Eight (cheap) tricks to spruce up the home you’re renting

Lamps, rugs and prints are simple, cost-effective ways to make your space more personal - without spending too much money- and you can bring them with you when you leave.

There is no place like home – whether it is a studio apartment in the city centre or a five-bedroom pile in the country – and most of us breathe a sigh of relief when the door is shut and we can relax in our own space.

But some people living in rented accommodation never feel as though the place is their own. Whether they are forbidden to make any changes, or they don’t feel motivated to do so, some feel uncomfortable with their surroundings as they have not been personalised to their taste.

Niamh Keane has been living in an apartment in Dublin for two years and while her landlord has no issue with her making any changes, she feels that “there is no point”.

“I’d love to have a place of my own that I could do anything to,” she says. “I live in a lovely apartment, which is really bland in the décor department, but even though I don’t really like it, and find it hard to relax there, I have no desire to do anything with it. When I moved in, my landlord said that I could do what I wanted to it, whether that involved painting the walls, putting up pictures, new curtains or whatever, but I can’t be bothered as it doesn’t belong to me.


“So I do the minimum – I’m a bit of a messy person, but I try to keep it clean and aside from that I’m going to keep all my decorating ideas for when I have my own place – I don’t know when that will be, but in the meantime, much as I don’t like the boringness of the place, I’ll put up with the bare cream walls, grey curtains and timber floors – it’s too much hassle to do anything about it.”

But this doesn’t have to be the case. Renter Brendan Hogan has a different view, and says he “can’t understand why someone wouldn’t want to make a place look homely”.

Adding larger rugs is a great way to add character to a rental without adding a huge cost or any damage to the space

“I know I don’t own the house I’m living in, but I still want to put my stamp on it,” he says. “The first thing I did when I moved in a year ago was paint the kitchen and livingroom walls. I love art, so I have a lot of paintings and prints hanging up all over the place – I squared this with the landlord beforehand and he was cool with it – saying as long as I didn’t start knocking down any walls, he was fine with me hanging stuff up.

“I also changed the curtains in the livingroom and in the main bedroom and got a few rugs for the floor. My girlfriend is due to move in soon and I’m sure she will want to do a few things to the place as well – and why wouldn’t she? If you’re going to call some place home, then it has to be personal to you, for however long you are living there.”

Interior designer Aoife (Tobin) Hackett agrees, and says she has always enjoyed doing up the places she has been renting. She is now living with her husband Barry in a “lovely little rental in Cork”. They have been there for two and a half years and throughout the pandemic it was their “sanctuary” from the world, she says. They transformed it into their own space almost as soon as they moved in.

“The first was bring in some of my own furniture, something which most renters don’t think of doing,” she says. “But when renting in your thirties, your rental is your home and it’s important to make it feel like one. So I decided to invest in some furniture that I could take with me to our next rental and will have when we decide to buy. For this apartment, it was the main element that made the space feel like ours.

“We got a new sofa in a super cute soft grey velvet, subtle tan leather armchairs, and also purchased smaller items like coffee tables and side tables. Adding these really brought our own style to the space and put our stamp on the place. This was actually the first livingroom I have rented that completely reflected my personal style. I think that is why I loved it so much and I think it’s so important to love where you live, whether it’s a rental or purchased.

“We also added artwork and prints that we loved to make the interior feel more like our space. I would think most landlords would give the leeway to hang a picture or two. If not, command strips are quite good to hang light art without leaving marks. For our livingroom I went to online artwork store Desenio to look for cute affordable pieces – going for soft blue/grey watercolour art to link with the distressed blue rug we already had. I wanted to add a subtle pop of colour to the interior without it being obvious at first glance. So I mixed different tones of blue throughout the space to give it that nice subtle layered effect.”

The couple had their own rug, which they had bought for a previous rental, and says it makes every new place “feel instantly like home”.

“Adding larger rugs is a great way to add character to a rental without adding a huge cost or any damage to the space,” says Hackett. “So we added rugs to both the bedroom and living area – the livingroom one has the subtle blue hue that worked with the new artwork and overall colour scheme – and adding it also created a zoning effect to the seating area and a bit of separation between the living area and the rest of the open-plan kitchen and dining.”

While most landlords are reluctant to allow tenants to make any big changes to their property, the interior architect and designer says there is a lot which renters can do to their homes without going down the structural route.

“You just need to be open to either moving furniture with you to your next rental or selling it and opting for more vintage finds from the likes of Gaff Interiors,” she says. “If you want to have a section for work, you could look at adding a well-designed screen or piece of furniture – a budget option would be the Kallax which will give you both privacy and storage, so it’s great for an office area. Or you can look at more of an investment piece like the Retro Webbing Room Divider from Woo Design – it’s very cute.

I would advise looking at the details in your space which can be changed for the duration of your time there and changed back when you leave

“If you are not in the headspace to purchase a piece of new furniture, but your landlord has left you with a sofa that would look better on the set of Dazed and Confused, you could also look at adding a good quality cover. Thankfully most landlords like to shop at Ikea – this is a bonus because companies like Bemz offer lovely linen or linen-look covers that are purpose-made for IKEA sofas. This will be easy to take away with you on your next move and something which will really add your stamp to the rental.”

In terms of paint and colour, Hackett says she is into classic and timeless looks and as most rentals are usually finished in a neutral shade, she “never had the urge to ask a landlord to paint a wall”. But says that if she felt it really needed it, she wouldn’t have a problem asking if she could give the place a lick of paint or make a few minor changes.

“If a landlord left me in a haze of magnolia, I would simply explain it’s best for everyone that it was painted asap,” she says. “But magnolia aside, if you are stuck in a rental in a haze of whatever hue you do not like or you find the standard rental neutral hue very boring, large artwork and personal gallery walls will be your best friend to hide the shades you don’t like and again injecting some of your style to the space.

“Also, I would advise looking at the details in your space which can be changed for the duration of your time there and changed back when you leave. For example, if you have side tables, a chest of drawers or even wardrobes that are just a bit ‘blah’ and you want to add something a little special to them, look at changing the handles. That is exactly what I did with my bedroom side tables. They originally had chrome handles that made the table look pretty bleak and did not fit in with the brass frames or the table lamp. So, I just swapped them out.

“Sometimes the small details can really finish an overall look.”

Eight ways to make your rental property feel more like home – without annoying your landlord

· Put down some rugs – kukoonrugs.com has some good value options. Go large for maximum impact.

· Bring your own furniture

· Hang art and prints. Or check out posterstore.ie or homebird.ie/ for some low-cost options. If you’re nervous about drilling a hole in the wall, extra-strength command strips will be your friend.

· Paint the walls – but check with your landlord before you go dark and moody.

· Create an office area – IKEA’s Kallax unit, which starts at about €29.50, will give you both privacy and storage.

· Think about covering your furniture. You can buy sofa coverings through Bemz.com for most Ikea sofas (€239.20 for a two-seater Ektorp) or a cheaper option through Ikea (€109 for the Ektorp). Just remember to bring it with you when you move.

· If you’re stuck with ugly looking furniture, some well-chosen handles can transform their look, such as these from H&M (€4 each). Just remember to store the existing ones so you can swap them back when you move out.

· Bring in some lamps. Some softer lighting can make a place feel more homely – and doesn’t have to cost much. Check out Dunnes Stores or this tripod floor lamp from Wayfair, for €43.99.