By Ruth Mantell, MarketWatch
RISMEDIA, Sept. 26, 2007-(MarketWatch)-Renters don’t usually think about making home improvements to apartments they don’t own. But there are some inexpensive projects that can make your rented nest more comfortable — assuming your landlord approves.
Here are six ideas:
First, focus on your walls. A rule of thumb when it comes to painting is to avoid any color that would take more than one new coat of paint to cover. That means cherry red is out. Instead, renters should stick to whites and neutral tones, says Barry Dixon, an interior designer based in Warrenton, Va. who has worked on private residences for clients such as Diane Sawyer and former Sen. Bill Frist.
If you want to use a color, stick to organic tones, Dixon suggests. But before going ahead with green, make sure to ask your landlord. “The biggest change that you can do to make it your own is paint… that’s ground zero,” Dixon says.
He suggests bathing the walls in a warm white, such as linen, that not even the “most persnickety” of landlords could mind. “But you don’t want to make the mistake of using a chalky white — a white that’s hard to live with,” Dixon says.
Those in smaller apartments should plan on using three or four gallons of paint. Keeping all of the walls in the same color will make a small space look larger, the designer says. A gallon of semi-gloss wall paint on Sears.com will set you back about $20.
Some landlords won’t want you to paint even with a neutral tone. Renters with an inflexible landlord, or those who want to avoid the mess of painting, can try wall decals, suggests Annette Hannon, founder of a Burke, Va.-based design firm.
She likes the removable decals available through Web sites such as whatisblik.com and modernwallgraphics.com. The decals come in geometric and free form patterns, with designs such as flowers, and patterns inspired by Rococo style and artist Keith Haring. A multicolored three-pack of Haring’s “Pack of Dogs” costs $23 on whatisblik.
“It’s those kinds of things that are quirky and fun, and very much something that shows your personality,” Hannon says. “When it’s time to move, they come off really easily. And you’re not spending so much money that you become so invested in it.”
It’s key to make sure that your apartment modifications are easy to move around, designers note. Area rugs are an effective and inexpensive design move, Hannon says. You can also look for great deals on Oriental rugs at estate sales.
“Even if the apartment comes with carpeting you may not be crazy about it. Putting down your own rug is a great way of hiding what you don’t want to look at,” Hannon says. For a good deal, she suggests looking at selections of rugs at Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn. Accent rugs start at about $30 at home improvement retailer Lowe’s.
House plants are also a good option for renters, says Abby Buford, a Lowe’s spokeswoman.
“House plants can bring life and color to an otherwise square box of a room,” she says. “And something living in the house provides an extra focus point to the room.”
Slightly more ambitious, though still cost-conscious, dwellers can look to create rooms by hanging linen panels from rods attached near the ceiling. This design can be especially effective for larger single-room apartments.
“You can create separate rooms in the one big room,” Dixon says. “It would feel more intimate.”
Also, the rods and curtains are easily removable when you want to move or just have a few people over for a party.
Designers also emphasize the importance of lighting. The right lighting can add a feeling of comfort to a room. Plus, fixtures come in a wide variety of styles and can be purchased at low cost to replace the inevitable hideous chandelier or light fixture that ruins an otherwise perfectly pleasant room.
It will cost about $75 to have an electrician take a light down and put another in its place, Dixon says. “That’s a small price to pay. It’s worth it to get a light fixture you like. Take down the existing, indigenous light fixture and store it carefully,” he says.
If you opt to simply replace a lamp shade, Hannon suggests avoiding dark pieces that can take away pleasant lighting. Also, she adds, the key to a good floor lamp is that it’s comfortable to reach up and turn it off as you’re sitting in a chair.
Ruth Mantell is a MarketWatch reporter based in Washington.