How to decorate a rental home without breaking any rules

You can make a rental property feel like home - and still get your bond back - with these tips and hacks.
main bedroom with curtainsPhotography: Louise Roche / Styling: Kylie Jackes

With house prices right up there and the interest rate rising, renting is looking kinda appealing about now. About one-third of Australians rent their property, so it’s a pretty full club.

There are plenty of advantages to renting (e.g. no mortgage) but tenants can be a bit hamstrung when it comes to interior decorating. Laws can vary depending on where you live, but essentially you can’t permanently alter or modify any surfaces, fixtures or structure of the property unless it’s considered ‘minor’ or is for your safety. Even then, you need to seek permission from the landlord first.

Here are solutions to common decorating dilemmas affecting renters.

1. Lack of task and mood lighting in a rental property

Lighting can dictate the way a space feels and often in rental places there’s just not enough of it. Thankfully, you can light up your abode without making any permanent changes. Floor lights placed in corners, which are often unusable spaces, help create an ambience in a room. Clamp lights attached to shelving units can provide functional reading lights.

Cottage living room with Austrian blinds and build in cabinetry

A floor lamp solves the problem of no task lighting in this living room and blends beautifully with collected pieces displayed on surfaces – no hanging necessary. (Photography: Caitlin Mills / Styling: Tess Newman Morris)

2. Lack of storage in a rental property

Since you can’t install custom joinery in a rental, look for furniture with added storage, or freestanding dressers or wardrobes.

In the living room, sofas and ottomans often come with built-in storage. Consider a gas-lift bed, too, which gives you access to heaps of storage under the base – usually by pulling a strap. Too easy.

For additional storage (and style) in the kitchen, consider a bar cart, trolley, an island bench on castors, a farm-style table or bookshelves. Utilise tucked-away or tricky areas such as pokey corners with freestanding dressers or wardrobes. Just remember to affix tall pieces to the wall for safety – which is usually allowed (ask for permission from your landlord).

Look for freestanding storage pieces in the same colour as the walls for a seamless look, such as in this Hampton’s inspired Federation home on Sydney’s Lower North Shore. (Photography: Ryan Linnegar)

3. Personalise your walls in a rental home

Yes, you can update your walls without screwing anything into them or painting – which is important if you want your bond back! Think ‘sticky’. Visit The Build for ‘peel and stick’ wallpapers, which can be put up and removed with a minimum of fuss.

UK-based Instagrammer Amara Hasham (@thepajaamahub) is renowned for transforming her rental home using a few hacks that leave walls and fixtures intact. Amara applies adhesive vinyl tiles to walls and splashbacks to instantly update boring spaces. She also sticks clear contact to walls, then applies adhesive glue followed by actual wallpaper. To remove them again, Amara gently and patiently uses a hairdryer to melt the glue so the layers peel away easily.

If you aren’t able to hang art on walls, kids’ craft or calendars, freestanding screens or room dividers are a great solution.

4. Make your rental cosy with textiles

Textiles are an affordable and easy way to refresh a space. A rug (or two) in your living room can add warmth and style, and help draw attention away from tired carpet or scuffed floorboards.

You can also swap out old curtains for new ones for an instant lift to any space. Plus, you can take them with you when you leave. Then add layers of textiles with cushions, throws or even faux fur to make your rental property feel like a home that reflects you.

Contemporary living room with natural light

Mixing and matching textile fabrics, colours and patterns will instantly warm a rental space – and make it uniquely yours. (Photography: Louise Roche / Styling: Kylie Jackes)

5. Add some greenery to your rental

There are good reasons indoor plants never go out of fashion. Indoor plants purify your air, connect you to nature and add subtle colour, leading to a sense of calm and serenity. There’s no limit to how many indoor plant pots you can feature in your rental property.

Another great, non-permanent addition to a rental is a veggie garden. Providing you don’t damage the existing garden – a raised freestanding garden bed is a safe, balcony-friendly option – growing your own fruit or vegetables is a smart way to save money, bring a garden to life and encourage you to eat better.

Potted succulents
You can go nuts with plant pots in a rental property. Look for easy-care varieties such as succulents. (Photography: Eve Wilson)

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