Does your rental apartment suck?

I've been there. But the truth is, you may be part of the problem. Why accept what you've been given when you can make it better? (Cheaply and easily.)

With that in mind, here's the third installment in my wee series about how to fix up your rental in a single weekend on a VERY limited budget.

Part 3: Your Apartment Sucks - Throw Some Textiles At It
Venetian blinds. Oh, how I hate thee. You are made of plastic, metal or molding wood. You are disgustingly dusty. Sometimes sticky too. You are impossible to clean. You have been in my horrible rental since the beginning of time. You are often broken. I hate you, venetian blinds. I hate you.

Solution? Drapes! You don't even have to remove your venitians to make them work. In fact, it might be a good idea to keep them (especially if you can manage to get them reasonably clean.)

Drapery panels are inexpensive at big box stores and the like. However, I like to make my own curtains/drapes when I move into a new place. It's easy. I swear.
Here's how you do it:
  • Measure from the top of your windows to your floor. Write these numbers down.
  • Head to a discount fabric store. Pick out what you like. Any fabric will do for a rental, frankly. I've even used inner lining for suits ($0.99 a yard). You could also consider sheets. Really. They have built-in hems. Any fabric that's long enough and that you like.
  • Have the pieces cut AT the fabric store to the right length (2 pieces per window, at the measurement or as close as possible to the measurement noted above. A little more (say a half yard) over that measurement is necessary, not less.
  • At home, using iron-on hemming tape to hem the bottom and sides of your panels. If the fabric is thick enough, you could also use a glue gun. OR, if you can sew, you can do the hems that way.
  • Now, make a big fat hem at the top of the panels, leaving some space through which you can thread a curtain rod.
  • Buy and install curtain rods of your choice. (Shown above l-r: an inexpensive craft rod, a bit of wood dowling, an IKEA rod that costs $9.99 and another IKEA rod that I am using in my current apartment, which only cost about $2).  They are ALL inexpensive and all you need to install them is about 4 screws and possible some anchors, which will probably come with the rods. If you use a heavy fabric, however, you will need a more substantial rod that won't bend. These ones are only good for lightweight curtains.
  • Thread the panels into rods and voila. No need for "real" drapes. These work just fine. And even if you never close the, they create depth and visual interest that improves even the worst venetians.
Here's what my current living room curtains look like using this method, the cheapest IKEA rod and fabric from Goodwill. I'm into it. I didn't hem the bottoms. I just let them pool on the floor. We didn't have venetians, luckily, so I installed these inexpensive bamboo blinds instead.
And finally, going back to my very first singles apartment (the one with the teal stove) here is my first attempt at DIY curtains, made from polyester suit lining and hung on two cheapo craft rods (gold finish). Aw. Sad and sort of adorably pathetic, right? I was poor and this was nine years ago. But so what? I was trying and I was learning. And now, I'm glad I made the effort. You will be too.
Does your apartment suck?
I've been there. I have lived in some stinkers in my time -- from a student house with stained walls, old lino and a cardboard cutout of Minnie Me in the living room, to a Jr. 1 bedroom carved out of a former bachelor, complete with a rusting, minty-teal stove (which in retrospect was actually kind of cute) and a mildew-stained bathroom with all-taupe finishes, circa 1960.

I've also lived in apartments that haven't been so bad. You know what I mean. Builder's box apartments. White/beige boxes with no interesting architectural features, no character, ugly industrial carpet in the hallways, and a landlord who won't let you paint.

Such is life in rentals.

Nonetheless, I've learned a bit along the way. And because I'm a sweetheart, I'd like to pass my knowledge on to you. So here's the first installment in my wee series about how to fix up your rental in a single weekend on a VERY limited budget.
Part 1: Your Apartment Sucks - You Need Knobs!
New hardware. I can't emphasize how important this is. Drawer and cupboard hardware in rental apartments is the WORST. It's usually cheap plastic or horrible faux-brass. You must change it. Immediately. The cheapest knobs out there that would improve things are probably Kosing knobs from Ikea (shown above). They're smallish, but heavy and relatively cute. And at $1.99 for a pack of six, a little goes a long way. I used these in my very first singles apartment (shown below and above, actually). While I've since upgraded, I still have them in a baggie. I'm sure I'll find a use for them in future.

Replace the pulls and knobs in kitchens AND bathrooms for the best effect. Cup pulls and handles (as opposed to knobs) are usually better for drawers, by the way. It takes a little patience and elbow grease. Especially if you are doing all the screwing on your own. (Ha ha?) 

Other shop options for hardware include Rona and Home Depot, or, if you have a bit more cash on hand, Anthropologie. OR, consider making your own pulls.

You can manage it. I believe in you.

Hit up the dollar store or a junk shop for similar small items in a shape you like that are made of wood (or at least not hollow). If you need to, spray paint them all one colour. Drill holes in them and use screws with no heads, epoxy, and bolts to make pulls of your own. Too hard? Not clear enough?

I found a ridiculous cute plan for how to make your own very simple fabric pulls at the blog of Anna Maria Horner (her photo is shown below). Check it out or do some Googling of your own. I'm sure there are plenty of DIY ideas out there with better, more detailed instructions than I can provide. My point is only that you NEED to change those knobs. Now.
I'm experimenting with adding multimedia content to the site at the moment and my first effort is the inclusion of a slide show photo gallery featuring pictures from the apartment I lived in between 2004 and 2007.  Please take a look and drop me a comment. I'd love the feedback. This slide show will also be available on the brand-spanking new Gallery page.

Inspiration can be found in the strangest of places. Years ago, my (stupid-face) ex and I had a party at our apartment in Vancouver. In the morning, in my efforts to clean up, I grouped some of the empty wine bottles on my dining table. In the morning light, the colours worked together so perfectly so I snapped this picture. I love the way the bottle glow. I love the colour of my old dining table.
Sometimes, it makes me sad to think about my old life. About the lost places. And then I remember the pretty moments. If you have a camera, you can keep them forever.
My first and only feature wall experiment happened in my last Vancouver apartment back around 2006. The whole place was 1200 square feet, with two different living rooms (one upstairs, one down). The downstairs one was, as a result, a nice space for experimentation. I used it to try out vintage finds and things I was a bit too nervous to go for on the main level. Like the feature wall.
I'd say it was a success. Using a can of deep blue paint, bought on sale for a mere $10 (it was somebody else's returned mistint), I did the base colour. After it dried, I used painters tape to frame out freehand squares all over the wall. I didn't use a ruler or a level, I just went for it. I tried to make the pattern random and loose, figuring I could always add to it later. Using a single tube of gold acrylic art paint from the craft store, I painted in the squares with an art brush. I peeled off the tape, and voila! Feature wall.

I truly loved this wall. I loved the way the squares reflected the afternoon light. I loved the deepness of the blue, and that it wasn't too cheery. And I loved how it made my vintage furniture look. Speaking of which, here some other key pieces in the room and where I found them:

Brown velvet sofa (bed), Value Village, $40.
Tulip base coffee table, Sellution, $200
Mid Century armchair, Sellution, $75
Brown credenza, Value Village, $19.99

I think the lesson here is that not everything has to be a big production. Painting a single wall is SO much easier and less stressful than doing a whole room. And when furniture is this cheap, you might as well be bold. Why not buy that $20 credenza? Worst case scenario: you only wasted $20 (which you could probably make back reselling the thing on Craigslist, anyway).

Oh, and in case you're wondering, the guitar is a copy of a Gibson Les Paul by Vantage. I bought it on Commercial Drive the summer I was 15. At the time, it was the most expensive purchase I'd ever made. I can't help keeping it around. To this day, it makes me feel cool.