There is no culture shock quite like moving from a condo built in 2005, to a classic New Orleans shotgun home built in the mid 1850's. I went from the builder-grade land of nod to a crash course in 100 years of renovation and plaster walls. Quickly, I found myself needing to make my rental feel like home and transform it into my own.
Finding a home to rent in New Orleans is a tricky thing. Nicely renovated and historically persevered homes are expensive, but part of the charm of living in a 300 year old city. We lucked upon our home when friends of friends happened to hear we needed a place as they were packing up to buy a new house. We saw it on a Saturday afternoon with their things in it and had two immediate thoughts:
1) It's incredible because it has two bathrooms and who knew that was going to be like finding Atlantis in our budget
2) The crazy paint colors on the 14ft walls were barely noticeable
After horrible luck house searching prior to this, we were relieved to finally see something worth living in. We signed on immediately and about a month later we were moving in. I'll be honest - I cried when we opened the door on day one. Gone were the prior resident's great choices in furniture that made the space seem bigger, gone were the rugs covering the original (and less than well cared for) wood floors and gone was the artwork hiding the loudest paint colors I had ever encountered.
Immediately, I was making peace with what we had done.
We moved in to a rainbow home full of unforgivable paint colors we weren't allowed to touch. Here's the orange of the living room and the lime green of the bedroom for reference:
Once we settled in and started making piece, I found myself leaning on a few solutions to help transform any rental into a cozy home:
1. TOUCH UP THE PAINT
Beyond the crazy paint colors, we also ran into a ton of chipped paint and trim. The front door looked like it had been chipping since 1850. While I'm not allowed to change the paint colors, I saw no issue with taking those paint chips to Lowes and having them match the shade. Touching up the baseboards, fireplace mantles and doors made a huge difference. With a quart of paint only costing around $10, it was well worth the trouble
2. HANG UP YOUR ARTWORK // FIND ARTWORK
It is so tempting to be lazy and not hang things up - I get it. I am a crazy unpacker, I can be unpacked and fully organized into a home in 48 hours. But the hanging, oh the hanging, that's a different story. Here we have the struggle of antique plaster walls - so I'm also scared to hang anything up. Thankfully, the past residents left a lot of nails in the wall so I resuse as may of those holes as possible. I also have found it really important to ditch the Hobby Lobby placeholder art and replace it with pieces by local artists that I love and collect along the way.
3. RUGS! RUGS! RUGS!
Let me tell you how everyone that raves about original hardwood floors on HGTV is full of lies. Real, true, original floors are likely not kept up to HGTV standards. Mine would require sanding, restaining, and constant maintenance to get back to that level (something my landlord is not up to). So instead of fretting over the floors, we invested in neutral rugs to balance the paint colors. We found deals at World Market on a nice jute rug that covered most of the living room and at At Home. We even got anti-fatigue mats for the kitchen to cover that space too. Pro-tip: At Home has a surprising rug selection at great prices.
4. CLEAN LIKE THERE IS NO TOMORROW (OR PAY SOMEONE ELSE TO)
The thing with historic homes is that you also get historic dirt. Can you reach that 14ft trim on the ceiling? Neither could the last 4 people that lived here. Everything already looks old, no need to make it look old and dirty. Invest some time or money into cleaning your home from top to bottom. It makes a difference.
5. BE RUTHLESSLY JUDGEMENTAL WITH YOUR STUFF
There were so many piece we had that looked great in our old condo that just didn't fit into the new place. Our charmingly comfortable leather sofa that looked fantastic against our grey slate walls suddenly looked like an out of place, giant dark oaf in our new small living room. We swapped the pillows to the lightest linens and replaced it with a full linen couch six months later. It transformed the room and made the whole space come together. Make peace with the things that don't fit, make a plan to swap them out.
6. FIND INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS TO THINGS YOU CAN'T CHANGE
The bright red paint in our kitchen started to feel like it was going to eat me alive. I found a removable wallpaper at target that looked like subway tile and installed it on the backsplash. Read all about that project and see photos here. It completely changed the room and made me a huge believer in finding workarounds to my lease. Try wallpaper, or hanging curtains to make a fake window (or make a window seem bigger), or cover your countertops in contact paper - there's always a workaround!
Almost three years later, I am infinitely more happy with our home. Never give up on making your rental feel like your own. I promise you- it's possible!
Have you made any transformations to your rental? Share in the comments below!