Making a Rented Space Feel Like Home

Did anyone else pay “The Sims” religiously while growing up? I mean, maybe not religiously but didn’t we all spend hours on end building our fake families and trying to avoid burglars and googling cheats? Kaching, anyone?

Playing “The Sims” literally shaped the way I see certain situations. When I witness two friends getting into a quarrel I imagine the red minus signs above their heads. When I’m fighting with my best friends I see the “relationships” tab and how the permanent relationship is still 100% green, but our current relationship is red and in the negatives.  But specifically, I am always so much more able to understand why a room feels lifeless or lonely and exactly how it affects my brain. That “room” bar (or “environment” bar if you played Sims 4 and beyond) is always on my mind. So while my Sim couldn’t live without fish tanks and french doors my actual self is a little bit different. It can be challenging to personalize a rented space, but it is totally doable. Here are all the ways I love making my house apartment a home.

How to Make a rented space feel like home: practical tips for renters on

All The Candles

paddywax candle

What is it about candles that just make everything better? Sure, air pollution is a thing but candles are so sooooooothing. Their scent and the dim lighting the provide immediate warmth (literally and figuratively) to a boring apartment and make it feel like home. When we first moved I made sure to have at least two candles burning at all times when we were home. Even when we were sleeping on an air mattress, candles seemed to give us a false sense of home and security.

My personal favorites are anything from Target, all the scents from PaddyWax (see similar), and this fun Malin + Goetz scent. But seriously, I’ve been known to stay in the candle aisle in Target for over 45 minutes. This Bella Fresh candle is only $15.49 and lasts forever. Candles, you guys. They are the answer.


Meaningful Decor

rifle and co hawaii print

whbaptI half grew up in Hawaii, and I have very fond memories of my childhood there. We of course have photos of family and friends throughout the apartment, but I also love when our wall art is meaningful as well. I do my best to find prints of places or things that we all have in common: a city map of a real place we like to visit (like the Adirondacks) or a city map of a place we like to pretend to visit (like Westeros).

In addition, I love the different art we get on Etsy. Instead of being teenagers with movie posters taped to walls I invest in Etsy art that call out to our favorite childhood movies: Peter Pan, Jurassic Park, and Cinderella. I used to try and source cheap art at Target, but Etsy is a great resource for reasonably priced unique printed art. It adds character to the space without costing a fortune, and it allows us to personalize our walls without it looking like we’re 16.

This is my personal favorite way to make add personality to a rental: The entire apartment doesn’t feel like a scrap book, but rather a sophisticated place with meaningful art and trinkets that bring us joy.

Living & Breathing “Things”

They say you should have plants and herbs around an urban apartment to breathe life into your space. Well, we’ll do you one better.


Our cat, Phoenix, as as living and breathing as it gets. And his rule is no other living things are to be in the apartment. Whenever I try to get him fancy cat grass he knocks it over. He immediately eats any flowers that are meant for display. So generally we keep the plants to a minimum and let him be the king. Flowers can’t cuddle you, anyway.



This one seems like a given, but I notice that so many of my friends are against painting their walls. I find it to be the most important step in making a rented place feel like home. If your landlord allows it, paint right away! The rentals I’ve dealt with either have an awful yellow/white or a fluorescent hospital white upon move in. Painting over that in a different neutral color, or even finding a warmer/less insane shade of white makes a world of difference. And yes, there are about 20 different shades of white in the paint aisle!

cat and dark blue

I’m also a huge fan of painting neutral colors everywhere. Our living room is gray. Our bathrooms are a lighter shade of gray. And we have accent wall in our bedroom in a dark blue color (see above photo). It’s along the window so the dark hue is evened out during the day time when our room is filled with sunshine.

These are very simple things, but after having rented in NYC for 7 years I know they make a huge difference. Making a rented space feel like home is not easy, especially when you’re still living on an Ikea-via-Craigslist budget. But the small upgrades are worth it. You know how I know I’m a grown up? I no longer want my apartment to look like an Ikea catalog. That was my ideal for me in my early 20s. But now I realize it’s about personalizing the space and finding unique and memorable items that bring us joy.

We’re not lucky enough to be home owners yet, and when we are I’m sure it will be an amazing adventure. But for now we’re enjoying our condo: painted walls, candles, and all.

PS: Read more about #WHBApt:
  • My thoughts on being engaged but still living with a roommate.
  • The planned layout of the living room (spoiler alert: this came together almost exactly as planned)
  • The planned layout of the bedroom (also pretty much spot on, including that blue accent wall mentioned above)
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