Painting a Rental

virtual redesign from The Lettered Cottage

{A glimpse of what could be :: the ultimate motivation}

Remember how last week I was all “Help me with my wall?”.   The real issue is that my furniture just isn’t quite the right fit for this house.  I’m not moving, and I’m not buying new furniture.  However, I’m open to doing just about anything else that doesn’t involve some type of demolition.

Layla from The Lettered Cottage told me that she would take a photo of my room and come up with a solution for my little wall. Well, I’m no dummy, if Layla is willing to do up a photo for me, I’m not going to let her stop at a little wall. So, I asked if she would be willing to show me the room with a white, slipcovered sofa, a round coffee table and some super light but neutral paint color on the walls, and she added in a few other wonderful details.

Doesn’t it feel like a totally different room?  Do you LOVE that chalkboard?!

I hated to admit it, but I really needed a fresh eye {ok, two eyes} to look at my space and give me some ideas.  And I hated even more that Layla told me to change some things that I already knew! Like raising the curtain rods. Duh. See, I know this, but, my red buffalo checks don’t have enough fabric to go higher–our ceilings were two feet lower when I bought this fabric years ago, and I kind of fell into a funk just using what I had and I knew for this fabric I didn’t want to add onto the bottom.  However, seeing the difference raising the rods made was just the kick in the pants I needed to change it up.  They were fine the way they were, but since I only have two windows and I can do up some mistreatments pretty inexpensively and fast, it’s worth it to me to look for something different.  Now I’m excited about that.

She also told me my two lamps didn’t go well because they were too “hot” compared to the rest of the room.  I don’t think she meant it in a Kim Kardashian kind of hot.  But more of a Mercury, planet closet to the sun, kind of hot.  She was exactly right.  Anyone want to buy two lamps? Lucky for me, I happened to send Layla a photo of two lamps I had so she could work those into the design for me.

sherwin williams rice grain

The first thing I did after seeing Layla’s ideas was I painted my walls.  Yep.  I’m a renter and I painted my walls.  The owners have never said NOT to paint the walls, I just never actually asked.  I figured it was worth the risk of painting it nicely in a color just a few shades different {sherwin williams rice grain per Layla’s suggestion}, if they insist we paint it back, I guess we will, but I doubt that will happen.  And, I do actually have a little confidence, I mean, I’m a home stager for goodness sake, and if someone hired me to stage this house for sale, the first thing I would say would be “paint those walls!” and since this house isn’t intended to stay a rental but hopefully be sold after we move out in a few years, I feel like I’m doing them a favor.

rice grain at the Lettered Cottage

The color is SO close to what it was that it was hard for me to even see the difference to paint it.  And anyone who could live here for a few years with the pinkish walls and not have  the pink walls drive them crazy, would probably never notice the fact that they now have a light khaki/greenish/sandy hue.  Not to mention there was just a thin, thin layer of flat paint on these walls.  They were looking dirty and dingy and really needed some attention, my walls were thirsting for paint–like for real, they soaked it up.

If you are a renter and hate your wall color, I’m not telling you to paint no matter what.  You have to know that you could loose your deposit or be forced to repaint it, it’s a risk I was willing to take based on our circumstances.  And if you do paint a rental, it’s best to keep it neutral and light.  Rice grain looks a little green in my family room–I think because of my robin’s egg blue pieces–in the foyer it looks much more sandy.  Oh, yeah, I painted the foyer too…

Back to the rest of the room. My goal is to find the BEST possible way to place this sofa so we can watch tv, see the fireplace and be super comfy, and I also want it not to look awkward.  It’s not going to be magazine perfect, or maybe even ideal but I fully believe there is a way to use what we have and make it work for our family.  I pretty much believe that for any room, in any house, including yours.

So, here’s where we are as of now.  Making due with what I have is the ultimate challenge.  It’s an opportunity to come up with a fun and interesting solution, finding the center in the tension between form and function, while on a tight budget.  But, as a renter, there are times when I get caught up in feeling trapped, like I just have to wait till we buy before I can make a room really work for us.  No more!

aaaaaah, nothing’s centered!

I’ll constantly tweak this space, I’m not the kind of girl who settles down with a design to live happily ever after till it’s old and gray.  I like to flirt with different accessories, rugs, and change it up often.  It’s fun for me, and besides, I have a blog about my home so if it looked the same all the time that could get boring after a year or so.

I cannot even begin to tell you how motivating it was to see Layla’s take on our family room. Also, Layla has a new ebook out, Creating an Inspired Home. You can download a few pages for a sneak peek too.  Look how beautiful, even her ebook is lovely.

I’m reading it now and there is truly something for everyone to take away.  It’s an incredibly applicable book complete with fresh photos, video from Layla and energizing quotes from all kinds of sources. My favorite part was where she talks about balance in a room–from a really logical standpoint.  I must have been sick on the day they taught balance in design school, I found her ideas to be so useful and I’m already implementing it in my own room.

What motivates you to kick it up a notch in your home?

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  1. I love love love Layla’s design! The new paint color is beautiful, & I’m really digging the armoire centered on that wall too. I love that you use what you have. And I love that you inspire us to do that too! :) What motivates me right now? Well, we moved into this house last August & I’m just trying to make it “OUR home” right now….new kitchen cabinets & paint & some fabric but mostly using what we have for furniture, fabric, curtains & accessories. I’ll admit it’s daunting (though fun too!) to take on a whole house. But we’re concentrating on one room at a time, using mostly what we have, and planning & saving for some other big ticket items like flooring and landscaping that will get done within the next year or two. Can’t wait to see more of your living room & entry!

  2. Nadir@hodgepodge says:

    Wow! I love the new wall color! I’m a renter & have been sternly lectured by our landlord NOT to paint over her walls. We even offered to repaint them & she still said no :-( I actually just linked up to Amanda @ Serenity now’s progress party asking what to do about my hideous bathroom that I’m powerless to change it’s wall color. :-/

  3. LAMPS!!!! Ok I was looking at your first photo thinking ugh those are the perfect lamps for my spare bedroom where did she get them? Then you said you were going to replace them so you have a buyer! Send me an email if you do decide to get rid of them! Good luck!

  4. Hey, stranger! A fresh pair of eyes are always great! I so need that in my living room. The new Lay(la)out looks wonderful.

    Saw your post on white slipcovers: I am a BIG fan! We covered our family room sofa five years ago and it still looks brand new. I don’t normally like ultrasuede, but in white it gives a soft and smooth appearance, washes like a champ, and comes out wrinkle-free (which is more than I can say of canvas or denim or linen). This is the sofa that the kids watch TV on, go to immediately after a meal to roll around (escaping my napkin!), and draw on. I’ve washed food, juice, ink, marker, pencil, vomit, pee, snot, blood, probably poo off this slipcover–which totally grosses me out to think of NOT having a slipcover I can bleach with children. (I know, what are we DOING on this sofa–apparently becoming maimed and sick and loosing control of our bowels while finishing off a bowl of ice cream and writing a book report.) I did another white ultrasuede slipcover for the sofa at the cottage–and it survived the first rental season beautifully. Sometimes marks come off with just a wet towel. The second living area at the cottage we did an IKEA karlstad sofa with white slipcover and it just isn’t as soft or comfy after a wash. I bought our fabric at Interior Fabrics in Houston for around $10-11/yard–you can order online and have them ship it–but I’m sure you have resources around Charlotte.

    In other news, I took a blogging break about 8 months ago but I’m starting back up in a week and half–because the internet NEEDS another lifestyle blog–ha! :)

    Have fun with the living room!

    • Girl, I cannot wait to see you again–love your take on slipcovers! Come back tomorrow for more slipcover talk!

  5. LOVE LOVE LOVE it! I also love your curvy blue lamps! I’ve been looking for something just like that, where did you find them??

  6. I love what Layla’s done! Are you opposed to creating a walkway of space between the console and the back of the couch so that everything would be centered? Or is there some interference that we can’t see on the right side that prevents moving the couch out some more from the wall?

    • been there, done that. and I’ll probably do it again very soon. That console has DRAWERS in it! HURT me!

  7. It looks great! I love Layla and her gorgeous home! Sometimes it does just take another set of eyes to help! I am constantly changing things too to use what I have in a better way. If I had tons of money I would have the white slipcovered couches too and my life would be perfect. (just kidding, a little!) Love that you painted the rental, I am sure they will understand that you are doing them a favor! Don’t they know that you are the Nester and this is your specialty?!!!

  8. Okay, so how do I convince her to do this to my entire house:)??

  9. Ahhh, it looked freakin’ fantastic before but it looks even better now – LOVE the changes you have made.

    I’ve been painting my rental too – some rooms have subtle changes, some not so subtle and my first inspection is next week – wish me luck! (and yep, I wasn’t told not to either, because I didn’t ask:) When they question me, i’ll tell them the truth – i’m no home stager but I read the nester!!!

  10. You could use canvas painters dropcloths for the curtains? our windows are almost 4m high and nearly the same wide, and we so can not afford curtains. I sewed two drop-cloths together lengthways for each curtain, and there is enough for some puddling at the bottom(looks better I think). I just put some 3″ curtain tape on the tops. The cost about £40 all in.

    I might add some deep red ribbon round the edges for colour though.

  11. We just got a sectional from jc penney’s – slipcovered in “earth” which is kind of a darker khaki – but it looks like similar dimensions. We had the long rectagnular coffee table with the drawers, and I bought a round coffee table from penney’s last week too – search “linden round table” – the color is antique vanilla, but its only about $250 and its wonderfully designed – and it shipped to the store for free – you could always paint it black. The round coffee table is great for the sectional.

    I like the chairs on either side of the armoire. What a fresh perspective can do!

    FYI – I painted the insides of some of my lamp shades that were too bright with some cream apple barrell paint – and it worked, and they have yet to burn the house down.

    • painted the INSIDE of lampshades–smart! I’m guessing they were that board stuff inside and not fabricy?

      • Right. I guess all of the lampshades I did this with are cheap and that plasticy/cardboard lining inside. I really thought it would eventually get too hot and melt or catch on fire, but I did this over a month ago and one of the lamps I leave on 24/7 – its a 40 watt bulb and I actually painted that one inside with black paint bc it was a black shade & the light kept shining through. My cream ones I painted are bigger standard 60 watt lamps and on the weekends they stay on pretty much from the time we get up (6:30 am – bed @ 10). So I guess it is safe.

      • Catherine's not naturally crafty says:

        Paint the insides AND the outsides. Yep you really truly can. I had the super cheap, came with the lamp, snooze-ville pleated fabric shades with the plastic inside. Hated! and what was worse the shades I wanted did not exist on planet earth. So, went to Hobby Lobby, picked up the pink gold metallic for the inside and cranberry for the outside and some sponge brushes. I kid you not, it’s the cheap basic craft stuff. No fabric sizing, no special fixers, nada. And… I began to paint. It took more paint than I had but repeated trips and repeated coats to get the color and transparency I was looking for didn’t cause any problems. Also, these had the bails at the top (where they go on the lamps) so I used those with a wire hanger and my shower rod to suspend them for easy smudge free drying.

        They work fabulously. The water based paint is non-flammable and the interior of the shades are either plastic or cardboard anyway so as long as you use a bulb that is rated for the lamp, you should not need to worry about the paint. I really love the rose gold finish in the lamps because, a. it’s looks so luxe and b. it can transform cold flourescent light into a much more natural incandescent pinkish light that’s more flattering. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. if I could actually paint a straigh line I’d get some of the linen type shades and put a design or monogram or something on them.

  12. Going against the crowd here, but I actually like your room better all except for two things. The curtains and chair arrangement. It’d be interesting to see the chairs at an angle facing the couch for conversation. ( I don’t see how you could converse around the big cabinet in between the two chairs.) Then I’d go vertical with the framed photos to fill in the space between cabinet and chairs. Like Layla’s curtains. Love your unique red sofa. I’d never cover up that beautiful fabric. And I actually like the brighter pops of teal. Just needs to be repeated in the room, like on some throw pillows on your check chairs. But that’s just my little two cents. You have beautiful furnishings and decor.

  13. Very nice and the color change is cute too. Seeing other great homes or even browsing through my inspiration folder motivates me.

  14. Great work! Purty!!!

    Feels good to be doing something new doesn’t it?!

  15. Looks great! I need to paint my kitchen – the house is 10 years old and it’s never been done! I’ve never painted and would love your step-by-step tutorial of how to! Again, it looks great!

  16. Love the changes! I am going neutral also and looking forward to it ;-)

  17. the paint color looks great and I love how the two chairs flank the armoire now.

  18. I love the chairs on each side of the armoire. Looks much better. What causes me to kick it up a notch at my house? Being inspired by all the blogs I read. I see so many ways to improve my space.

  19. We might have a different legal situation here, but generally you need permission to paint a rental property. And you DEFINITELY need permission to move a fixture like the curtain track — moving it without permission might cause loss of your bond (= 1 month’s rent)! So would adding or removing picture hooks (no landlord here would be very happy with your plate display, I’m afraid). Are these not issues where you live?

  20. Technically you’re not supposed to paint military housing, but I ALWAYS do. As long as it’s white when we move out, what do they care? It’s my home for as long as we live there and I don’t like white walls. Hooray for you for painting. I’ll bet the owners wouldn’t even notice.
    I’m glad Layla told you to get rid of those lamps. I’ve never been a fan of them. They just don’t “go” with your stuff.

  21. I’m trying to remember where you’re located….is it Greensboro? If so, I just saw 2 round coffee tables on Craigslist that looked decent.

  22. I love her design!! The ideas i gave was to center the armoire and the chairs like she did…and i was excited to actually see what it looked like in the photo! Yhe colors that she used are amazing. Love it :)

  23. I love, love, love the plate wall. But I think I would be moving that sofa all over the place til it worked better. I understand your problem tho. when we moved into this house I had a buffet-type piece that I tried on every wall.

  24. Stephanie says:

    I’ll also go against the grain and say that with an exception of a few simple changes (the lamps, chair and picture placement) I much prefer your room before! It just looks more warm and inviting. I know they’re popular everywhere at the moment, but I don’t like the idea of a chalkboard in the living room at all. Your plate display is perfect just as it is! And seriously, what family with kids can really pull off white slipcovers on a couch? They look nice, but probably aren’t very practical, no matter how much you can wash them!

  25. Ok, if you’re really really in love with the cupboard/armoire thing, don’t read the rest of this post, but it’s just an ‘out there’ idea. I look at the bottom picture and think to myself “if you sit in one armchair, you can’t see the person sitting in the other armchair”. Now, obviously that’s a good thing if you don’t particularly like the person in the other armchair. And it won’t even crop up often, unless the other seats are all taken, but…
    1) How wide is the fireplace, and is the TV flatscreen?
    2) How much of a handy man is your man (or woman are you?)
    3) Don’t read the next bit if the armoire thing is like your favouritest bit of furniture in the world but…
    4) Would it work to have the top half of it above the fireplace and leave the bottom half as a sideboard? I can’t really work out the relative dimensions from the photos.
    I apologise if this is akin to chopping in half one of your best friends, and no upset is intended by the suggestion, but I thought I’d make it, coz then you’d be able to see across the top of the ‘new sideboard’.
    Personally, I wouldn’t cut it in half, because I’d be way too lazy to ever get around to it. And I’d probably be too attached to the thing anyway. Also, you’d want somehow to do it so that it could be undone if you changed your mind or circumstances changed, and my level of skill probably would not stretch that far.
    Just had another look at the photos, and maybe it would jut out too far…
    Anyways, suggestion made! (Sorry again if it’s a mean one!)

  26. The two chairs on either side of the tv…perfect…

  27. I love it! You and Layla do good work.

  28. Love what Layla did to your living room…it looks so fresh, although I always thought it looked great. We are currently renting a home, the home we are in was a model home and had 10 ft marquee diamonds along the enormous entry hall. Those were the first things to go when we moved in. I am all for making your home yours even if you are renting! If I have to repaint so be it. It makes me happy and if mom’s happy everyone else is! I’ve gotta hook up with Layla.

  29. What motivates me to kick it up a notch?

    Well, right now I’m trying to figure out how to add a twin sized bed to my medically fragile son’s ‘safe room.’ This is where Parker sleeps and is also home to Parker’s vent, oxygen concentrator, nubulizer, sat monitors, and a host of other medical must haves.

    Right now either my husband or I throw down a mattress in the middle of the room because one of us must be in the room when Parker sleeps because of Parker’s vent.

    But after several years of doing this our backs are shot and we simply need to get a few hours of sleep that we simply aren’t getting now.

    So that is my motivation to kick it up a notch, keeping my son safe at night while still getting a few hours of sleep. :)

    If you or any of your readers wanted to stop by and share some ideas, I would be so very thankful. Our budget is limited, but we are more than willing to roll up our sleeves and put in any elbow grease needed.

    A Bedroom Re-do: Special Needs Style

  30. I love the changes,it’s amazing what a little color on the walls will do for a room. Arranging the armoire in the center with the chairs on each side really balances the room out nicely. I struggle with the same problems as you with a lot of doorways an not allot of wall space. I’m new to blogging and have been enjoying reading your blog. I have added you to my blog list and would love it if you would come over and check out my new blog .

  31. I say this with a smile, but I sure wonder if (when your kids grow up) they avoid changing their furniture around ‘cuz they grew up with the house being constantly torn apart?! That’s sure what happened to my kids!

    • probably!

      But to them it’s normal. My husband grew up in a house where all the stuff is basically the same, in the same place, even today~and he really doesn’t care if stuff gets moved or not.

      but, since mine are boys I have a feeling they’ll wonder why their wife isn’t moving furniture all the time!

  32. WHAT?! No Tobacco Road???!!!!

  33. Very fun to see your changes.
    Must say I like the plate arrangement you have now much better then the chalkboard…..just throwing that out there.

  34. Hi! I accidentally landed on your blog. NICE room. It’s amazing what messing around with little things will do. Now … your lamps … paint em! I think I’ve repainted every lamp in my house. Just spray em high gloss (or my new favourite matte) and stick them back where they were.

  35. Wow, I love what Layla did with the photo!! Such a great way to to visualize what you’re thinking!! How did she do that? I always love your room and your decorating style, but I’m with ya on the effect of the white slipcovers!! I’m considering it too!

  36. You and Layla together? Stop the madness- it’s blissful!!!
    Love what she did, and that you started working as soon as you got her suggestions- I was the same way. She’s genius, and it’s catching.

    Your room looks fabulous.

  37. I’m here visiting you from Pink Polka Dot. I love what you’ve done with your room. The chalkboard is awesome and I love the chairs placed on either side of the armoire. Bravo!

  38. She did a lovely job. I’m so lost with our long bowling alley type living room. If anyone ever wants a challenging room to practice on hit me up. lol. I’m trying to get the courage to slip cover our couch & loveseat too. And curtains are a whole ‘nother matter. lol.
    Anyway, great job and I’m going to go and see the sample of Layla’s book!

  39. oh my this is a wonderful transformation. am in love with this!

  40. We just moved into a rental over the new years weekend and we were given permission to paint our walls as long as they were a neutral color. the color we picked…. SW Rice Grain…we love it! made it completely warm and comfy rather than the stark white that was in here before! Great choice, you won’t regret it!

    Good luck!


  41. We used to paint our apartment every year. As long as it was part of the white color family they were cool with it.

  42. Trully inspirational, loved the plate wall.

  43. Can’t resist joining in the discussion. So many great ideas! Like you we live in a real room! We cannot stand to watch TV and get a sore neck so I have moved the couch every way I can think of around the built in. And eventually tweaking by a push a few inches this way or that has made all the difference.
    I would “empty” the room of everything but the TV armoire, plate collection, parson table and sectional. Move the sectional the middle-ish of the room with the short side along the window wall and the long part place for best TV viewing perhaps at an angle for TV and fireplace both. Resist adding in all 4 chairs. If there is room, place the pair by the window with a lamp and smaller table. Stack the photo arrangement or put on opposite wall. Use the aqua blue lamps elsewhere in the room and use the others only if needed. One (maybe two) shorter lamp on the parson table adds nice warm layer . The pair of chairs may be better over on that wall at ends. The shutter and long picture on the mantle seem to make one end heavy taking away from the beautiful plate collection. I
    Now I do have to tell you, when I have dropped by before, your sectional in the red has sparked my thinking about our next purchase for our oddly shaped living room. A sectional may be the perfect solution, thanks for the inspiration. And I love the colors you have. Especially the armoire’s!
    Whatever you end up with it will be comfortable and great looking both; I am sure of that!

  44. The room looks fantastic!! And I LOVE the chalkboard, actually I have the exact chalkboard in my kitchen and I made it myself!! I linked up to your chalkboard party if you want to take a look. Or heck I’ll link it here! :)
    Just scroll down a little and you’ll see it! I would LOVE some slipcovers on my chairs and might have some made since I can’t sew a button! :(

  45. Hi!
    Im new to your website, and have to tell you that i loooove your style! I love the blue, red combo.. that is what i have at my home as well. Did you really want to sell those lamps?? they would work perfectly in my house! So, if you really want to sell them, im your go-to gal! Please let me know if they are still available! thanks

    Happy decorating and thanks for all the inspiration!


  46. So for the record Sherwin Williams has hit the bullseye with Rice Grain. We are in the process of paining the brick on the exterior of our home with Rice Grain. I am a color gal, and being such, never thought that I would like any type of neutral. While Rice Grain…. I love you. Might just be painting my master bath in your lovely hue!

  47. I think your write up was really a great beginning to a potential series of write ups about this topic. Most users act like they know what they are writing about when it comes to this stuff and in reality, very few people actually get it. You seem to really dominate it though, so I think you ought to start writing more. Thanks!

  48. LOVE the rental re-do! I am in a rental and you have inspired me! Love your blog :)

  49. Hey that pale greenish blue T.V. cabinet goes with nothing in your whole house. Paint it another color. You need help. Nate Berkus, He is a interior design genius. Look up some of his work.

  50. I’ve been following you for awhile and today I stumbled upon this old post. I have to say THANK YOU! My husband and I are also renters and I have to admit it never occured to me NOT to paint and decorate our rentals. Most of our friends and family think I’m crazy but I enjoy having a beautiful space to (temporarily) call home. I love your decorating style and your tips on decorating rentals. Also I’m having fun following your Decorating with Plants series – I’m working on turning my brown thumb green :) Keep the great posts coming!


  1. […] have a new color on our walls.  We started out going for a super light neutral and Layla suggested Rice Grain by Sherwin Williams.  I have a confession, I’ve never used a super light color on my walls. When I sat that […]

  2. […] day Kristi left I did two things; I started painting our family room {I KNOW, I painted a rental} it took a few coats to get the right color , and I devised a plan to trick welcome Kristi and I […]

  3. […] family room and it looked minty green, but here in the foyer, I love it.  You can read more about how I decided to paint my rental and see the color in Layla’s house here. And if you are wondering, here’s a post about the art of elimination, and how I actually […]

  4. […] family room and it looked minty green, but here in the foyer, I love it.  You can read more about how I decided to paint my rental and see the color in Layla’s house here. And if you are wondering, here’s a post about the art of elimination, and how I actually […]

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