Sarah Cousins Interior Design
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Tips to Transform Your Rental

Image by  Hannah Jan Photo

Hello friend! Welcome to the first blog post. You look fabulous today.

I don’t know about you, but I spend a decent amount of my waking hours trolling through Pinterest, Instagram, random design magazines, and newsletters. I am truly bombarded by beautiful interiors, but hey, I guess that’s part of the job — right? Right. For me it’s inspiration for projects and ideas about what’s possible, but for others it can be really overwhelming.

A question I get a lot normally goes something like this — “Hey Sarah, wow your hair looks great today. Anyways, how can I translate this insane, multi-million dollar Hamptons project I saw in AD into something that makes sense for me and my budget in my space?” First of all, I feel you, deeply. Translating your inner personality into a physical space that not only works for you but feels like you is quite the task (and perhaps why people hire interior designers, cough cough).

However, I believe everyone should have access to making their home a little more beautiful, regardless of budget. So — I’ve boiled down some of the tips for you that I use with both myself and my clients to really take your space to the next level. Let’s jump in.


Pick some paint — I know you’re rolling your eyes at me and thinking “ugh Sarah, painting is such a hassle!” Yeah. It totally is. However, and I will say this multiple times throughout this article, you will never have this much motivation and attention on your space as you do right when you move in. You may say you’ll paint in three months, but chances are (and in my personal experience), you will not. Have you ever walked into a rental in NYC? White walls as far as the eye can see. Now, I’m not knocking a fabulous clean white, but we’ve got to mix it up a bit if you really want your space to feel like something special. I always recommend starting with Clare Paint because every single one of their colors is fabulous. They’ve got a guide on how to pick the right white based on your space and the light. I recently used Goodnight Moon in a project and it was sheer perfection. Best part is that they send you big sticker swatches instead of your usual, annoying tiny can of paint. This way you can slap ‘em on the wall, live with them for a bit, and then see if you want to invest. I didn’t even use close to half a can of paint for an NYC bathroom, so a little goes a long way. PS… consider painting your ceiling if you’re leaving the walls white. So fab.

Image via  DPages

Image via DPages


Rental-Friendly Wallpaper — Wanting to shake up a room? Are you feeling a little extra fabulous? Great. We’ll be best friends. Rental wallpaper came onto the scene a fews years ago, at least to my knowledge, and WOW is it great. Most companies sell self-adhering designs so you can do it yourself (or bribe a friend to come help you, my personal favorite). The great thing about this stuff is that once you’re ready to move out, you just steam up the walls with a hand-steamer and watch it peel off! I love companies like Flavor Paper for funky graphics, Graham and Brown for something a bit more traditional, Urban Walls for beautiful decals you can arrange however you’d like, and Chasing Paper for some really stunning designs. Just order some samples and see what you think! I’ve got my eye on a certain print for our bedroom ceiling… stay tuned.

Image via  Flavor Paper

Image via Flavor Paper


Think about changing out some light fixtures — The lighting in rentals is generally… not great. I’ve noticed over the years that you can pretty much change almost anything out in a rental as long as you securely pack and store the fixture that came with the unit and put it back upon vacating. Please hire someone for an hour that knows something about electrical power if you’re going to mess around with this (or if you don’t, just don’t sue me. There’s not much I dislike as much as paperwork).

A note on hiring an expert to install something — Whenever you’ve got to bring in an outside person to help out with a home project, see it as an investment in your space. If it costs $120 to bring in an electrician to wire in two sconces by the bed and one light in the dining room, that’s $10 a month if you stay in your place for a year. Would you pay $10 a month for beautiful, well-lit rooms that make you feel good? I know it’s annoying, but wow there is some great budget lighting out there that you can really make your own! Check out my lighting board if you want some help getting started — I add to it almost every day.

Image source unknown — Let me know if you know!

Image source unknown — Let me know if you know!


Adorn your freshly painted/papered walls — Check with your building, but I’ve never come across one that wouldn’t let you hang things. Some of them ask that you patch up and sand the holes upon move out. Don’t sweat it, I’ve done it twice and it takes the length of one NPR podcast. Art can get expensive quickly, so first look at what you have. I’m currently framing some family photos and old recipes for the hallway. As Emily Henderson says “if it’s two-dimensional, it’s art and you can hang it.” Have a kiddo or two running around? Choose a few of their pieces of artwork in a color family you love and then put them in some chic frames! Heartwarming and beautiful. I’ll be showing off some of my grandmothers recipes in these chic and simple frames.


Consider adding a screen to break up your space — This is especially important if you’re transforming a small space or *gasp* studio. Just kidding, a studio apartment can be so chic, just watch any NYC-based, female-led romcom from the last 10 years. A great way to designate areas visually is with screens. I happen to love this rattan one (I think it’s from Urban Outfitters?), this more organic DIY one, and this very cool screen that uses your plants to create some privacy! Cool!

If screens aren’t your jam, you can always go for a modern shelving unit to divide the room — just make sure it’s slightly open on both sides so it doesn’t feel too imposing.

Image Via  Brit&Co

Image Via Brit&Co


So, what do you think? Will you try out a few of these ideas? If you do, I’d absolutely love to hear about it. This is your space, make it feel like home.

With a pencil behind my ear and a paint can at my feet,