October 2010: Rental Rescue

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When it comes to fixing up a rental, I believe we have to play more of a magician than master carpenter, opting for a bag of tricks and a magic wand instead of a sledgehammer and chainsaw. Even if you have a landlord who gives you free run of the place and tells you to play design house, sinking a lot of your financial resources into a space you don’t own is not a worthwhile investment as a renter and potential future homeowner. Therefore, we sometimes have to opt for smoke and mirrors instead. It’s about creating a sense of space when there is none, making a room feel larger when it’s too small, or cozy when it’s a vast white box. It’s about drawing the eye to the good features of a space and away from the eyesores.

I always like to draw my attention to the windows in a space. Most apartments and rentals have your standard 30"x60" windows. If we’re lucky, our landlords have sprung for some run-of-the-mill white mini blinds, and that’s that. Nothing to write home about. Dressing up those drab windows can create a lot of impact with a few simple rules. 

1. Long story, short. When it comes to buying curtains or draperies, a lot of folks are too literal in their choices. We see a short window, so we buy short curtains that skim the top of the window sill, in many cases, giving a look as stylish as high-water pants. Even if you don’t have floor-to-ceiling windows, you can still look like you do. Purchasing or making full-length drapes for a standard window can make the feature look taller, wider, and more substantial, drawing your eye to the view outside. 

2. Hang ’em high. In my opinion, the height of your draperies and hardware is more important than the fabric and color choice. Consider installing your curtain rod 5 to 6" above the window casing on the wall and 3 to 4" outside of the casing. Hanging the curtains higher creates a great illusion of height in a room. Installing the hardware wider than the casing makes the window appear wider and more substantial when you pull the curtains back to flank the window. The curtain height draws your eye up, and much like the right pair of trousers with a pointed heel, the curtain panels elongate the room, creating that desired sense of height many of us lack with our 8′ to 9′ ceilings. 

When hanging curtains higher, you want to consider the length of the curtains. Using a pencil, mark your desired height above the window casing. Using a measuring tape, measure the height from the floor to your pencil marks. Purchase or make drapes this length or a little longer so they skim or lightly puddle on the floor. 

3. Take full advantage. Curtains and draperies are a great, easy way to add a lot of color and impact to a room. Many of us have standard white walls in our rentals, but if you have a room with three windows, that’s six large panels of color you can easily interject into the space. If you want a smoky blue room and you can’t paint the walls, consider smoky blue drapes on your windows. Take advantage of the opportunity to bring color and life into the space without picking up a paintbrush. 

Using these simple rules, you can create illusions of space, depth, height, size, and a room full of color. The best part? With the turn of a screwdriver, you can take it all with you after your last curtain call in the rental.—Ed Warwick

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