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Just because you’re living in a rental doesn’t mean you can’t make it feel like home. Especially if the author of “Own Your Space,” Alexandra Gater has anything to do with it.
The DIY pro started by sharing the transformations she was making in her own apartment and that quickly evolved to making over other people’s spaces. Now, on YouTube, she shares makeover tips with millions of people every month, and empowers viewers to make their own rental space beautiful and more like “them” no matter their budget or decorating experience.
She says she’s been to hundreds of apartments and knows right away what can be easily changed and what will take more work or money. Here, she shares her tips:
What to Look For In a Rental Apartment
First and foremost, you need a “blank canvas” and that starts with finding the right rental apartment. However, Alexandra knows from experience that your new space is probably not going to be perfect.
“Depending on where you live in the world, finding a perfect, character-filled blank canvas rental that’s also on budget is not always realistic,” she says.
However, what should you look for?
“I suggest breaking it down into two categories: things you can change with a little TLC, and things you can’t. Your budget, preference, and DIY capabilities will determine if the space is right for you.”
Alexandra also says to look for places that have character and can be elevated with your home décor style.
“Try to overlook the current tenant’s furniture and search for details that make a space special. It’s usually a space’s architectural windows, brick walls, ornate molding, and old wooden floors that make it stand out from other rentals,” she says, adding, “Listings with character are always the ones I pause at and take time to scroll through or take time to view in person.”
Things You Can Change
Fortunately, there are many things in your rental that you may not have realized or considered changing that can have a big impact.
“Check out the wear and tear on the kitchen and bathroom countertops. You can always put contact paper on old laminate countertops, but watch out for water damage or deteriorating surfaces,” Alexandra says.
However, she says that if your counters are “in such bad condition,” they may need to be replaced entirely.
Speaking of contact paper, check out these peel-and-stick marble countertops that look incredibly real.
“Take note of the cabinets’ condition and finish. Are they paintable? If the cabinets are not solid wood—if they’re vinyl, laminate or engineered wood—they’ll be harder to paint, but not impossible. You’ll just need space to sand, prime, and paint them outdoors or in a garage,” she says.
Alexandra adds, “Look for signs of water damage and uneven surfaces—if the cabinets are in rough shape, they’ll be harder to paint and will likely need to be replaced, which will put a dent in your budget.”
“Notice the paint color on the walls. Is the color of the walls too dark or the wrong color for you? Don’t be disheartened; you can always paint them,” Alexandra says (here’s how to figure out exactly how much paint you’ll need).
But, be sure to ask the owner if you can paint. “Painting is one of the biggest game changers in a space, and if it’s off the table, this could be a big deal breaker,” she adds.
“Lighting is one of the easiest things to upgrade. For example, if the rental you’re touring is filled with blue-hued overhead lighting, it might make the space feel colder than it actually is,” Alexandra says.
“Simply switching out the existing bulbs can make a space feel completely different (and instantly cozier!).”
You can also DIY battery-powered sconce light fixtures that look “installed” but are removable.
Things You Cannot Change
Unfortunately, Alexandra says there are things in your rental that you probably can’t alter. However, she provides easy workarounds.
Alexandra says her first apartment had dark, cherrywood floors, which was the exact opposite of her preferred style. “It’s light hardwood for me, all the way.”
However, she was able to look past the flooring because of the space’s other selling points.
“The space got so much sunlight, and there were tons of other winning selling points like the skylight in the kitchen and the massive brick wall that I knew would distract from the floors,” she says.
If you’re not happy with your rental’s floors, Alexandra says to ask yourself these two questions:
1) Are there ways I can decorate around the floors, like using a large rug to cover them?
2) Will my overall décor style distract from the color?
If you decide to use a rug, here’s how to pick the perfect size for your room.
Let's say you don’t like the color of your kitchen cabinets but your landlord will NOT let you paint over them. Alexandra says to ask yourself if you’re okay living with this type of kitchen.
“If the existing cabinets are a neutral color like white or gray, you can always add renter-friendly additions like a temporary backsplash (here are some of our favorite peel-and-stick backsplashes) or new cabinet hardware (like the pic above) to add color and pattern,” she says.
“If the rental you are looking at is decked out with wall-to-wall carpet, consider this a permanent fixture you’ll have to live with. Removing carpet is a costly and timely change to make because once it’s removed, you have to deal with what’s underneath it. (It’s not always those dreamy hardwood floors you are hoping for!)” Alexandra says. If there are stains, here’s a secret method for getting them out instantly.
“Oftentimes you don’t have to worry about the look of appliances in a kitchen because their standard colors (white, silver, black) allow you to design around them. Just make sure they are working and in good condition!”
You can have some fun decorating a boring refrigerator with googly eyes like this celeb, though. OR even cover it with peel-and-stick wallpaper like Alexandra did in her apartment (like the pic above). Before you apply wallpaper to your fridge door, Alexandra says, remove the hardware, so you're working with a clean canvas.
Pro tip: Alexandra likes busy patterns because they're easier to install. You can get her refrigerator wallpaper here.
And this peelable terrazzo wallpaper is very similar, too!