Today is the second part of a collaboration with rent.com to help those of you searching for your next apartment or getting ready to redecorate your current one! Last week we talked about 5 things I look for in an apartment and this week I’m sharing 5 ways to transform your rental. Even though there will always be things you can’t change (backsplash, countertops, lighting fixtures…) I think it’s so important to spruce up what you can. If you’re working with good natural light and a decent floor plan like we discussed last week, there’s no reason why your next rental can’t feel a little more like home! Here are a few decorating tricks I’ve used in past apartments to transform a white box into a space that feels true to my aesthetic, no matter how temporary.

design darling ikea shelves

1. Create a storage system.

You might not be moving into an apartment with beautiful built-ins (a girl can dream!) but storage for books, clothes, shoes, etc. is one thing you simply cannot ignore in a new space. I bought a massive Ikea shelving unit for my first apartment that served me well all three years that I lived in New York. I filled the bottom three rows with baskets for t-shirts, socks and underwear, and extra towels and left the top two rows open to showcase my favorite books.

design darling apartment west village

2. Buy a rug you love.

A lot of leases require that you cover a certain percentage of your floor to keep noise down in the building but you’ll also be surprised at how easily a rug can transform a plain room. Whether you choose classic jute or a colorful pattern, area rugs are a great way to define a room and repurpose for years to come. If you’re renting a studio apartment, you could use two area rugs to create a little separation between your bedroom and your living area. If you buy a standard size like an 8′ x 10′, you’ll always be able to find a home for it in your next place too.

design darling window treatments

3. Don’t neglect your window treatments.

It sounds like a bad investment of time and money to focus on window treatments in a temporary apartment but it’s one of the cheapest ways to totally change the feel of your space. My dad followed this tutorial to build pelmet boxes for my first apartment that instantly changed the look and feel of my plain jane studio. I think they cost all of $50 and yet they made me happy every time I saw them and were one of the first things people noticed when they visited my apartment. Even hanging long white curtains on a rod over your windows can lend a breezy feel — and provide much-needed privacy if you live on a busy block — without breaking the bank.

design darling new york apartment

4. Invest in pieces that add architectural interest.

Unless you’re moving into a historic townhouse (can I come too?), I’ve found that most apartments leave a lot to be desired when it comes to charm. That shouldn’t stop you from pinning crown moulding and subway tile for your forever home but don’t give up on adding a little depth to your current digs too! My mom gave me an antique quatrefoil mirror (similar version here) that totally transformed both of the apartments I lived in in New York. Paying attention to different shapes — a squared off sofa near a round dining table or a curvy mirror in a white box apartment — can add visual interest and elevate your style from your college days of a boxy futon and rectangular coffee table (#guilty).


5. Think in terms of what you’ll be able to take with you when you leave.

I never got into temporary wallpaper or replacing the hardware in my kitchen because it meant spending money on things that probably wouldn’t work in my next apartment (the pelmet boxes above being a favorite exception). A few of my favorite purchases that I’d recommend instead? An awesome mattress (we love our new one from Casper). A great headboard (the Katie Kime one I had in my West Village apartment is now in our guest room in Dallas). Art you love (if you really love it, you’ll always find a place for it).

*This post is sponsored by rent.com, a site I’ve handpicked to be useful for my readers. Thank you for supporting the brands that make Design Darling possible!


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  1. Thank you so much for these tips, Mackenzie! I’m starting to enter the renting phase of my life, and thinking of fun ways to update and personalize the space has been a challenge. I totally agree that window treatments and rugs can bring a lot of life to a room!!

  2. These are so smart! I think the rug and window treatments are big ones for us- we have a rug in the living room we get compliments on all the time. I held out on buying curtains for a while because we were only going to be in our apartment for a year, but it was totally worth it- they really make a huge difference in the space!
    This Side of Paradise

  3. Love this post. I’m currently moving to another city and I’ll be renting. This post made me finally order the giant area rug that I’ve been eyeing. I love your design posts and can’t wait to see how you style your new house in Dallas!

  4. As someone who most likely won’t be taking much with me when I move, I have realized that linens are the best thing to invest in. Great sheets, pillows, and table linens can make a huge difference and are easy to ship.

  5. I love this post, Mackenzie! Decorating a space can be so hard when you know it’s temporary, but it’s really important. It has to feel like a home!

    I have the giant Ikea storage unit, and I have to say: It made my rental SO much nicer!

    Great tips 🙂 Hope all is well in your new home!

    Kelly | Kelly in the City