Don't let not owning your home stop you from making it look and feel special. As a renter, it probably doesn't make sense for you to invest significantly in your current dwelling, but there are low-cost beautifiers you should take advantage of--whether you consider this to be your long-term home or simply a stop-over on your road to home ownership.
Paint. Some landlords will take on this task for you but others will expect you to spruce up the walls on your own, particularly if you have been in the same space for a number of years. Dingy walls immediately downgrade the look of any room. Painting, particularly if you do it yourself, is a relatively easy and inexpensive project. You don't have to paint every wall in every room, but can focus on window trim and doors, or the grimiest rooms such as the kitchen. Before you take brush in hand, however, make sure your landlord approves of this change, particularly if you will be tearing down wallpaper.
Create the illusion of space. You may not be able to break down walls, but you can open up an area by hanging large mirrors on one or more surfaces. Mirrors can go floor to ceiling, take up half a wall or be clustered as an arrangement, making a small dining or living room feel much larger. Think about what parts of the room you wish to have reflected before hanging anything. If you do want to turn two small rooms into one large one, or add a wall in order to have more rooms, have that conversation with your landlord. Focus on the added value this alteration would bring to the property and find out if your landlord would be willing to foot the bill for either most or half of the construction.
Bring the outdoors in. No backyard? No problem. If you have good sunlight, take advantage of your window sills or create a box garden. If your sunlight is less than optimum, plant-grow lights can turn any dark room into a greenhouse, adding enough light to support a wide variety of plants, from tomatoes to miniature roses.
Give your hardware flair. Generic doorknobs, switch plates, light fixtures and cabinet pulls can all be swapped out with elegant and inexpensive replacements that fit your style and color scheme. Just make sure to hold onto the old ones so you can swap them back when you move on to greener pastures.
Get happy feet. If less than new carpeting or unpolished wood floors came with your apartment, check with your landlord to see if you can replace or update them. There are a number of low-cost flooring options you might wish to install yourself, from vinyl tile to carpeting. You can also buy colorful (and transportable) area rugs to cover up what's underneath.
Surround yourself with yourself. Hang your favorite photos and paintings on the walls, fill your rooms with the collectibles you love and let yourself breathe into your space, making it a home rather than a stop-over. No matter how long you live in a rental, nest building is necessary, as it creates a sanctuary for you to relax in, where you and those you love feel safe, secure and at ease.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.
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