July 24, 2024

Ben Everette Moore rented in Philadelphia for 15 years, and he transformed every place he stayed.

In a Center City apartment, he spent six hours filling a wall with patterns by hand using a stencil, gold spray paint, acrylic paints, and a small brush, and his landlord loved it.

“Normally, we’re supposed to paint the walls back, but she’s like, ‘Don’t you dare. Leave it,’” said Moore, who is now an interior designer.

» READ MORE: Simple, inexpensive home improvements for living and selling

Nearly 2 million households in the Philadelphia metropolitan area are renters, according to the Census Bureau. And many are hungry for design advice that won’t get them in trouble with their landlord. One Philadelphia woman who shares how she’s redecorated her apartment has more than 100,000 followers across TikTok and Instagram.

“Life is so hard,” Moore said. “And once you come home, you deserve to have a sanctuary.”

Moore owns the Collingswood-based Everette Wilson Designs interior design business and home decor store with his husband, Jimson Wilson D’Souza. He teaches clients and customers about what he calls the “holy trinity”: window treatments, lighting, and rugs.

» READ MORE: 12 home improvements you can do for less than $100 each

Moore recommends that anyone looking to decorate start by choosing a color palette based on a beloved piece of art, a rug, or even a location, and use those colors throughout the home. “That way it kind of gives you direction,” he said.

Moore and other local interior designers offered a bunch of renter-friendly redecorating tips.

“Don’t let renting hold you back from making your space your home,” said Rasheeda Gray, founder and principal designer of the Montgomery County-based interior design firm Gray Space Interiors.

» READ MORE: Rentals can be ‘renovated,’ too — just ask the creator behind my.philly.home

Consider your apartment’s needs and use workarounds

Often, renters have limited space to work with, so “the first thing you want to think about is maximizing the space that you have in terms of storage and function,” Gray said.

» READ MORE: Decorate with mirrors to bring in light or make your home feel bigger

Get a couch with storage. Ottomans also can be used for both storage and seating. And they can be placed out of the way under an entryway table, where renters can place items such as mail and keys instead of hanging shelves or hooks on the walls.

Since renters can’t make drastic changes like homeowners can, they need to look for workarounds.

Renters can’t change the amount of natural light coming in, but if they want plants, which make spaces feel cozier, high quality artificial plants can be a solution, Moore said.

If renters can’t change their flooring, “go crazy with area rugs,” Gray said.

That might mean using a very large solid rug as a base and layering a patterned rug on top or layering atop carpeting.

» READ MORE: Ask Jennifer Adams: How to decorate with area rugs

Pay attention to walls

Painting walls gives the “biggest impact for the least amount of money,” Gray said. An accent wall or painted ceiling is better than nothing, she said.

Renters also can use stencils to make a feature wall, Moore said.

“Give it that beautiful illusion of wallpaper, but when it’s time to go, just grab some white paint and a roller and then be one and done in like two seconds,” he said.

» READ MORE: More homeowners are looking beyond white ceilings and bringing color and pattern to the ‘fifth wall’

Peel-and-stick wallpaper on walls and in bookcases, Gray said, is a “great way to bring some pattern, some color, and some personality into your space.” Peel-and-stick backsplashes can elevate the kitchen.

Gray recently renovated her son’s dorm room and stuck leather panels to the wall to create a headboard. It’s another way to make walls visually interesting, she said.

So is creating a gallery wall with photographs or artwork that personalize a space.

“People make the mistake when they try to put together a gallery wall of being too symmetrical and perfect,” Moore said. Asymmetry is key, and he recommends using pieces of different sizes and frames with different finishes.

» READ MORE: How home decor became a gray area

Transform a space with furniture

“Go a little bold on your furniture to bring personality to the space,” Gray said. That includes lots of patterns and color.

And don’t buy cheap pieces, Moore said.

» READ MORE: The best vintage furniture stores in Philadelphia

“You don’t have to spend a fortune to create a gorgeous, expensive, high-end look,” he said. “You just have to find the right pieces. And if you have a tight budget, one way to do that is to go to flea markets or estate sales or garage sales or the trash.”

Don’t be afraid of pieces with imperfections because those pieces tell a story and make spaces feel lived in and comfortable, he said.

» READ MORE: Mid-Century Furniture Warehouse in Port Richmond is closing

“Don’t just wave the white flag and say, ‘I’m just gonna go to Wayfair because that’s what I can afford. No. Go to Goodwill, go to Habitat for Humanity, go to all those places that have really beautiful, quality items that are just vintage.”

Avoid clunky, heavy furniture, he said. Choose some pieces with lighter legs and silhouettes that are less obtrusive.

And don’t match everything. “Don’t get a bed with the headboard that matches the dresser and the chest of drawers and the nightstands,” Moore said. “It looks like there was no thought put into it, and it’s a snooze fest.”

» READ MORE: Uhuru, a Black-owned furniture mainstay, is closing its doors

Switch up the lighting

Renters don’t have to be stuck with the light fixtures their landlord picked. They can use battery-operated lights and/or replace existing fixtures.

Monica Miraglilo, a designer and cofounder of the Philadelphia-based construction business Miraglilo Properties, replaced an existing chandelier with one she bought on Amazon to elevate her mother’s Philadelphia apartment.

Stick with the same color lighting throughout the home and layer lighting from different sources, Moore said.

» READ MORE: Lighting can create a ‘wow factor’ and set different moods in your home

Window treatments are key

Renters should invest in window treatments “if you want to make your space look nice and complete,” Miraglilo said. “It totally takes the room to another level.”

In one Center City apartment Gray’s company worked on, drapery panels took the focus away from unattractive radiators.

Curtains should kiss the floor and reach up to the ceiling if possible to draw the eye up and make a room feel bigger.

Renters can stick tracks to the ceiling and place ripple fold curtains on both sides of windows, Moore said, which “looks like you hired a designer and spent a fortune, but you can take it down at the end of the day when your contract is up and it’s time for you to move out.”


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