Of course, there are many reasons to buy and maybe homeownership is totally, totally right for you. But when you own, housing-related costs are usually the biggest expenses in your budget. Homeowners have less free time due to the upkeep that houses require. If something in your life changes – you get divorced or married, you get an amazing job offer, your family grows or shrinks – it could take years to sell your home and find a new space that fits your new life.
If you want to buy a home, you should do it!
If you want the freedom of renting, come sit next to me and let’s talk about how to find your dream rental – something in a cool neighborhood, with affordable rent, and an awesome landlord.
After 13 rentals in 17 years, I’ve got this ish DOWN. Here are all the questions you should ask yourself before you sign a lease, plus some handy tricks to find the best places!
Potentially controversial opinion alert: I think apartment improvements are pretty much always worth the time and effort.
I don’t know about you guys, but when I like my living space, I spend less money going out, I’m more likely to have friends over, and I’m generally more productive and happier. I even sleep better! All because I spent a weekend painting or swapping out handles!
Today, I brought in ASID-certified interior design Liz MacKeigan to share her best, most affordable rental-improving tips and tricks!
It’s no secret that home ownership instills a sense of pride and a having a stake in your local community. But what about those of us who can’t afford to buy or aren’t ready to settle down with a thirty-year mortgage? There is nothing that says renters can’t also take pride!
I can’t think of a valid reason to wait until “someday” to make yourself feel at home somewhere. Sure, ripping out a bathroom or replacing flooring surfaces is likely out of the question, but it doesn’t mean you can’t inject your personality or creature comforts into your landlord’s place.
At the end of the day, you’ll feel better coming home to a place that’s comforting and personalized to your tastes than you will when coming home to someone else’s poor, beige decisions.
Cheap apartment improvements: Living room
Blank walls make me sad. And because I don’t have a fabulous art budget, I’ve gotten creative over the years about hanging things on my walls. Here are some ways to get big art on a small budget, without utilizing your old NKOTB posters:
Aunt Peaches shows us how to turn wrapping paper into legit art.
If geography is your thing, blow up or photocopy a map and break out the Mod Podge for an inexpensive oversized map. I made something like this for a first-anniversary gift to my husband and now we paint the route of every road trip we take together. Awwwww.
Washi tape can make magical things happen to your walls.
When hanging art, remember to keep it relatively at eye level, and hang pieces in groupings on large walls if your frames are less than 36”.
Cheap apartment improvements: Kitchen + bathroom
Kitchens and bathrooms in rentals typically leave a little to be desired. Without causing damage, you can typically make some small changes to make cooking feel a little nicer. Here’s how:
Swap out your knobs & pulls. Knobs are easy because they have one screw, but did you know there are adjustable pulls on the market? They’re great because you can haul them from place to place. These are my favorite.
Take off some cabinet doors! My teeny apartment in college had two-toned kitchen doors that were peeling, so I yanked them down and installed pretty contact paper the back of the cabinets. The kitchen felt larger and the doors were no longer mocking my sensibilities.
Cheap apartment improvements: Bedrooms
Need extra storage? A few inexpensive wall shelves and a can of gold spray paint might just solve all of your problems.
If you’re having trouble locating the right furniture for your space, check out my old post on tips for selecting pieces that can move with you from place to place.
Have you ever noticed that headboards are weirdly expensive? How is this piece of wood that keeps my pillow from falling down between the mattress and wall $500?
Thankfully, ASID-certified interior designer Liz is here to help!
Now that I am officially done with mourning the loss of summer, it’s time to pick myself up and focus on the best thing about autumn. The perfect windows-open sleeping weather is here, at least in Cleveland. My constant desire to snuggle under a cozy blanket has me thinking a lot about beautiful beds and I’ve come to a conclusion: it’s hard to have a proper adult bedroom without a headboard.
Jamming your pillows right up to a plain wall just doesn’t seem quite as luxurious as the finishing touch of something to lean against while watching the Big Lebowski for the eleventy-third time. Sadly, this is my life!
My 100-year old apartment has tiny bedrooms and losing a few inches to a headboard means my glorious king bed won’t fit.
But, I’m determined to rectify this so I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite unconventional headboards that scoff at spatial and budgetary constraints. I’m skipping using room divider screens, palette wood, and reclaimed doors because they’re all over the interwebs.
11 Charming, Clever DIY Headboards
My favorite is always the classic upholstered headboard with linen bedding. Do it on a budget by upholstering a large sheet of foam core
Work wallpaper into a strong vertical line by placing it to the ceiling, but not much wider than the bed. Your ceilings will look taller. There are a bunch of inexpensive removable wallpapers on the market right now. Or, you could starch a piece of fabric to the wall for the same look.
Spruce up a DIY palette bed with a ye olde wall map. You could work a palette as a headboard, but I’m a little tired of seeing them. Is that just me? Probably.
Wallpaper or stencils can be applied to mimic a traditionally shaped headboard, but without the price tag or commitment to power tools.
Go big with height and width and install reclaimed ceiling tiles right to the wall. Make sure the edges aren’t sharp! You could always frame around the edges with strips of 1x to ensure nothing snags. Bonus points for a regal pet.
Keeping the reclaimed building materials theme going, how sweet is this mantel turned headboard? It’s a great alternative where there isn’t the width for bedside tables.
In a nod to traditional tapestry hangings, a dowel rod and a favorite fabric will pull the eye up and lend an extra layer of softness.
So will a rug. A RUG! I’m doing this in my next guest bedroom.
Can’t find a proper headboard to fit under a high window sill? Use floor or seat cushions!
I’m obsessed with the idea of framing cork or peg board as a headboard.
And last (and most definitely not least), just paint a headboard right on the wall. Bravo to this designer for having the guts to do it in black chalkboard paint. Just use a chalk marker so you don’t get the dust of normal chalk.
And there you have it, a bunch of well-put together beds that will make you feel like a proper adult. Just remember to Treat Yo Self and invest in quality sheets to make your slumber that much more luxurious.
Thanks so much for the great ideas, Liz! Have you guys DIY-ed a headboard? Share your tips in the comments!
Window treatments are weirdly expensive, aren’t they? Like, how are those curtains HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS???
Thankfully, we have Liz to helps us DIY window treatments that won’t break the bank. And Liz is an ASID professional designer so you know she knows what’s up!
Hello, friends! I’m back this month to talk about an aspect of design that often makes me a little batty… window treatments.
Exquisitely detailed custom silk draperies make my heart swell when they’re done right, but the cost associated makes my eye twitch.
Most of my clients aren’t in their “forever homes,” so I feel like it’s a disservice to use a big chunk of the budget on expensive window treatments that likely won’t work in their next place. But, most off-the-shelf drapery panels leave a little to be desired. So I’m here to discuss some the land of the middle.
Before I get into the details, I have one demand: just say “no” to heavy, swagged, multi-layer draperies that are out of place anywhere other than a legit mansion. Simplicity goes a long way when it comes to window treatments.
Start by thinking about what sort of fabric you want to use. If going the ready-made route, stay away from faux satins and silks since they tend to look cheap. Cotton blends are my favorite.
If you need to blackout or insulation properties but are gasping at the cost of lined drapes, order some Roc-Lon instead and add it behind your panels.
If going the DIY route and sewing isn’t your bag, source wide fabrics with pre-finished edges. Sheets, drop cloths, table cloths, duvet covers, and burlap are all great options when finished out with lining. Drapery clip rings are the quickest way of securing the fabric to the rod.
Most bathroom, kitchen, or windows with a sill high off the ground can get a shade. Skip the mini blinds and go for a bamboo stick-shade or roman fabric shade. There isn’t much of a cost difference if you get them from the right place. Cough cough, IKEA, cough. Or, you could craft a faux shade out of any piece of cloth… placemat, scarf, pillowcase, or your old Coachella shirt.
Height of draperies is really important. Do yourself a favor and skip the 84” tall panels if the top of your window frame is 78” or taller. Instead, go with a 96” panel or longer and hang them as high as you can, extending at least 6” on the sides of the frame. Your ceilings will look taller when the drapes are hung higher on the wall, particularly if the fabric color is close to the wall color.
If you’re working with a series of windows, consider using long rods and individual panels for each window. Again, it will make your ceilings look taller!
A top valance can hide mini-blinds that your landlord won’t let you remove.
Hide off-center windows and make small rooms look larger by draping an entire wall.
Help open floor plans flow by choosing similarly colored draperies in adjacent rooms. Also take a look at how the shades are layered to create a luxe look and make the windows appear taller by hiding the space above the window frame.
Did your landlord paint the ceiling the same color as the walls? Create strong vertical lines that help the room look less monolithic by opting for bold drapes that hug the ceiling.
And finally, if you’re lucky enough to have high ceilings, you can get those extra-long drapes by adding panels to the bottom of normal height drapes! It’s a look that’s on-trend right now and your wallet will be happy.
Confused about terms? Drapes are full width and will close fully; curtains are stationary panels. I just learned this a few months ago, which is quite sad for a professional designer!
And there you have it! I’m happy to answer window treatment questions in the comments.
Want to replace your apartment’s lighting? Trick question! Of course you do! Who actually enjoys those ubiquitous “boob” lights?!
Today, I brought in professional interior designer Liz to tell us all how we can upgrade our lighting without breaking the bank
My biggest complaint about rental living is the terrible lighting. Most apartments come with cheapie fixtures that throw off stage-level illumination from overhead: the most unflattering of lighting situations.
When planning a professional design project, I like to take an approach that’s layered so that illumination is coming from more than one source and height. Balance is also important, so I like to use a lot of sources scattered around the room, rather than a central fixture that’s overwhelmingly bright yet leaves the corners dark.
As a life-long renter, I know how frustrating it can be to not have recessed cans, hard-wired sconces, or dimmers to control light with precision. So let’s focus on how to get that luxe, layered look in a way that’s achievable in any apartment.
4 ways to replace, repair or disguise your apartment’s bad lighting
Let’s take a minute to admire this room, shall we?
The design of the room is ultimately successful because of good lighting. The general illumination comes from the ceiling fixture, yet it’s not too bright (although a show-stopper).
Otherwise, dark corners are balanced out with lamps that cast a warm glow that’s inviting and cozy. The lamps provide eye-level lighting while seated, which is the most flattering light for your face.
If the only light source is over your head, it can be a little harsh; think about every sad fitting room, ever. So break up with the $20 torch lamps from college and explore the myriad of lighting choices out there.
Lamps are probably the easiest way to bring task, accent, or general illumination into an existing space without disturbing your landlord’s place. There are seemingly endless options available and at all price points.
Do yourself a favor and buy a pack of 3 matching lamps from your local big-box store. Stick them in poorly lit corners of your rooms, suck them into bookshelves, or use a pair on a sofa table.
Floor lamps are often overlooked, but can anchor a vignette and make up for a lack of overhead lighting. Create a real dining room in a loft or otherwise non-compartmentalized space with a simple arc floor lamp like shown here.
The “chandelier” in my dining room is too small and mounted about two feet too high. My plan is to conceal it with a huge drum fixture as shown in the picture below. It’s a great way to work with terrible rental fixtures.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to swap hard-wired fixtures, create an intimate dining space by hanging so the bottom of the fixture is 30-36” above the table.
Pendants on long cords can get worked into living room corners or flanking beds when table lamps aren’t wanted. Ultimate flexibility!
Looking for something adjustable? Consider creating a reading nook with a library sconce! No bedside table needed; just hang on the wall and use a cord cover to finish off the look.
Once you have the fixtures in place, think about the level of illumination. Bathrooms and kitchens should be bright, but bedrooms and casual entertaining spaces feel most comfortable when the lighting isn’t harsh. Use plug-in or wireless dimmers for maximum flexibility.
For a less expensive option, use lower wattage bulbs. Most fixtures in my place have 40w Edisons (it’s cool, I trade my lack of AC for fancy bulbs!). If using LED bulbs, go with the lowest light temperature number; 2700k will look closest to a regular incandescent.
And don’t forget about stylized bulbs if you want to roll without shades or remove existing ones that are terrible. Low cost, big impact!
Hi, Yes and Yes! I’m the new design & DIY contributor and want to make myself acquainted. I’m an interior designer and professional member of the ever-so-fancy ASID. I have an intrepid attitude when it comes to the DIY realm. I’ve also only lived as a renter; from a military kid to the “temporary” rental in middle school that lasted until I moved on to a series of apartments as an adult.
I spend my work life helping homeowners renovate and personalize their homes while I live in a cheap apartment on Cleveland’s west side. Straddling the worlds of high design and rented beige-town on a daily basis leaves me thinking a lot about how to merge the two!
I currently work for an amazing luxury design firm but am transitioning to my own gig after my husband and I decided to move three states away from my employer.
Traveling and working remotely can’t continue forever, and we just decided to put down permanent roots here in Cleveland, where homeownership is financially possible.
So I’m starting BOLSTER, a studio focusing on helping renters and homeowners create the most incredible living spaces possible. I’m offering e-design and hourly consultation services now with full-service design rolling out in September. I couldn’t think of a better time to start writing for Yes and Yes!
Let’s talk about collecting the right furniture to make your rental space feel like home while keeping future moves in mind.
My advice for furnishing a home doesn’t stray too far from the advice we’ve all heard about building a wardrobe: define your style, buy timeless pieces as a foundation, focus on versatility, and account for current trends with accessories and less expensive pieces. Not that I take that advice when it comes to clothing; 92.6% of what I wear is black because I love stereotypes. And I’m lazy.
Defining your style will make it easier to shop for furniture or turn away free items from well-meaning relatives. Don’t let mom’s cast-off wingback chair crush your dreams of having mid-century decor.
Once your style has been identified, build the foundation. Sofas, dining tables, beds, and storage pieces that are timeless with refined details lend themselves to evolving trends and tastes. The classics also elevate your style and will look purposeful in a variety of architectural environments, including spaces where you can’t control paint colors.
Keeping it simple goes for fabric on large pieces unless you’re down with slipcovers. Remember the black and white damask trend of 2007? It’s easier to change pillows on a white sofa than address dated upholstery.
Sturdy materials like wood and metal will hold up to multiple moves better than laminated particle board. My $200 Swedish superstore dresser only lasted three years and collapsed after two moves. But the two solid wood vintage waterfall dressers found at a garage sale for $90 are in it for the long haul.
Focusing on the versatility of furniture will help you make a home in future apartments. An entire room of matching furniture purchased from a warehouse is not only stayed and overpriced, it’s also inflexible. Versatility is aided by mixing in metals, acrylic, painted finishes, and neutral upholstery that complements the style and scale of foundation pieces. It’s easy to move pieces from room to room if all works together!
Once you’ve built the base of classic and sturdy furniture pieces, go wild with bringing in personal style in ways that won’t break your bank when you’re ready for a change. Save the shots of color for occasional tables, drapes, accessories, and art. Pillows may be recovered with little effort or cost, and go a long way to breathing new life into those classic foundation pieces.
So much helpful info, right guys? If you have any furniture or decor questions for Liz, leave them in the comments!
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