Six Ways To Improve Your Rental Room
One of my childhood hobbies was waiting until no one was looking and then moving half the furniture across the room for a fort. The other hobby was endlessly rearranging all my dollhouse furniture. My idea of a good time hasn't really changed.
Last summer my sister moved out of the second bedroom in our house, leaving it totally empty. I had about a week to re-design it as a furnished bedroom for guests. It was an impressively short turnaround time even by my standards, but I was super happy with how it turned out. The steps I took to spruce up this bedroom could be applied to any rental bedroom in need of a facelift:
This is a letter of encouragement to anyone facing a beige room, because trust me, this room was not charming when I started. (Note, my sister has an amazing sense of style, and I took these photos once she moved all her great stuff out.) Below is where I started:
Here are the steps I took to make it look awesome in under a week. You can apply these to any room that's lacking:
1. Get rid of things
There is no better place to start than with a clean slate. In the above photo you will see: a too-small bed frame, an orange table that clashes with the walls, a white rug that never looked white, a light fixture circa 1970, and sheer curtains that blocked natural light but didn't make the room dark enough to sleep.
So all of it had to go. If something isn't right, you owe it to yourself to bid it farewell and find something that works instead. I love donating to Community Thrift in San Francisco
The first day of overhauling the room, I posted all of the items I didn't plan to keep on Craigslist, and then moved everything out of the room so I could see the space I had to work with. Items to sell went to the garage where I slowly got rid of them, and things I planned to keep went to the living room white I painted.
There's nothing better than a fresh coat of paint. I know it's not enticing to move all your furniture out and spend the weekend with a paint roller, but seeing your walls with fresh paint is incredibly satisfying. I wrote about how to pick a good paint color here, and I went with white for this room since it has A. amazing light and B. not amazing molding.
I budget a full weekend of 9-5 work (no social engagements, lot of podcasts) for painting 1-2 rooms. I pick up supplies during the week, move furniture out and prep the room Friday night, paint the primer and first coat on Saturday, and finish the second coat on Sunday.
When I finished I was like, man, we should have done this years ago. Which is a good feeling to have when you put a weekend's work into something.
3. Buy a big rug
Next, I bought a 9x12 rug from eBay, sign unseen, which made the room feel instantly cozy and pretty. I wrote a whole blog post that outlines my feelings about rugs. Namely, that they should fit the room, and not skimp on size. Big doesn't mean expensive -- I think this one was about $200 including shipping.
It arrived the Friday before I painted, so once I was done, I rolled it out an admired my hard work. I had it professionally cleaned since it came from eBay which cost about $100 and always feels worth it when they tell you how much grime they cleaned out of your rug. I like the extremely affordable and efficient Oscar's Carpet Cleaners in SF.
4. Re-think your furniture
Now that you've gotten rid of everything you don't love, painted your room, and bought a nice big rug, it's time to ask what furniture sparks joy.
For this bedroom, I started with a white Ikea Malm bed that I found on Craigslist for $45. I had recently stayed at the ultra-grammable Rose Hotel in Venice, where they made the Malm look extremely stylish. The nightstands and the rattan chair were each $20 on Craigslist, and I found a black dresser at Community Thrift (when I was there donating things.)
I struggled with the right overhead ceiling light for this bedroom, and then the weekend I was thinking about it I visited the (then new) Tartine Manufactory. I fell in love with their use of paper lanterns:
Turns out you can buy a 20" white paper lantern for only $8 on Amazon! I'm not sure it's a super long term solution since it was a little tricky attaching the lantern to the existing fixture extending from the ceiling, but it's held up for over a year now. And I really like how it looks. I already owned this white standing lamp from IKEA, these brass task lamps from Target, and this white modern CB2 lamp.
Light fixtures aren't expensive and they're an easy way to make your room look instantly fresh. If you're ambitious, you could install them yourself with a YouTube tutorial (just turn off the electricity first.) Otherwise I call my go-to handyman Mike, who can switch a light fixture in about ten minutes.
6. Mirror, plants, and art
Even if you only have a single piece of furniture sitting on your big rug, your room can look awesome with a mirror, a plant, and a piece of art. My favorite mirror (pictured above) is only $50 at Target, you can get a faux fiddle leaf fig from Amazon, and I wrote about finding amazing art on eBay here. I always frame my art with Ikea Ribba frames, which come with a mat and look way more expensive than they are.
I was so happy to have this sunny, bright, and pretty minimal bedroom in my house. Here's what the final version looked like:
Want to create a similar look? Here are the sources for everything above, with similar substitutes if I bough things on Craigslist:
1. White Ikea bed | 2. White paper lantern | 3. Black lacquer dresser | 4. White standing task lamp | 5. Modern white desk lamp | 6. White linen curtains | 7. Oriental rug | 8. Pink protea flowers | 9. Round brass mirror | 10. Brass task lamp | 11. White bedside table | 12. Linen duvet cover | 13. Grey linen euro shams | 14. Rattan chair