Funky, inexpensive rental decor

Ideas from SW renters who keep their landlords happy

Southwest renters said there are a lot of limitations imposed on decorating and home improvements for tentants. They insist there are ways to get around these rules and make for a funky apartment, from making a theme room using a collection of taxidermied animals, to reusing bottlecaps from parties to decorate your kitchen. By using donations from family and "free stuff" creatively, they've transformed their living space and made it their own. By being mindful of not making too many holes in the walls, they keep their leaseholders happy.

CARAG renter Dorthy Ohm, 24, works in landscape and graphic design and always has a project in the works. She said she has spent a lot of time and effort to spiff up her place, but little money.

Ohm said she gets a lot of her decorating ideas from reading through catalogues and magazines. Although Ohm has made her own wooden desk and most of the art hanging in her apartment, she said some of greatest decorating ideas have been things she's collected and reused in a new way.

Reuse materials for functionality

The bottle-cap kitchen wall is by far the highlight of creativity for her apartment. The idea came to Ohm two years ago, and she began collecting beer-bottle caps at parties she's hosted. After a while her friends began collecting bottle caps for her, too.

Once she had enough to do the whole upper section of the left wall of her kitchen (approximately 10 feet by 6 feet), Ohm said she divided the caps into color groups and made designs, then hot glued the caps to large pieces of foam-core board.

She said she arranged them so the backing isn't visible and just tacked the boards to the wall, not damaging anything in the process, thus keeping her landlord happy.

Another functional yet decorative accessory she's added to her apartment is shelving and storage bins, formerly wooden wine crates. Ohm said she just went to local liquor stores and asked if she could have them.

She said the stores don't really use them, so she was able to haggle a bit on a price between $3 and $7. Ohm said in addition to using the crates as shelving for DVDs and other knickknacks, she uses them for CD storage and other assorted things. Ohm said cigar boxes could also be used as smaller funky storage receptacles.

Subtle ways to decorate cheaply

Kingfield renter Ben Hey, 24, a sales representative for a beer distributing company, said one thing that really enhances his apartment is the use of plants. "They provide greenery, they clear the air, and it's nice to have friendly little plants around," he said.

The spider plant, he said, is his favorite because it can be split many times and grow whole new plants. Ohm said the pathos plant is her favorite, because it can also be split. (Spider plants have thin, spiky dark green or variegated green and white leaves. Pathos are common hardy, vine plants that have heart-shaped waxy-looking leaves.) She said just by cutting a leaf and putting it in water she's able to green up many rooms in her apartment, even the ones that get very little light, like her bathroom.

Another way Ohm said she tries to make her apartment more inviting is by the subtle use of paint. She said painting, even changing the hue of a white, can make a room seem bigger and change the feel of it.

Before painting, however, she said it's important to check with a landlord and get permission to avoid a penalty on the security deposit. Hey said for renters who can't paint, posters and tapestries are the best bet for filling up wall space.

Ohm said mirrors are also a great way to open up space within a small apartment, noting that she added two to her cramped hallway, making it seem more spacious. While some home accessories, like mirrors, can get pricey, Hey said he keeps his eyes out for freebies.

Taking advantage of free stuff

Hey said many of his decorating ideas have happened by chance, inspired by things he found in the garbage or that were being tossed out by friends, family and co-workers.

Surrounded by taxidermied fish on the wall and sitting in what he calls his "Navaho" chair, donated by his mother, Hey explained how objects from friends and his childhood helped to create a theme room in his apartment -- the "dead room."

"We're trying to display nature in stuffed form," Hey said, laughing at his mockery of rustic, cabinesque decor. It all started when a friend gave him a taxidermied fish, to add to his collection of fish he caught growing up and fill up wall space.

From there, he said, a bizarre craze caught on amongst friends and family who kept finding and bringing him dead things for the room, including a bear skull lamp, numerous antlers and pelts.

The highlight of the room, however, is a stuffed pheasant, which Hey shot. He and his roommate named her "Pleasant," since they live on Pleasant Avenue.

In addition to a few donated carcasses, Hey said he's also been able to find a few cool maps on their way to the dump, which serve as a great wall covering and conversation piece, like the 5" x 7" map of the Twin Cities from 1968 in his living room.

He pointed out little flags he's made for the map, marking where friends and family live. "Roseville wasn't even here," he said pointing to a void spot on the map.

Other freebies he's found include a coat rack made of four hockey sticks and hockey pucks, which was doomed for the dump before Hey rescued it from his work.

While Hey said he'd like to decorate more and buy more permanent fixtures, like nice furniture, he said he'd wait till he's a homeowner for more expensive purchases. His only splurge thus far has been an antique desk he purchased for $150.

Ohm agreed and said if you're a renter who moves a lot, it's best to save buying the pricier home items till you're in a more permanent place.