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Turn your rental space into a special place

Calling a rental apartment home doesn't have to mean living with ugly light fixtures, hideous appliances and blah white walls. Seattle designer Kerra Michele Huerta, 30, says being a longtime renter has forced her to be creative and has led her to discover lots of design sources. She and husband David Reidmiller, a climate scientist, live in a 560-square-foot one-bedroom rental with a king-sized bed and a homely refrigerator camouflaged under a layer of cool patterned contact paper. Their apartment was featured on a recent house tour. From the reaction, it was clear that Huerta's ideas are useful for almost anyone looking to create a happy space on a budget. Here are some of her tips:

Dump the miniblinds. Nothing says temporary rental like clacking blinds. Huerta removed them and tucked them away in a closet. Most apartment buildings have standard-sized windows, so it's easy to find ready-made fabric or woven shades, or even curtains. If you can't use them in your next home, you can often sell them to the next tenant because they probably don't want those miniblinds, either.

Maximize empty spaces. Every inch counts in a rental, so that awkward foot of space between the top of your kitchen cabinets and the ceiling can be put to good use. Huerta arranged a row of chunky rectangular baskets from World Market on top of her cabinets to store household supplies such as paper towels and coffee filters.

Upgrade light fixtures. Rental spaces are notorious for having cheap, unattractive light fixtures. Check with your landlord first, explaining that you want to change them out and that you will put back the original ones when you leave. Replace builder-grade ceiling lights with something more modern, such as a pendant with Ikea's black Jara barrel shade ($29.99), which Huerta used in her dining area. She chose a blingy chandelier for the raspberry dressing room she created out of a closet.

Don't be afraid to paint. Understanding landlords will let you paint in your own color scheme if you agree to repaint back to the original color, usually builder white. Huerta says you could also make a deal that if the new tenant likes your color scheme, you don't have to repaint. To deal with the nine doors and three windows in her bedroom (there are lots of closets), she painted all the walls, doors and trim Benjamin Moore Taos Taupe. Now the room looks like a cozy cocoon.

Treat the bathroom like a real room. You can't renovate it or change the tile, but you can add some interest to your bathroom. Huerta bought a vintage wooden grape crate on Etsy and hung it on the wall for extra storage. Using a tiny Oriental rug instead of a pastel cotton bath rug classes up the place.

Camouflage the unflattering. Is there something in your rental that you can't stand yet can't change? Adhesive paper can be your new best friend. It's inexpensive and easy to apply, plus it peels off when you're ready to move. Huerta covered the old and dented fridge with a gray-and-white geometric print to disguise a hulking eyesore.

Create the illusion of architectural interest. Because there were no built-in shelves in her living room, Huerta bought Ikea's popular Billy bookcases with glass doors to put on either side of her fireplace. To personalize these very basic bookcases, she covered the back of the shelves with tan and white faux bois wrapping paper from Paper Source. She attached it using spray adhesive.

Speak up. Want to make changes to your rental space? Don't be afraid to ask, whether it's changing a doorknob or painting a room. The worst thing that could happen is your landlord says no. If you do get rebuffed, negotiate. You can offer to share the cost of an upgrade or pay a bit more in rent. Huerta split the cost of a new stove and microwave with her landlord because the old ones were dated and in poor condition.

More tips for renters, 3H

Inside: More tips for renters

Turn your rental space into a special place 12/26/13 [Last modified: Thursday, December 26, 2013 5:36pm]

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