Posted Jun 19, 2013

There’s No Place Like Home: Expert Design Tips for Your Rental

At Lovely, we work hard to make sure you have all the tools you need to find your next home. Upon landing a new place, a new challenge awaits: how to turn this new space into a home. As a renter, you may not want to invest a lot time, energy or money into designing the interior space of your new apartment, but giving your new place a little TLC can go a long way in helping you feel happy and relaxed upon entering your front door.

We recently connected with Jennifer Jones, principal designer at Niche Interiors, a full-service residential interior design firm based in San Francisco that specializes in contemporary, eco-friendly design. We sought her expert advice for any of you renters looking to make the most of your interior space. Even if your rental is temporary, with Jennifer’s great tips you can transform your new place into a stylish, welcoming home at a fraction of the cost.


Save Your Space

Renters are often faced with smaller spaces, so the golden rule for establishing a good aesthetic in your rental is to keep it simple. Every piece of furniture counts when working with a small space so it’s best to refrain from excessive design elements. Plus, keeping the aesthetic simple and limiting the number of design items in your home will save you money in the long run.

The best way to open up a small room is to create the illusion of more space. Start with making sure your furniture is scaled appropriately for the room. A massive sectional sofa or oversized coffee table in a small living room can make the space feel cramped and claustrophobic. Jennifer advises measuring your space before you head out to shop for furniture, that way rather than buying pieces on impulse, you’ll know exactly what kind of pieces will work with your room’s layout. A simple trick to gauge if a piece will fit your space is to lay down painters’ tape or newspaper on your floor in its exact measurements so you can walk around the room and get a sense for how it will fit and feel in your home. You can also create a simple floor plan using free online tools, like FloorPlanner, so you’re completely informed while you hunt for the perfect pieces for your new home.

Another way to maximize space is to incorporate “double-duty furniture,” a phrase Jennifer uses to describe furniture that serves more than one purpose. For example, a simple storage ottoman can act as seating, a spare surface and a place to put blankets, books, games or anything else you want ready access to without creating visible clutter. Stools are great double-duty options that provide seating and extra surfaces, plus they’re lightweight and portable giving you flexibility within any space. Both storage ottomans and stools are readily available at a number of online retailers like West Elm, Target and Pottery Barn at inexpensive prices. You can also find old stools at a local secondhand store and embark on a DIY adventure to create a customized feel.

If your landlord approves of painting within your rental, it’s generally best to steer clear of dark palettes (deep reds, maroon, navy blue or forest green) if you want keep the space open and make it seem larger than it is. If you want to avoid the hassle and cost of painting again prior to move out, Jennifer suggests installing temporary wallpaper or wall decals which can add a lot of personality to a room with minimal effort. Especially in small spaces like a foyer, bathroom or hallway, these pops of unexpected color and whimsy can add character and charm to your space. Plus, if you suddenly tire of the design you can easily swap it out for another! Jennifer recommends checking out Timothy Sue for bright, fun temporary wallpaper and Byrdie Graphics’ Etsy Shop for affordable, stylish wall decals.

Stay Organized

While keeping your design simple will help maintain organization in your home, we know it’s difficult to avoid clutter forever. Jennifer recommends placing decorative boxes or baskets in common clutter destinations like the kitchen counter, hall closet, or living room bookshelf. Neatly line boxes or baskets in these areas so you can throw any loose items in as they appear. Beyond maintaining an organized, clean space, you’ll never have to search for the remote again.


Set the Mood

Lighting is a critical element of decorating your home and one that Jennifer finds often overlooked. Don’t rely on overhead lighting as it can create a harsh environment rather than a warm, welcoming space. Instead, Jennifer advises bringing the lighting down to a seated level with floor lamps on either side of your sofa or a reading lamp on a side table. Spreading lighting components evenly around your home will establish a cohesive environment while maintaining flexibility.

Design on a Dime

We know you may not want to invest a lot of time or money in decorating a rental, but even low cost projects that are minimally time intensive can have a huge impact on your home’s overall design.

Jennifer’s favorite design trick is to incorporate a unique, vintage piece of furniture in addition to newer items. Find one-of-a-kind pieces at local flea markets such as the Alameda Flea to score vintage gems at a fraction of the cost.

While you’re at the flea market or thrift shop, keep your eyes peeled for art or interesting frames that pique your interest so you can add a gallery wall to your home. It’s an easy, cost effective way to decorate a wall space and allows you to get personal by incorporating artwork from friends or family that may have sentimental value. It can also be a great project to take on with your roommates because it gives everyone a space to collaborate on your home’s design.

Simply switching out hardware on a desk or dresser can add subtle personality to a room for pennies. Accent pillows are also an inexpensive way to add major color to a room. Jennifer likes to mix and match accent pillows in similar color palettes for some unexpected flair. At $5-$10 a bunch, fresh flowers breath life into any space. Jennifer recommends keeping your floral arrangements simple by using only the same type of flower or same color among different flowers.


Get A Fresh Start

A new apartment is a great opportunity to refresh your design and personal style. If you’re eliminating pieces of furniture upon moving, consider donating them over dumping furniture on the street. Local thrift shops, like Community Thrift in San Francisco, will pick up your items so you don’t have to worry about lugging them to the store. They even let you choose which charity the proceeds go to!

Jennifer finds one of the most opportune times to start fresh when it comes to design is when you’re preparing for cohabitation with a significant other. She advises couples to individually create an idea book on Houzz or board on Pinterest with images of their ideal home style, then sit down to compare designs and figure out what their new style together will be. It may require some compromise, but creating a space that represents each of you is the first step in creating a home together.

You can find more information about Niche Interiors and view their recent work here. Also, you can follow Jennifer and Niche on Twitter and Facebook for more helpful design tips and tricks!



Elizabeth is the Communications & Marketing Lead at Lovely where she helps spread the word about Lovely's mission far and wide. She loves corgis, Beyonce and helping renters enjoy the best possible experience in their homes.

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One response to “There’s No Place Like Home: Expert Design Tips for Your Rental”

  1. the addison brooklyn says:

    Great tips for small spaces! Repainting the walls with light colors really help as well as using multi-purpose furniture. But the furniture has to fit the space too even if it is multi-purpose it shouldn’t occupy too much space. And it always helps to organize your things as well by utilizing your vertical space. I do this at my home at the Addison Brooklyn .

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