Fed up with your rental? Sick of your drab decor, tiny dimensions or bland landscaping? Don’t panic.

Fixing up your rental
There are plenty of (reversible) projects that can spruce up your living space without breaking the bank — or incurring the wrath of your landlord..
10 home improvement projects for renters
  1. Play with color.
  2. Hang it all!
  3. Live in a material world.
  4. I screen, you screen.
  5. Be a divider.
  6. Reflect on adding mirrors.
  7. Lighten up a room
  8. Create a built-in look.
  9. Change up your hardware.
  10. It’s easy being green.

1. Play with color. Most apartments will let you paint walls and even floors. So give your rooms a shot of color. Some ideas: Paint one wall to liven up a room and create a focal point; paint the floors and molding a contrasting color or paint a stenciled border along the tops of walls. If your lease specifies that you return the walls to their original color when you leave, use lighter shades, as they are easier to paint over.

To bring some life to that blah beige carpet, “toss down a big colorful area rug and you’ve changed the room” says Linda Holmes, certified remodeler and president of Creative Carpentry Remodelers Inc., in Aurora, Ill.

Her advice: Focus on using items that are portable. “Don’t spend money on anything you can’t take with you when you leave,” she says. As well as adding color and texture, a rug can define an area like a dining or sitting room. Big pillows and colorful throws are also portable ways to bring in color.

2. Hang it all! And don’t be afraid to put colorful rugs, scarves or art on the walls. Try a Victorian-inspired grouping of photos or mirrors hung from picture hooks and suspended from ribbon in an accent color, says Holmes.

3. Live in a material world. Beautiful fabric can pull a room together. Here are some ways to use it:

  • Put cloth directly on the walls with decorative nail tacks along the ceiling and baseboards, says Deborah Houseworth, ASID, president of DLH Design Studio in Chevy Chase, Md. Drape or gather the fabric for “a subtle, wavy look,” she says. To cover tacks, you can glue decorative trim over them. When it’s time to leave, just take some toothpaste and fill in the tack holes. “(Fabric) adds a little more texture and interest to the wall than paint,” she says.
  • Drape colorful cloth from a rod suspended at the top of the wall to create a headboard, camouflage an unsightly vent or cover a window with a back-alley view, says Houseworth.

4. I screen, you screen. Angled across a corner, a folding screen “adds a lot of drama to a room,” says New York interior designer Michael Love, FASID, president of Interior Options Inc. Plus, you can use the hidden area to store a vacuum cleaner, ironing board or anything else you might want to disguise.

Indulge your do-it-yourself talents by constructing the screen, or check out home, discount and import stores for less expensive models.

5. Be a divider. Want to break up a combination living room/dining room into something a little more intimate? Use an open bookcase, says Holmes. “It’s like putting up a three-quarter-height wall,” she says. You can build it yourself or buy it.

To add a more dramatic touch, place a few pieces of colorful glassware on it. “It keeps it open,” Holmes says, “and it’s a little more interesting than blank space.”

6. Reflect on adding mirrors. To expand a small space, Houseworth suggests hanging “lots of large mirrors.” Her secret: Go to a framing store and pick out the exact size and style frame you need and ask the framer to put a mirror in the frame. Unlike a ready-made mirror, “you can go contemporary or formal, framing materials are not limited by style,” Houseworth says. Want the frame to almost disappear? Paint it the same shade as the wall.

7. Lighten up a room. There are a nice variety of low-voltage options in all prices that either plug into outlets or can be installed in place of existing fixtures. These include spotlights, dangling lights, can lights and tiny track lights similar to what you might find in a gallery. Maintenance can install the lighting for you. Best of all, you can take it with you when you leave.

8. Create a built-in look. If you’re good with tools — or a checkbook — build or buy a freestanding bench seat for underneath a window. Flank it with two bookcases to give it that built-in look, says Holmes. You can even paint it to match the walls. Now, not only do you have a cozy place to sit, with a bonus of extra storage, but when you move you can take it with you.

9. Change up your hardware. A lot of apartments have generic doorknobs and/or kitchen cabinet pulls that are showing some wear. But that doesn’t mean you have to live with them. Instead, pick up something new and interesting at a home or discount store and install it yourself. Save the old hardware in a drawer or closet so you can replace it when you move. And when you leave, take the new stuff with you.

10. It’s easy being green. Create a beautiful garden on a patio or deck with large planters or whiskey barrels, says Rebecca Kolls, master gardener and host of the nationally syndicated television series “Rebecca’s Garden.” “Everything can be planted in a pot,” she says.

Kolls suggests using whiskey barrels and going with a theme: a salsa garden — with tomatoes, cilantro and hot peppers; a vegetable garden with beans and carrots or even an organic lettuce patch with several leafy varieties.

For climbing plants, like tomatoes and beans, bamboo poles can provide some structure. Kolls advises mixing plants of differing heights and textures to give a professional look. Include tall plants to give shape, shorter plants to fill in and something that spreads to spill out over the sides. Look for colors that complement each other, and pack the container. “You can always take plants out in a month if it’s too full,” she says.

Hanging pots are ideal for herbs, says Kolls. Just like any other container, look for a combination of plants in complementary colors and different textures and sizes.

And treat yourself to a taste of the tropics. Place a lemon or banana tree on your terrace in a large planting container. When the weather turns cold, give it a sunny spot indoors.

Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

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