Decorate Without Apology

May 25, 2012

“Wrapping paper is God’s gift,” says Stacy Golleher, 32.

She’s not talking about presents.

Golleher’s Eastern Market one-bedroom is peppered with wrapping paper accents. It covers a corkboard behind the stove where she pins recipes. It’s decoupaged onto more than one piece of furniture. It used to add color to the backs of her built-in bookshelves — until boyfriend Bruce Harvie, 32, moved himself and his book collection in.

It’s just one tool that Golleher, an avid DIYer who blogs about her decor — among other things — at Shelbsgee.com, has discovered to personalize her apartment without doing permanent damage.

For a renter, decorating can create problems. Personalized paint jobs or holes left in the walls where pictures hung: These are things that you usually have to fix before moving, or risk losing your security deposit.

One key is communicating with your landlord before you make any changes.

“Ask,” advises Christopher Patrick, a D.C. interior designer who has lived in his share of rented studios. “You’ve got to ask what your limitations are before you make assumptions.”

Start by asking about lighting. “The number one thing you can do in a rental apartment is change the light fixture,” says Golleher. Many apartments come with basic light fixtures that are a standard size, making it easy to swap them out for same-sized fixtures from a hardware store or Ikea.

“I’ve often switched out to track lighting or some fixture that would allow you to adjust some of the lighting,” says Patrick. Check with an electrician if things get tricky, and save the old fixture so you can put it back up before you move.

Next, think about the walls. Painting walls is a tricky issue for renters: Many buildings forbid any painting, or otherwise make the tenant repaint the wall its original color before moving out.

Check with the landlord about the building’s policies. “Typically, if it’s a light enough color where they can cover it in one coat, they don’t have an issue,” advises Patrick.

There are plenty of other ways to add color. When a friend of Patrick’s was not allowed to paint, he bought three large canvases (each about 3 feet by 4 feet), painted them the same color and hung them side-by-side along the wall. He hung artwork on top by nailing picture wire into the frames.

“You’re giving that shot of color and adding that warmth, but it isn’t permanent,” says Patrick. Another plus: You can take the canvases to your next place and repaint them a new color.

For a bold look with similarly low commitment, check out temporary wallpaper or wall decals. They’re essentially huge stickers for your wall that peel off easily if the paint underneath is an eggshell or satin finish. (Many manufacturers do not recommend them for use on matte finishes.)

For a cozier look, hang draperies along an entire wall — with or without windows. It’s a favorite technique of New York-based designer Libby Langdon, the author of Libby Langdon’s Small Space Solutions.

To hang the drapes securely, Langdon swears by 3M Command strips, which come in a variety of sizes and leave no marks when removed. The large sizes are big enough to hold up a drapery rod. “You can use these big 3M hooks that are meant for a bathrobe or something, and you just set your drapery rod in the hooks,” she says.

Of course, you can also use curtains on windows. “Oftentimes you’re stuck with either vertical blinds or miniblinds,” says Patrick. He recommends adding draperies to add softness, color or pattern to your room.

Whether you’re buying draperies or furniture, if you’re renting, you need to think about how you’ll use the item in your next place.

The couch from Golleher’s previous apartment wouldn’t even fit down the stairs of her current English basement. She replaced it with a sectional couch from Ikea that had the perk of arriving in small boxes. Because it’s a sectional, she can reconfigure it to fit into her next place.

“I can take the chaise off and move the arm over and make it a love seat,” she says.

Sometimes it’s worth it to buy something that won’t come with you to the next apartment.

In need of storage space, Golleher installed floating shelves on the walls of her kitchen. If she wanted to take them to her next place, she’d fill in the holes made in the wall with spackling compound. But right now, she’s planning just to leave them up.

“A lot of these things that I do make me happy in the space while I’m in it, and I’m happy to leave it for the next tenant to enjoy,” she says.

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