend to look cheap, and install the curtain rod several inches above the window frame for a more dramatic effect.
6. Give your bathroom a makeover
Hate that 1980s plastic showerhead with the built-in radio? You’re not stuck with it. Upgrading to a high-end fixture — a rainfall showerhead, say, with a filter for hard water — can add instant luxury to an otherwise humdrum bathroom. If you need it, seek out a YouTube video tutorial to walk you through the actual switcheroo. You can make the swap on your own with the help of pliers and a little plumber’s tape.
7. Go the extra mile with an actual renovation
It sounds absolutely bonkers, but there are renters out there who have invested in full-blown kitchen and bathroom redos. And it’s not a scenario for those lucky enough to occupy a rent-controlled space.
Here’s the way these negotiations often go down. A renter will offer to spend the time and money to significantly improve the landlord’s property; in turn, the landlord agrees to negotiate a longer lease with reduced rent. It’s the very definition of a win-win: The renters get the apartment of their dreams, and the landlord gets a property upgrade and the peace of mind that comes from not having to find new tenants every year. (Extra win: When that long-term lease eventually ends, the landlord will likely be able to fetch more rent for the improved space.) First-time landlords might be especially open to the idea if they’re struggling to find the money to properly renovate their new property.