Botanical room with dining table, chairs, sofa and bookshelf

Don't forget about curtains, artwork or bringing in a touch of nature when designing your apartment. (Getty Images)

Just because you rent an apartment doesn’t mean you don’t want it to look good. Whether you regularly entertain friends or just like having your own personal oasis, making a welcoming home space is important to everyone.

But even if prices for Pottery Barn's apartment line or at West Elm don’t fit your renter’s budget, you don’t have to give up on a chic look. If you have a couple thousand dollars to spend on furnishings and decor, or even just a couple hundred, both are doable, says Susie Frazier, artist and author of “Designing for Wellness,” which focuses on creating spaces that invoke emotional well-being.

A do-it-yourself project to upcycle a plain dresser from Ikea or a splash of color and pattern can give your rental the style it needs. With some additional touches you can achieve inside your budget, your apartment can go from a plain box to feeling like home in a few simple steps.

“Be the person that salvages something and turns it into something beautiful,” Frazier says. “That philosophy works perfectly with someone who’s on a budget.”

[See: The Best Free Interior Design Apps]

Here are 12 ways to decorate your apartment on a budget:

  • Make small square footage cozy.
  • Use mirrors to make the room seem bigger.
  • Salvage or buy used furniture.
  • Put up curtains.
  • Invest in long-term items.
  • Update lighting.
  • Use removable wallpaper.
  • Get double-duty furniture for storage.
  • Bring in a touch of nature.
  • Take a closer look at the artwork you choose.
  • Get reusable containers for items that don’t fit in storage.
  • Finish out the space.

Embrace the Small Space

At first, the small square footage of a one-bedroom or studio apartment may seem like a decorating challenge, but the smaller space may be easier to pull together if you're not trying to make it feel like a palace. Frazier points out that current interior design trends emphasize creating comfortable nooks and small spaces.

The smaller your rental, the easier it is to achieve because you don’t have to create nooks or close off spaces in a larger room – the cozy setting is built in. For this reason, Frazier says, “Renters might have an advantage over a big home.”

Use Mirrors to Make the Room Seem Bigger

Taking advantage of an apartment's small square footage doesn’t mean you have to give up on making the room appear bigger. Especially if the foyer or living area feels claustrophobic, add a mirror to create the illusion of more space. Full-length mirrors resting on the floor help make a room feel more expansive, and short mirrors attached to the wall can help a hallway or alcove feel bigger as well.

Mirrors also help light bounce around the room, so if your rental is particularly dark, angle a mirror toward the window or other light source to brighten the rest of the space.

Salvage or Buy Used Furniture

Furniture can easily become the most expensive purchase you make, but it doesn’t have to be. Check out antique stores, Goodwill, Craigslist or other online marketplaces, flea markets, garage sales and even sidewalks on large-item trash pickup days to find used items that are not only cheap – or free – but can add more character to your apartment than a basic black coffee table might.

Keep your mind open for items you can transform. Frazier notes that an old door from a historic building could easily be turned into a table by adding legs to it – and then it becomes a conversation piece. “Now you have a story to tell,” she says.

[Read: Talking to Your Landlord About Your Pet or Service Animal]

Put Up Curtains

Windows in rental properties are typically equipped with blinds for privacy, but not much else. Simple fabric curtains can help add texture and color to the room. Window coverings can be a quick and easy DIY project if you purchase curtain rods and curtains, which are available at a variety of stores, including Ikea, Target, Lowe’s and specialty companies like The Curtain Outlet. A few screws in the wall will be easy to patch when it comes time to move, and you’ll benefit from being able to block out sun and noise for added privacy throughout your lease.

Invest in Long-Term Items

Your budget may make an investment piece difficult, but Lauren Cox, design expert for online interior design platform Havenly, recommends paying more for the items you're likely to hold onto for longer. “Invest in core furniture pieces – so your sofa, your bed and things you know you’re going to carry with you,” she says.

To trade off, spend less on the items that aren’t used as often and may not even make the move to your next place. Cox says dining chairs and side tables are items you may not want to spend much money on.

Update Lighting

Your home will feel more complete if you focus on brightening it up. “Bringing in lighting makes a huge difference that you don’t have to rely on the standard pieces that come with most rental places,” Cox says.

Before you settle for a basic floor lamp with a plastic shade, explore your options. Ikea, Target, Wayfair and Home Depot are all popular places to purchase lamps, and you can easily find options in different styles for under $50.

Use Removable Wallpaper

Many renters hesitate to paint or put up wallpaper for fear of losing their security deposits. Fortunately, removable wallpaper and wall decals offer a temporary, damage-free solution to the white or beige walls that keep a rental looking plain.

Without having to worry about making a mistake that can’t be undone, renters can experiment more with pattern and color on their walls, says Elizabeth Rees, founder of removable wallpaper company Chasing Paper.

“Most commonly, we find that our customers use removable wallpaper for a single wall – though we have many who also use them for an entire room, as well as DIY projects and smaller pieces of decor,” Rees says.



Get Double-Duty Furniture for Storage

If your apartment lacks closet space, seek out furniture that both provides storage space as well as performs its standard function. Look for a coffee table with shelves underneath or hidden trunk space, for example, a bar cart that can double as a side table or tall shelves for your books that can also separate the bed and living areas in a studio.

Bring in a Touch of Nature

Indoor plants are an ideal way to infuse color and life into a room all at once. But not every renter has a green thumb, and a succulent collection doesn’t appeal to everyone’s personal sense of style.

Stones, pinecones or dry natural plant clippings bring organic patterns and variety into your space at no cost. Frazier has a grouping of smooth river rocks she keeps near the entryway in her home, which she says serves as a tactile stimulant for herself as well as guests. “Whenever anyone comes over, (the rocks are) almost begging you to touch them, and guests immediately reach out,” she says.

[Read: Why You Should (and Shouldn't) Opt for a Month-to-Month Lease]

Choose Artwork Carefully

Leaving the walls blank in your apartment will make it seem less personal, but so will putting up artwork with no personal connection to you. “Only choose art that goes into your apartment that has meaning to you,” Frazier says.

If you already have your core furniture, Cox says artwork is an excellent option for making a bigger investment. Even if it takes a little longer to fill an empty space on the wall, the choice to spend more on a piece you’ll keep for years has greater value in the long run, whether it's from a gallery, artist website or at a street sale. You may still find artwork that speaks to you at a flea market, but skip the stores where you're most likely to buy art as a space filler.

Get Reusable Containers

If you find your kitchen cabinets overflowing and your counters getting cluttered, consider options for making visible storage a little more attractive. A wooden bowl to hold fresh fruit will serve you better than produce bags sitting on the counter, and matching spice jars can make your regular cooking ingredients seem like a display rather than a cluttered collection in the cabinet. Organization like this can add up in price if you’re not careful while shopping at The Container Store or even on Amazon, so only buy these items when you have a specific purpose for them.

Finish Out the Space

The biggest mistake renters make when decorating, Cox says, is neglecting to complete a room for the sake of easier moving when the lease is up. “It’s really easy to get into this mindset that this isn’t my forever home,” she says.

Matching nightstands in a bedroom, an additional chair in the living space or a rug for the guest room can make the rooms look complete. Cox notes that they don’t have to be investment pieces or focal points, but these finishing touches can provide each room with the complete look it needs.


9 Interior Design Trends to Look Out for in 2019

It may be time to update your decor.

Modern interior living room.

(Getty Images)

An October 2018 report from the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University projected that remodeling spending is expected to grow to more than $350 billion in the third quarter of 2019. While it’s certainly an increase from the $331 billion of remodeling spending during the same period in 2018, the expectation shows a slowing in growth compared to recent years. Whether you’re renovating your home for yourself, updating your home to sell or looking to spice up a living space that you rent, you’ll see some new trends entering the interior design field this year – and others easing out of the spotlight. Here’s what to keep an eye out for in 2019.

Updated on March 8, 2019: This story was originally published on Oct. 26, 2018, and has been updated with new information.

Trends are getting a longer shelf life.

Trends are getting a longer shelf life.

living room or saloon interior design with big wall yellow seat or sofa and picture frames watch 3d rendering

(Getty Images)

An interior design trend, by definition, is the temporary popularity of a style, pattern, color or approach to decor. But as the cost of homes continues to climb and the cost of renovating spikes as well, trends are sticking around longer, explains Anna Starmer, U.K.-based author of “Love Color: Choosing Colors to Live With” and founder of color and trend forecasting company Luminary Colour. “The interesting thing about trends right now is that they are slowing down,” she wrote in an email. “A colour family is popular for longer than (one) season. This is down to many factors, but one of the main reasons is that people are living real lives – they do not have enough time to redecorate every (six) months.”

Well-being comes into play.

Well-being comes into play.

Hygge, Zuhause, Entspannung, Muenchen, Bayern, Deutschland

(Getty Images)

The Danish concept of Hygge – being cozy and content – has been popular in the U.S. for a couple of years, particularly in the cold winter months when people bundle up to stay warm. But Starmer suggests that the current social or political mood is also encouraging people to make their home a comfortable safe haven of sorts: “(I)t is no surprise that in recent times of uncertainties in the world, we are all starting to favour comforting shades and warming colours in the home.” That extends to softer textures in furniture, pillows and blankets, rich scents like pumpkin or citrus and a setup that encourages relaxing.

[See: Best Home Security Systems of 2019.]

Design in all spaces and sizes.

Design in all spaces and sizes.

Warm, feminine living room interior with gray armchair, beige sofa and small, woolen coffee table

(Getty Images)

Whether you’re still holding onto your dream of a tiny home or you simply can’t afford a bigger apartment, interior design is trending toward emphasizing conscious design in all spaces – not just the palatial homes of the wealthy. For example, Pottery Barn launched its small space collection, PB Apartment, in early 2018 to cater to customers who have less space to deck out. You’re also likely to see a growing number of companies offer furnishings and design aesthetics that serve more than one purpose and can be used in a variety of rooms.

Don't be afraid to be bold.

Don't be afraid to be bold.

White interior of living room with colorful pillows

(Getty Images)

Everyone’s comfort level is different, but those who are willing should feel free to embrace a bold, eclectic look at home in the coming year. HGTV star and interior designer Taniya Nayak says to go for bright accent colors, such as jewel tones and colors that contrast – think blue and orange – and don’t be afraid to layer. “I love doing paint techniques, and I love wall coverings too, but some people are really petrified of wall coverings,” says Nayak, who partners with FrogTape painter’s tape. When in doubt, make your statement by adding color with different types of wall decor (not all photos and prints), painting an accent wall or layering throw blankets and pillows in bright, contrasting colors to create a new focal point in the room.

Shades of green will pop up everywhere.

Shades of green will pop up everywhere.

Green living room

(Getty Images)

Expect interior designs to pull more inspiration from nature in the coming year, bringing lively green into the foreground. Starmer is predicting different shades of green to be more visible not just in interior design, but in fashion as well. However, she warns that you should keep texture and light in mind any time you select a color for a space. “A shade of emerald may look fabulous on a velvet-covered chair but hideous on the wall of a bathroom,” she says.

Neutrals are warming up.

Neutrals are warming up.

3d rendering illustration of living room with luxury wooden wall panel and hardwood floor. Classic interior decorated with tree fashion vases of black, gold and white ceramics. Gorgeouos texture of squares.

(Getty Images)

Gray, stark white and the gray-beige combo color “greige” have been go-to neutrals for a few years. But Starmer says neutral shades in the home are going to warm up as people look to evoke the feeling of more natural settings in the home. “Neutral and natural colours now need to be soft and warm like a favourite cashmere sweater – or the colour of a baby deer,” Starmer says. Capturing these neutrals with natural items like wood, real stones and ceramic pieces help “counteract our very unnatural lifestyles,” she says.

Floors are getting more natural.

Floors are getting more natural.

Modern interior. Render image.

(Getty Images)

In 2018, dark wood floors have been on the decline, according to Lee Crowder, design gallery and model branding manager for Darling Homes, a subsidiary of homebuilder Taylor Morrison Inc., based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Looking forward to 2019, wood floors should continue to stay on the lighter side, but many manufacturers are noting that a matte finish is gaining popularity, which makes the floor look more natural. Recycled and engineered wood remain a more sustainable alternative to the typical wood floor, and manufacturers are even increasing the variety of tile or vinyl floors that convincingly look like real wood.

Mixed metals are officially a look.

Mixed metals are officially a look.

Modern  luxury kitchen penthouse condominium home. Modern kitchen house interior.

(Getty Images)

Finding the perfect match to existing hardware in your bathroom or kitchen can be difficult, which is part of the reason why mixed metals started trending to begin with. But now it’s not just about convenience. With the right balance, you can bring multiple metals into a room and create a rich, glamorous look. Nayak notes that metals don’t have to be restricted to fixtures, lamps and coffee table legs; opt for metallic paint colors and incorporate geometric shapes on the walls to tie metals into other parts of the room.

Trends are catering to comfort levels.

Trends are catering to comfort levels.

Open plan apartment of family living-space with wooden kitchen countertop, purple radiator, communal table with turquoise chairs and spacious living room with beige couch

(Getty Images)

Some of the looks Nayak expects to see more in the coming year vary widely, from soft, romantic pastels and textured palettes to bolder jewel tones and metals. Rather than focusing on one widely accepted trend, you have the opportunity to embrace what works for you and keep it more unique than in years past. How do you know which trend to embrace? Look at your closet. “Whatever your wardrobe says about you is very much how you should approach your design,” Nayak says. If you’re big on patterns and bright colors, the eclectic trend can make your house feel like home again. If you’re a solids-and-neutrals kind of person, working in more of a natural look at home can provide the update you want and need.

Interior design trends to keep an eye out for in 2019.

Interior design trends to keep an eye out for in 2019.

the modern living room interior.3d design concept

(Getty Images)

Interior design trends that will be big this year include:

  • Longevity of trendy pieces, colors and patterns.
  • Comforting shades and warming colors.
  • More furnishing options for smaller spaces.
  • Bold accent colors.
  • Shades of green on walls, furniture and in fashion.
  • Warmer neutral colors with less focus on gray.
  • Lighter wood floor finishes for a more natural look.
  • Mixed metals to make replacing kitchen or bathroom fixtures easier.
  • Focus on comfort in design choices.

Read More

Tags: real estate, renting, home improvements, housing, personal budgets


Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.

Recommended Articles

The Best Places to Live for the Weather

Devon Thorsby | April 24, 2019

Where would you move to enjoy blue skies and sunshine year-round?

What to Consider Before Signing a Lease

Geoff Williams | April 23, 2019

Before you commit to signing a lease, consider these expert-backed tips.

Best Places to Live for Quality of Life

Devon Thorsby | April 19, 2019

These metro areas offer the best education, access to health services and crime rates.

Why Spring Is the Perfect Time to Sell

Devon Thorsby | April 17, 2019

Spring is here and interest rates are low – it's a great time to make the most of eager buyers.

Home Selling: Real Estate Team vs. Agent

Dima Williams | April 17, 2019

Solo agents are an industry standard, but teams offer a novel alternative. Here's what sets the two arrangements apart.  

The Priciest Repairs for Homebuyers

Lisa Larson | April 16, 2019

Avoid the repairs that will cost you the most before you move in with a sharp eye and the right inspections.

The Best Places to Live in New York

Devon Thorsby | April 12, 2019

Find out where in the Empire State you'll find the best opportunities.

What’s Dragging Down Your Home's Value?

Devon Thorsby | April 10, 2019

Find out why your home isn't worth as much as you think.

Do Home Value Estimate Tools Work?

Teresa Mears, Devon Thorsby | April 10, 2019

Homeowners now have more control over how home value estimates are calculated.

DIY Projects That Add Value to Your Home

Mady Dahlstrom | April 10, 2019

These are the home improvement projects that will add value to your home when selling.

Are These New Hot Spots Too Expensive?

Devon Thorsby | April 9, 2019

In places where net migration is highest, housing costs are rising fast.

The Best Affordable Places to Live 2019

Devon Thorsby | April 9, 2019

When it comes to housing costs, these metro areas allow your paycheck to go further.

The 25 Best Places to Live in the U.S.

Devon Thorsby | April 9, 2019

These metro areas offer the best combination of jobs, desirability, cost of living, quality of life and more.

Why a Real Estate Agent's Advice Works

Steven Gottlieb | April 8, 2019

The advice your real estate agent offers can help you close the right deal to buy or sell your home.

Selling Your House in a Buyer's Market

Wendy Arriz | April 2, 2019

Five steps to ensure the right buyer sees your home.

Climate Change May Impact Home Values

Geoff Williams | March 29, 2019

With sea level rise accelerating, waterfront real estate values could be revalued sooner than you think.

How to Make Your Open House Memorable

Sally Forster Jones | March 28, 2019

How to prepare your home for a day of showings that will make buyers want to put in an offer.

What Is a BPO in Real Estate?

Devon Thorsby | March 20, 2019

Here's what to know about a broker price opinion, how it's calculated and if you should get one.

Are You Ready To Buy a Home?

Wendy Arriz | March 19, 2019

For the millennial generation, homeownership can still be intimidating. Here's what you should consider before making an offer.

What Data Points Tell You About Housing

Dima Williams | March 14, 2019

From home prices and sales to construction and mortgage rates, these are the real estate gauges to watch.