The best ways to upgrade your apartment

Listen, we millennials are a bunch of renters – which isn’t to say the young, old, and in-between aren’t renters either, but the leave it to the beaver days of buying a suburban cul-de-sac house with a bit of luck, courage and your pension from the button factory; most of our money these days goes toward a juggling act of health care, Topo Chico, gas, and Boy Smells candles. And while some of our apartment decor is made up of pieces we really love and saved up for, like this Memphis band conversation pit (a ghoul can dream), we almost always turn a blind eye to the shittiest parts of our home. You know, the genre that TikTok has dubbed “the landlord special.”

The parody video was made by @LongRealEstateInvestor, and has since amassed 30.5 million views alone to prove that yes, mum, all of the DIY rental ‘fixes’ we inherited from the last tenant really are so bad. DIY rental upgrade videos and hacks are huge on TikTok, with #apartmentrenovation videos amassing millions of views. Cheap homeowners like to do as little as possible by painting everything white, installing funeral parlor sconces and hardware that falls out of cabinets after a few uses. And while it’s easy to feel helpless as a tenant, there’s hope in tenant-friendly solutions, from temporary flooring to clever tricks for replacing crappy light switch plates. Consider the wise words of Amy Sedaris, housemate and national treasure, who has lived in the same incredible one-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village, New York, for over a decade. “You can lower the door handles and move the electrical boxes,” she says of her own tenant-friendly upgrades, which have transformed her otherwise average apartment into a truly bespoke home.

Do you dream of having a 70s-style living room with wall paneling? Or maybe you want your room to look like a room at the Madonna Inn, or any number of kitschy roadside themed hotels in California? Start by finding cool and expensive wall art online, invest in a mid-century modern sectional sofa, and rest assured there is ultimately an epic, washable rug for renters. Whether you’re looking for temporary new kitchen flooring or better lighting (for windowless rooms), here are some of our favorite ways to spruce up your apartment.

Bring light into a windowless room

It’s not uncommon for New York Railroad apartments – and all apartments, really – to have no living room window. The key to not going crazy/tearing down a wall or doing a DIY transom is to invest in strong and varied lighting. The Joofo Floor Lamp has garnered a cult following online with over 3,000 reviews and a 4.7 star rating on Amazon. “If you like brightly lit rooms, this is exactly what you need,” writes one reviewer. “This lamp can go from a pleasantly subdued light to an absolutely fantastic energizing light!” There are also Joofo lamp look-alikes whose bulbs have a wide spectrum of rainbow colors.


WiFi Color Changing Torchiere LED Floor Lamp

Above all, remember that you will want to create different lighting points in your apartment. This means you might want a Joofo lamp in a corner, a Noguchi-style rice paper lamp on the floor, and a sunset lamp for an evening mood.

Invest in an almighty mirror (or mirror wall)

We’re not just talking about accent mirrors, although we’ll take those too. A massive mirror or a mirrored wall will catch the light in your home, whether it comes from the Joofo lamp or the sun, and multiply it, while creating the illusion of a larger space. Move over, Magic Castle! It’s your funhouse now.

Wade Logan

Fiedler Accent Mirror

A sexy girl in a vintage store once told us not to hang mirrors over our bed because “midnight ghosts would pass”. She’s not wrong, but the drama of effectively lining an entire wall with floor-to-ceiling mirrors — or placing one above our bed — is too good to pass up.


8 Piece 12 Inch Acrylic Mirror Tiles


3 Piece 16 inch Frameless Real Glass Flexible Mirrors

The best faux wood paneling and wainscoting

We can’t all live in a 1978 redwood and Laurel Canyon glass bachelor pad, but we can try. This reclaimed wood paneling has a five-star rating on Wayfair, and it was designed for temporary installation, though it will make your space feel like an über-lived-in redwood cabin left to you by your culture, anti-social great-uncle.


Solid wood paneling in red oak

If your aesthetic is a little more pared-down 1920s-townhouse-meets-minimalist-Parisian apartment, there are also plenty of traditional white paneling sets on Wayfair that can dress up a large blank wall without making it cluttered.

Ekena Joinery

Ashford Square Traditional Double Panel Panel Kit

Create a Subway Tile Backsplash

Remember that New York apartment that went viral for having the bathtub in the kitchen? Yes, we hope you don’t have to wash your hair with your roommate watching and doing the dishes. But you should look for peel and stick tiles to create a backsplash above the sink in your bathroom-kitchen-living room, and better define your space with subway tiles or faux ceramic Moroccan squares.


Peel & Stick PVC Mosaic Tile

Annie Ren Trends

Peel and stick Moroccan wallpaper title

The best temporary flooring

The same space-defining mentality applies to temporary flooring, as it can help bring color and texture to an area while separating it from the rest of the home. We will always be a die-hard fan of black and white checkered floors. They are equally timeless and beetle juice-chic, plus they will look great covered with lush green plants or a bright dining set.

Achim Import Co.

Check vinyl tiles

There’s finally a washable shag rug

Heaven is a place full of Cynar-filled fountains, chocolate turtles, and floor-to-ceiling shag carpets. In the meantime, we’ll indulge in Ruggable’s latest shag rug; it’s not only super plush and expensive looking, but the mat comes with the option of an extra cushion underneath for a little extra squish. Most importantly, this baby is 100% machine washable, so you can spill Flaming Hot Cheeto dust on it without a care in the world.


White Egret Shag Rug (3’x5′)

Temporary wallpaper is not scary

Of all the home decor trends, temporary wallpaper can seem the most intimidating. The good news is that it really isn’t that hard, and if you’re really skeptical of your Martha Stewart (identical) abilities, you can just hire a local wallpaper installer or TaskRabbit worker for an hour or two. to apply it like a pro. Tap brands and retailers like Chasing Paper, West Elm, Society6, and even Urban Outfitters for sick designs that would look great behind your bar cart or record player.

western elm

Tempaper Feather Flocked Wallpaper

Urban outfitters

Avenie Distorted Checkerboard Removable Wallpaper


Vintage 70s Retro Sun Wallpaper

Create an entire wall of books

We’ve been in love with Danish Vitsœ shelves for as long as we can remember, as they were the absolute sleekest shelving system to emerge from the futuristic design movement of the 1960s. Unfortunately, genuine Vitsœ shelves can cost thousands of dollars. to build, but we found their lookalikes on Wayfair for just over $20 per shelf, so you can feel like you have an entire wall covered in books for a lot less. We’ve written a step-by-step guide to installing the shelves, which are as easy to put together as they are to take apart.

Latitude Race

Daizee 8 Piece Floating Shelf

Latitude race

Daiym 4 Piece Metal Floating Shelf

Replace those fuggo recessed brackets

Everyone has had to endure one of these ceiling lights at least once in their life, whether it was in their college dorm or the first apartment they rented. You don’t have to put up with those obnoxious ceiling lights, man! Unscrew that shit, tuck it away in a cabinet for moving day, and hang a rattan light fixture, rice paper globe, or one of HAY’s tapered, vented recessed brackets.


Medium suspension


Liz rattan ceiling lamp

The best no-drill blinds

My roommate has these mocha shades from LazBlinds, and my jaw dropped when she told me that they not only cost about $50, but they don’t require any drilling. They look like they’re made of a rich, thick rice paper and cast your entire room in an amber glow.


Cordless No-Drill Mocha Shades

Update your drawer and cabinet pulls

Have you ever seen urban furniture and thought, “Hey, almost? There’s nothing a little chalk paint and a few fresh drawer pulls can’t zhuzh, my lord, and whether you’re temporarily replacing your landlord’s shabby drawer pulls or fixing your own dresser or wardrobe, Wayfair has a great selection of wavy, on-trend pieces.

Aquila art glass

Lil’ Squares Center to Center Bar Sweater

Items by material resources

Verona center bar handle

My colored buttons

Amber mushroom button

Replace light plate covers

Last but not least, it goes off for the “meh” plate that covers your light switch. Swap that sucker for a pop of color or a talavera ceramic wallcovering made by Mexican artists.


Tone 2-Gang Rocker Switch Wallplate

Arts and Crafts Imports

Canary Talavera Exit Switch Plate

Here’s to outwitting landlords – always – and getting a sexier apartment in the process.

Rec Room staff independently curated all items featured in this story.

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