Since spending a ton of money on a beach rental seemed impractical, Ciolli set his budget at $500 and found design inspiration in a mounted blue swordfish left in the dining area by a previous tenant and the serene views of the Great South Bay on display from the communal living areas. “I wanted to play off of the color and the sense of humor the fish presented, but I also wanted the space to feel relaxing and comfortable.”
With his design ideas brimming and his bottom-line established, Ciolli started shopping in thrift shops, tag sales and the nearby Riverhead, NY, outlets of Pottery Barn, West Elm, William Sonoma Home and Restoration Hardware, to find inexpensive, high-quality accents to add zest to the bland space. One of Ciolli’s first finds, a still-in-the-package, Liberty of London for Target set of bedding marked $25 at a thrift store further enforced his color story. And before he knew it, it seemed like his fellow renters had been bitten by the decorating bug. “I mean, we came here one weekend and the guys had painted the entire living room, and I hadn’t even started the bedroom. Rick Miller (one of Ciolli’s roommates) started encrusting a mirror frame with seashells, and all of a sudden my little decorating project had turned into a fun competition among my housemates!”
When decorating a rental, it’s important not to embark on major renovations without the landlord’s written permission. But by using inexpensive decorative accessories, simple painting techniques, novel window treatments and basic design principles, you can easily and inexpensively turn your space into one that looks like you should be paying a mortgage on.
Follow these tips to give your rented space a new lease on life.
Paint will transform and define your space.
Unlike wallpaper, an appealing design created with paint can easily be covered with a fresh coat when it’s time to move. In his bedroom, Ciolli bought the least expensive paint he could find at Home Depot, taped the walls in a striped pattern and applied the texture with a $3.98 scrub brush for a striae effect. “I didn’t even bother doing an undercoat of paint first, since the technique I was using would distract from any imperfections already on the wall.
Create a focal point out of vintage and thrift wall décor.
Get over your fear of hanging art or mirrors because you think they’ll ruin the walls. Promptly head over to your favorite thrift store for unique, oversized pieces that will fill a large space for pennies on the dollar. Ciolli paid $35 for an unusual, 18th Century French etching that now hangs over his West Elm headboard. Any holes left in the wall when the lease is up can simply be patched with joint compound.
Add an unexpected element to every room.
Ciolli’s housemate Rick Miller took a collection of seashells and affixed them with hot glue onto the ho-hum frame of a beveled mirror for a stunning effect in the living room. To go along with the beachy motif, Ciolli channeled legendary interior designer Tony Duquette to spray paint a beat-up, driftwood lamp that he bought for next to nothing at New York’s 25th Street Flea Market.
Evaluate lighting and replace as needed.
Properly placed lighting guides the eye through a room and helps create mood and drama. Replace ugly, outdated fixtures, and store the old ones so that you can put them back when it’s time to move on. Bonus: You’ll already have new lighting to take to your next place!
From the fabric bag that held the Liberty of London for Target bedding, Ciolli took the carrying straps and turned them into coordinating accents on a lampshade. He stuffed the bag itself to fashion a decorative pouf that he then placed underneath a chair he found discarded on the boardwalk.
Balance elements even when one of them doesn’t exist.
Rental units often have strange architectural elements that just don’t make any sense. If an oddly placed window, doorframe or expanse of molding seems completely out of place, maybe you can fix the imbalance by creating the illusion of another. When Ciolli decided that one window would look better if it had a mate on the opposing side, he created the idea of an extra one by hanging curtain rods, buying inexpensive, light-weight fabric and making matching floor to ceiling treatments for both the real window and the “faux.”
Place furniture to encourage conversation.
Chairs within comfortable speaking distance of each other and tables at arms length makes for a room that will get people talking. Additionally, if you happen to have a spectacular view, arrange your furniture so that you and your guests can enjoy it.
Add pillows for comfort and texture.
Ciolli took all the pillows that came with the inexpensive, slip covered sofas and put them into $4 cases he found at Ikea. He mixed and matched patterns for added interest, but stuck to a blue-and-white theme for consistency. “Just adding lots of pillows to a room gives it a soft, planned feeling,” Ciolli says.
Don’t stress it!
Especially in a vacation space, if a decorating project proves too taxing, don’t sweat it. As with any home, any extra effort you make to create a beautiful and welcoming environment will be noticed and appreciated. And for goodness sake, remember, it’s just a rental!
Always Frugal, Always Fabulous,
The Elegant Thrifter