The Best Rental-Friendly Ways to Upgrade Your Apartment

Look, we millennials are a renting bunch—which isn’t to say that younger, older, and in-between peeps aren’t renters as well, but gone are the Leave It to Beaver days of buying a cul-de-sac house in the suburbs with some luck, pluck, and your pension from the button factory; most of our money these days goes towards a juggling act of health care, Topo Chico, gas, and Boy Smells candles. And while some of the decor in our apartment is made up of pieces we truly love and have saved up for, such as this Memphis Group conversation pit (a ghoul can dream), we almost always turn a blind eye to the crappier parts of our home. You know, the kind that TikTok has dubbed “the landlord special.” 

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The parody video was made by @LongRealEstateInvestor, and has since amassed 30.5 million views alone to prove that, yes, mom, all of the DIY rental “solutions” we inherited from the last tenant are really that bad. DIY rental upgrade videos and hacks are huge on TikTok, #apartmentrenovation videos amassing millions of views. Cheap landlords love to do the least by slapping white paint on everything, installing funeral parlor sconces, and hardware that falls off cabinets after a few uses. And while it’s easy to feel powerless as a renter, there is hope in renter-savvy fixes, from temporary flooring to smart tips on replacing crappy lightswitch plates. Consider the wise words of fellow renter and national treasure Amy Sedaris, who has lived in the same amazing one-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village, New York for over a decade. “You can lower door knobs and move electrical boxes,” she says about her own renter-friendly upgrades, which transformed her otherwise average apartment into a truly bespoke home. 

Do you fantasize about having a 1970s-style living room with wooden wall paneling? Or maybe you want to make your bedroom look like a room at the Madonna Inn, or any number of the kitsch roadside and themed hotels in California? Start by finding cool, expensive-looking wall art online, invest in a mid-century modern modular sofa, and rest assured: There is finally an epic, washable shag rug out there for renters. Whether you’re looking for some new temporary flooring for the kitchen or better lighting (for windowless rooms), here are some of our favorite rental-friendly ways to renovate your apartment. 

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Bring light into a windowless room

It’s not uncommon for railroad-style apartments, basement apartments, and types of homes to lack a window in the living room. The key to not going crazy/demolishing a wall or making a DIY transom window is to invest in some solid, varied lighting. The Joofo floor lamp has garnered a major following online with over 3,000 reviews and a 4.7-star rating on Amazon. “If you love brightly lit rooms this is exactly what you need,” writes one reviewer. “This lamp can go from nicely dim light to absolutely fantastic bright energizing light!” There are also Joofo lamp doppelgangers whose bulbs have a broad spectrum of rainbow colors.


$75$65 at Amazon


$75$65 at Amazon


$39.99$29.99 at Amazon


$39.99$29.99 at Amazon

Most of all, remember that you’ll want to create differing points of lighting in your apartment. That means you might want a Joofo lamp in one corner, a Noguchi-style rice paper lamp on the floor, and a sunset lamp for evening ambiance. 


$24.99$21.99 at Amazon


$24.99$21.99 at Amazon

Invest in an almighty mirror (or mirrored-wall)

We’re not just talking about accent mirrors, although we’ll take those, too. A massive mirror or mirrored wall will take your home’s light—be it from the Joofo lamp or the sun—and multiply it, while also creating the illusion of a bigger space. Move over, Magic Castle! This is your funhouse now. 


$389.99$369.99 at Wayfair


$389.99$369.99 at Wayfair

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A hot girl at a vintage store once told us not to hang mirrors above our bed because “midnight ghosts would pass through.” She’s not wrong, but the drama of effectively wallpapering an entire floor-to-ceiling wall of mirrors—or placing a saucy one above our bed—is too good to pass up. 


$39.99$36.99 at Amazon


$39.99$36.99 at Amazon


$39.99 at Amazon


$39.99 at Amazon

The best faux-wood panels and wainscoting 

We can’t all live inside a 1978, redwood-and-glass bachelor pad from Laurel Canyon—but we can try. This reclaimed-wood paneling has a five-star rating on Wayfair, and it was designed for temporary installation, even though it will make your space feel like an über-lived-in redwood cabin that was left to you by your cultured, anti-social great uncle. 


$179.99 at Wayfair


$179.99 at Wayfair

If your aesthetic is a little more pared-down 1920s-townhouse-meets-minimalist-Parisian-apartment, there are also plenty of traditional whitewainscoting sets on Wayfair that can dress up a big, blank wall without making it feel cluttered.  


$232.42$182.99 at Wayfair


$232.42$182.99 at Wayfair

Create a subway tile backsplash 

Do you remember that NYC apartment that went viral for having the bathtub in the kitchen? Yeah, we hope that you don’t have to shampoo your hair with your roommate looking on and washing the dishes. But you should look for peel-and-stick tiles to create a backsplash above the sink in your restroom-kitchen-living, and better define your space with subway tiles or faux-ceramic Moroccan squares. 


$2.95 at Wayfair


$2.95 at Wayfair


$2.89 at Wayfair


$2.89 at Wayfair

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The best temporary flooring 

The same space-defining mentality checks out with temporary flooring, because it can help bring color and texture into a zone while separating it from the rest of the house. We’ll always be a ride-or-die fan of black and white checkered floors. They’re equally timeless and Beetlejuice-chic, plus they’ll look great covered in lush green plants or a bright dining set. 


$1.19 at Wayfair


$1.19 at Wayfair

For a more versatile look, if you tend to change your mind a lot when it comes to decor, these luxury vinyl planks come in thirteen natural hues from Pacific Pine to High Point Chestnut, and can be laid on top of any existing flooring. These wood-look flooring panels are water and scratch resistant, which is perfect if your dog also insists on joining you for every shower.


$2.09 at Home Depot


$2.09 at Home Depot

There’s finally a washable shag rug

Heaven is a place filled with Cynar-filled fountains, chocolate turtles, and floor-to-ceiling shag rugs. In the meantime, we’ll be indulging in the latest shag rug from Ruggable; it’s not only super fluffy and expensive-looking, but the rug comes with the option of an extra pad underneath for some extra squish. Most importantly, this baby is 100-percent machine-washable, so you can spill Flaming Hot Cheeto dust all over it without a care in the world.  


$199$179 at Ruggable


$199$179 at Ruggable

Temporary wallpaper isn’t scary

Out of all the DIY home decor trends, temporary wallpaper can feel like the most intimidating. The good news is it’s really not that hard, and if you are truly skeptical of your Martha Stewart abilities (same) you can just hire a local wallpaper installer or TaskRabbit worker for an hour or two to apply it like a pro. Look to brands and retailers such as Chasing Paper, West Elm, Society6, and even Urban Outfitters for sick designs that would look great behind your bar cart or record player.    


$59 at West Elm


$59 at West Elm

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$79 at Urban Outfitters


$79 at Urban Outfitters


$100$75 at Society6


$100$75 at Society6

Create an entire wall of books

We’ve been in love with Danish Vitsœ shelves for as long as we can remember, because they were the absolute sleekest shelving system to emerge from the futuristic design movement of the 1960s. Unfortunately, actual Vitsœ shelves can cost thousands of dollars to build out—but we found their doppelgangers on Wayfair for a little more than $20 per shelf, so you can get the look of having an entire wall covered in books for way less. We’ve written a step-by-step guide to the installation of the shelves, which are as easy to assemble as they are to take apart. 


$189.99 at Wayfair


$189.99 at Wayfair


$109.99$99.99 at Wayfair


$109.99$99.99 at Wayfair

Replace those fuggo flush mounts

Everyone has had to endure one of these ceiling lamps at least once in their life, whether it was in their college dorm or the first apartment they ever rented. You don’t have to put up with these heinous ceiling fixtures, dude! Unscrew that shit, store it in a cabinet for the day you move out, and hang a rattan fixture, rice paper globe, or one of HAY’s conical, fanned flush mounts. 


$50$39 at Amazon


$50$39 at Amazon


$225$191.25 at HAY


$225$191.25 at HAY


$148 at Anthropologie


$148 at Anthropologie

The best no-drill blinds

My roommate has these mocha-colored blinds by LazBlinds, and my jaw dropped when she told me that they not only cost about $50, but required zero drilling. They look like they’re made out of a rich, thick rice paper and cast your entire room in an amber glow.  


$52.99$49.99 at Amazon


$52.99$49.99 at Amazon

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Update your drawer and cabinet pulls

Have you ever seen a piece of street furniture and thought, “Eh, almost?” There’s nothing a little chalk paint and some fresh drawer pulls can’t zhuzh, my liege, and whether you’re temporarily replacing your landlord’s crummy drawer pulls or fixing up your own commode or cabinetry, Wayfair has a great selection of wavy, on-trend pieces. 


$27$25.44 at Wayfair


$27$25.44 at Wayfair


$5.28 at Wayfair


$5.28 at Wayfair


$17.99 at Wayfair


$17.99 at Wayfair

Swap out light plate coverings 

Last but not least, it’s lights out for the “meh” plate covering over your light switch. Swap that sucker out for a pop of color, or a talavera ceramic wall covering made by artists in Mexico. 


$9.23 at Wayfair


$9.23 at Wayfair


$15 at Amazon


$15 at Amazon

Here’s to outsmarting landlords—always—and getting a sexier apartment in the process. 

Create separation

So your apartment has no walls, you know what they say no walls, no problem! Seriously, an open space has a ton of pros—you can change up the layout in a ton of different ways, if you’re the type to get bored, and you won’t have to worry about things fitting into weird nooks. One of my favorite ways to create “zones” or perhaps gain a little privacy, when hosting guests, is with a really chic room divider. For a more permanent option, an open shelving unit with curated knick-knacks is a class trick, but for more temporary options, we love a folding screen or beaded curtain.


$442.50$279.99 at Wayfair


$442.50$279.99 at Wayfair


$79 at Urban Outfitters


$79 at Urban Outfitters


$398 at Anthropologie


$398 at Anthropologie


The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story.