How to Make Your Rental the Envy of All Your Friends

Six ways to add impact with color, texture, and rad design.

Blue and White Living room
Blinds, Mood Fabrics; Pillow in Maxwell Fabric, Schumacher; Vintage Accent Chair, $385; Spider’s Nest Side Table, Tucker Robbins, from $1,500;

Loiyan Style Vase $180, Tray $810, Geometric Pattern Reversible Throw $675, Marbleized Resin Side Table $1,700, all Aero Studios. Photography by Heidi's Bridge

The first thing Olga Naiman did when she moved into her Brooklyn condo was to cover the bare, bland walls of the narrow entry with a floor-to-ceiling Fornasetti wallpaper and bright pink curtains to match. “I wanted each room to have a distinct color imprint, a different feeling,” notes Naiman. The interior designer and prop stylist, who is the mastermind behind spaces featured everywhere from Anthropologie to Vogue, has a background in theatrical set design and channels her work as a major source of inspiration in her own home. “On a set, you turn a corner and you’re suddenly in a different place,” she explains. 

It’s a practice Naiman readily puts into play in her apartment, which she shares with her partner, Michael Smith, and 3-year-old twins, Laszlo and Lucia. Color is woven throughout, with hits of pattern cleverly layered in. A hue that stands in as a secondary shade in one room takes decorative charge in the next, and graphic prints add texture and depth. “I would never call myself a traditional designer,” says Naiman. “I love bold decor that comes with moments of magic—everything in my home has symbolism or meaning.”

Read on to get the scoop on elevating your rental with effortless ease.

Blue and White Living room
Squiggle Blue Wallpaper by Vivienne Westwood, Lee Jofa; 1970s Brutalist Iron Sculpture, Flair Home, $950; Blue Painting 4 by Marie Freudenberger, Artfully Walls, $40; Vintage Milo Baughman Sofa, Chairloom, $3,200; Albino Cowhide, Shades of Light, $753; Stoneware Vase with Fluted Bottom, Aero Studios, $600; Pillow in Vientiane Ikat Fabric, Schumacher; Screw Café Table, Tom Dixon, $1,350; Bordeaux Large Tray, Arteriors, $645 
Photography by Heidi's Bridge

Shift Focus From the Walls

Naiman approaches her bookshelves as stackable still lifes (and a way to keep items out of reach of her little ones), using each square of the shelving system as a frame. The shelves earmarked to hold decorative accessories are lined with a graphic wallpaper, while the shelves reserved for books are left blank to avoid an overly crowded feel. The loose checkerboard effect allows the eye to move freely from one composition to the next. “It’s an easy way for renters to add depth to a wall,” she points out. 

Blue and Taupe and White Kitchen
Planter, MQuan Studio, $175; Utensil Vase, Mud Australia, $103; Lands 7 by Nell Waters Bernegger, from $24
Photography by Heidi's Bridge

Transform Boring Kitchen Cabinets

Since an entire kitchen renovation was both impractical and unaffordable, Naiman opted to focus on one standout moment: the cabinetry. Inspired by a wallpaper she saw in an Art Deco exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Naiman refurbished the existing oak veneer kitchen cabinets with a graphic color-block boasting a silver leaf detail. The smaller surface means you can splurge on a design that might be too pricey elsewhere.

Blue and Red and White Entryway
Set of Two Concord Easy Chairs by Pierre Paulin, $6,342; Curtains, Mood Fabrics; Blue Shift by Tom Borgese
Photography by Heidi's Bridge

Let Textiles Do Double Duty

White walls are a rarity in Naiman’s home. Instead, you’ll find panels of vibrant fabrics draped around the space (more often than not concealing an unsightly surface), which she attributes to her roots: “I’m Russian, and Russians love rich textures—especially silk—and fabric on the walls.” In the bedroom, a series of curtains disguise 19 feet of closet doors and a wall-mounted television. “Rather than painting the walls, tack up some beautiful fabric,” Naiman suggests. “When you move, take it with you, and you’ll have curtains for your next apartment.”

Blue and Taupe and White Bedroom
Ansonia Standard Pillowcase, Matouk, $124 for pair; Ruby Galaxy Cocktail Tray, Studio Formata, $40. Photography by Heidi's Bridge

Make Your Bed the Center of Attention

Offset a small bedroom with a low-platform bed—the inverse takes up vital real estate spatially and visually—and use nightstands and table lamps as interesting accessories. The cobalt headboard, which Naiman crafted herself after falling short on finding the perfect one, creates a bold stroke of color. Layering in soft textures, like a leopard-print pillow, is another inexpensive way to incorporate pattern into the space. The final touch? “A throw always breaks up the monotony of a bedspread,” says Naiman. 

Black and Blue and White Bar
Algún Día by Alberto Sanchez, $850; Trompe L’oeil Box, Flair Home, $525
Photography by Heidi's Bridge

Embrace the Rule of Three

Drawing from elements of photography, the rule of three—or what Naiman refers to as triangulation—follows the idea that the dominant color of a chosen palette should appear within three points of a room: high, low, and at eye level. In her living room, Naiman highlights the turquoise, pink, and blue from a painting, emulating the hues by way of the counter stools, lounge chair, and sofa, respectively.

Black and White and Yellow Nursery
Skip Toddler Bed, Baby Letto, $109; Canary Sailing Ship Kite, The Maryn, $40; Stepped Chevron Rug, Jonathan Adler, $595; Boby Trolley Storage Cart by Joe Colombo, $1,169; Charming Creatures Zebra Head, Land of Nod, $49; Organic Crib Sheet, Project Nursery, $49 Photography by Heidi's Bridge

Use Color to Succeed Pattern

Primary hues set the tone for Laszlo and Lucia’s room (a nook Naiman carved out from the originally one-bedroom apartment). The walls decked out in chalkboard paint act as a grounding neutral—as well as a creative outlet for the twins. “I told them they could draw on any wall that is black!” says Naiman. She skipped big patterns in favor of displaying the children’s art, which, unsurprisingly, is full of color. 

Blue Portrait
Photography by Heidi's Bridge

 This story was originally published in the spring 2018 issue with the headline "6 Ways to Add Impact to a Rental"

Published on April 14, 2018 - 6:00am EDT

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