Customizing an apartment or dorm room may seem like a daunting task when you are faced with the standard white or beige walls and strict instructions not to paint them. However, resourceful tenants with a little creativity and some basic decorating skills can bring color and personality into the plainest of living spaces.
Although you may not paint the existing walls, you might try building a large, thin frame the size of one of the smaller wall spaces. Cover your frame with thin canvas, and then feel free to paint it, stencil it, create a mural on it or even wall paper it. Use it to cover the living room, dining room or bedroom wall, and you have created a new focal point for the entire room. If this project seems too ambitious, consider creating your own abstract wall art on a smaller but still significant frame, or how about adding a poster reprint of a classic masterpiece? Online sources offer huge selections from which to choose. Build the frame yourself or splurge on a nice one that you can re-purpose when you move to more permanent housing.
If large wall art doesn't work for your budget, consider a collection of smaller but related art. Buy mismatched frames or mirrors, paint them the same color and hang them close together to display pictures cut from a favorite theme calendar or family photos. Other affordable wall treatments include popular, removable vinyl decals. Custom design your own wall treatment in country, contemporary or classic styling. These wall graphics will draw attention away from unsightly architectural features and create interesting focal points in almost any room of your house. They can also be applied to kitchen and bathroom tiles or cabinets.
Removable wall hooks are available at hardware and home improvement stores. They allow you to hang as much color on the wall as you wish without leaving unsightly holes when it's time to move. Use them in the living room for art or in the bathrooms for towels and bath robes. Floating wall shelves also allow you to add color and visual interest to your wall space. Strategically placed books, colored vases and personalized collections will brighten ordinary walls.
A slightly more ambitious and expensive wall project would be to add temporary wall paper. "Tempaper" sells for $70-$90 a roll, but it is self-adhesive, reposition-able and completely removable. Papering your walls with fabric and starch is another DIY project that will leave no permanent damage to the walls. A simpler but striking effect can be created by wallpapering the interior backs of your book cases or china cabinets with actual wallpaper, fabric or contact paper.
Many apartments not only have plain walls, but they also have utilitarian, beige carpeting. A brightly colored area rug can become the new focal point for your living room color scheme. If you don't already own one, look for a remnant and have the edges finished. Draw two or three colors from the rug to use as accents around the room.
Another way to bring color into a room is in your use of fabric. Colorful bedding, curtains, throw pillows and furniture slip covers can awaken even the dreariest of spaces. Buy ready-made or make them yourself by using a simple sewing pattern or no-sew tape and your trusty iron. Add matching fabric to lampshades. For the most impact, choose colors that are opposite on the color wheel. For bathrooms, coordinate colorful curtains, towels and bath mat with a nice piece of wall art.
So, if you can't paint the walls, what can you paint? How about adding some bright color to second-hand or thrift-store furniture? Pull unmatched pieces together with paint, slip covers or reupholstering and watch the energy level rise.
Finally, consider using those white or beige walls as part of your decorating plan. For example, pair a couple of bold colors with white for a clean, modern look. Combinations such as white-black-royal blue, white-black-red or white-country blue-butter yellow will be pleasing to the eye and professional looking. For a more relaxing atmosphere, use beige as a backdrop for natural, earthy colors and green plants.
Renting an apartment or house that cannot be painted does not need to limit your creativity or your love of colorful spaces. Take advantage of today's new products or bring old cast-offs back to life, and you will be amazed at the wonderful living space you can create on a budget you can afford.