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Friday, April 28, 2006

Rental decorating on a budget

The Bargain Queen's about to embark on an exciting new adventure, renovating she and Mr Bargain Queen's new apartment. So before she completely loses her rental decorating mojo in favour of ripping out walls and replacing the tiling, she's going to share her tips.

In Australia, you can't paint walls or replace flooring in your rental place unless you have written permission from the owner, which is pretty hard to get. The general rule is, the place must look exactly the same when you leave as it did when you arrive, barring normal wear and tear. So everything The Bargain Queen's done to make the places she's rented look nicer are completely reversible.

Here's some of her favourites:
  • Clean really thoroughly. This possibly sounds obvious, but you might be surprised by some of the places where grime accumulates. Window sills, the tops of skirting boards, electric outlets and door handles are some of the things previous tenants may never have thought to clean. Taking these from 'ugh' to sparkling clean makes a huge difference to the overall appearance of the place.

  • Have nice furniture. If you're lucky enough to buy furniture when you move into your rental (rather than making do with family cast-offs and milk crates), it can be tempting to buy everything you need at Ikea or a discount furniture outlet. While everything you buy this way will match, it will also be lower quality and often doesn't wear well. If you can hold out a little longer and scour op (thrift) shops, garage (yard) sales, auctions, small furniture stores and outlet warehouses for the better furniture retailers, there's well constructed pieces to be had for the same price as a flat-packed one elsewhere. You might need to clean them up a little yourself, but the net result will be much nicer-looking decor than if you'd bought the cheap starter set. (This also works well if you can only fork out a little money at a time to make your place nicer!)

  • Add plants. If The Bargain Queen had decorating rules, #1 would be 'all homes look better with plants'. She's already written about cutting the cost of gardening, and most of these tips are equally applicable to finding and caring for indoor plants.

  • Cover ugly floors with rugs. You might luck out and get great floor coverings in your rental; if not, they're easily covered with rugs. Attractive rugs sometimes turn up in op (thrift) shops and garage (yard) sales; occasionally dollar stores will have something nice too. Alternatively, The Bargain Queen has found nice cheap rugs in Sydney at Spotlight, Woolworths / Big W, Kmart, Target and Ikea. None of them have great stuff all the time, but with a little persistance you can usually find something suitable for a good price.

  • Hide it behind a plant, a screen, a piece of furniture. It can be harder to hide the other ugly features in your rental (awful tiles, cracked walls, exposed pipes) but arranging your things to hide them can help. If you absolutely can't put a huge bookcase in front of your place's worst feature, try drawing attention away from it instead. This can be done by organising the room so people will face away from it (especially in lounge or dining rooms), or by putting something eye-catching like a nice artwork in a spot where it draws the eye away from the ugly feature.

  • Change the light shades. Ugly light fittings can spoil an otherwise nicely-decorated room. If your lights consist of a hanging light bulb with a shade over it, you can usually take out the light bulb, unscrew the piece that sits around it, take off the existing shade and replace it with something you like more. The Bargain Queen's favourite sources of light shades are dollar stores, Target and Kmart.

  • Replace the doorknobs. Changing knobs is another easy, reversible change that can make a huge difference to the appearance of your place. Most cupboard doorknobs are held by a screw that goes all the way through the door and can be unscrewed easily from the back (inside). eBay is The Bargain Queen's favourite source of cheap doorknobs and is great for buying big sets to make an outdated kitchen or bathroom look a little newer. She's also splurged on some lovely cut glass knobs from a cute little homewares store to dress up wardrobe doors and anything else where only a pair are needed.

  • Make (or buy) more attractive curtains. The Bargain Queen can't work out why so many houses are rented with ugly, stained curtains and blinds. It seems like these curtains have never seen a washing machine, with dozens of years of dust caked into them. Sometimes these will clean up well, other times they're better hidden away somewhere until you leave. Curtains are surprisingly easy to make - even if you can't sew at all, you can use iron-on tape to make the necessary seams for a professional finish, or make artistic use of unfinished edges instead - and cheap fabrics can look great. If you'd like more instructions on how to make curtains, try this article.

  • Buy a nicer shower curtain - and hooks. In a dingy bathroom, a bright shower curtain can make a big difference. These are another item you can usually find cheaply in discount stores.

  • Use lamps and candles to light it nicely. Lastly, no matter what your place is like, nice lighting makes a big difference. Great lighting doesn't have to be expensive, just carefully thought out. Candles, lamps, shades, coloured globes... these can all make your home a lot more atmospheric quickly. The experts all seem to recommend dim ambient lighting with bright task lighting where it's needed and/or feature lighting to highlight anything really great in the room (like artwork), but The Bargain Queen just moves stuff around 'til it looks nice.

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  • At 8:09 pm, Blogger La Rêveuse said…

    In addition to clean really well--

    A dirty shower curtain can be cleaned easily, even the plastic ones. Throw it in the washing machine with hot water, detergent, and maybe bleach (esp. if it's plastic. Kills the grungies.) It will come out looking brand new! Hard water spots disappear, soap scum is gone--and hardly costs anything!

  • At 9:43 pm, Blogger Frugal Homemaker said…

    Yes- and throw a white towel or some other thing that can be bleached in with the curtain- it helps "scrub" it!

    Lemon oil is useful. I use it on my wood doors and the wood baseboards in my apartment. It smells nice and it makes the wood look very nice.

    I have to agree with cleaning. Even if you own a house, a good cleaning and maybe moving the furnature can make your whole house/apartment have a great new look!

  • At 9:44 am, Blogger The Bargain Queen said…

    Thanks for the extra tips Mrs. B and Frugal Homemaker! I'll try both of these when we move.

    I have a lovely shower curtain that's a bit dirty and gross now. It'll be wonderful if I can make it look shiny and new again!

  • At 3:30 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is exactly what I'm looking for--I just moved into my first apartment, and I have so many ideas and no money. One thing that I know I want is a large mirror (or several small ones) to break up the monotony of very high beige walls that I'm not allowed to paint. Also, do you have any tips regarding decorating with high ceilings? I was delighted to find them, but my bed is fairly low to the ground and I don't have much furniture--the room feels so empty, and I don't know how to fill it without spending a fortune.

  • At 8:27 am, Blogger The Bargain Queen said…

    Hi Anonymous, if you're able to put up shelves, a few rows of books above a door looks great, costs very little and shows off the high ceiling well.

    Tall furniture is also great in high ceilinged spaces, but all you really need to make the space look less bare is nice curtains, some 'art' of the walls and neatly organised furniture.

    If you don't have a lot of stuff, embrace that! A big dramatic artwork in a minimally furnished room is gorgeous, and it's a look you can no longer pull off when you have as much crap as Mr Bargain Queen and I have... so do it while you still can! ;)


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