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ikea white storage unit in living room with grey chaise armchair

10 Style Cheats for Decorating a Rental Living Room

Today I want to tell you everything you need to know about decorating a rental living room. 

But first, can I just say how much I hate the reputation people give renters? There’s this idea out there that renters will ruin a home. I’ve actually heard landlords say “I didn’t put nice carpet down because tenants will just trash it”.

This attitude really annoys me, because I’ve been a renter. And when I was renting, I treated the place like I owned it. I was house proud. And I wanted every pocket of the property to look amazing. So, landlords, cut your tenants some slack. If you give them a gorgeous home to respect, they’ll respect it. If you give them bottom of the barrel fittings and fixtures, expect them to treat it accordingly.

And now that my little gripe is over with, let’s get into my 10 commandments for decorating a rental living room 😉 If you’re reading this, I already know you too are a house proud decorating junkie like me. So you’re part of an amazing club and you’re in good hands in today’s post. Let’s do this!

Here image in this post is via IKEA.

tlc interiors melbourne interior designer scandinavian living room with grey sofa and green cushions

1. Choose a Smaller Sofa and Armchair Combo

When decorating a rental living room, it all starts with the sofa. And my advice here is to avoid getting a sofa that’s large and just fits in your current uniquely sized room. Who knows how long you’ll be in this rental for. I’d hate to have you invest in a huge sectional and not be able to fit it in your next property. 

Sectional sofas with a chaise on one side that can’t be moved are also problematic. It might cut off a walkway or door in your next rental home. It’s just plagued with potential issues, so avoid this kind of sofa configuration.

With the above in mind, it’s far smarter to choose a two or three-seater sofa as your main couch, then bring in an armchair or two as additional seating. If you were to move into a home with a smaller living room, and the armchairs didn’t fit, at least they could go in bedrooms or a rumpus. 


2. Push Two Smaller Rugs Together 

This is another trick for renters who don’t know how long they’ll be in their rental home for. Again, like with the sofa, avoid a huge rug in your current rental living room. It might not fit in the next place, and you’ve just wasted your money. 

I’ve seen two smaller rugs pushed together in a living room before, to form one large rug. It’s a great money-saver (as smaller rugs are cheaper), plus it gives you so much versatility if you move. One could stay in the new living room, one could go in a bedroom. It just provides so many options for you. 

This is a trick that works best with a plain rug, of course. A heavily patterned one might not line up properly or look too visually jarring. But by all means experiment here. And don’t be afraid to line edges up in-store to see if the look works for you.

If you need more help in terms of selecting the right rug, check out my no-regret rug buying guide here.

side tables as coffee tables in rental living room mocka mayo trio tables

3. Use Side Tables as a Coffee Table

This is another tip with moving-to-your-next-home in mind. The last thing you want to do is sink money into a coffee table that suddenly won’t fit in a future living room. I actually love the idea of using a nest of side tables like the ones above from Mocka as coffee tables. It allows for so much flexibility when using the room. If you choose lightweight ones, you can move them around wherever you like.

The other thing I love is four small square side tables pushed together to form a larger square. Again, it allows them to be moved to other rooms in the future if you need them to, but they still look great day-to-day.

You could place a large round tray in the centre of this four-table configuration to conceal some of the breaks/lines on the edges. This is also a great idea if you’re in a share house because when you move, and go separate ways, you can share the side tables around.

dark coastal living room with dark grey carpet and black window frames

4. Hang Canvas Art or Fabric on the Wall

Art is probably the biggest issue when you’re decorating a rental living room. The sad news is that you can’t just hang any art you like. Most landlords forbid hooks in walls, which means you’re stuck using art that can be hung on 3M Command hooks

It’s not all bad news though. The removable hooks can hold up to 7kg, which means you can go large with canvas art and really make an impact on a wall. I did it in my St Kilda project (featured above) and it gave a blank white wall a moody focal point.

Jump onto sites like Urban Road or United Interiors and look for their art pairs. You can buy two from the same series that go together and hang them side-by-side for an awesome result.

Also think outside the box and consider different types of lightweight art, like fabric, that can give you a big wow-factor without the weight issues.

5. Get Adventurous with Removable Wallpaper

You know I love me some wallpaper. I ask all clients if I can install it in their homes. It makes such a difference to the look and feel of a room. The fab news just in for those of you decorating a rental living room is that you don’t have to miss out on the action.

There are loads of removable wallpaper brands on the market now. And the designs have come a really long way. The ability to roll on and peel off these wallpapers means you can create the sort of mood and sense of permanence you’d get in a home you own. And at the end of your lease you’re not stuck losing any of your bond because there’s no damage to the walls.

Try Luxe Walls for removable wallpaper. I’ve used their designs in the past and even installed it myself. If I can do it, you can too. It’s so easy.

white and grey wallpaper design in melbourne apartment living room with large fake bird of paradise plant

6. Go Big with Plants (Real or Fake)

One of the things that can make a real statement in a space is an oversized plant. And they’re so good when decorating a rental living room because you can take them with you when you move out. And sure, they might be oversized, but there’s always going to be an awkward corner in a future living room. And that awkward corner is where you’ll pop your plant.

Now, as we well know, I’m terrible at keeping plants alive (aside from my fiddle leaf fig, which I cracked the code to having it thrive). If you’re in the same boat, go faux. There are so many good places to get wonderfully realistic plants from these days. I have a list of the best places to get fake plants from here if you need.

If you’re after the real thing when it comes to plants, you could always try a cute plant delivery service like this one I used. It’s so nice to receive fresh greenery every month!

grid of mirrors leaning on mantle over fireplace

7. Hang a Grid of Mirrors Instead of One Big One

Mirrors can be like art when decorating a rental living room: you can’t really hang the heavy varieties. You could consider two things in this instance: an amazing leaning mirror, or hanging a grid of lighter mirrors together.

Leaner mirrors are so on-trend right now and I’m loving every minute of it. They’re chic, they’re portable, and they’re ideal for a rental living room. If the space is small (tips on small living room styling here), a leaning mirror by a door or window will bounce light around the room. And I love the fact that you can easily move it into a bedroom if you’re like me and constantly want to change up the look of your space.

The other option is to place four lighter mirrors on the wall in a grid. Leave about 15cm between each one. If the wall is larger, you can place more mirrors. Take it horizontal with a grid of six light mirrors and really make a blank wall feel special.

The image above from the house of silver lining combines both ideas. I love it.

large copper floor lamp in rental living room with turquoise and pink cushions on grey sofa

8. Make a Statement with a Large Floor Lamp

OK, so we know that installing pendant lights in a rental living room is out of the question. I feel your pain, because Lord knows I love a pendant light. But all is not lost.

Lighting sets the mood in a space like nothing else can, so why not go big or go home on the lamp front? A floor lamp with a large, curved arm is perfect to introduce a new shape into a tired living room. You might even opt for a bold shade that ties into the colours of an artwork on the wall. Or match it to cushions in the space.

No matter what your style is, there’s an opportunity to let lighting be your moment of magic in the room. Look to lighting suppliers like Lighting Lighting Lighting for some affordable floor lamp finds. Schots Home Emporium is also good for quirky lights. The lamp above via Ideal Home is a winner.

white ikea sheer curtains on black metal rod in living room

9. Install some lightweight Sheer Curtains

So this one is a bit controversial, and comes with a disclaimer. No landlord will want you to drill into a wall. I totally get it, and I totally respect it. But when decorating a rental living room, sometimes it’s the window fashions that let the space down the most.

Nobody likes a tatty roller blind that’s seen better days hanging in their window. So, why not consider purchasing a super light curtain rod from somewhere like Spotlight and drill it into either side of the window frame using the smallest screw you can find. Pop a sheer curtain on the rail from somewhere like IKEA and you have yourself a rental living room with a sense of softness.

Obviously once the lease is up you’ll remove the screws, fill in the holes and repaint over them. But seriously, it’s such a small change in the scheme of things that I doubt anyone will notice. Do this at your own risk though 😉

modern luxe living room with marble coffee table fake plant and blue glass vase from west elm

10. Focus on Quality Decor and Accessories

When I was in my first few homes and decorating my own rental living room, I knew I couldn’t sink loads of money into furniture. I just didn’t know what the next home I moved to would be like, or if it could take large pieces.

So, I skimped on the larger pieces and really took care to find phenomenal decor and accessories. I love the idea of putting some money toward the softest, most plump cushion you can find (with this sort of filling only!). Get a cable knit throw that’s so cuddly you feel like you’re sleeping on a cloud. And invest in some handmade ceramics and ornaments from local makers.

It’s these smaller pieces you’ll keep for years, well after you finish decorating a rental living room. They’ll come with you from home to home, and probably stay with you if and when you purchase a property.

Never discount the power of a keepsake item. They are your treasured finds and really make a house a home!

Did these 10 commandments help you when decorating a rental living room? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Shout out if you need any suppliers to shop at, or any questions you want to throw my way.


Chris Carroll

Outside of writing this blog, Chris is an interior designer, presenter and author. He’s also spent time on TV, on Channel 10’s Changing Rooms, as well presenting segments on Channel 7’s Sunrise and The Morning Show. If you’d like to book a design consult with Chris, you can find out more here

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I’m interior designer Chris Carroll, and at TLC Interiors we’re all about helping you create an amazing home without breaking the bank. It’s affordable designer style at its best, and we make the whole process easy and fun for clients & readers alike!

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