home equity

10 home improvement projects for renters

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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