Landlords don’t often want renters to put up wallpaper or paint the walls. If a tenant thinks the kitchen needs an upgrade, they will likely have to move somewhere else to get it.
The Charleston area’s competitive real estate market often means that renting is the best option for residents. Others, especially recent transplants, prefer the flexibility of leasing to a mortgage.
In fact, about 48 percent of Charleston County residents are renters according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
But renting an apartment or house doesn’t mean a tenant has to live in a bland space.
Whether staying for six months or six years, some personal touches can go long way toward making a rental feel like home.
Local interior design professionals shared their tips with The Post and Courier about how to decorate in a landlord- and wallet-friendly way.
Where to spend, where to save
For a renter who may not stay long, some pieces of furniture can transition more easily from one place to another.
Investing in a higher-quality, durable couch may make more sense in the long run than a dining set.
“A couch is typically something that, although you’re keeping the dimension of your space in mind, is going to be a piece that will go with you from space to space,” said Lauren Waldorf, principal designer and owner of Lauren Waldorf Interiors.
When looking for a couch, shoppers should keep an eye out for performance fabrics, such as the brand Crypton, which will stand up to wear and tear from daily use, pets and children, Waldorf said.
Velvet and leather are long-lasting options as well.
“Velvet is overlooked, especially in Charleston because it’s kind of warm … but velvet is a really durable fabric,” said Dain Silvestri Stall, who is an advertising and e-commerce associate for local home decor and design shop Celadon Home.
Sometimes couches can help make the most of a small space.
“If you do have a smaller apartment, you can invest in a sleeper sofa so your guests can have a place to sleep,” Silvestri Stall said.
Choosing a practical couch doesn’t mean that a home’s style has to stay the same over time, Waldorf added.
“Sometimes you might want to play it a little safer, keep it neutral and fairly classic and then add pillows and occasional furniture that have more personality and are not difficult to change out over time,” she said.
That doesn’t mean a bright pink statement couch is off limits.
“If you love it and it resonates with you right now, don’t enforce rules on yourself just to have rules,” she said.
For other pieces of furniture, such as coffee tables or book cases, Facebook Marketplace and thrift stores can have budget-friendly options, said Karie Calhoun, co-owner and instructor at the Charleston School for Interior Design.
“If (the seller) knows the furniture manufacturing brand, you can find out if they have good furniture,” she said. “You’ll know if it has worn well over time.”
Cheaper items can provide a canvas for a DIY project, she added. Secondhand furniture can be brought to life with a fresh coat of paint.
Without the option to make permanent changes, adding art is one of the easiest ways to give a home personality.
Celadon Home curates a selection from local artists to help give the store’s offering a sense of place. Picking up unique pieces while traveling is another way to make a space feel personal.
“Find pieces that add character. Whether it’s bright colors or warm tones, there is something for everyone,” Silvestri Stall said. “Make sure you have pieces that feel like home to you.”
Not hanging up curtains is also a missed opportunity, Waldorf said.
“Curtains make a huge difference toward making a place feel full and settled and soft,” she said.
For those with a more creative streak, Waldorf recommends peel-and-stick wallpaper, specifically designed to be rental friendly. West Elm sells some and other brands specialize in it such as Spoonflower and Minted.
To add more lighting in a unique way, renters can find battery-powered wall sconces that don’t require wiring and are easy to hang.
“That’s a great way to establish a permanent feeling,” Waldorf said.
And sometimes, simply swapping out a lightbulb can have a strong impact.
“Sometimes rentals have these LED bulbs that are really high Kelvin temperatures. They are almost blue light,” Calhoun said.
She recommends replacing those bulbs with softer tones when possible or adding in lamps to provide different options.
Working from home
With so many people working from home, having a comfortable space is even more important now, Silvestri Stall said. In smaller spaces, renters should try to find a way to put work items away at the end of the day when possible.
“It’s always nice to have a desk or an area on Friday where you can put the screens away and it can still look like a part of your space,” she said.
Decorating a rented space can feel frivolous to some, but it has important effects.
“So many people don’t realize it impacts them until it impacts them well,” Waldorf said. “You should always be able to find some comfort and peace in your space.”