Welcome to Rental How-Tos, a Renters Week 2013 mini-series wherein journalist Bridget Moriarity (whose work has been published on Curbed and in Travel + Leisure, Art + Auction, and Time Out New York, among others) explores various practical considerations of living in a space you don't actually own. First up: decorating (stylishly) so the landlord never knew you existed.
Orli Ben-Dor is a market editor at the Hearst Design Group (House Beautiful, Veranda, and Elle Decor), where she's an in-house expert on all things decorative, from fabrics and wallpapers to rugs, lighting, and furniture. Here, she weighs in on how to make a big design impact on your rental home while leaving little trace that you were ever actually there. And though she speaks from experience—she's a renter in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood—she confesses she's always been fearless of her landlord when it comes to home decorating: "I just did anything I wanted and figured I'd apologize later."
Try Wall-to-Wall Carpeting
Is your rental covered in tacky linoleum flooring? Rediscover wall-
to-wall carpeting—it has come a long way from your grandparent's plush '70s version. Ben-Dor advises looking at natural fibers like sisal: "It's really easy to layer, so you might also get a 4-by-6' more 'design statement-y' rug," she says, "which you can layer on top." Typically, today's wall-
to-wall options are just laid over the floor's surface, meaning no messy de-installation when you leave.
Explore Peel-and-Stick Wallpaper
The temporary wallpaper category has exploded in recent years. "Five or six years ago, your only option was these decals, but now you can buy rolls of wallpaper that are applied in a peel-and-stick way that allows you to reposition it if you mess up or you can just peel it back if you get sick of it," says Ben-Dor, who notes that Brett Beldock revolutionized the peel-and-stick realm thanks to her many designs. (Find other suggestions over on House Beautiful.)
Lean Your Artwork or Use Shelving
To avoid puncturing holes in your walls, try leaning artworks instead of hanging them. In her own home, Ben-Dor rests a massive 8-foot-
tall by 3.5-foot-wide canvas against one wall, lending the apartment a "loft-like" effect. "If you have smaller artworks," she advises, "you might want to gather them around a focal point and then you can lean them on a surface like a cabinet." Ben-Dor also recommends installing a shelf to minimize damage—that way instead of hanging several paintings salon-style, you can prop them along the shelf.
Distract From Dingy Appliances
If your appliances have seen better days, there's not a whole lot you can do with them. That said, try the art of distraction. "Maybe you want to paint your kitchen wall a fantastic color, so that nobody, including yourself, will dwell on the appliances," Ben-Dor says. Or decorate the fridge in a deliberate way: "House Beautiful featured this one house by [interior designer] Nick Olsen (↓) where he took his client's photographs and arranged them using double-stick tape in an orderly grid on the refrigerator. It looked very neat and design-y, because it wasn't a mish-mash collage."
Turn Your Lights Down Low and Play with Floor Lamps
When it comes to bad lighting, Ben-Dor's first tip to make sure everything is on a dimmer—sometimes the fixtures aren't to blame, it's simply a case of too-bright light. Then it's time to try out a mixture of floor lamps if you want to avoid installing new fixtures. "You can have a lot of fun with the height and scale of the floor lamp to achieve what you might achieve with something installed in the wall—a huge floor lamp with a huge shade can function almost like a pendant lamp in the way it casts a wide pool of light."