You might not own your place, but you still want it to feel like home. Problem is, a lot of apartments are bland and cookie-cutter. As a renter, you can't exactly take down a wall or upgrade the appliances in your kitchen. There are, however, a few easy, landlord-friendly upgrades to make your rental feel more like home. Illustration by Fruzsina Kuhari.
Replace Your Taps and Shower Heads
Most of the appliances in your apartment probably aren't easy to replace, but you can get away with swapping out some fixtures, which can give those appliances a whole different look.
For example, you may not be able to replace your entire kitchen sink, but it's easy enough to replace the tap. It comes down to just a few main steps:
- Make sure the configuration of your new tap lines up with the sink. Most hardware stores sell tap hole covers if the new tap leaves holes exposed.
- Shut off the water valves under the sink.
- Remove the nuts to the supply lines of the existing tap, then remove the tap.
- Install the new tap, then reconnect and secure the supply lines.
Tap prices run the gamut, but you can find some decent buys for less than a hundred bucks, especially at places like IKEA. You may be able to find some deals, too.
It's even easier to replace your shower head. Usually, all you have to do is unscrew your old one, wrap some new Teflon tape around the nozzle then screw on the new head. Some shower heads are designed to screw on without the tape, though, and can actually leak if you add the tape, so read the instructions that come with it.
Install New Door Handles, Knobs and Other Small Details
Small changes can make a big difference, too. Here are a few hardware details you can swap out to make a big impact.
- Cabinet handles, knobs or pulls: You can often buy a pack of 10 of them for around $20. Of course, the fancier you want to get, the more you'll pay.
- Toilet seat: They're usually between $30-$70, but being the first person to sit on your toilet seat? Priceless.
- Toilet paper holders: It's not the most glamorous thing in your apartment, but it's a super cheap swap that can go a long way toward upgrading your bathroom.
As small as these details may seem, they're easy enough to upgrade, and they will add up to make your apartment feel a lot more personalised. Plus, they're cheap!
Improve Your Lighting
DIY electrical wiring is illegal in Australia, but that doesn't mean you can't make changes to the lighting. When choosing your lighting, it helps to consider each room's function, decide whether you need ambient, task or accent lighting, then pick your lighting accordingly. You want to pick the right bulb for the job, too. Most light bulb packages should include detail about the lumens. Use this calculator to figure out how many lumens you need in each room, depending on your home and preferences.
Rooms look best when there's a mix of lighting, too. So in addition to your standard overhead lighting, add some task lighting, too. Lamps are an obvious way to accomplish this, but you can get a little fancier with under cabinet lighting. For example, it's incredibly easy to install peel-and-stick LED lights like these, which I've used under my own kitchen cabinets. Apartment Therapy has a fun list of different options, too. Best of all, many of these are battery operated, so they don't need to be wired to your electrical. Overall, mixing up your lighting will make the room feel more cosy and less apartmenty.
You don't have to live with the ugly lighting your apartment came with. Best of all, when you move, you can take the lamps with you.
Make the Most of a Small Space
If you live in a small apartment, it's not like you can just add a room or tear down a wall to expand your space. Usually, you have to make do, but there are a few inventive ideas for making the most out of a tiny living space.
Speaking of kitchens, make sure you're optimising all of your cabinet space. For example, I don't have many cabinets in my kitchen, so I bought a cabinet shelf to take advantage of the full space for storing plates and bowls. They cost about $20, but it's an easy way to instantly add storage.
Similarly, you could use a tension rod to add extra space for spices or try this DIY magnetic spice rack that doubles as a shelf. You could even build your own roll-out pantry next to your fridge. It's not exactly an easy option, but it's a pretty creative one!
If you're lacking counter space, you could try your hand at a modular folding counter space or wall-mounted cutting board like this one, via Apartment Therapy. Of course, you want to check your lease to make sure you're allowed to mount things to your wall.
If your bathroom doesn't have much storage, you'll have to get creative there, too. Try adding a second shower rod in the bathroom and hanging portable baskets. Mount a few wall shelves up high for towel storage. If you don't have space for a towel rack, buy a few suction mount hooks (they're less than ten bucks) you can put on the back of your bathroom door or maybe in an odd corner where there's wasted space. I mounted mine directly onto my shower door.
Add a Fresh Coat of Paint
It's the most obvious upgrade, but it's so effective, it has to be said. Adding a new coat of paint is probably the most impactful way to make your apartment feel more like an actual home. It's not the easiest, because it requires a bit of prep work and some time, but the payoff is big. Check your lease to see what the rules are, because some leases prohibit painting, but most landlords are cool with it as long as you paint the walls back to their previous colour. In fact, some landlords might not even require you to do that, because what you've done actually looks better than what they're planning to do, anyway. At any rate, if they agree to it, make sure to get it in writing in case you run into trouble when you move out.
If you need help picking a colour, learning the basics of colour theory will put you on the right track. You'll be amazed at how big a difference a splash of colour can make, but that goes for picking the wrong colour, too, so make sure it complements your existing furniture and the rest of your place. From there, Apartment Therapy offers a few rules to follow:
• More than one colour in a room can look great, but if you go in that direction, keep it to three colours maximum. If you are going with two bold colours, the third should be a neutral to give your eye a break.
• When choosing your colours start by choosing your boldest colour, and then choose the others with the first colour in mind.
• Don't be scared! Paint is not permanent and you can always change it.
If your lease doesn't allow you to paint, not to worry — there are other ways to add colour to your walls. For example, you can buy removable, rental-friendly wallpaper and take it with you from place to place. And it's fairly affordable at about $US55 ($77)-$US60 ($85) for each 63.5cm wide panel. Similarly, some big retailers sell decorative vinyl decals, too, if you want to add a little personal design without committing the entire wall.
Hide the Ugly Stuff
I've lived in a number of different apartments over the years, and there's always some horrendous eyesore that drives me nuts, from ugly carpet to dirty, old air conditioning units. You can probably relate, so here are a few easy fixes for common rental monstrosities:
- Turn your air conditioning unit into a landing strip
- Turn ugly kitchen cabinets into open shelving
- Hide ugly carpet with easy to install (and move around) carpet tiles
- Add deck tiles to cover up ugly or cracked patio concrete. Apartment Therapy recommends SnapDeck, but I've used IKEA's removable deck tiles myself, and they seem to be slightly cheaper.
These are easy fixes, but if you're looking for a more extensive upgrade, it never hurts to simply talk to your landlord about the changes you want to make. Maybe they will go halfsies with you and upgrade your appliances or help out with a renovation project, especially if you're planning to stay a while.
If you're just looking for some simple solutions, however, these are some of the most affordable, best bang-for-your-buck fixes that will make your apartment feel less like a temporary place you rent and more like your own home.