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10 Ways To Modernize An Old Apartment

Morgan McBride5-Minute Read
UPDATED: May 31, 2023

Older homes can be charming. However, if you have to rent an older apartment, and your style leans more modern, it might be hard to make that space feel like home.


Even if your rental isn’t your dream home, that doesn’t mean you have to hate it the whole time you live there. Small updates can go a long way in modernizing an old apartment and can be done without making permanent changes. You will need to decide what makes the most sense for you based on how long you plan to live in the apartment and how much time and money you want to invest in it.

You can’t fully remodel a rental, but you can make some updates to make it feel more like you. There are plenty of ideas for how to make an old apartment have your style without making your landlord angry. Make your apartment your own with these tips on how to get modern design elements in an older apartment.

Make It Your Style

Everyone has a unique personal style. You likely already know what you like, but if you need help finding yours, check out this article that shares 13 popular home styles and how to pull them off in your home.

Once you have identified your personal style, think of ways to bring that style into your rental home. It could be furniture, art or even accessories, but bringing in items that specifically feel like you will help you make your temporary home feel more like you too.

Swap Out Light Fixtures

Light fixtures are often the centerpiece of every room and can really change the tone and style of a space. For example, ornate chandeliers can feel formal and stuffy while a sputnik lamp will instantly modernize the space.

Your rental home is likely to have the cheapest possible flush mount lights, which can just be boring to look at all day long. Consider swapping them out for a light fixture that reflects your personal style and will make you happy every time you flip on the switch. Simply save the old light fixture in a closet and swap it back before you move so you can take the new light with you when you go.

Paint – If It Is Allowed

For some reason, apartment owners have decided that a creamy beige is the most appealing wall color to renters. It’s probably because it is neutral, and you can make anything go with it. However, it often looks dingy and dated. An easy way to make an old rental house look nice is to give it a fresh coat of paint.

Wondering if you can paint your apartment? It should be spelled out clearly in your lease, but when in doubt, always verify with your landlord. Most leases allow you to paint in neutral colors. In the very least, you likely will be allowed to paint if you agree to paint it back to a neutral color before you leave.

While paint will be a cost that you can’t take with you when you leave, it’s pretty inexpensive and can majorly affect the entire feeling of a home. It’s often worth the investment of time and money to make a rental feel more comfortable.

Replace Cabinet Knobs

Hardware is something that changes with the trends really quickly. It seems like oil rubbed bronze fixtures were just the hottest thing, but statement hardware is already in as the new biggest hardware trend.

A great thing about knobs on cabinets is that you can swap them out with only a screwdriver, and you can take them with you when you leave. Simply place the old hardware in a box or bag and stick it in the back of the cabinet to reinstall before you go.

Cover Ugly Flooring

Many old apartments have worn, out-of-style flooring. You have a few options for covering it up. The easiest option, of course, is to get a rug. Rugs come in unlimited colors, shapes and materials, making them a great way to reflect your personal style.

Choose whether you want to put down a large area rug to cover the majority of the floor, or if you’d rather have a few accent rugs under tables, couches or sitting areas.

Hang Curtains

Curtains are an easy way to make an old apartment space feel more decorated. Most rentals come with bare windows – or blinds if you’re lucky – and curtains can help soften up the look and provide you with some privacy.

Be sure to pick curtains that are long enough to touch the floor, and hang the rod as high as possible to make the windows – and room – feel larger. Most curtain rods are mounted on the wall using just a couple of screws, making them totally renter-friendly.

Fake A Backsplash

If your kitchen doesn’t have a backsplash, it can look boring and bare. As a renter, tile is likely out of the question, but that doesn’t mean that you have to cook next to a plain wall. Contact paper is a really simple way to add a faux backsplash to your space. Plus, it comes in tons of options and is as easy to apply as peel and stick.

You can also paint a backsplash if your landlord allows painting. It’s simple to paint a stacked tile look that seems like the real thing. Painting a tile backsplash is certainly cheaper than installing real tile, too!

Lighten Up A Bathroom

Bathrooms can often look really outdated and feel dingy and dark. Your best bet to making a rental bathroom feel more homey is to go light and bright. Focus on white for your shower curtain, bath mats and towels. As a bonus, white is very easy to keep clean with bleach. It might not quite feel like a luxury hotel spa, but white linens will help get you closer to that look.

If your apartment is up high or doesn’t face any other windows, don’t even bother with blinds or a curtain and keep your window completely open to maximize light. Consider adding temporary window frosting for a little privacy but still allowing lots of light to get in.

Hang Art

Art is one of the easiest ways to share your style wherever you’re living. Focus on one large, focal piece per room or a big gallery wall to really make a statement. Art is a great way to add cohesiveness among your rooms – try to repeat colors and styles throughout the space to make your apartment feel like one continuous space. Have a consistent color in each piece to tie them together.

Art doesn’t have to be expensive, either. Thrift stores often have interesting, large scale framed pieces. Amazon sells prints of posters that can be really cool when framed. And, never be afraid to pick up a canvas and paint something yourself.

Bring In Life With Plants

Plants are particularly on trend right now, but they are always a good idea for inside your home. Houseplants make a space feel more alive. Don’t let the Instagram plant ladies overwhelm you – you don’t need a whole indoor nursery to embrace plants in your home. Focus on a few pots in each space. Think of plants at different heights – taller trees, hanging planters, or pots on shelves – to fill empty holes in your decor.

It might not be your dream home, but you can still make a rental look nice. These decor ideas will help you upgrade your apartment and feel more at home in your temporary space.

Morgan McBride

Morgan McBride is a DIY-lover and home decor enthusiast living in Charleston, South Carolina. She has been blogging at CharlestonCrafted.com alongside her husband since 2012, where they empower their readers to craft their current home into their dream home through the power of DIY.