5 Ways to Make Your Rental Feel More Like a Home

Tips from our vintage-obsessed Assistant Editor.
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Watching my baby brother pack for college pointed out two glaring realities of my life: 1.) I'm getting old, and 2.) I'm missing the gene that allows you to create a home with two suitcases and a mattress pad. Ever since I can remember, I've loved nesting. Whether it was my decision for sky-blue walls in high school (rough) or affinity for boy band posters (even rougher), I've always wanted my space to be fully mine, regardless of who actually owned the property. In the past six years, I've lived in eight different apartments, and each one has been picked-out, organized, and designed with the care I'd give to a "forever home." Over the course of the past several moves, from my 300 sq. ft. Beacon Hill bungalow to my mid-city L.A. apartment, one thing became abundantly clear: Creating your perfect space has nothing to do with having the nicest apartment on the block or owning the trendiest items from Pinterest. The perfect rental is one that's comfortable and representative of you. Are you plant obsessed? A rainbow addict? Do you crave the hygge life? All of these things are possible, even in a rental. Here are my go-to rules for making my rental feel like my home:

#1

It can be easy to get caught up in the small things during an apartment search. You'll ask yourself if you like baseboards and if the kitchen tile is "too much" until you go crazy. Instead, try to maintain a big-picture view, and prioritize select "must haves." During my apartment search in Los Angeles, considerably more expensive than past cities I've lived in, I challenged myself to set a firm budget and think realistically about what I could actually afford. Find a shell, with the features you really want (for me, that's in-unit laundry), and don't sweat the small stuff. If an apartment has good bones, anything is possible. The L.A. apartment I settled on looked like a white box at first, but with its laundry, spacious cabinets, and wall-length closet, I knew it had the potential to be so much more.

My first day in the new apartment.

My first day in the new apartment.

Adding vintage furniture and a large rug separated the living room from the dining room.

Adding vintage furniture and a large rug separated the living room from the dining room.

#2

This is the best part of moving! I have so many friends who feel lackluster about rentals. Since it's only temporary, they bring the bare minimum and put together the first few items they see in IKEA. A Pinterest board is the perfect antidote to this sort of apathy. If you're on a budget like me, your space never ends up identical to your inspiration board, but creating a central theme will inspire and excite you. It also gives you time to envision your new place and plot ways to hack the decor process. Like a big expensive piece of art? Pin it and start searching on eBay or Amazon for similar options. A framed copy of a piece of art ends up looking almost as nice. Here's the Pinterest board I created for my current apartment. 

While the kitchen isn't quite Pinterest-able, I added shelves to match my favorite inspiration pictures.

While the kitchen isn't quite Pinterest-able, I added shelves to match my favorite inspiration pictures.

3

This is pretty obvious, but keep your things. If you can't immediately envision a piece of your furniture in your new home, don't discredit it entirely. Bring it to your new place and try it in different locations. A china cabinet can become a dresser just as quickly as a sofa side table can become a nightstand. There are truly no rules. 

That being said, I always maintain one cardinal rule when moving: Invest in something for the new place. Whether it's a bedspread or a new bookshelf, buying something for your particular apartment is an investment in your new home. It signifies that you're staying for some time, and will easily become a memory of the apartment when you eventually move. 

I brought this china cabinet into the bedroom as a dresser. After adding Anthropologie knobs, it felt like the boho dresser of my dreams! 

I brought this china cabinet into the bedroom as a dresser. After adding Anthropologie knobs, it felt like the boho dresser of my dreams! 

My Los Angeles investment piece: a vintage record player and radio.

My Los Angeles investment piece: a vintage record player and radio.

Old rattan foot stools are now used as my nightstands. 

Old rattan foot stools are now used as my nightstands. 

4

Have we said sparks joy too much on this blog? Possibly (we're all a bit KonMari obsessed). But for me, my vintage pieces do spark joy. They bring in a sense of history, can't be found anywhere else, and are always a killer deal. In my apartment, I would say that 95% of my furniture is vintage or pre-owned. Even though it has some wear and tear, it adds personality and comfort to the space. 

Anything can bring happiness to a space: plants, art, sports memorabilia included. Figure out what makes you feel most at home and create tasteful moments around the room. Frame your favorite menus, as Leslie did, put up family photos, or even create your own art. 

I've filled my bookshelf with vintage books, old cameras, perfume bottles, and family photos. 

I've filled my bookshelf with vintage books, old cameras, perfume bottles, and family photos. 

My Ekornes chair was a thrift store steal, even though it shows some wear and tear. 

My Ekornes chair was a thrift store steal, even though it shows some wear and tear. 

Bisou also gets categorized under "things that spark joy."

Bisou also gets categorized under "things that spark joy."

1

When I was looking for a couch, I was disappointed, hurt, and frankly shocked at the prices. Why and how do they possibly cost so much? Ready to call it quits and head to IKEA, I finally stopped at a local vintage store I'd been eyeing. There, they had the perfect rattan couch, topped with the ugliest pink and blue 70s cushions I'd ever seen. For $50, I had to envision its future instead of its current situation. I pictured deep velvet green material and multi-colored pin cushion pillows. After buying the couch, I purchased a velvet day bed cushion from Urban Outfitters and material to match. After a quick at-home reupholstery of the top cushions (I have minimal sewing knowledge), I had a brand new couch for under $100.

D.I.Y. can be transformative and cost-efficient. Want a gallery wall without the expensive framing? No problem: Buy amazon frames, re-paint vintage ones, create art out of nothing. My wall is full of pieces that were under $10, including an old record, but came together to make a statement. 

My proudest D.I.Y. project: my lush velvet couch. (Bonus points if you can see Bisou's favorite hiding place!)

My proudest D.I.Y. project: my lush velvet couch. (Bonus points if you can see Bisou's favorite hiding place!)

My art gallery wall is filled with garage sale finds, museum posters, and records. 

My art gallery wall is filled with garage sale finds, museum posters, and records. 

Anthropologie knobs spruce up any furniture! 

Anthropologie knobs spruce up any furniture! 

Rentals can feel temporary, bleak, and uninspiring, but they don't have to. Having somewhere you call home and look forward to turning in to after a long day of work has been the key to my happiness as I've transitioned from city to city. When you have a cozy couch, surrounded by items that spark joy, the details of moving (making friends, learning a new neighborhood, etc.) become beyond enjoyable. 

P.S., If you're looking for more tips, Emily shared her favorite tips for decorating a rental in her cupcakes and cashmere Home book!

Have you moved recently? How are you decorating your new place? Let me know in the comments- I'd love to hear! x