9 artsy and inexpensive DIY ideas for decorating a rental

February 27, 2017

6sqft’s series Apartment Living 101 is aimed at helping New Yorkers navigate the challenges of creating a happy home in the big city. This week we’ve got some artistic ways you can update your rental without spending a lot of money.

No matter how ephemeral a rental unit may feel, refusing to put any love into your space will ensure a feeling that your lease is taking forever to end. But it doesn’t take a professional or a full-scale renovation to make a shoebox of an apartment go from a depressing Craigslist find to a lively and stylish pad. Ahead are some creative DIY ways to decorate your space that can be done inexpensively—and without putting your security deposit at risk.

A little Scotch Tape and some cut-out paper triangles can go a long way. Photo by Hannah Frishberg

1. Make your own wall decals
Decals work best on a clean white space, but even if your walls are brick, a mess of pipes, or otherwise unsuitable for decorating, your ceiling is also a great area for a DIY mural. Using cardstock, cut out an easily repeatable shape, like a triangle, and tape it in a pattern on your wall.

Image via Target

2. Window art
Not all of us can afford to live in homes with original stained glass, but GelGems, Window Art, and vellum make for a pretty good alternative. While personal experience has shown GelGems to have the shortest lifespan, they’re also the least effort to acquire and apply, available at plenty of local and corporate retailers. Window Art, meanwhile, is a pricier option, but makes for a fun art project and can last for decades (at the risk of having to chisel the material off your windows).

Photo by Hannah Frishberg 

3. Paint chip collages
Using the free paint chips available at your local hardware store, create a gradient mural or mini collages by designating a background color and a front color. Cut the front color, as you would with a paper snowflake, and paste it on the background one. Easy peasy!

Photographer Michael Depasquale, photographer Martina Maffini, Bed-Stuy brownstone apartment, photographer apartments, historic brooklyn apartments,brooklyn brownstoneTwo photographers use broken glass as decorative art nin their home. Image ©6sqft

4. Smash a mirror
Find a mirror, break it, coat the shards in rubber cement, and securely tape, paste, or otherwise fasten them to your wall in a design of your choosing. Sure it’s taboo, but it’s neat, so burn some lavender and enjoy your creation. It’s worth the risk of bad luck.

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Tea containers used to plant succulents. Image ©6sqft

5. Add greenery
Whether it be a single mini succulent, a window box of perennials, or a full indoor garden, plants will bring oxygen and literal life to your apartment. For those with limited window space and not a lot of light, try setting up a grow light for your plants (yes, these can be used to grow things besides marijuana). Put it on a timer, leaving you responsible only for watering them. Here’s a full list of plants suitable for apartment dwellers.

DIY Rental Decorations Multicolored deer heads from Papertrophy

6. Paper taxidermy
Cheap, animal-friendly, and fun, paper taxidermy is a growing trend with kits increasingly available for purchase at local art suppliers. An added bonus is that they are light and easily mountable.

7. Hang Plates
Decorative plates are another easy and cheap way to dress up a plain white wall. Use sets that you already have, or if you don’t have a collection you feel you can show off, hit up your local thrift store, flea market, or even Target for some inexpensive but attractive options.

Image: At Home and in Love (L); Michael’s (R)

8. Washi Tape Frames
Can’t afford to frame your art? Consider creating Japanese washi tape frames. This handy tape comes in all sorts of colors and costs just a few dollars a roll.

9. Tie dye
Sure you haven’t done it since summer camp, but the fact that you were able to tie dye shirts back then proves that tie dying is pretty difficult to screw up. You’ll need white sheets within your price range, a tie dye kit, and somewhere to put your creation as its drying. Follow instructions (they’ll be more pleasant to follow outdoors, in warm weather) and voila, you now have a lovingly made, posi-vibed bed spread (it works for throw pillows and couch covers, too!). Pro tip: Thinking beyond the typical swirl tie dye pattern of psychedelic rainbow colors will keep you from looking like a Dead Head. Instead, carefully choose your color palette and consider different folding styles like shibori, suburst, or ombre.


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