Most renters don’t invest a lot of time or money on decorating their apartments, especially when they don’t plan to stay long.
Not Sue Hunter.
When the interior designer, owner of Home for a Change, found herself between homes, she pulled out all the stops to make her temporary rental her own.
First she rented a truck and went speed-shopping for new furniture, accessories and quick-fix “decor helpers” like decals and drapery panels. Then she began a three-day marathon of moving, styling and picture-hanging until her two-bedroom apartment in Minnetonka was a showcase of her personal taste and style.
“This does not look like an apartment,” she said of her finished creation.
Hunter became a renter after years of homeownership when she sold her longtime home in Minnetonka in December 2015. Her three children were grown, and the house, with its ¾-acre lot, pool and gardens, required too much upkeep.
“I was traveling more, and I had to hire people to take care of it,” said Hunter, who works with design clients in both Minnesota and Florida. “I wanted to keep life more simple.”
She started looking for a condo, but couldn’t find the right one.
“I didn’t like anything I saw,” she said. “Everything was too dark, or I didn’t like the building, or it was too expensive.” So after selling her house, she opted to rent — and resume the search for a condo in early 2017.
She found an apartment she liked, also in Minnetonka, that had tall windows and a barrel-vault ceiling in the living room. “It makes it feel so much bigger,” she said.
But even though the high ceiling made it feel more spacious, the two-bedroom apartment was less than half the size of her 2,800-square-foot house. She would have to dramatically downsize her belongings. And many of her things just weren’t going to work in the apartment.
“It was painful to leave my house,” she said. Parting with some of her beloved artwork was the hardest of all. But Hunter seized the challenge of paring down and transforming her apartment into a place that felt like home.
To get started, she culled her furniture and accessories to the few pieces she wanted to bring with her, including a gray velvet sofa, a few pieces of artwork and her favorite area rug.
“I would not give up my zebra rug,” she said.
Some of her other favorite pieces went to her mother. “I decorated her independent-living apartment with them, so I still have the enjoyment of them. She loves them.”
Hunter sold the rest of her stuff at an estate sale. Then she went speed-shopping, hitting affordable stores like Home Goods, Ikea and At Home to buy furniture and accessories that fit the apartment. “All my big stuff I had to replace,” she said.
Hunter moved in on a Saturday, and by Tuesday, her apartment transformation was complete. She worked late into the evenings until the last piece of artwork was hung in place. “I had to get it done,” she said.
Now that the space is decorated the way she wants it, her short-term home feels cozy and comfortable. The style is more contemporary than what she had in her house, with “French flair,” she said. “I have a love affair with Paris — the architecture, the fashion.”
The color palette is dramatic black and white, accented with gray and pops of turquoise. Some of the furniture is mirrored, and Hunter also added huge framed mirrors as a decorative element. “I love mirrored stuff. I love the reflection of it. Now things just sparkle.”
Like most renters, Hunter couldn’t change the structure or the 1980s-era finishes and fixtures inside her apartment. But she found other ways to add flair — from peel-and-stick murals and decals, to plug-in chandeliers, to battery-operated mood lighting.
To create a focal point on one wall, she chose a giant mural — a black-and-white photo of a woman gazing at a mist-shrouded Eiffel Tower. “You can peel it off and it won’t damage the wall or leave a sticky residue,” she said.
Floating shelves from Ikea add visual interest and a place to display books and accent pieces in her guest bedroom. “They’re so neat and clean. You don’t have ugly brackets,” she said.
To dress up her windows with their generic blinds, Hunter added side-panel draperies. She also hung bold black-and-white-striped side panels to create a “French bistro” effect for her kitchen.
Even her bathroom got a floor-to-ceiling drapery panel, edged with ribbon, to dress up the shower curtain.
What she didn’t like in the apartment, she hid, including the towel bars in the bathrooms, which she covered up with new towels. “It didn’t cost a lot of money, but it made a big difference,” she said.
She’s also not a fan of her kitchen floor tile, so she dressed it with an area rug.
All told, Hunter spent about $4,000 for new furniture and accessories to fill her apartment. It was worth it, in her opinion, to “surround yourself with everything you love so it doesn’t feel like an apartment.” Her experience inspired her to start an “Apartment Decorating” board on her Pinterest page.
She recently resumed her hunt for a condo and found one to her liking last week; she’ll close on it in April. She’s looking forward to having a more permanent home, but she enjoyed her time in the apartment.
“People who rent think it’s not theirs, so they don’t do stuff,” she said. “I’m thrilled to have people over and have it looking pretty.”