Tuesday, February 20, 2007

.10 Ways to Personalize Your Space, Without Losing Your Damage Deposit.

I've always thought of renting as a form of domestic purgatory, to be lived out until a time, preferably before the age of 30, when I inevitably become the proud owner of my own house. Alas, the time spent in the residential limbo can stretch out longer than one hopes, depending on the housing or job market where you live. Maybe the houses start at $400,000 and the average job in your city starts at no more than $10/hr, with the average rental costing you a minimum of $600/mo, not including those precious utilities. Not that I'm speaking from personal experience or anything. Whatever the case may be, you may be finding yourself living in an impersonal apartment or outdated basement suite for just a tad longer than you'd hoped, and your landlord is less than keen on that bathroom renovation project you've been pestering him about. What's a renter with a sense of style to do?

Here are my 10 favorite ways to personalize a temporary space, without breaking the budget or sacrificing style.

1. Paint. Paint. Paint.
Probably one of the most 'permanent' things you can do to a rental space is to throw up some paint on those god-awful eggshell white walls. Unless you decide to go with tip #4, the white-wash walls have become all to familiar a fixture in your life as a renter. Most Landlords and some property managers will be fine with a renter changing the wall colour, provided the renter agrees to paint the walls back to their neutral colour before moving. If your Landlord is down with your desire to colourize your walls, do it. Check local store fliers for paint sales.

2. Fabric.
Swaths of fabric can create a unifying theme in your house and can be use to dress up those disgusting plastic blinds that came with (and must stay with) your apartment. Pickup a couple old chairs from your local thrift store, grab your staple gun and set to re-upholstering the seats of those chairs to compliment the colour you've just convinced your property manager to let you use. Create room dividers by attaching fabrics to equally spaced hooks in the ceiling and tie back with strips of matching or complimentary fabric. Create pillows to tie in your furniture to your pad. The best thing about using fabric to give your rental a face lift, is that unlike paint, fabric only takes a minute to take down and can go with you to your next domicile, and can be turned into other embellishments.

3. You Can Take It With You when You Go.
Be conscious of the furniture purchases you make. You may not be able to afford that matching dinette set right now or the couch with matching armchair, but by sticking with a theme, you'll find that as you replace your thrift store/spring cleanup/curbside treasures, you're style will start to emerge, and furthermore, will be completely detachable from your current residence, thus making it perfectly transferable (or so we hope) to your next rental. Of course, theres always a chance that your savvy Scandinavian styled furnishings will clash when you move into your "wood" paneled basement suite, but your furniture will last longer than your temporary digs and contrary to popular belief, that horrible wood paneling that covered the walls of my living room growing up, actually look quite nice with a few coats of paint slathered on top.

4. Minimalism.
The alternative to banishing those white-void walls is to embrace them. White goes with everything (even chocolate brown) and can be worn after labour day, despite what your grandma told you. So you've been purchasing funky coloured couches and chairs? No problem! The white walls will make your furniture choices seem like pieces of art. Who'd want to distract from your large lips sofa with a taupe wall when that plush monstrosity is so wonderfully offset by the neutrality of white walls? Gone the oh-so-en-vogue modern-mid-century route? No need to invest in afore mentioned wood paneling. White walls are visual way of saying "walls? What walls?" Keeping the white walls that came with your place and keeping the furniture limited and your space free of clutter says "I enjoy the serenity of minimalist design". No one will ever guess that what you're thinking is "I've eaten Mr. Noodles for 4 weeks straight now. But DAMN my digs are swank". A warning: if you love your nicknacks and love your frills and bows, the minimalist approach is not for you. And thats okay.

5. Mirror, mirror.
Mirrors go up and mirrors come down. Most mirrors can be hung up using nothing more than a picture hook, which means little to no clean up for you, the tenant, when you move. For those 'enjoying' the small space, big style feel of a bachelor's pad (re: glorified shoe-box), mirrors can make you place seem larger, and more airy. Use mirrors to reflect light into your basement suite, or, use small mirrors to create a focal point in lieu of art (a poster does not count as art unless it has been matted and framed. Blue-Tak does not qualify.)

6.Pillow Talk.
I mentioned above using fabric to create pillows, but I felt that they deserved their own category. I am a pillow freak. I've downsized my pillow collection in the past year and am sorely missing them from my new space. Pillows add comfort to any space, from minimalist or cozy cabin kitsch and can be used to bridge the gap between the furniture you've brought with you and the space you've just acquired. Pillow cases are relatively inexpensive and can be bought almost anywhere, from the thrift store to your local val-u-mart. Or, depending on your level of sewing wizardry, you can make them.

7. House Plants.
Whether you're a macramé maven, or an orchid enthusiast, greenery says a lot about the person whose space they share. Every time I go into a home without plants, I assume the house is in transition. A house without plants to me, is dead, stuffy and impersonal. There is a stupidly wide variety of low-maintenance house plants available. Most tropicals are easy to care for, favour indoor environments like apartments and come in a wide variety of styles and colours. You may not be able to take your veggie garden when you move, or even have room for a planter box, but indoor plants more often than not will adjust to their new location as easily as you will. Indoor plants say "this is a unique home", not "this is unit #304 in Brentwood Manor, which looks eerily like units #305, #306 AND #307, not to mention every other suite on the west side of the building."

8. Flooring.
Area rugs are a great way to demarcate an area. Many apartments have dining rooms that turn into living rooms. Area rugs centre the areas you are trying to create, without ripping up the floor boards. If you're living with hardwood floors (you lucky bastards), rugs will also help protect your floors from getting scuffed up. Every hardwood floor rental I've ever lived in or visited was in poor shape from years of abuse by other tenants. Rugs can help cover up worn spots and distract from gouges in the wood. If you are unfortunate enough to be stuck with carpet, which is often ugly, stained, industrial or some other horrible adjective, rugs can also distract from their fibrous surroundings. Who is going to notice that horrendous industrial grey berber carpet when the large, fluffy, mock fur area rug is attracting all the attention? Who will notice that water stain in the middle of your floor when its covered by a slick damask print rug? And when its time to move? Roll the thing up and away you go.

9. Lighting.
Most light covers are removable. That green glass shade in the foyer of your suite is not the end of the world. Pack up the coverings that came with your place and pull out your own. Socket converters can turn light sockets into electrical outlets, making the perfect opportunity for paper lanterns that are popping up all over the place, not just in Chinatown. Floor lamps are movable, cost-effective ways of changing the lighting options available in your space that are readily removed when you're ready to fly the coop. Holiday lights aren't just for the holidays anymore. Strands of fireproof lights can be strung across entryways, folded into drapes (or those fabric room dividers mentioned above) or wrapped around columns. Just like the paper lanterns, there is a mind boggling variety of mini-lights with assorted coverings available in decor shops, val-u-marts and hardware stores.

10. Accessorize with flare.
Even the minimalist needs a few knicks and few knacks to separate their home from a staged rental suite. The best thing about accessories is that unlike those shows on TeeVee, you don't need to (and shouldn't) be running out to buy impersonal baubles from Pier 1 to add personality to your temporary digs. Just be careful not to go overboard, or you'll end up with an apartment that looks more like a 1st Year dormitory than a home-sweet-home. Put up one or two carefully selected photos (organize the rest in matching photo boxes in case someone really does want to see ever photo you took on your prom night or that camping trip you took with your buddies). Photo boxes can be bought ANYWHERE or made from shoe boxes covered in decoupage. If you can't decide which trinkets to display and which to toss, again, boxes, boxes, boxes. A set of three old suitcases decreasing in size make great storage and have an old world feeling, not to mention are a playful way to bring attention to transitory nature of your life.