Q: My partner and I live in a rental property in Astoria, Queens that we love. It has a lot of light, a nice layout and is close to the train. We plan to stay here for at least a couple of years. We want the space to feel like our own rather than a generic rental, but we also want to take into account the rental agreement and make improvements that are easy to reverse when moving. What possibilities do we have?
ON: The surfaces in rental properties usually have about as much charm as the color you often find in them – landlord white, that austere and utterly impersonal color. So it's no wonder that you want to make your space feel at home.
Before you begin, review your rental agreement to see what is acceptable. Most leases only allow superficial improvements such as adding shelves or curtains. Anything essential, like painting or installing wallpaper, will likely require written permission from your landlord. (Even if there is no written authorization specifically mentioned in the rental agreement, it is advisable to obtain it anyway.) Expect the apartment to be restored to its original condition before moving out or risk losing your security deposit.
Alex Kalita, the founder of Common Bond Design in New York City, who works with tenants frequently, suggests starting with simple changes that have a great visual impact but don't annoy a landlord.
"Lighting is a place to invest," said Ms. Kalita, because good lighting can change the feel of any room. Replace lights with ones that make a statement. You can take them with you when you go. Make sure that each new device is at least as wide as the original where it meets the ceiling or wall if it is a wall lamp. Otherwise, you may need to touch up the paint, and who would want to do that? If your apartment has cheap, glazed porcelain lampholders, swap out the lightbulbs for oversized globes to add interest to the space.
Install floating shelves or, if you want to indulge yourself, a modular shelving system like one from Vitsoe that you can expand over time. When you move out, remove the shelves, fill in the holes and touch up the paint.
If your kitchen needs an update, you can replace the hardware. "It only requires a screwdriver," said Ms. Kalita. The base of new buttons should be as wide as the current ones in order to hide imperfections in the cabinets.
Cover an unsightly refrigerator with peel-and-stick paper, but test a small area first to ensure that removing the film doesn't damage the surface. Some imitate stainless steel, others in playful patterns. Ms. Kalita once covered her rental refrigerator with whiteboard contact paper and wrote erasable notes on the surface.
You can create an eye-catching but removable backsplash. Attach tiles to a piece of plywood cut to the size of your backsplash. Then drill the plywood into the wall, leaving only a few holes as you pull it out.
Have fun and the space will feel like yours.