Decorating Tips to Transform Your Rental Into a Home

partment decoratingIf you walk in to someone's home, you can usually tell a great deal about them by the way it is decorated. For instance, on the Style Network's hit show Jerseylicious, Olivia's apartment reveals her wild side and flair for the flamboyant, via the hot pink walls and zebra-print throw pillows. Indeed a fitting style for the wild child.

Although renters can feel like their hands are tied when it comes to home decor, the Connecticut-based home designer Kelley Taylor says it is possible to put a personal stamp on your apartment without breaking the rules of your lease. The author of "Holiday Decorating for Dummies" and publisher of and answered questions on not only how renters can make their own mark on their dwellings but also on all things decor!

RentedSpaces: What's your design philosophy?

Taylor: I wish I could say that I had a design philosophy that was profound like many designers do, like some sort of useful equation you can plug and play. But I don't. Instead, I really think I have more of a "home" philosophy. I guess you could say I believe that your lifestyle sets the stage for how to decorate your world, your home and your life.

You have to first consider what lifestage you are in (newly married, divorced, with kids, empty nest, in transition, etc.) and what kind of home you want to create (best kid house on the block, perfectly manicured, built for entertaining, or private retreat) before you can begin selecting pieces that will speak to what your heart desires.

Home is a feeling. Decorating, and the process of decorating, is simply putting together pieces of things that not only look good but feel right to you based on what you need right now in your life. And no one can tell you what you need. I believe you innately know it, but often we don't relax enough to heed those inner tugs urging you to buy the pretty rug, that fresh bouquet of flowers at the grocery store, or the comfy chair you could sit in for hours.

It all begins with what fits your life right now.

Renters often feel stuck in a decorating rut because they have more restrictions on what they can do. How can renters give their apartment a personal touch even though they may have restrictions on making alterations to their unit?

Honestly, I hear you on this, but I just don't get it. The only things you're really limited on is space, color of walls and major replacements of appliances, built-ins and flooring. But hey, who wants to tackle all of that major expensive stuff anyway! I say invest in the heart of your home -- the things you can take with you -- as opposed to any sort of limitation about the other major things. Focus on furnishing your life and what kind of lifestyle you want. Put some focus on comfort so everything is very lush and soft, worn in and touchable.

I say there is no architecture that can contain the soul. There were times I lived in tiny cramped apartments and times I lived in perfectly decorated largess homes. I can't remember one ever feeling less like "home" because of the way it looked.

It's impossible to think you will ever live in only one structure for the rest of your life. So channel Teddy Roosevelt and "Do what you can where you are, with what you have." Creating home decorating isn't just about the color of the walls but the memories you will have while you are there. Relax a little. Break out the board games with some missing pieces, put your feet up on some dented furniture bought with your first paycheck, and relax on sun-bleached fabric worn with love, laughter and tears. Those are the things renters can focus on. You take the love with you.

Why do you think it's important for people to spruce up their home decor, especially in tight monetary times like now?

I am in the process of writing a book called "Decorating for the Soul" which is less of a how-to than a WHY-to and addresses this very question.

Often, it can seem pretty trivial to even think about "decorating" per se when you have the pressures of the world on your shoulder. But I believe home comforts us. It shelters and protects us. Our homes are our refuge so it makes sense to surround ourselves with things that make us say "Ahhhh, that's better."

With the economy being the way it is, many people are spending more time at home. So I believe it has become more of a focus because we are now seeing all the things we've overlooked before. We're also remembering what matters most.

This should be a time of great renewal and discovery! We now have the time to plan, dream, create, and arrange our homes during this downtime and exercise our creativity in how we do it; that in and of itself is restorative in my opinion. I see this as a great time to redesign, repurpose, recycle and redecorate!

People tend to see home decorating as a major project that will take weeks, if not months, to get done. What are some ways people can do decorating projects in a day or weekend?

  • I believe in taking baby steps. Break down projects into phases. Say, shop one day; decorate the next! Clear the room quickly in under an hour; bring back only the items you want!
  • Be realistic yet optimistic. My best advice is to find one room to scrub, style and shine. What I mean by that is just to pick one room or area that you really want to tackle. I'd suggest something that greets you when you walk in or someplace that comforts you or your family.
  • This is my big one: it's not really about what you put in, sometimes it's what you take out of a room that makes the difference. Our homes are where our lives come to rest – along with all our stuff. Sometimes "decorating" can simply be clearing out what you don't need, want or fails to fit your life anymore. And there are plenty of others that can re-purpose your unwanted things. Get the tax write-off. Donate it. Then, breathe in all that fresh space!
Remember, it doesn't take long to move furniture around to give new perspective, switch out photos or throw pillows, add some flowers or just add some books to an end table.

What's a "stylist stash" and why do you recommend that people have one of their own?

I have to confess. My "stylist stash" is also referred to as my junk closet in my house. What is another man's trash is another man's treasure, right?

But there are things that I love and things I find that may not always "go" in a room but I don't want to have to go shopping every time I need a quick fix! For instance, I found some great classic hardbound vintage books for super cheap at a library book sale. I use those when I need to add height under a table accessory or just add to an empty table. I purchased beautiful faux flowers to place out when my fresh ones go kaput right before company comes. And I can keep small seasonal items in my stash as well as a variety of great fabrics, table linens, etc. A single placemat bought at a great price can look wonderful under a bouquet of fresh flowers. An old earring can be used for a pushpin or studded to the top of a place card. A single china teacup can hold everything from sugar packets to paper clips.

So really, your "stylist stash" is comprised of the things you love to have in a room and speaks to whatever it is that makes your spirit shake, rattle and roll. It can represent your past, reflect where you are in the present or can be used in the future as you see fit. It's like always having that Little Black Dress handy in a pinch. Just don't outgrow the closet, basket or bin. Set the limit as to how much you want to store.

Do you have any other tips or comments that you'd like our readers to know when it comes to decorating on a budget or decorating outdoor space and rental units?

I just get so passionate when I feel people get sad about lacking budgets or temporary spaces. I also dislike it when people get pressured into the whole "your homes are a reflection of who you are" phrase that designers spew out without thinking.

Sure, maybe it reflects where you are now, but there is no way it could reflect all a person is or where they are going in life. I'd rather focus on how a home is really a feeling. And I try to help people figure out what that meaning is for themselves.

My additional advice:

To decorate on a budget: shop and compare online. Check eBay often, use coupons, look for sales.

Invest in the timeless pieces you'll want to keep forever (candlesticks, classic furniture, silverware, heirloom pieces, holiday collectables or items used for special occasions on a regular basis).

If it's trendy, look at pricey items, but shop around until you find it for less. There are many similar accessory items that you can find at discount stores or mass merchandisers that are amazing in quality and price.

For decorating rentals: choose lightweight furniture and items that can serve multi-purposes. For example, a storage ottoman can be used for storage, a footrest or an occasional table by just adding a tray. Decorative stackable baskets or boxes can be used for out-of-season storage, filing systems or projects. Just look for items that can be easily transported in small boxes. Use slipcovers when possible, and often, to change up looks in a room (that goes for pillow slipcovers as well).

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