Close your eyes and picture your dream home. Got it? Chances are you weren't envisioning bare white walls, vertical blinds and beige carpet, but this is the reality most renters face when moving into a new apartment. Generally, rental contracts spell out what you are and aren't allowed to do to decorate your apartment. The don'ts typically include painting walls, removing or painting kitchen cabinets, drilling holes in the walls or altering flooring. Breaking the customization rules in your lease can lead to financial consequences like losing your security deposit.
Your landlord isn't trying to sabotage your design efforts. Limiting customization is a landlord's way of protecting his or her investment from alterations that could make the apartment more difficult to rent after you leave. You may love the idea of a bright red wall in the bathroom, but it may turn off future potential renters.
Despite limitations, renting doesn't mean you're stuck in a styleless space. Here are some ways to make an apartment your own without jeopardizing your security deposit.
Make a small space look larger. If a small apartment is cramping your style, there are items you can use to create the illusion of a larger living space.
-- Tall bookshelf. The number one rule of decorating a small space is to think vertically. Adding a tall bookshelf allows you to take advantage of the space near your ceiling, which would normally be wasted. Plus, if you're short on space, you may also be short on storage. A tall bookshelf is a two-for-one decorating trick, as it can make a room look grander and create more storage space.
-- Mirrors. Adding mirrors as decor can make even the smallest apartment look more spacious. Mirrors reflect natural and artificial light - making a room appear brighter and magnifying its size. For a dramatic look, purchase three long mirrors and stack them horizontally on the wall, or glue nine small mirrors together to create a tiled effect.
-- Curtains. Hanging your curtains at ceiling height will make your room feel larger, since they'll make the walls look taller. Depending on your ceiling height, you'll probably need longer curtains than the standard 84 inches.
Cover walls without paint. Painting the walls is typically a no-no in a rental space. However, there are things one can use to dress up boring white walls.
-- Removable wallpaper. Whether you're looking to add a touch of print with an accent wall or redesign an entire room with the perfect pattern, removable wallpaper can be a renter's dream come true. If you're feeling crafty, you can make your own removable wallpaper with a lightweight fabric and fabric starch.
-- Wall decals. Decals are a fun, affordable way to transform a room into your own space. The removable stickers run the gamut, from intricate designs to simple quotes. They are easy to install and easy to take down when your lease is up.
-- Gallery wall. What better way to cover your walls than with the people, places and things you love? A gallery display can make a statement on a bare wall. However, it can easily turn into a disorganized mess. Before you start nailing things to the wall, make sure you have a plan. Define your space, select your art and photos and plan your layout. Consider first cutting pieces of construction paper to match the sizes of your frames, and tape them on the wall. When you're happy with the arrangement, simply nail through the paper for easy installation.
Add personality with color. When it comes to making an apartment feel like home, little does more to personalize your space than adding color - and there are three great places to do it.
-- Area rugs. Area rugs are a great option to add color to the floor. Large designer area rugs can be pricey, but you can make a one-of-a-kind piece with a plain rug, painter's tape and fabric paint.
-- Paint your furniture. If you can't paint your walls, consider painting your own furniture. A brightly-colored table and chairs can add a pop of personality to your apartment; it's a great way to breathe new life into old furniture.
-- Throw pillows. Throw pillows are an easy, inexpensive way to add color. When you get tired of a color and want to change things up, buy fabric to cover your pillows for a fresh look.
Niccole Schreck is the rental experience expert for Rent.com, the only free rental site that helps you find an affordable apartment, gives you tips on how to move and then says, "thank you" with a prepaid $100 Reward Card.