What to Buy

28 Very Doable Ideas to Upgrade Your Rental

No closet space? A thing of the past. Dated tile? Poof!

June 16, 2021
Photo by Alpha Smoot

Rent Like You Mean It is a series all about giving our rental spaces a new lease. We’ve rounded up a whole host of refreshing spruce-ups (and cover-ups), impactful DIYs (plus how to get them back to square one when you leave), and peeks at real-life rental transformations. Because a lease should never stop you from having a space that feels like yours—even if it’s only for a year.

Renting your apartment is usually temporary—maybe you’re in a certain area for your job, or maybe it’s a pit stop before buying a starter home. But that doesn’t mean you have to be stuck with dated kitchen tile, lack of light, and zero closet space for the rest of your lease—not if we have anything to say about that.

Once you identify the issue(s) that are keeping you up at night, there are plenty of easy ways to transform your space from an empty, windowless shoebox to an organized, well-lit home. In fact, we’ve personally done all of these in past rentals and have always gotten our security deposits back in full, too.

Here are 28 easy ideas to address common rental problems and transform every room—even before you have to pay the first month’s rent.


No closet space

Even if you’re lucky enough to actually have a closet in your bedroom, it’s often just a hole in the wall with one rusty rod for clothes and no shelves or storage nooks. Make the most of the hole with adjustable rods to maximize vertical space and storage containers for thick sweaters and accessories. If you have extra space in your bedroom, a freestanding clothing rack can show off your daily uniform while a leaning ladder can hold extra linens and throw blankets. Just get one in a style you like, whether that’s rustic or contemporary, so it won’t be an eyesore.

Yamazaki Home Steel & Wood Leaning Ladder (Food52), $60-80 Photo by Rocky Luten
Dotted Line Diggs 25.2'' Clothes Rack (Wayfair), $53.99 Photo by Wayfair
Rubbermaid Configurations Classic Closet Kit (Amazon), $65 Photo by Amazon
Manhattan Modular Organizers Drop-Front Storage Solution (The Container Store), $164.94 Photo by The Container Store

Not enough light

Natural light is a premium no matter whether you rent or buy, but there are lots of easy fixes. The easiest would be to swap heavy blinds with sheer curtains to let in the most sunshine or double up on light and peace of mind with privacy decals—I've used these in a previous apartment where my bedroom faced someone’s bathroom and they were super easy to apply and take down when I moved.

A plug-in sconce can add also ambiance and lighting, while mirrors can help bounce light around a room and take full advantage of golden hour—almost making you forget that you live in a shoebox with no holes.

While I personally don’t mind a darker bedroom, a too-dark bedroom can make it harder to avoid the snooze button. I keep a wake-up alarm clock on my nightstand; it mimics natural daylight to gently rouse you from your slumber.

Rivet Modern Cutout Hanging Mirror (Amazon), $39.99 Photo by Amazon
Stone & Beam Contemporary Wall Sconce (Amazon), $49.99 Photo by Amazon
Wayfair Basics Solid Sheer Tab Top Curtains (Wayfair), $9.10-$10.99 Photo by Wayfair
Hatch Restore Smart Lamp (Food52), $129.99 Photo by Julia Gartland

Living Room

Living in a space without any rooms or doors

If you’ve ever lived in a studio, then you’ll understand the problem of having one big room that encompasses everything but the kitchen. The trick to transforming a large empty space without any doors is to create zones that mimic a living room, bedroom, and home office, using your furniture and decor. Instead of having your sofa right up against a wall, try moving it toward the center of the room to split it into two zones; I use the chaise end of my Burrow sectional to separate my living room and home office area. Or place a large rug under your bed, nightstand, and garment rack to create the illusion of a bedroom—there are endless ways to move your furniture around to maximize your space.

Rivet Revolve Modern Upholstered Sofa (Amazon), $853 Photo by Amazon
Block Nomad Sofa (Burrow), $1,395 Photo by Burrow
Stone & Beam Tassled Criss-Cross Wool Area Rug (Amazon), $72.45-$313.95 Photo by Amazon
Absida Rainbow Rug, $109-$599 Photo by Ruggable

Visible wires and cables

Between our TVs, laptops, speakers, phones, and all our small kitchen appliances, and bad rental layouts, there are just too many visible wires collecting dust on our floors and getting mangled by our robot vacuums. Short of buying only wireless gadgets, we’ve turned to cable management boxes, trays, and concealer tubes—even creatively rearranging our furniture to hide unsightly cords.

Delamu Cord Cover (Amazon), $19.99 Photo by Amazon
Changsuo Cable Management Box (Amazon), $16.99 Photo by Amazon
Yamazaki Home White Web Cable Box (Wayfair), $38 Photo by Wayfair
Cable Tray (Autonomous), $29 Photo by Autonomous


Dated tile

We’re big proponents of loving the space we’re in, but it’s hard to love worn-down, dated kitchen tiles—especially if it’s staring back at us three times a day (seven if you count our snacking trips). One of the easiest ways to update an unsightly backsplash is to cover it up with peel-and-stick tiles and wallpaper. There are ones for every kitchen style—and yes, plenty of variations on the classic subway tile too. You can also use them on furniture, appliances, and more. Once you’re ready to move into a new space, you can just peel these off and get your security deposit back.

Beija Flor Self-Adhesive Mosaic Tile Backsplash (Food52), $78 Photo by Alpha Smoot
WallPops! Green/White 10" x 10" Resin Peel & Stick Field Tile (Wayfair), $7.10/sq ft Photo by Wayfair
Smart Tiles White and Grey Marble Metro Gel Peel & Stick Subway Tile (Wayfair), $10.35/sq ft Photo by Wayfair
STICKGOO 10-Sheet Peel and Stick Subway Tile (Amazon), $46.99 Photo by Amazon

Not enough counter space

When it comes to kitchen counters, there’s just never enough. That’s why I absolutely love smart organizers like expanding shelves and Lazy Susans to double the amount of space in kitchen cabinets, and freestanding dish racks so there’s a place to dry plates and prevent water from dripping everywhere. If there’s not a single extra square inch of space, look for magnetic organizers that will make use of your fridge door or rolling storage carts that can fit into the weird nooks and crannies every apartment seems to have.

Yamazaki Home Steel & Wood Magnetic Refrigerator Rack, $50 Photo by Rocky Luten
Shelf Risers (Open Spaces), $66 Photo by Open Spaces
The Home Edit by iDesign 2-Tier Lazy Susan (The Container Store), $26.99 Photo by The Container Store
Yamazaki Home Double Decker Dish Rack (Food52), $78 Photo by Ty Mecham


No bathroom storage

If the only bathroom storage you have is the top of your vanity, side of your tub, or top of your toilet seat, you’ll need a sturdy shower caddy, handy storage cart, or at least some clear organizers. There’s no reason to live in fear that you’ll knock your toothbrush onto the floor or worse, into the toilet, every day. If you go the storage cabinet route, make sure to look for one that can pull double duty in the kitchen or elsewhere around your rental—versatility is the name of the game when you’re working with small spaces and tricky layouts.

Yamazaki Home Wood & Steel Slim Storage Cabinet (Food52), $120 Photo by Ty Mecham
Zenna Home Pole Shower Caddy (Amazon), $26.49-$55.18 Photo by Amazon
17 Stories Eckles Over-The-Toilet Storage (Wayfair), $145.99 Photo by Wayfair
STORi Audrey Stackable Cosmetic Organizer (Amazon), $19.99-$25.99 Photo by Amazon

What decor upgrades have you done to previous apartments? Tell us in the comments below!

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Jada Wong

Written by: Jada Wong

Jada is the market editor at Food52 with a decade of experience writing and editing for online publications such as Refinery29, Cosmopolitan, and Insider.

1 Comment

Bexd August 18, 2022
Great ideas and hilarious article. Thanks!