Top rental design dos and don'ts
Home is sweet regardless whether you rent or own. "You need to love where you live," says Lisa Worth, a designer at the Drapery Room in Aurora, Ont. But there are smart ways to express your design savvy in a rental abode knowing that down the road, what you can't take with you is an expense you can't recoup. Here's what the experts advise.
Don't hold off buying nice furniture
"Don't fill the space with substandard furniture because you plan to own someday," says Lara Neal of Lara Neal Design in Toronto. Go ahead now and spend money on good quality furniture, pieces you really like. "Otherwise when you do buy, you may find yourself having to furnish a whole home because the pieces you bought in your 20s and 30s are falling apart. And that's stressful."
Do make nice with your landlord
Lara and her husband were renters for many years. Because she maintained a good relationship with her landlord, she was able to provide input on design choices when upgrades were made in the bathroom. "You may be able to suggest a new faucet or sink or backsplash tile at a decent price that looks much better. Don't forget, your landlord wants the place to be rentable, too."
"You really don't want to invest in wallpaper, even if your landlord okays it," says William MacDonald, designer at William MacDonald Interior Design in Toronto. Wallpaper can be pricey, and you'll likely face the hassle of taking it down before you leave. If you're looking to make a statement, try removable wall decals or wall tattoos, which are available at most home decor stores in a variety of patterns and colours.
A $30 gallon of paint creates a powerful mood in a space, says Lara, adding that it's also an affordable way to inject your own personality into an apartment. Note: Be prepared to prime your walls before you move out, and get permission before painting anything.
Don't invest serious money in structural features
Pouring money into permanent structural elements, including crown moulding, hardwood floors, counters, etc, in an apartment simply isn't wise, contend our experts. One exception: the joy of gleaming cherry kitchen cabinets, for example, may be worth the price if you are planning on living in the rental unit for many, many years to come.
Do try less expensive flooring options
Just can't stand the dated, filthy-looking hall linoleum? There are a number of affordable flooring options perfect for renters (get written permission from your landlord before embarking on any renovations). Carpet tiles provide a simple, comfy underfoot splash of personality. Water impervious woven vinyl floor covering called Bolon, cut to size, is great for bathrooms and kitchens. And so are peel-and-stick tiles, available at most major home improvement stores. Last but hardly least, rugs can cover up an ugly floor and help ground a room. "Most rugs will transfer smoothly to any future living space, too," adds Lisa.
Don't invest in built-ins
Every renter is desperate for storage. But built-ins are too costly, and impossible to take with you. "You always have to think about what can go in a truck," says Lisa. Consider open shelving units, freestanding wardrobes or a piece of antique furniture that offers storage. And while you're at it, try to kill another bird (like an ugly structural feature such as kitchen cabinets, for example) with one stone: "Buy a basic pantry unit that you can paint to complement (or perhaps draw attention away from) your existing cabinets. Something idiosyncratic can become a focal point," says Shelley Kirsch of Shelley Kirsch Design in Toronto.
Do swap out lighting and hardware
Two smart rental design investments are lighting fixtures and cabinet hardware. Most apartments usually come with generic lights round ceiling fixtures with a screw cap), says Lisa. Swapping them out for a new or reclaimed antique fixture will change the whole look of a room. "Put them on a dimmer while you're at it," she adds. Dimmers are great for changing the atmosphere of a room, plus you'll save on your hydro bill. Just hold on to the old fixtures and replace them when you go. The same goes for the old hardware (but if you can't source new ones that match the existing drill holes, don't bother, says Lisa).
Don't sacrifice your personal design style
Express your adventurous design personality in accessories. Panel curtains are perfect because they move easily into your next place, says Lisa. ("You want to avoid window treatments that are measured to fit.") And you just can't beat the presence of artwork, which is an investment you can take with you.