New York City apartments are notorious for fun little quirks that make for viral social media posts (we’re looking at you, kitchen showers). But many renters – particularly those new to the market – are at a complete loss for how to turn their budget-friendly apartment into a home without breaking the bank or violating the terms of their lease. We’re here to help, with eight easy fixes that can make a big impact on the look and feel of your apartment. Read on, weekend project warriors!
1. Paint your walls a trendy new color.
Painting is a simple and relatively inexpensive way to change the aesthetic and tone of an apartment. To make the project even easier, choose one statement wall and cover it in a bold color. Choosing a color that is on trend, such as Pantone’s 2017 Color of the Year, Greenery, is a great way to create a fashionable décor theme and explore designs featuring a host of complementary colors. But if a bold wall is a little much for you, a fresh coat of neutral paint can make the apartment appear cleaner and cover up any nicks or scratches left by the previous tenant. Most landlords allow for painting, as long as you paint it back to the original color (or get permission to leave the paint intact) before you leave.
An alternative to painting, removable wallpaper is a fun option that takes customizing your walls to a new level. Online shops like Spoonflower and Graham & Brown offer affordable options with dozens of colors and patterns to choose from – and if you’re careful in removing it, you can even bring it with you to your next apartment.
2. Replace outdated or broken fixtures, such as drawer pulls, doorknobs and faucets.
Hands down one of the easiest ways to upgrade your space, replacing old and outdated fixtures with ones that fit with your design aesthetic can be transformational to the overall vibe of your apartment. It’s a subtle but powerful facelift for an outdated kitchen or bathroom – typically the rooms in need of the most help, where renters are often powerless to make changes.
The key is to find fixtures that fit the existing holes, and to keep and meticulously label the existing hardware to make for an easy switch before you move out. Bonus: You get to bring the hardware with you to your next apartment.
3. Revitalize kitchen countertops.
Another often outdated feature of the average NYC apartment is the kitchen countertop. While replacing the countertop outright is a costly and logistically complicated endeavor (not to mention a definite lease violation if you don’t get permission first), there are ways to hide that Formica with something more appealing. The Kitchn has a great list of changes renters can consider, from the small – covering a tiny countertop with a beautiful cutting board – to the decidedly large – covering ugly tile with quick-setting concrete. You’ll definitely want to check with your landlord before taking on the latter, though.
4. Use removable “etched glass” to disguise unwanted views.
Second only to “location, location, location,” views are a cornerstone of desirability in NYC’s residential real estate market. That is, unless you’ve got a window that directly overlooks a drain pipe, or – even worse – has a straight shot into the neighbor’s apartment. Instead of forgoing the potential for natural light with a bulky, light-blocking curtain, use a peel-and-stick decal to hide the unsightly view and increase privacy, while allowing the sun to peek through. This solution is especially appealing for small kitchens, where curtains can attract splatter stains from cooking, and in the ever-awkward clear shower windows.
Vendors like DecorativeFilm.com offer a variety of options that make this a hassle-free fix. Try a patterned design to add an unexpected, yet subtle décor element to your space.
5. Washi tape all over everything!
Well, maybe not all over everything, but washi tape has become something of a low-budget wonder for renters looking to add a personal touch to their spaces. From creating the illusion of charming decorative molding, to framing a gallery wall, to creating a truly unique work of art, washi tape is a useful (and removable!) tool for building something that is entirely and singularly you. Apartment Therapy offers some great ideas on fun ways to use washi tape in your apartment.
6. Cover that hideous stained carpet or scratched hardwood.
Let’s face it, floors take a lot of abuse. And while the ideal is to have a freshly cleaned and pristine floor when you move in, the reality is… well, not that, a lot of the time. If you’ve got a floor that is just begging to be replaced, but a landlord whose reaction is essentially the real-life equivalent of the shrugging emoticon ( ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ), you can find area rugs that complement your furniture and accessories without overpowering your budget. RugsUSA.com is a great, reliable resource with rugs of every size and design at varying, typically reasonable price points. Great finds are also available at IKEA, Wayfair and other similar vendors.
7. Add decorative lamps where you can.
While space constraints are certainly an issue in most apartments, upgrading your lighting where possible can greatly enhance the appearance of your apartment by making it feel warmer and more welcoming. Though many renters don’t have the budget or the electrical background to replace built-in light fixtures, adding decorative floor and table lamps can have the effect of softening the lighting in your apartment while enhancing the design with complementary accessories. These are easy to find, as most stores and online vendors that sell home furnishings – including Target, Lowe’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Overstock and Wayfair – sell reasonably-priced lighting. Mix and match pieces to give a well-lit, eclectic boost to your space.
8. Make sure your apartment smells good.
The easiest fix of all, there’s nothing like a fresh-smelling apartment. But we’ve all fallen victim to the olfactory effects of an adventurous-cooking neighbor at one time or another (sometimes we’ve been the adventurous-cooking neighbor). Using fresh-smelling cleaning tools across the board – from floor cleaners to furniture dusting sprays – can maintain an overall sense of cleanliness that will have a powerful effect on people’s (and your own) perceptions of your home. In between cleanings, plug-ins like the ones by Glade and Yankee Candle can keep the fresh scent pumping, especially in kitchens and bathrooms, or near litter boxes.