Crafting a home in a space you don't own

Crafting a home in a space you don't own
Samantha Wohlfeil photo
Marble-patterned contact paper is an affordable and easy way to update your countertops.


andlords tend to recoil at the idea of renters taking on DIY home improvement projects. But as someone who's lived in many rented spaces, I'm here to tell you there are in fact many reversible upgrades you can make to your temporary home without fear of retribution.

Not only are they affordable, but even small upgrades can quickly make a space feel more like home. Here are some projects that are easy enough that anyone can handle them.


My apartment has amazing built-in storage in a style from the early 1900s, but the small kitchen counter was covered in an unappealing, chipped, faux wood laminate from the '80s or '90s.

Enter the magic of contact paper. Nowadays you can buy rolls in extremely realistic patterns that will not only go on easily, but come off without damaging the counter underneath. A roll of white marble-patterned paper lifted my kitchen space with a lighter, more timeless feel. The surface is even waterproof, meaning it can handle the spills and wipedowns expected in a kitchen.

Maybe your style matches better with a granite or tile pattern. It's up to your imagination. Contact paper can also be used to change up backsplash areas and even kitchen drawers.


Speaking of those built-ins, old-school cupboards may come with tacky knobs or drawer pulls. Easily unscrew those, keep them in a bag so they can be reinstalled when you move out, and screw in new knobs and pulls that fit your aesthetic better. You can also replace door knobs fairly easily with the same idea in mind: put it back where you found it when you leave.


While many property owners will readily admit that a fresh coat of paint is one of the cheapest ways for them to spruce up a newly vacated apartment when transitioning between tenants, it's best to ask permission before you tackle any painting in your rental.

So if you're sick of that particular white in your room, ask to try out another shade or to add a more dramatic color on an accent wall. Neutral colors likely won't be an issue, but if your landlord requests it when you're moving out, it's pretty easy to paint that room right back to the color it was before.

Or, simply choose from the amazing array of stylish peel-and-stick wallpaper that generally can be gone in a flash when you're ready to move on. Designs range from subtle textures to attention-grabbing graphics. Some caveats: Be sure to follow directions carefully and avoid applying peel-and-stick wallpaper to walls that have been painted in the last month or two. Avoid using on walls that have a matte or heavily textured finish. RoomMates is a popular brand that promises their papers won't leave a sticky residue or pull paint off the walls. Or check out colorful and unique handmade options on Etsy.


If you're nervous that even a coat of cream paint might start an unnecessary tiff between you and your landlord, washi tape is an inexpensive way to create artistic and totally nonpermanent accents in your living space.

Try making a pattern on one wall with the very easily removable tape — think a chevron, repeating minimalistic lines or geometric shapes. Or, go crazy and create an entire art piece or faux wallpaper design. For inspiration, try browsing DIY sites like Apartment Therapy, HGTV's DIY Network and Curbly.


Have some boring old blinds? Pull those all the way up, install some hooks on either side of your window frame (use 3M sticky hooks for the no-hole version, or hooks that require small nails if your walls don't take well to adhesives) and throw up a curtain rod with some fresh curtains. In just a few minutes, you've updated the entire feel of your living space.

Not finding affordable curtains you like at the store? Check thrift or craft stores for fabrics that appeal to you, and it's very simple to sew or even hot glue a tube or loops on top so you can easily thread the homemade curtain onto a rod.


Put up a large mirror in a tight space, even if that means just leaning it against the wall, and you'll instantly feel like the space got bigger and brighter.

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About The Author

Samantha Wohlfeil

Samantha Wohlfeil covers the environment, rural communities and cultural issues for the Inlander. Since joining the paper in 2017, she's reported how the weeks after getting out of prison can be deadly, how some terminally ill Eastern Washington patients have struggled to access lethal medication, and other sensitive...