1. Get Permission to Paint an Accent Wall
Some property managers will give a green-light to requests to repaint a room or a single wall, but in many cases- painting is not allowed. Despite this, painting an accent wall can often still be negotiated. Even if you can’t get “permission” to paint you can still paint- with the understanding that you will need to either 1. repaint the wall before leaving, or 2. forfeit a portion of your deposit.
Painting may mean losing part or all of your deposit, but if you plan to live in your rental medium or long term, it may be worth investing in your mental wellbeing by covering up those neutral white or beige walls with a splash of color. When you are ready to move, you can offer to repaint or negotiate the deduction from your deposit refund.
2. Mural Accent Wall
If you can get permission to paint, you can get permission to mural! (If you can’t get permission to paint, skip to #3 for alternate mural options)
In the summer of 2017 I took off on a 3-week solo trip to Bosnia, Italy, and Croatia. Before I left, I handed over my keys to an artist-friend so she could water my plants and decompress in my space. On the way out the door, we joked about me returning home to a giant mural, and after a few laughs, we realized each of us was actually kind of being serious. What started as a joke turned into a planning session that resulted in me coming home to this magical blue floral mural behind my headboard.
Even if you aren’t an artist or a friend of an itching-for-a-large-format-project artist, there are plenty of options for DIY murals, including vinyl cutouts.
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3. Place Fabric or Fancy Paper on the Wall using Cornstarch
When I moved into my Seattle apartment, the handsome vintage paneled doors were painted a terrible shade of murky-wastewater brown. After a few months of living there, I needed to do *something,* so I found some high-quality giftwrap and added a delicate floral pattern to the inner panels.
Gift wrap, many fabrics, and most papers can be secured to a wall and made to look just like wallpaper. The trick to getting them to stock? Simple cornstarch. Unlike wallpaper, cornstarch-adhered wall coverings can be removed with a tug, and all traces of adhesive removed from the wall with a warm, wet cloth.
For a detailed tutorial on how this can be done, check out Christina’s instructions for creating a fabric faux-wallpaper as shown below:
3. Binder Clips and Wall Tapestries
Wall tapestries are a fast and cheap way to cover a large amount of wall space. For renters, wall tapestries are just about the perfect accent wall: easy to hang, easy to remove, and easy to cover large swaths of an ugly wall in just a few moments.
Play with wall tapestry size to create bold impressions. A floor-to-ceiling wall tapestry can create a mural-like effect, while smaller tapestries can be used similarly to framed photos on the wall.
A benefit of using tapestries for an accent wall is that they can be changed seasonally or even according to your mood. Instead of putting multiple holes in your wall by tacking your wall tapestries up with nails, use a bulldog clip or vintage binder clips. Both types of clips can be attached to the wall with one small screw, and make changing out your wall tapestry as easy as unclipping the old tapestry and clipping up the new one.
4. Floor to Ceiling Bookshelves.
Floor to ceiling bookshelves used to only be available as built-ins, but with flatpack and modular furniture, it’s easier than ever for renters to create a rental-friendly accent wall with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. A bookshelf accent wall is not only aesthetically pleasing for almost any decor, but also makes your accent wall into a functional and beautiful piece of storage.
Because it doesn’t rely on altering the structure of your rental at all, a bookshelf accent wall is perfect for renters. When you move, the bookshelves will move to reveal the wall in its original condition.
Although you probably won’t be able to find a bookshelf perfectly sized for your space, retailers including IKEA sell standard size bookshelves with additional height add-ons. Ikea’s BILLY shelf is a best selling style with stacking options. By stacking these add-ons you can accommodate nearly any ceiling height. If the add-ons leave an awkward space at the top of your bookshelf, a piece of moulding can stylishly fill in space and create a built-in effect.
5. Use Window Blackout and Curtains to Create an Accent Wall on a Wall with a Window.
Hey, natural light is great- something many apartments need way more of- but sometimes the placement of a window just. doesn’t. work.
This was the issue in one of the bedrooms at Hawk Hill. Check out our tutorial on how we hid a window behind a luxurious and romantic curtain. By using the right technique, you can make this look great from both inside and outside of your home, and eliminate the challenges that a poorly placed window puts on room design.
Curtains are great way to add drama to any wall. Although traditionally used over windows, curtains hung on a plain wall add a feel of opulence – especially in a bedroom. Curtains are an ideal way to cover up walls with significant surface flaws.
In addition to basic curtains, you can also create dramatic ruffles and 3D effects using fabric, a plywood backdrop, and a staple gun. Visit our article on DIY ruffled curtains to learn more about this method.
6. Natural Elements as a Temporary Accent Wall
Perhaps the quirkiest accent wall I have created is this curtain/branch backdrop for a woodland-inspired all-white bedroom. This entire backdrop was created with only four small screw holes placed in the wall to mount the curtain rod- making it a great technique to add drama to a wall in a rental home.
Incidentally, the room below included a large window behind the headboard, using our method for covering with a dramatically oversized curtain (see above), we were able to return this wall to usable space, while the window on the adjoining wall provided plenty of natural light.
When I helped a friend decorate this bedroom, decorating the wall behind the bed was challenging because the window we’d covered up, meant there was no wall surface to hang anything on. Instead, the branches were mounted by using a 4×4 piece of lumber with holes drilled in it. A freshly cut tree branch was inserted into each of the holes, creating this dramatic backdrop:
Choosing a wall to transform into an accent wall
Sometimes, a wall that should be turned into an accent wall is obvious due to the way a door opened into a room or the placement of windows. Other times, it can be a challenge to figure out which wall would make the best wall to accent. Generally, I choose the wall that’s the most “boring”. A wall with a window already has the window serving as an accent – similarly a wall that opens into another room or has a closet door already draws the eye in a certain way.
I think accent walls do best on the most “blank” wall – often directly opposite a door or window, so it faces the direction that people see when they enter the room. If you aren’t sure which wall of the room you want to accent would look best as the accent wall, experiment. How does it feel when you hang up a large blanket sheet on that wall? Does the room feel bigger smaller? Is your eye drawn to it?
Accent walls in 2023 and Beyond
Whenever a home trend surges in popularity, there’s often a rapid decline a few years later– everyone who invested in Chevron accent walls in 2013 can tell you this! Despite the sudden explosive popularity of accent walls in the early 2010s, accent walls are still very much in fashion today- if anything, the events of 2020 have given us more permission to accent and need to bring brightness to more walls at a time- evidenced by the face that vibrant, oversized, wallpaper designs are surging in popularity.
Accent walls are still very much in style into 2023, but you will want to be mindful of the type of accent wall you choose. While accent walls are here to stay, not all varieties have the same staying power. Chevron has had its day, and wood pallet walls are well on their way out, but tapestry, wall hangings, macrame, and wallpaper (or faux wallpaper made with cornstarch like described above) are very much still in style and don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Final Word: Tips for Wall-Mounting Decor in a Rental:
Don’t be scared of putting holes in your walls! Renters should be careful when making holes, but be willing to learn how to make your rental house or apartment a home. Read on for tips on overcoming wall-hole anxiety.
You don’t have to be afraid of making holes in the wall of your apartment. Caution? Certainly- but don’t let renting make you shop for art or wall hangings based on whether adhesive will hold it steady.
Renter’s Rules for Putting Holes in Walls:
- Know your wall type.
- Don’t use a hammer (seriously, never)
- Invest in a small cordless drill and a package of drill bits (both are essentials in a basic tool box)
- Always predrill holes in the wall- even for placing nails.
- Keep hole filler handy. It’s cheap and comes in an assortment of shades. When you move simply remove the screw or nail and fill the hole with filler.