Tips For Decorating Your Apartment If You're Renting

This is a blog post I've been looking forward to putting up for SUCH a long time now, mostly because I love discovering boutique home decor brands with a focus on sustainability, but also because I've loved navigating the difficulties of trying to make a space your own when you're RENTING. Let me tell you, this is a challenge, and doubly so if you're trying to be frugal (read: cheap).

A little bit of background: Porter and I have lived in the same Beacon Hill apartment for about four years now. He moved in here a year before I graduated from college and because of the blessing that is rent-control it is now an absolute steal. We love our apartment....probably a little bit too much. Porter jokes that he wants to grow old here, but does so so frequently that I genuinely think he would if I let him. But while I don't plan on spending the next decade here, it is very much home to both of us and probably will be for at least another 2-3 years.

But here's the thing that stinks about being renters (especially if you're the kind of renters that live for DIY projects and walk into most spaces like you're Joanna Gaines: pondering which walls are load-bearing and where you'd fit a kitchen island) you can't do THAT much to a rental. You can't change the backsplash or countertops or flooring. You can't touch bathroom fixtures or put in recess lighting or double the size of your hall closet (oh how I wish!). So it's a challenge. But as we learned this summer, there are still plenty of ways to make a rental feel very, very much your own. So in this post, we're going to take you through some of the changes we made, and little INEXPENSIVE projects here and there that can make your older things feel new again. Let's jump in.

The first thing I want to talk about is temporary wallpaper, and oh my goodness am I passionate about it. As we just discussed, living in a rental you can't put up shiplap or mount exposed beams on your ceiling for that rustic, natural looking but you CAN put up temporary wallpaper with a natural texture, and I'm being totally honest when I say that since doing this, every single friend who comes over thinks the back wall of our bedroom is wood until they go in and feel the paper for themselves. Our bedroom wallpaper is from Milton & King, and I absolutely LOVE how it turned out. It has a super soft feel that isn't at all "papery" which I especially like because we don't have a headboard, and when you're sitting up in bed watching TV or doing work you don't want to feel like you're leaning against scratchy wallpaper.

Also, I did the install on that wall all on my own to surprise Porter, and while I won't say it was a walk in the park, it wasn't as hard as I was expecting. Doing it alone definitely slowed the process down, but with just a couple of tools (costing around 20 bucks total) from the local hardware store, I was able to finish the job in just under three hours. I do wish I had waited for a colder day to do this because 95 degree summer days in an apartment with no central air are not conducive to manual labor, or so I learned. Doing an accent wall changes the feel of our bedroom COMPLETELY. Like I stood in the doorway many times during the weeks that followed literally just staring and loving that wall. I still do sometimes. Sue me. It's beautiful. Now, I want to do the rest of our bedroom with the same paper, so we're slowly saving toward being able to do so before the spring.

Next I want to talk about the framed photos above our bed. These are actually from Urban Outfitters Home, which I feel like slips under a lot of people's radar but has some AMAZING and WELL-PRICED home decor and actually has lots of items made from reclaimed wood or sustainably manufactured that are stunning like THIS BOOKSHELF and THIS STORAGE CABINET that I hope to be the proud owner of some day soon. Porter and I had basically been trying for years to figure out what exactly we wanted to hang above our bed and for the longest time, nothing felt right. We rotated different things in and out and nothing ever felt permanent or like it truly belonged there until we went for this trio of photographs. I love being able to check anything off my list so knowing we're both very happy with those paintings and will be for a long time is very satisfying. Also, I've attempted in the past to go the cheaper route with framed prints, purchasing prints from certain inexpensive sites I won't name but we all probably know of and I've never been satisfied with the quality. I want things that are inexpensive but are still good quality and will last (isn't that what we all want?) so I can justify the slightly higher price point for these prints.

Next, let's talk about our bedding. In the past we've kept the same bedding for summer and winter, and while you can do that some places it just wasn't working for us here in Boston, where the range of temperatures experienced in a single year is oh-so-wide. Porter's one of those people who needs the weight of the covers on him even if he's burning up and refuses to kick them off no matter what. I am the opposite and will kick off covers as soon as I'm too warm. Therefore, most summer nights were turning into a lot of kicking off (on my end) and pulling up (on his end) that left us both still too warm, annoyed, and overtired. Something had to change.

Our linen sheets are from Cultiver, a completely sustainably made, are the most durable material for sheets (meaning they get softer with every wash and should last literally DECADES) and are so light, airy, and comfortable. I love the white duvet because it makes our bed look like a fluffy cloud, and the mossy green sheets underneath reminded me of Ireland as soon as I saw them and then I had to have them. These aren't the most inexpensive linen sheets out there but because of how long they'll last I'm more than happy with the price point. Honestly, if you forego the iced coffee for a month or two and make your own at home instead, it's easy to create space in your budget

The blue striped throw pillows on our bed are from Holistic Habitat, a site I am in LOVE with. Everything is so beautifully curated and ethically and sustainably made, and they have so many interesting boutique brands on there that even I (who spends an embarrassing amount of time digging up home decor brands) had never even heard of. We also have their floating white planters in our "studio" (basically the room with my dresser and desk where I work during the day). I've been switching up what I plant in them to coincide with the season and they just add a nice zen quality to my work space.

The hexagonal mirror on the wall of our bedroom is from The Citizenry another sustainably-driven brand that is definitely not inexpensive but has items that are so beautiful they're tough to resist. This mirror lived in two other locations before finally finding it's forever home on that back wall (SORRY Porter!). I love it there and I love how it makes our bedroom feel a little bit bigger. Someday, I plan on hanging it above a bathroom sink in our "forever" home....

Now onto the studio. In the studio we went with Tempaper, a temporary wallpaper brand that is peel and stick, making installation especially simple and making it super renter-friendly. We went with white brick because I don't love the sort of off-white, yellowy color of some of our walls and we do some photographing in that room and white is the most reflective color ! We did the entire room in Tempaper and it was a TASK. It definitely was nice not needing any glue and working on it TOGETHER versus by myself but, let me tell you, it was sweltering hot, it took three nights to complete, and words were had between me and my husband (and then resolved over lots of iced tea and lemonade breaks). At the time, there were definitely moments where it was not fun at all, but now looking back it was fun to do a home project together that seemed overwhelming at times (thanks to the very strange changes in heights and shapes and slants of the walls in that room) but that we completed together and are so proud of now. Tempaper has some AMAZING designs and is reasonably priced and awesome to check out if you're renting but desperate to make your space feel a little bit more your own!

For the walls in the studio we decorated with prints from Artifact Uprising and Ixxi. Both are ULTRA AFFORDABLE. And creating any sort of wall mural with prints from a high-end brand that prints with white borders and a beautiful matte finish like AU will have your space feeling crisp & beautiful in no time at all. We love Ixxi too because it gives you the option to use images of your own and design them into all different kinds of murals or to choose from their huge selection of images. We love the ones we chose and I look at our Ixxi print every day as I work and it calms me (seriously, it does.).

We also have THIS map from Native Maps hanging in our living room, and it is so beauteous. I know map prints are all the rage right now, but this company does an especially good job in creating maps that are a little bit more timeless and gender-neutral than a lot of what's out there. Also, I love how this map has all the neighborhoods in Boston written in teeny-tiny within it so I now genuinely understand the shape of our city and what is where. It's really helped me step up my geography game.

Lastly, we want to talk about our favorite inexpensive decorative items. We LOVE saving money and really don't like spending on things that will die (like flowers) or last only for a short amount of time and then need to be replaced. This is why I haven't gotten my nails done since I got married and why I cut Porter's hair (also, I just have a hard time sitting still in a nail salon and think haircuts are fun). But back to our favorite inexpensive decorative items:

Birch Logs - for $20 (or less if you go to a big-box store) you can get six birch logs to decorate an empty fireplace with (there are lots of these in Boston Beacon Hill rentals) or to put on shelves, or creatively stack in a corner, or create floating non-functional "shelves" with with the help of a few gold spray-painted nails (which I did in our studio a few years back and LOVE). Birch just looks good at all times of year. It feels festive in the winter and light and airy in the summer and it lasts FOREVER. Birch logs are great and we have lots of them in our apartment.

Newspaper or Paper-Wrapped Books - I saw this in some home decor magazine or book at some point and made a mental note of it because I have a lot of books laying around and once they've been read if I want to save them but make them serve a decorative purpose I'm going to do that. I took a stack of about 15 books and wrapped them with book pages from books I honestly had read and not been wild about and an hour or so later I had a pretty, neutral, minimalist decorative piece on my bureau. BAM.

White and Black HardCover Books - An easier version of decorating with books is to collect all the hardcovers at your parents house (that they don't want) in one color or in black and white and to decorate certain shelves in your apartment or your nightstand with all black or all white hardcovers. It's clean, it's aesthetic, it's free.

Succulents / Herbs - I'm going to be upfront here and say that I kill things. Flora, to be specific. I have the opposite of a green thumb and if you bring me some form of a plant it's not a matter of if it will die, but when. This is why cacti and succulents are my friends. I do basically nothing and they survive and continue to look beautiful. Also our puppy knows not to eat them which can't be said of many other plant species. I also love to decorate with sprigs of dried lavender because it smells SO good, lasts forever, and doesn't require any maintenance. If you go to Trader Joe's succulents and lavender can cost as little as ten bucks. Win-win-win.

String Lights - I know they seem "young" I know they seem "dainty" or maybe too "whimsical" but string lights are NOT just for the holidays, and sometimes enjoying a cup of tea on your bed while reading a good book surrounded by the ambience of twinkling white lights in just plain calming. We love all the ones offered from Urban Outfitters Home and have string lights year round in the studio and our bedroom. The lighting in rentals can be just plain HARSH sometimes and string lights offer a nice alternative when you want wide-reaching ambient light.

Alright you guys, that's a wrap! If you read all the way through this is probably just because you're bored at work, but thank you anyway! Definitely shoot us a DM if you have any questions about the brands we mentioned and check them OUT! We love supporting boutique companies and sharing them with all of you!


Anna Lisa

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