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Reader Dilemma: How much love should you put into your rental?

Dear Decorno,

I am a 23 year old recent graduate who relocated to Seattle only four months ago. My boyfriend and I have found ourselves in a small one-bedroom in the Capital Hill area
(gay/indie/cool Seattle area, FYI, for the non-Seattle world - decorno). Here are the details: hardwood floors, huge bay window, small 8x8 bedroom, no real kitchen, no real counter space, only a wall of kitchen appliances in the living room/dining room, simple bath with hex tiles and pedestal sink. The walls are a light creme with white moldings; we can't paint.

So here is where my real dilemma comes in… a lot of people keep telling me I'm not going to live here forever so don't bother accumulating too much, but my teaching career is not taking off so an upgrade is not likely anytime soon. Do I invest the time and little money (emphasis on little) into making this what I want or do I save my efforts and money for bigger things? I am tired of bare walls and cramped bookshelves but will it be worth it down the line?



This is an excellent topic. I know we will have comments galore on this one.

First, let me start by saying this:

Paint it.

If you really want to, that is. How much was your rental deposit? If it was minor, then so what. Go for it. If you want to live with color, do it. You can either decide that you will paint first and ask for forgiveness later. Or you may want to talk to your landlord and make a deal to paint it, provided you paint it back before you move out (I've done that. Although on the paint-it-back place, the jewel-box-like sunroom that I painted super-high-gloss hot pink remained pink, because the next renter decided she loved it. Go figure.)

Since paint is cheap, this is where I would be brave. I've painted at three apartments. I asked for permission each time and got it. They seemed amused by my interest in chartreuse, robin's-egg blue, and hot pink, but they let me roll with it. So be brave about paint. If they say no, paint it anyway. There is very little they will do as long as you are paying your rent on time.

Next, who are these people telling you this? Do they have killer style? I doubt it. And why do I doubt this? Because people who want to have chic things don't wait for the right time. If your career in teaching "isn't exactly taking off," then all the more reason to get their conservative asses over to your place for a painting party. Or better, tell these design tightwads to come over for a stock-the-bar party (every guest brings a bottle of booze) and get your bar set up in style. If your career is taking a while to really get going thanks to this economy, then you may as well stock up and cultivate the most rockin' home bar, right? Your home will quickly be the life of the party, and in these times, we all really need a party. Or a drink.

Next, don't spend a lot on bookcases. Just go Ikea. Or stack them and don't use bookcases at all. Of course, if you collect them and have copies you really want to keep in nice condition, don't do that (with art books, for example). It's not great for the spines and binding, from what I understand. At any rate, when you own a home you'll probably want something built in or more substantial, so this isn't something worth investing in now.

As for everything else, one mistake I made early on was that I knew what I loved, but wasn't really confident about it. I always loved photography and vintage things, but wasn't sure what things were worth getting, keeping, displaying. I find that my tastes, generally, aren't so different. I love vintage photos and collected them for a long time, but didn't do anything with them. It wasn't until I brought back silly (and cheap) vintage photos from a trip to Paris that I bothered to frame any of them. And now I think, well, that was dumb. I had kickass vintage American photos all this time and didn't do anything with them. It shouldn't take a trip to Paris to make something you acquire feel worthwhile. So I have flea market stuff all around the house now, and it's stuff I intend to keep. All of it comes with a story, too, which is nice. Plus, I like the thrill of the hunt. A great chair found at some trashy market can feel like sweet victory, you know.

And on that note, it's only as I get older that I realize, it really doesn't cost that much to have great things. Resist the call of newness. Crate & Barrel is not your friend at this point (maybe for dishes, etc, but not for furniture). You should pick things up along the way that you can remember. You're 23? Holy shit. I want to be 23 again. You're at that cool SELBY-like age where you can assemble a bohemian mix of non-pedigreed things and have it look pretty amazing.

Figure out fabric. I didn't realize until, like, this year, that I could buy a pillow insert at the fabric store, pick out great fabric, and drop it all off at my dry cleaner and have her whip up some "custom" pillows for me. Who knew? Well, I didn't, and now I do. My bed makes me happy now because my pillows are in a fabric that I haven't seen in any magazine or blog and I like that. Hang out at a fabric store and buy a few yards. You'll find something to do with it. Maybe recover the seat of a side chair, maybe pillows, maybe recover a stool. It's an easy way to add color without commitment and will likely yield more unique results than buying a pillow from Z Gallerie.

But above all, remember: It's not about what you spend. It never will be. The shocking thing I keep realizing when I pore over decor mags is this: the rooms I love the most aren't filled with Kriess furniture. They're the ones with the beat-up vintage dressers, old lamps, and cozy old chairs recovered in something yummy.

Your life has already begun. Don't wait to live. You're at the intersection of Youth & Opportunity. Don't miss your chance. Live now, keep your eyes open, and buy what you love. You may think you're buying "starter furniture" but you're not. Maybe with your sofa, yes. But with your chairs and dressers and lamps and small ottomans, you just may have them forever. And honestly, think of, say, New Yorkers. Many live in a rental til the day they die. Living in a rental doesn't mean you can't own amazing stuff. So go be a good scout and buy what you want to live with. You deserve to have a beautiful life. And don't be in a hurry to fill the space up. You've got a whole life to kit out your world.

Good luck.

Everyone else - what other advice can you offer up for Ashley?


Anonymous said...

I love your advice... thank you so much on breaking down how to decorate a rental. I am saving this post to my favorites.

Creme de la Mode said...


Where'd you get that chandelier photo? - I absolutely LOVE it.

columnist said...

I think your advice is very good - essentially: life is not a dress rehearsal - so live it to the full, and in hard times, such as these, chances are you'll be spending more time at home, so make it a great place to be.

Alison said...

Hey Ashley, listen to Decorno! My mother has lived in the same rental in Manhattan since 1950! And she's got kick-ass Danish stuff she bought when she moved in! If I were you, I would start hanging around salvage shops like grim death. You can find some mind blowing things there. Go with your gut. If you react with anything less than swooning, don't buy it. Good luck and enjoy!

Lori H said...

Smart, helpful insight. Love it!

Anonymous said...

Ashley, you definitely need to start acquiring home decor stuff that you really love - screw the fact that it's a rental. I'm still renting (and pushing 30) and having bought some really great pieces is the only thing that keeps me from punching someone when the landlord refuses to fix the leaky bathroom ceiling or when the cheap-ass washer-dryer roasts my clothes.

Admittedly, I did go a little crazy on permanent things. I swapped out the filthy, disgusting "biscuit"-coloured carpet for a cream wool one (from remnants I bargain-hunted for religiously) and I scraped the bumpy painted-over wallpaper off the living room walls (the only room that had stippled paper) and then repainted that room, the bedroom and the bathroom and covered the walls of the miniscule foyer with printed velvet fabric. I also covered up the hideous linoleum in the bathroom with white painted bamboo. When I move I'll either sell the carpet to the landlord, sell it to someone else or take it with me and get the edges bound for a couple area rugs.

The one thing that I haven't splurged on and that drives me crazy as a result is ceiling light fixtures. The ONLY ones I like are massive old chandeliers and I'd need two to just do the living room. They cost a fortune where I live and odds are that when I move, it'll be to the States and then I'd have to get them all rewired anyway. Every evening when I switch on the lights I think bitter thoughts about the dull glow emitted by those bare bulbs. Yet I refuse to cave and get some hideous Ikea sh*t.

It sounds like you're miles ahead because at least your apartment isn't cruddy on the basics. My advice is to start buying pieces of furniture you love - of course you'll take them with you when you move out and into your first house. Ditto for dishes, silverware (yup, go for two sterling place settings and wash dishes more frequently, no 8 person place settings of cheap "flatware"), sheets, fluffy towels/bathmat, a superior down duvet, a great fabric shower curtain, original art etc., etc. Only go cheap for stuff that needs to be sized specifically for tight spaces (bathroom vanity, over-the-toilet shelving, window boxes). All the antiques I've been accumulating are totally coming with me when I buy my own place. They've already crossed an ocean with me.

Anonymous said...

Agree 100%.I've painted every single rental, no drama.And, the things everyone else always comment on when they see my house are the creative and quirky finds.have fun- Cheers

Ubercrafty said...

I totally agree with decorno, Do It Up! But if the paint thing scares you, no worries. There are so many other ways of decorating without painting. Hang large panels of fabric on the wall. Ikea even has them pre-cut and pre-hemmd, and they go on sale often.

Drag home furniture you find on the side of the road and repaint it, cover it, hack it to pieces.

Swap the light fixtures. Store the ones you take down and put them back up when you leave. If you find a Fab Chandelier somewhere, it can stay your forever. I got one at 21 for my dorm room, it became my dining room fixture in my first condo, stayed in a box at our first house (that had all original art deco fixtures ) and evenutally wound up in my daughter's bedroom over her crib. And everytime I look at it, it takes me back to that junk shop and my 20s.

mamacita said...

Voice of dissent:

If you have furniture to sit on, and sleep in, that's enough. Cut out some pictures from books or something and put them in IKEA frames if you feel you must have something on the walls.

Save all your money for traveling right now. This is such a great time in your life for that -- as a teacher, you get long breaks, no? Go anywhere and everywhere. Later there will be a mortgage, kids, responsibilities...

Book your flight now.

Melissa said...

I so do not agree with the "if you have furniture to sit on, thats enough." What we are surrounded by is what makes us happy/sad. If you have a frumpy looking house you will feel it. Even if you are traveling all over you don't want to come home to a frumpy apartment. You don't have to go all out but find pieces you love and that make you smile when you are around them. I don't care if i'm living somewhere for less than a year, I want to feel good being at home.

judy said...

I live in a rental and have redone my kitchen floor because I hated the cheap vinyl flooring, painted every single wall in the place and replaced my refrigerator because the one my landlady gave me used vaseline as part of the seal on the door (gross!). Granted, my place is super cheap in NYC, but even if it weren't, life is too short to look at ugly colors. Paint and either eat your security deposit or repaint on your way out.

Henrietta said...

Classic post.

Take decorno's excellent advice, young woman!

Courtney said...

i love this post, beautifully written and considered. wish someone had told me this earlier! i currently live in an illegally chartreuse living room and i love it.

you're the best!

Anonymous said...

Light cream walls and white trim? Sounds like you lucked out. I'd leave it. It'll work with whatever furniture and art you bring in.

The only advice you need: eBay and craigslist.

Decorina said...

Beautiful advice, Decs.

I've been moving around light fixtures with me since 1972. It is so easy to hang a fixture - 2/3 wires and you're done. They have been in 5-8 houses and apartments with me and I never regret buying them and taking them with me.

Buy things that you love - used/Craigslist/by the side of a dumpster. If they are really good you will always have them. Or if you change your mind it is easy enough to let them go.

I agree with the fabric thing - buy a piece (even vintage) and hang it on the wall. I've used barkcloth, quilts and lengths of fabric as a basis for decor. I hang fabric with binder clips and tiny Floreat steel nails. Big bang for the buck. My hoard of barkcloth from the 30's 40's and 50's is huge and I'm starting to sell pieces off.

Most of all have fun! said...

this advice is SPOT ON

Lolo said...

As a landlord, I second this advice. Having a good, long term tenant is literally money in the bank and as long as you consult and negotiate with your landlord over any changes, you should make your space worth waking up to every day.

The only time I got burned was when a tenant painted his bedroom black and then never came back to deal with it. Oh well, at least he busted his butt refinishing the wood floors so I totally came out ahead.

Anonymous said...

As a graduate student in a college town living on a small stipend, I scoured estate sales. They were great!

Now, 15+ years later, my husband and I still have and use those dining chairs, dressers, side tables, even wool blankets, books, etc.

chela said...


I've been a renter for almost 20 years, 10 of them in Seattle. You can absolutely make a rental your own without spending a fortune, and even without changing much of the permanent stuff. I put dimmer switches on all my overhead lighting as soon as I move in to a new rental as a rule, it's way easier to do than you might think.

It sounds like you lucked out on paint, I'd leave that be if it doesn't drive you mad. If you want to add some color, buy some fabric you love and some cheap stretcher bars at Utrecht (on the bottom of the hill at Pike or Pine, can't remember) and put it on the walls. Or make it in to curtains if you know how. Or throw pillows or a duvet.

Craigslist is so great for furniture, and for finding estate sales around Seattle which are even better for furniture. Start going to garage and estate sales on the weekends, this is where I have gotten my favorite pieces that I continue to drag around the country from rental to rental. Buy chairs and occasional tables that will be adabtable to different spaces when you move. There are cheap upholstery classes down at the Pacific Fabric outlet if you find something with good bones and hideous fabric. Also think about useful pieces with storage for your small space-- i.e. put your tv or stereo on a long low dresser or sideboard with storage underneath instead of a console table. Estates and auctions are also great for getting beautiful oriental rugs inexpensively, which will really make your place feel both more cozy and look more complete. Ikea is good for shelves and a mattress.

Ebay and thrift shops for lamps, the huge goodwill on Dearborn is awesome if it is still there. Also Hippo Hardware if you head down to Portland any time. Ebay and etsy are great for original things to put on the walls. Cornish does an annual BFA show at the end of the academic year with really good work that is relatively inexpensive, and Joe Bar on Broadway and Roy has suprisingly good art shows with inexpensive work (and killer crepes and coffee).

Basically, think of it as an ongoing process, and have fun with that process. Read blogs and magazines and get ideas and try new stuff. Keep an inspiration file. Sell stuff that doesn't work on craigslist, then try again. Find things you love that are useful, and you will keep them and love them and bring them to every rental you ever have and even to the home you eventually buy, if you ever do. Then every rental will feel like your home, because it is and it should. Good luck!

Lisa Hunter said...

I say spend your money on things that you can take with you if you move on. Pouring money into the apartment's infrastructure (kitchen, etc.) is a waste -- especially when you're 23 and there's no pressure to have a perfect Martha Stewart interior.

I disagree about painting without permission, though. I'm a landlord, and while I've always given permission to paint any color as long as it's painted white afterwards, I don't like surprises. If you move out and leave me with walls I have to get repainted (and I have to pay a professional painter -- I don't have the time to do it myself), I'm going to be mad. And if you've done a crappy job that requires stripping and sanding, I'll be doubly mad. Not only will I keep your security deposit -- I'll give you a terrible reference any time a future landlord calls for one (and they DO). So ask first. Most landlords are cool. Be cool too.

priscilla said...

Years ago I attended a Christmas party in one of the grand old coop buildings on Central Park West. The host's apartment was newly renovated and gorgeous but he left many architectural details intact.
I met a one of his neighbors who lived in the building in a rent stabilized unit(pre-dating the coop conversion). Her apartment was just below us, in the same line.
She went to great lengths to tell me how she would never put a dime into the place and only had the place painted when the landlord insisted. She had no plans to move and still would not fix up her surroundings. Baffles me to this say.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, excellent advice. To paraphrase advice I saw written by Terence Conran that stuck with me: Create the most beautiful 'shell' you can, and then fill it only with things that you love. Invest in things that you'll use everyday - flatware, sheets and towels,etc. so that they provide pleasure everyday.

So create the shell:
1) paint. everthing. don't neglect the ceilings.
2) lighting. make sure you and everyone in your apt look good. change the ceiling fixtures, buy those cheap bamboo lanterns that Domino and cool paris chicks love so much. buy vintage lamps, get them rewired at the local hardware store and get a new shade from target.
3) window coverings. yes, once again fabric is your friend. make dramatic beautiful big drapes out of cotton, linen. my indian cotton bedspead curtains in my bedroom look like designers guild. consider chinatown bamboo blinds for every room to tie the place together. avoid those goddamn soul-less white paper blinds and premade "panels".
4) floors. I once resanded hardwood floors in an apt and it was pain in the ass but really worthwhile. I loved those floors. retile the kitchen or bathroom and ask for forgiveness later. sisal, vintage, carpets are a good investment that you can always take with you.

And start filling it with the stuff you love, things that make you happy. You don't have to wait.

Decorno said...

Disagreeing with Mamacita (kind of - at at my own peril!). You can do both. My advice is essentially "you can decorate on the cheap in a great way, and you should," but that doesn't prevent you from also traveling. You can do both. I swear. :)

Mamacita, don't kill me. I know you're Texas-tough.

Decorno said...

(Also - a commenter asked where the chandelier photo is from... It's from The Selby, the site I linked to in the post. I am not sure where they got that chandelier, but a craft google search should get you close. Good luck!)

Jill said...

Yards of beautiful inexpensive fabric can be tacked to the walls in place of paint. Once you move, the fabric can be used for upholstery, draperies, pillows etc. I did this once when I had an antique store in a consignment shop. They wouldn't let me paint. I found this amazing linen velvet on sale. I put grommets along the top and bought cool hooks from anthropologie. Now this fabric is on a sofa. I wouldn't use something as heavy in your apartment...maybe a great Irish linen or ticking in a nonstandard color.

Ann said...

Hi Ashley,

I wanted to reply and apologize. Apologize for not reading everyone's comments. Here's my reason for why you should just put love in your rental. Practice. You will get better and better at figuring out how you want to decorate the more you practice. It's one thing to plan how you want to decorate, it's another thing to do. I went the "I don't want to do too much until I'm settled" route... big mistake. don't make my mistake!

Decorina said...

OMD, Hippo Hardware! Go there - they have such amazing stuff and pretty great prices, too.

Anonymous said...

Lamps! Find old lamps at thrift stores, flea markets, whereever, then rewire them yourself (it's easy!) and find nice shades. I love making new lamps out of old and a great lamp adds so much to a room plus you can keep it with you forever.

Whenever you find a gorgeous frame that is not too expensive, buy it. It doesn't matter what it currently in it. Eventually you will find the perfect thing to put in it.

I love Craigslist - with effort you can find amazing things. I have learned to network through Craiglist - find someone who has good stuff, be nice, and find out whether they know someone else who has got good stuff. I furnished an entire bedroom, excluding the bed, for under $250 last year and I LOVE it.

Decs said...

Ah, YES. Lamps. This is a lesson I learned way too late in life. You really can't have too many. And most home are under-lit. Buy lots of lamps.

Ron Marvin is a good advocate of you-can-never-have-too-many-lamps. You can see his digs here:

alissa said...

Amazing advice - where were you a few years ago as I moved from rental to rental? Your place sounds great - you should love it.

Bridget said...

I'm unfortunately in a school-owned and furnished apartment building that is brand new. So it's clean - but it is really lacking in charm and love and such things. So - I am looking for art on Etsy right now, as well as thrift-storing locally to see what I can find. Hopefully it will start to feel like home soon!

Nicole said...

Awesome advice. I'm in the exact same situation!!!


ashley said...

This is exactly what I needed to hear! Even my anti-decor boyfriend was impressed. Thank you so much for the great advice. Now I am off to pick paint colors!

Elfya said...

I completely agree with Decorno and most of the bloggers here. Our surroundings have such a huge impact on how we feel. Same when we travel, don't we love going to "beautiful" places? So why wouldn't we want to come home to a beautiful place? We work hard and have daily stress to deal with - doesn't matter how old you are, as said on the post, your life is now - enjoy it! It doesn't have to be expensive and when you buy things that you like, you will take them with you wherever you are. It's not like that next house you will move to, will be completely custom built and you won't be able to use the things you have now. I have had my sofa for 10 years and bought 3 different fitted slip covers for it, same furniture/ different look. Whether you buy or rent, the fact is that a large part of our salary goes to rent or a mortgage - we deserve to come home to a place that feels like a safe haven, a sanctuary where we can just unwind and relax. You deserve the home you dream of and the home you dream of deserves all the love you can give it!

PS: I am trying to put my URL but it says "URL contains illegal characters"...?

mrs yow said...

I would at least buy this

because no counter space would make me very sad.

kristin said...

I'm the manager of my apartment building, so I advise getting to know the management company before you paint without permission. I painted as a tenant because the old managers were very chill and said I could, and fortunately I got their job when they quit, because now I know I would have been on the shit list when the management company found out. Same with switching out light fixtures. It may be tempting, but it won't be worth the hassle of getting a bad landlord reference.

I say experiment. This is the first apartment that I have ever put effort into, and I made tons of mistakes, but I learned a lot about basic decorating and will do better next time. Plus, I'm happier with my green walls and bright pink kitchen. Be careful about purchasing furniture to fit any particular space (I bought bookcases to line my walls, and they may not work when I move). Also, live there for a winter before you put anything valuable on the walls. Seattle is wet. Things could leak if the building is old. You don't want your fabric or art to get wet.

Gquaker said...

Great post. I'd add: take whatever you can get for free. Put the word out to older co-workers that you have space but not a lot of stuff. My boss gave me a dining room table and chair set, which I promptly refinished. Starting with a small project and 'cheap' materials helped give me the confidence to experiment.

Decorina said...

When I advised changing the lighting fixtures, I should have further explained that you replace the landlord's fixtures when you move out. It is very simple and makes a world of difference. Sometimes I also added dimmer switches, but left those behind.

I've painted too, but I do a great job when I paint. And I use GOOD PAINT. Using cheap paint is asking for big trouble - you get blobs of paint that rollers spread all over, the paint sags and drips if you try to use too much and you may be in for a big bill if the landlord has to fix your screwed up sloppy paint job. That said, if you check with them first, use a fairly neutral color, use good quality paint and do a good job you will probably be OK.

Anonymous said...

Awesome advice. Follow it. I made the mistake for many years of thinking that I would wait until I was no longer a renter to buy nice things. Well, I'm 36 and still renting. While I wish I would have gotten over my reluctance sooner, I have thankfully bought a few things that I really love that I drag with me everywhere, and I can say it's absolutely worth it. And, it doesn't have to break the bank to create a nice space.

As others have said, Craigslist, thrift shops, ebay, and sometimes even the side of the road are great resources so long as you're willing to use your imagination and a little elbow grease. I am not familiar with the Seattle area, but if there is a design center that usually sells only to designers, sometimes they open to the public for a few days a year, and you can get high quality furniture at the price typically offered to designers (i.e., much cheaper). In SF, I got a really high quality arm chair for 50% less than the usual retail price.

Finally, buy art, definitely buy art. You may shy away from this because it is somewhat of a pain to move, depending on the peice. But I wouldn't trade my paintings (mostly student work), and sculptures for the most expensive furnishings you could offer me. Those are the things I really love and make any place "mine," even if it's really not.

Decorno said...

Anon 5:29 - if you think about it the place IS yours, even if you're renting. Think of all these people who bought these houses during the bubble with little or nothing down... they're just leasing. Homeowners don't own their homes until it's paid off. Know what I mean? It's just degrees of ownership. So in that regard, renters should be bold and live well.

birdy said...

Here's my advice -- don't by mass produced art. No target, no TJ Maxx.

Haunt thrift stores, and buy art work that you love. You can even buy it by themes -- portraits of women, ocean scapes, paintings of horses. Hang them grouped together. It's affordable (if you buy on the cheap), will look fantastic grouped together, and will give your pad an original flair.

Anonymous said...

My decor-porn obsession started about 10-12 years ago when I discoveredf Elle Decoration UK - when Ilse Crawford was the editor. One of the first features that really blew my mind was the NYC dodgy rental apt of Anne Marie Oudejans (sp?) who was the original desiger behind Tocca.

Anyway, her apt was basically this empty room that she had painted walls and ceiling the blue "of the caribbean and russian palaces". I remember that description. And she had curtains in the same blue. It was like living in a swimming pool. And she had replaced all the ceiling lights with hanging pink lanterns - probably from pearl river. In the dodgy kitchen she had removed the cupboard doors to display her collection of vintage old-ladyish dishes -- which she arranged by colour.

It blew my young mind -- that you could create this very glamourous existence, out of basically nothing. It gave me the confidence to trust my instincts -- and start 'living' the way I wanted to.

Still have this copy somewhere in my 12 years worth of decor-porn under the bed. Note to self: get a scanner.

kay* said...

i agree wholeheartedly with everything decorno said. just because you don't own the place doesn't mean it can't be fab! it's where you live - it should reflect you and be as fabulous as you are.

the only thing i would add is not to do anything permanent to the place that you can't take with you if you decide to move. so i wouldn't retile the bathroom or something (but there are cheap solutions if you have yucky coloured tile) but if your lighting sucks - buy the awesome chandelier you saw (or whatever) and just put the yucky one back before you move.

buy what you love and it will all come together. who really cares what everyone else thinks? you're the one who has to live there - may as well enjoy it :)

heartichoke said...

Hey Ashley (my name too),

I'm a student, with a student's budget, renting in Seattle for years now. While I have painted my last couple apts without much fuss I choose to show off my taste in unique furniture and art I've collected around the city. I have never bought anything retail for my house, except for maybe my new vacuum cleaner but in Seattle there are tons of great places to find treasures:

The Fremont Sunday market, every Sunday next to the PCC, the garage is full of vintage sellers and the booths outside are local crafters, many on etsy.
The Fremont Vintage Mall next door is pretty sweet also.

The Goodwill Outlet in SODO on Sundays sells all furniture for $1.99 which is crazy. Bring a truck or a car with a big trunk. We've boughten a beautiful chair and an antique buffet table here.

Both Home Depots sell oops paint, mismatched colors that people return and the store sells for close to nothing, $5 for gallons and $1 for the tiny guys, saves me lots of money and introduces me to colors I might not have tried myself

And of course craigslist.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Decorno is right. If you are making interest-only mortgage payments, make no mistake about it: You are renting.

Sew Bettie said...

great advice. only problem for me is that the do it cheaply and slowly means that i've already moved onto my next rental before i have the last one in any kind of shape that makes me smile.

Sadia said...

Please tell me that 28 is still at the intersection of Youth and Opportunity...

Anyway, bought my first sofa at a yard sale for $5. MCM darling that I had reupholstered. (And will probably have reupholstered again soon, as I'm over the fabric I chose.) I will love her for always.

Catherine said...

I've lived in a different place every year for the last 9 years (since leaving home for college). And I've painted every single rental, changed light fixtures using Ikea stuff in the most recent 3, and even added nicer towel racks from the clearance aisles at Marshall's and TJ Maxx. Most of the landlords have been thankful because they can justify charging more to new tenants. Moral of the story - definitely take some liberties with your home, even if you don't technically own it! My friends and I are in grad school and they always remark how "comfortable" my place feels compared to their apartments and it really is nice to come home to at the end of the day. And that's what you want - you want to come home to some place nice. So don't wait!

Velvet and Linen said...

Great advice. I'm 43 and it isn't until recently that I realized the true value in Carpe Diem.
I'm so much more confident about surrounding myself with what I like and expressing my own style. If someone doesn't like it, that's ok.

Tanya said...

I loved this post. I absolutely love hunting for something Ill love. I can't stand walking into someones "straight outta Pottery Barn home". It makes me feel nervous.

Krysta said...

Heed the word of Decorno! I am about the same age as you, and I don't see home(or in my case apartment) ownsership any time soon. But I'm not going to wait years and years to love the space I live in.

You are there everyday, you should enjoy it! So while it might not make sense to install a new kitchen I absolutely think you can put money (even on a tight budget) into a rental to make it yours.

Paint your walls (revisit the topic with your landlord, usually if you agree to paint them back they don't have a problem), frame your own photography, paint (or cover with fabric) your own canvass. These are super affordable things you can do to make the space yours.

I also recommend taking a beginners sewing class... knowing how to stictch a hem will be so valuable when doing small projects like making curtains or pillow covers.

It is stuff like this that personalizes things but helps you adhere to a tight budget. And aside from the paint on the walls, these are all things that you can take with you so it isn't like you are investing in someone else's home.

Megan said...

Your advice is absolutely wonderful. Always so insightful and inspiring. Thank you!

Camilla @ Designalogue Blog said...

That's a whole lotta comments already-but I feel the need to give MY opinion also!:
If you want to avoid painting walls - but still want some color, get some large blank canvases and paint the color you like on to them for cheap art. Or go the Ikea frame way (though their large frames are crap in my experience!) and frame interesting wrapping paper or well, anything!
Oh and lamps - lamps make a space feel like home.
but its important to feel like your space represents who you are.

Leigh said...

You LIVE there. You eat, sleep, think, breathe, spend time with friends, etc... I think everyone should make their rental as much their own as they can. Go with Decorno's advice. Ever read The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton? Read section 4 of chapter 4, Ideals of Home. That is what she's talking about--your place is just that, yours, and you should feel at home there regardless of who actually owns it (in most cases banks for supposed homeowners as Decorno pointed out).

Renate said...


What else could I possibly add to that. I completely agree!

Anonymous said...

You know I stumbled onto your site about an hour ago and in that very short hour you have made me a believer. Great advice, even if you aren't 23 years old.

Michele said...

Got to this party a little late.......all I would like to say (if anyone is listening) is we bought La Casa Diabolo 9 years ago next month with great ideas for turning it into fabulous just like we had done in several other house in London and LA. But the universe had other plans and life got in the way. I won't recount the sad litany of things that have stopped us, but suffice it to say my kitchen flooded out 2 Christmases ago and it still is in the flooded out condition, the drywall in the basement is falling off the walls and the tile in the main bathroom has taken to literally jumping off the wall - in chunks. However, I have 3 lovely (but very small bedrooms) and my first red living room with gorgeous fireplace. And now the economy stinks..... So my message is make it as lovely as you can while you can, but with a budget - and buy things that you can take with you.

Miss Jess said...

My advice - PAINT! Just as the post stated. I lived in apartments for several years and just kind of did it - and it turns out that in my last apartment (which was VERY colorful), the tenant who moved in after me kept everything the SAME because she love it so much. So there. My landlord had nothing to complain about, the walls helped rent the place out after I moved on!

Hoechstetter Interiors said...

Great post and comments! I completely agree about focussing on buying things you can take with you, and making sure they are quality items you love.

I also totally agree with the advice to go ahead and paint if you want to - with or without permission, but having permission is always better.

Ditto with doing things like hanging draperies and artwork, even though many rental agreements and leases also disallow these things.

You might also want to check your state's laws about whether or not a landlord can actually legally prohibit you from doing these kinds of normal decorating activities - and whether or not it's legal for them to hold back your security deposit for doing them when you leave. You landlords might want to check your state laws on this as well, and write your leases and give permissions accordingly ;->

In CA, a landlord *cannot* legally prevent you from doing these things *or* charge against your deposit to repaint between tenants. Holes in the walls for artwork and even some drapery treatments are part of normal living wear and tear, and part of what normal people do to decorate their homes comfortably, and the landlord *cannot* prohibit you from doing things like this. State law recognizes the tenant's right to have artwork on the walls, and decent window treatments, and not be forced to live in a sterile white box.

It's also de rigeur to paint anyways between tenants, and illegal as hell to make the departing tenant pay for it, or for any of the normal patching of reasonably-sized nail holes.

If, however, you do something like paint the walls black or something else that's hard to hide, you can certainly expect to be charged for all of the additional labor and coats of paint required to cover it if you don't repaint it yourself, or if you don't do a good enough job.

As to replacing flooring and so on, it's better to get permission, but again, at least in CA, that would likely be viewed as an improvement, and the landlord would likely be prohibited for charging against your security deposit for doing it.

I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice, but it's part of what I learned about landlord/tenant law a few years ago when I was suddenly thrown back to being a renter while my house was repaired following a fire, and I had landlords from hell.


Anonymous said...

As someone who was always shopping for a house/condo and is still happily living in rent controlled apt for TWENTY SEVEN years, I say, decorate.. love where you live and don't save up for special. you're special.. today is special. enjoy!


{MaisonClassique}, J. Steinber said...

I love this post. Ever since I started renting, my qualifying question was "can I paint". I have passed up good apartments in the past b/c they wouldn't let me paint. I also think that if you are already in an apartment that said no....I would do it anyway- just so a good job. Paint is so important. You will feel 100% better about your apartment if you paint it. Also, my trick that I have passed on to other renters and my current neighbors...mask off the top of the wall (right under the ceiling) with 2" masking tape. That way, you have waaaay less change of getting an "oops" on the ceiling, and you can sorta' hide uneven ceiling lines (I've always lived in older buildings, so this is an issue!). When you remove the tape, you get a really crisp line, AND it makes it *so* easy to paint back, or at least prime back to white, when you are done.

Right now, I would focus on accent furniture, art and nice dishes and linens. Also, get organization stuff that will help your apartment work for you. Get those $5 helper shelves at target (or where ever) and put them in the kitchen, bath, etc. MAXIMIZE your storage and organization. Its key to keeping your place clutter free and it will also help you resist the urge to move in a year due to running out of room!

If you have friends that are artists- commission them! Any young 20-something knows a freind who would totally sketch something/paint something if you buy them dinner (or whatever you think is fair- maybe it $100).

A good thing we did was buy a nice, big shelving/media unit in walnut. We spent the 1,000's on it at our first place...and now, nearly 4 apartments later- its still with us and it stores a lot.

Carol Ann said...

Paint, decorate, dimmers, live in the apt., my last 2 apt.'s were bought and changed into condo's and did not matter what I had done,(all my doors were painted black and the landlord loved them) and I lived there happyly for a few years...this last time we found our own condo and not want to be condoconversed out again...
All my doors are black again, and my neighbours just did their's too, such a cool, cool, look...Benjamin Moore Onyx 2130-10...
If anyones going to do this all the trim and walls the same paint color (Shaker Beige) and just the doors black...

Anonymous said...

Love this post! I am a long time renter! Just never wanted the hassle of owning. I live in southern CA. When one landlord refused to let me paint, I starched fabric to the walls, just plain old starch and a light cotton, linen, etc. but CA is hot hot and Seattle is wet, so I would use velcro and just imagine what you could do with the walls, windows, and so on...also you all make me feel ancient! I'm hitting my 60s, and I have always made my rentals personal gems that reflected my love of comfort and personality. Craigslist, the Goodwill, Salvation Army, Yard Sales, Estate Sales, and Swap Meets, ours are in Santa Monica and Pasadena.
I found an antique wicker trunk at the Salvation Army...I thought I'd never find one I could was $25 because the lock was broken. Do look at these posts to get ideas, as well as magazines that are wonderful sources; experiment because like the post said, practice does make perfect..I have gone from contemporary with with Chinese and African artifacts that I still have from the 70s - to colorful primary colors, and now I have leather, linen, and wicker with plenty of trunks and artwork I've collected from antiquarians and art online, that somehow doesn't make my home look like I'm a grandmother of seven!. Enjoy the process.

Jamie Goldberg, AKBD, CAPS said...

Here are some resources for great kitchen accessories, all pretty affordable:

Here's the same list for bathrooms:


Going with cool canisters, shower curtain, bath accessories and great hardware can be easy dress-ups. Plus, you can take it all with you when you move!

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magstermash said...

Found this post and blog on apartment therapy.

This is a site for decorno, not actual porno, right? Just asking because it was a bit of a shocker to find phrases refer to various categories of Asian porn in the comment from June. I would delete it if I were you.

Other than that, love the post!

Nicole said...

Just some quick advice to heap onto the pile ...
Don't just buy something because you need and you think it is a good deal. Save your money and make due until you can afford what you want. When we moved my Husband and I bought furniture from Raymour & Flanigan {gag!} we spent $1k on a couch that fell apart 2 yrs later and $1k on an entertainment armoire that makes me cringe it is so traditional. Don't make your furniture decisions while desperate!

Anonymous said...

Hello: When I was in my twenties I could not paint a rental, but I used starch to temporarily glue some delightful fabric to the walls.

Pier 1 and some other import stores, along with the Salvation Army, the Goodwill, and hand me downs got me started. I had a blast. I just wish craigslist had been available then. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

I have to hear just what Kelley will do about this =D

belledame said...

wow, the last paragraph of decorno's post was "letter to a young renter." lovely.

Charlotte Des Fleurs said...

My design advice - 1. Buy only what you LOVE. However, make thoughtful choices and don't buy everything you love. 2. Resist the impulse to buy lots of small things. 3. When starting out, be brutal and restrict yourself to a monotone color scheme. That way your place will look pulled together from the start. You can always add a punch of color here and there later.

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