Monday, June 6, 2011

Cures for the Common Rental

My friend Becky emailed me the other day about a problem that faces many of us: less-than-desirable apartment features, like beige carpet, horrible lighting and strict no-paint rules. She wanted advice about how to dress up the kind of drab rental that most of us living in suburbia find. While I do have some ideas, in the interest of full disclosure, I wanted to share a shot of some of the features in my apartment that I find myself cringing over daily. 

Our apartment is in a decent part of our town, a good price for its size, and has a dishwasher, washer and dryer, and a balcony. Pretty good! It also features an overhead dining room fixture that makes me grit my teeth, and is virtually impossible to temporarily replace. I've schemed over ideas of how to conceal it, even searched for oversized (we're talking 18-inch wide) lampshades that I could somehow attach to hide its ickiness, but so far I've had no luck.

I also hate the horrible beige carpet that pills, the faux-caned ceiling fans and the '80s wood trim cabinets. All of us drool over the apartments we see on blogs, with hardwood floors, crown molding and fireplaces, but most apartments unfortunately look more like mine. Here are my suggestions for adding some intrigue:

1. Add Rugs

When I moved out of my beautiful hardwood floor-filled apartment and into this one, I couldn't bear to just get rid of all my rugs. I decided, without giving much thought to design rules, to use my carpets to define the space. My old zebra rug grounds the living room area, and an old jute rug (I'd actually like something different) anchors the dining area. Proof I'm not crazy:

Designer Robert Couturier didn't hesitate to layer a Turkish rug over a larger white rug in his New York apartment. Note how colorful the room looks, despite white walls and cream carpet! See the details here.

2. Fill the Walls

We've been lucky to be able to get some very large pieces of art, including a print by our friend Daniel Burke and a painting by Sean's cousin Emily O'Brien. Big works go a LONG way, so if you can afford to buy a big piece, even if it's a print or poster, do it! You can also enlarge your own photographs; anything from ice cream cones to photos of horses or sailboats can look dramatic and contemporary over the sofa or in the dining room.

If you can't afford a big piece or you just have a lot of small works, gallery walls have a huge impact. Most of us hope to avoid putting too many holes in the walls of our rentals, but you can always buy nail hole filler. Don't put off decorating your home; whether you live there 5 months or 5 years, it's still the place you live!

These gallery walls featured in Lonny show how a mix of frames, subjects and objects like mirrors and letters can create a charming and personalized space without a drop of paint. 

If you are head-over-heels in love with a wallpaper, you could consider buying a roll and having it framed or framing it with crown molding, as seen in this Apartment Therapy article. I personally still wouldn't want to apply it to the wall, so you might be able to do smaller strips applied to canvas or foamcore and then framed.

And if you haven't found a lot of art, or you don't want to spend a ton of money on frames, a collection of antique or thrift store mirrors will not only fill the wall, but enlarge the room. Found on The Style Files.

3. Fake Architecture

A bookshelf can create walls where they don't exist, doing double duty as a room divider and storage, as seen in Michelle Adam's apartment in Lonny.

Add storage and the look of built-ins by flanking a bed with fabric-covered shelving and sconces, like John and Sherry over at Young House Love.

 And always, always hang your curtains high, like these found on Pinterest. If you can sew, buy plain white curtains and add a festive fabric at the bottom!

Those are my tips, although I won't even pretend my apartment looks half as good as these! What about you guys? Any great tips for fighting the beige? Waging war on the faux wood trim? Share them in the comments!

P.S. Jordan at Oh Happy Day is hosting the mother of all giveaways, and seriously, it's too good not to enter. She's giving away a 7-day trip to Paris! Read the rules here.


Rebekka Seale said...

I love the mirrors. And I really need some rugs.

Amber said...

I like the mirror idea, too! I would do it in a second if I didn't have so much unframed art lying around.

Molly said...

any advice for space usage on really high ceilings?
I love the mirrors and was thinking just the other day about rug on rug... as far as a gallery wall I have created a very cheap version using cards, small pieces of sentimental paper (including tickets to shows.. which i always want to keep but never before had a use) and photos printed off (no frames) that i tetris together :)

Amber said...

Hi Molly!
I've never had very high ceilings, but I think the most important thing is to consider scale. Get tall bookshelves, tall media cabinets, etc. so that everything doesn't look dwarfed. Also, still hang the drapes high, and I would go with big, big art (the biggest you can afford...this could even be stretch fabric) to make a big statement. If you can, consider hanging a pendant light of some sort, even a paper lantern would do, to give a room more intimacy. I hope that helps!