Pfau, for example, brightened up her bleak entryway with temporary wallpaper from D.C. textile designer Kathryn Zaremba. Just like permanent wallpaper, this kind gets dipped in water and smoothed on walls with a sponge. But when you’re ready to move or switch things up, you just peel it off like a sticker.
“As long as you read the directions and have a friend, it’s very doable,” Pfau says. “It transformed the entryway a lot. It gives it a nice, finished, fun look.”
When styling any open wall in your home, you want to go for the dramatic, says Kiera Kushlan, co-founder of the D.C. interior design company Residents Understood. And if you can’t do that by painting or hanging things, try leaning an oversized framed item, like a full-length mirror, against the wall. “Larger pieces are really good for a smaller space, particularly mirrors, which will expand the space visually,” Kushlan says. “One large item won’t break up the sightlines as you look across the room the way that a lot of smaller pieces would, making it seem a lot bigger.”
There’s another surface in your apartment that could use some temporary oomph: the windows. Annie Elliott, CEO of the D.C. interior design company Bossy Color (202-265-0443), says one of her first tips for renters is always to cover the windows.
“With those cheap blinds on them, windows can seem so cold,” Elliott says. She loves the look of a plain, flat panel of fabric held up in the window on a tension rod, “if you want some privacy but don’t want to spend a big amount.” You can make one yourself with a length of fabric and iron-on adhesive tape from the craft store, or browse Etsy to commission an artist to create a panel that fits the size of your window. For something a little more eye-catching, Elliott says, get something with a pattern: She’s fond of Battenberg lace for this look.
And since the trendy gallery wall is a no-go for the nail-free renter, try using furniture to achieve the same effect. Shop for a large bookshelf (Ikea’s Kallax units or Room & Board’s Slim shelves are great for this) on which you can create a visual landscape out of books and knickknacks.
“In a small space in particular, you want to make it seem like you have high ceilings even if you don’t,” Kushlan says. “Bookcases are an important part of that.” Use the same rule for styling your bookcase, she says, as you do for putting together an outfit: Longer lines will make the room seem taller. So if you have a shorter bookshelf, place framed art or vases with tall flowers on the top. And don’t neglect your doors, which offer an unexpected place to display some pattern or texture. Pfau, who owns the textile business The Rich & Strange, hangs her collection of vintage kimonos from hangers on the doors in her apartment.
“Something like that can be fun, if you have a cool costume piece or something you picked up while traveling,” she says. “It’s cool to use clothes as art.”
Elliott and Kushlan both emphasize using well-loved pieces to make a statement. If there’s something that’s special to you but you can’t hang it up, don’t throw it out: Find a way to make it work. Elliott remembers one client who put a statue of a pig on the mantel in her otherwise sophisticated living room.
“I love people putting in a quirk or a bit of humor,” she says. “You need the confidence to say, ‘I bought this pig, I love this pig and I’m going to make it work in this space.’ ”
How to hang
Temporary wallpaper is an easy way to add personality to a space. Here’s how to make the process smooth.
Get the good stuff: Yes, there are some wallpapers that just peel and stick to your wall, but springing for the versions that require sponges and water is worth it. “The wallpaper that will stick on there has the decal mechanism,” says Annie Elliott of Bossy Color. “Wall decals seem kind of juvenile now.” Elliott is a fan of designs from Urban Outfitters, Graham & Brown and Bloomingdale’s.
Call a friend: It’s worth it to enlist a partner to help lift the heavy paper out of the soaking water before you slap it on the wall. Plus, another set of eyes for last-minute “a little to the left!” adjustments is critical.
Be careful with color: Contrary to what Pinterest may suggest about accent walls, you don’t necessarily want to paste up a giant block of color that’s drastically different from the rest of your home. “If you have white walls, you want to find a paper that has a white background so that it blends in,” says Kiera Kushlan of Residents Understood. “Another base color can be jarring.”
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