DIY Makeover for Rentals – The New York Times

Q: My partner and I live in a rental in Astoria, Queens that we love. It has great light, a nice layout and is close to the train. We plan to stay here for at least a few years. We want the space to feel like ours and less like a generic rental, but we also want to be lease conscious, making improvements that are easily reversible when we move. What are our options?

A: The finishes in rentals usually have as much charm as the paint you often find there — white owner, this austere and totally impersonal color. So it’s no wonder you want to make your space feel like home.

Before you begin, check your lease to see what is allowed. Most leases only allow for superficial improvements, such as adding shelves or curtains. For anything major, like painting or installing wallpaper, you probably need written permission from your landlord. (Even if the lease doesn’t explicitly mention written permission, it’s wise to get it anyway.) Expect to return the apartment to its original condition before moving out, or you risk losing your deposit of guarantee.

Alex Kalita, the founder of Common understanding of obligations in New York, which frequently works with tenants, suggests starting with simple changes that have a big visual impact but won’t irritate a landlord.


“Lighting is one place to invest,” Ms. Kalita said, as the right lighting can transform the mood of any space. Swap fixtures with ones that make a statement; you can take them with you when you go. Make sure any new fixture is at least as wide as the original where it meets the ceiling or the wall, if it is a wall lamp. If not, you may need to touch up the paint around it, and who wants to do that? If your apartment has those inexpensive porcelain enamel sockets, replace the bulbs with oversized globes to add interest to the room.

Install floating shelves or, if you want to splurge, a modular shelving system like one by Vitsoe that you might add over time. When you move, remove the shelves, patch the holes and touch up the paint.

If your kitchen needs an update, you can replace the hardware. “It only requires a screwdriver,” Ms. Kalita said. The bases of all new knobs should be as wide as the current ones, to hide cabinet imperfections.

Cover an unsightly fridge with tape, but test a small area first to make sure removing the film won’t damage the surface. Some mimic stainless steel, while others feature playful designs. Mrs. Kalita has already covered her rental refrigerator with whiteboard contact paper and has written erasable notes on the surface.

You can do a showtopping, but removable, backsplash. Attach the tiles to a piece of plywood that has been cut to size for your backsplash. Then drill the plywood into the wall, leaving only a few holes to fill when you move.

Have a little fun and the space will look like you.

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