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Make Your Rental Feel Like Home

Many people who rent might be considering staying in the rental market long-term. There are some advantages to renting over buying, including not paying maintenance costs and not putting down a big down payment. But one problem renters face is making their rental unit feel like a home, especially when they can’t paint or remodel to make the space feel more like their own. The good news is that whether you’re on a budget or have lots of money to spend, and whether you live in a small apartment or rent a house, there are many ways to make your rental feel like home.

“The biggest thing to know is once you get your own stuff in a place, it becomes your own,” says Kendall Ansell, owner and decorator at Kendall Ansell Interiors, an interior design company that helps owners and renters outfit their spaces. “Your stuff makes it your place.” In other words, having your beloved couch and your favorite chairs automatically gives a space a comfortable feel.

The key, though, is to buy things that are flexible, no matter where you live, because if you’re renting, you may find yourself moving around a bit. When buying furniture, Ansell recommends avoiding custom-made furniture that only fits in a certain place in your current rental unit. Don’t go for that big couch that only looks good on one wall in your rental. Determine if the furniture you want to buy will work in other locations, and other apartments.

Another thing to keep in mind when buying furniture is making sure the furniture can be moved if you have to. Ansell says she knows plenty of renters who have to sell their furniture and buy new items each time they move. It becomes a drain on their time and energy and wallet, and stops them from having furniture that feels familiar. Big, unwieldy items tend to be more difficult to move. Smaller items - or items that can easily be collapsed - are easier to take from location to location. This doesn’t mean all items should be small, but having more mobile furnishings overall means you aren’t constantly buying new furniture.

“You spend a lot of time in your home, but people don’t put in a lot of effort to make a rental theirs,” says Ansell. “Make sure the things in your home are the things you like, not things from the owner that you’re forced to have.”

Ansell, whose interior decorating business offers decorating services for rental units, says she sees a lot of renters buy sofas and coffee tables, but they don’t display art or photographs. Mementos can go a long way to making a space feel more like home, especially photographs of loved ones or treasured artworks.

And while renters may not have a lot of say in the blinds on their windows, they are usually free to hang drapes or curtains on the inside. Window hangings not only provide an opportunity to add color to a room without painting it, well-chosen drapery can express a family’s personality while increasing privacy. For people who work night shifts, blackout curtains can be a lifesaver.

In addition to window hangings, rugs also add color to a space and make it cozier. A well-placed area rug goes a long way to enhancing a room’s ambience.

Ansell recommends renters talk to the owners of their rental suites to find out what is and is not allowed. Typically, renters are allowed to put holes in walls - within reason - to hang art and other decorations. But some owners are okay with larger changes - such as painting - if the renter improves the unit or if the renter plans on staying for a long time.

Don’t forget that most units extend to the outside, as well. Renters often forget that their patio needs a bit of love. Furnishing the patio properly expands an apartment’s living space and provides another opportunity to make the whole unit feel like home. Invest in an outdoor sofa, table, or chair set for comfortable outdoor seating.

One mistake renters often make is they purchase cheaper, lower quality items thinking that when they own a home, they’ll purchase furnishings that are better quality. But this means the furniture wears out faster and renters are constantly replacing their furniture. If you’re thinking of buying new furniture, save your money so you can buy items that are good quality and durable, rather than buying cheap items you’ll always want to replace.

“Buy a sofa with better quality foam,” says Ansell. “And make sure the cushions detach - even the back cushions. Sofa cushions can lose shape or get dirty. If they detach, you can plump them up or buy new foam. You can take them off to clean them properly. Don’t be limited in quality.”

Good quality doesn’t always mean expensive either. Shop around for items that suit your family’s personality and work well with your budget. If cost is a factor, keep an eye out for sales or other special deals.

Because space is frequently an issue for renters, buying practical furniture that doubles as storage helps keep a place clean. Ansell says she always recommends IKEA for storage solutions and uses a closet organizing company to maximize closet space.

“Closet organization is a tenant-improvement item, so it would stay in the unit when the tenant leaves. But it definitely helps to outfit a unit, especially if you plan to be there a long time. And closet organizers are not hugely expensive.”

Buying smaller tables and stackable chairs helps save space, as well.

The bottom line is that with a few touches, you can make any rental unit - no matter the size - feel like your home. How much time, energy, and money you want to put into it is up to you, but the result is worth it if you and your family feel more comfortable in the space.

“You spend a lot of time in your home,” says Ansell. “Don’t think you can’t make it your own, because you can.”

Heidi is the director of Corporate Writers, and has written articles for a variety of publications. She teaches in Simon Fraser University’s editing certificate program, and in 2013 was awarded the Abbotsford Arts Council’s Arty Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Literary Arts. 

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