D.I.Y. Makeovers for Rentals – The New York Times

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Q: My partner and I live in a rental in Astoria, Queens, that we love. It has great light, a nice layout and is close to the train. We plan to stay here for at least a few years. We want to make the space feel like our own and less like a generic rental, but we also want to be mindful of the lease, making improvements that are easily reversible when we move. What are our options?

A: The finishes in rentals usually have about as much charm as the paint you often find in them — landlord white, that austere and utterly impersonal color. So it’s no wonder you may want to make your space feel like home.

Before you get started, check your lease to see what’s permitted. Most leases allow only superficial improvements, like adding shelves or curtains. For anything substantial, like painting or installing wallpaper, you probably need written permission from your landlord. (Even if the lease doesn’t explicitly mention written permission, it’s wise to get it anyway.) Expect to restore the apartment to its original condition before you move out, or risk losing your security deposit.

Alex Kalita, the founder of Common Bond Design in New York City, who frequently works with renters, suggests starting with simple changes that have a big visual impact but won’t rile a landlord.


“Lighting is a place to invest,” Ms. Kalita said, because good lighting can transform the feel of any space. Swap out light fixtures with ones that make a statement; you can take them with you when you leave. Make sure any new fixture is at least as wide as the original where it meets the ceiling or wall, if it’s a sconce. Otherwise, you might need to touch up the paint around it, and who wants to do that? If your apartment has those cheap, glazed porcelain lamp holders, swap out the bulbs for oversized globes to add interest to the room.

Install floating shelves, or, if you want to splurge, a modular shelving system like one by Vitsoe that you could add onto over time. When you move out, remove the shelves, spackle the holes and retouch the paint.

If your kitchen is in need of an update, you can replace the hardware. “It only requires a screwdriver,” Ms. Kalita said. The bases of any new knobs should be as wide as the current ones, to hide imperfections in the cabinetry.

Cover an unsightly refrigerator with peel-and-stick paper, but test a small area first to make sure removing the film won’t damage the surface. Some mimic stainless steel, while others come in playful patterns. Ms. Kalita once covered her rental refrigerator with whiteboard contact paper and wrote erasable notes on the surface.

You can make a showstopping, but removable, backsplash. Affix tiles to a piece of plywood that has been cut to the size of your backsplash. Then drill the plywood into the wall, leaving only a few holes to spackle when you move out.

Have a little fun, and the space will feel like yours.

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