Winners + White Walls

By Kate Riley August 25, 2010

giveaway winnersCongratulations to the following winners:

In the Pine Cone Hill Giveaway, #327: Jessica B. who wrote:

“Lenox, Links, Scramble…oh my, they are all lovely. Thanks !”

The winner of the Wine Country Pantry Giveaway is #79: Rachel F. 


In addition to winning all the goodies, Rachel also posed this question with her entry:  

“As we continue through grad school we are still renting housing and it is becoming a bore, and quite frankly getting me down on my decorating abilities.  White stark walls, cement walls, old dingy cabinets, etc.   What in the world can I do to make this temporary home my own ?”

Great question Rachel!  You have the same dilemma many renters face:  turning white walls into a stylish and comfortable home that you want to return to at day’s end.   There’s not much you can do to dingy cabinets in a rental without permission to paint, beyond giving them a good scrub.  As for white walls ?  There’s a lot that can be done to bring warmth, color, pattern, and style to your abode. 


My Best Tips for Decorating with White Walls: 

Splurge on a Colorful Patterned Rug.   Pick a bold color or interesting design you love, then go for it !  These two examples by Pottery Barn and West Elm are staged on wood floors, but you’ll have a harder time noticing your less than desirable rental flooring with area rugs like these.   Plus, you’ll anchor your seating area and brighten your space.

pb moorish rug

west elm rug and sofas


Use Wallpaper Strategically.   There’s no need to apply wallpaper directly to your walls to make an impact.  Be more creative by applying wallpaper to plywood or a large canvas.  Tacking trim or molding around the perimeter with brad nails finishes the edges and does no more damage than ordinary picture frames or art ~ tiny holes are easily repaired with spackling when moving out. 

wallpaper panels

Or you could starch fabric onto your walls to get a wallpapered look, and remove it when you leave ~ instructions here.


Decorate with Patterned Panels.  White walls are the perfect backdrop to showcase beautiful fabrics.  Introduce pattern and add interest to your windows with your treatments of choice, whether it’s bold color or a subtle graphic design.  

patterned window panels


Accessorize with Fabric and Color.   This is the most obvious, but most effective way to design around your white walled space.   Choose non-neutral furnishings upholstered with colored fabrics, then add pillows, throws, lamps, glass bottles or vases, and fresh flowers ~ these are the simplest ways to bring color into your nest.  

Texture counts too ~ bring in natural fibers like sisal rugs or baskets, soft yarns, and silks.  Don’t forget how easy it is to use spray paint to change the color of just about anything, whether it’s picture frames, lamps, or thrift store finds

 coastal living green and blue sectional


blue and white living room

teal blue furnishings


Paint a Piece of Furniture.   I’m always inspired by furniture makers that offer finishes beyond stained wood, basic black or white finishes.   Take a cue from Somerset Bay, The New Traditionalists, and Oomph ~ paint an ordinary piece with a fresh modern color and marvel how it makes the room. 

sommerset oomph new traditionalists


Swap or Add a Light Fixture.   If it’s the brassy nightmare in the foyer that gets your goat, or the majorly outdated chandelier that you stare at over your breakfast table, consider replacing it.  I highly recommend a professional electrician do the swap for you when your working with someone else’s wires.  You can always make the switch back when you leave, and keep your fancy fixture for your next place. 

If not, keep in mind there are plenty of options for plug-in chandeliers (available at Shades of Light or Lamps Plus) that add style and simply suspend from a ceiling hook.    coloful swag chandys  

Inject Your Personality.  The very best way to turn someone else’s white walls into your  home is to fill it with things that are dear to you.  Your favorite art, pictures of loved ones, your coziest pillows, throws, and collected treasures, fun fabric covered canvases, even whimsical streamers or bunting.   Anything that makes you smile should be your guide.

color and personality

canvases on wall


For Now, Embrace the White.   So you are dying to add color to your walls, but you’re unable.  Paint on the walls adds color and certainly adds drama, but remember that white walls are serene, so don’t see them as plain, see them as a blank canvas to showcase your creativity.   Then accessorize ! 

cottage living white and blue bedroom

 colorful accents 

roland person  


Get Inspired.  Take a cue from bloggers like Nester, Erin, and Jenny who are presently renting, but have never let that stop them from transforming their spaces into homes with personality and plenty of great style.  

nester and jenny images here and here


One final note.  If you find you really really really neeeeeed  to have color on your walls, then ask your property manager if you can paint.  When I was renting an apartment during law school, I asked the manager if I could paint one wall a pale green.  I showed him the paint sample and even agreed to paint it back to white when I left.  He agreed!  

My sister has done the same thing with her rental home of two years.   She approached the landlord with a paint sample and he agreed to let them paint the bedrooms a pale blue, without an agreement to repaint when they leave.  They’re great tenants, and he saw that the new paint could add value.  

If you’ve signed a long term rental, your manager or landlord may agree to allow for painting walls, but he or she may ask for additional security deposit.   If you approach the topic, you may get lucky.   It simply doesn’t hurt to ask !

swirl snip 

Calling all renters, past and present, let’s hear from you.  What’s your best tip for decorating with white walls?   Do share ! 




  1. I WISH my rental had white walls…try butter yellow. Our house has one huge space that we use for the kitchen table, office, living room and play room. The walls are two stories high…so I can’t paint because I can’t physically get up that high. (I could hire someone but that would cost a fortune). White is great! I love the way color pops in a white room.

  2. Wonderful images and advice Kate. I love the rug as an anchor it really sets the tone. I would add a great piece of art as a focal point and the room will be a standout!

    Art by Karena

  3. Great advice! We built our home, so we painted as we liked, but now I’m almost wishing I had white walls again. I’m a huge fan of using colored pieces of furniture, as well as art. More specifically, I’ve found that vintage quilts and textile pieces from my father-in-law who travels overseas add not only interest and color, but personal value also.

  4. Oh my goodness!!!! I think I’m the Jessica B. who won the Pine Cone Hill Giveaway! I am freaking out — how exciting! Thank you so much. I guess I’ll e-mail you to confirm? Geez, I’m going to be very embarrassed if I’m wrong. :)

    Now I need to go read the rest of this post…

  5. Does anyone know where to get the rug in the second photo in this post? The one with blue, green and grey? I think it would be great in my dining room!

  6. Hi Kayduh, the image is from West Elm but after scouring their site, the rug isn’t for sale anymore. Ebay or an outlet is your last resort !


  7. This is all great advice! We live on and Air Force base, and while we could paint our white walls, we could be moving in 6 months, a year, or 5 years, and since we would have to paint them all white when we move out, it just seems like too much work. I like to hang art that appeals to me and works well with the white. It took me a while, but now I love the white, its like a blank canvas for me to take advantage of.

    I had a huge, plain, white wall behind my dining room table and made it into an art installation just recently:

    I also just added a pop of color (similar to your wallpaper idea) in my VERY yawn, white and cheap looking bathroom:

  8. I never painted the walls in my apartments, just hung up lots of framed art and photos. But then I also didn’t care as much about what my space looked like when I was renting. Or even in my last house, for that matter. This blogging thing is the pits; too many fabulous ideas constantly barging into my head!

  9. Just yesterday I contacted the management for my complex to ask if I could paint the bedrooms. The downstairs of the townhouse isn’t too bad – it’s a pale taupe. But the bedrooms are awful. It would be nice if they were WHITE, but they’re dingy creamy whatever. Sadly, I’m stuck. No painting. Looks like I have some investing in textiles ahead of me.

    For art on the wall, I’ve started to go through our vacation pictures to see if I got lucky with any nature shots (which I love) to enlarge and frame. I’ve got enough to get started on a nice collection – now I just have to decide if I want to fork out the cash to get them printed on canvas because that’s pretty spendy!

  10. I have an idea for cabinets! Shelf liner! There are so many new varieties of the stuff (stainless steel, wood grain, solid colors, etc.) you would just need some patience when applying but I think the look could be great.

  11. I have all-white walls in my house–by choice not because its a rental. When we bought this house, I thought, I can not wait to paint. But as we have lived here awhile, I am embracing the white. The house is rather dark–and the white seems to brighten it. Plus I can swap out pillows and accessories for a whole new colorway quite easily. I like you tips about adding a colorful rug or a large piece of art made from fabric or wallpaper– just what I need !

  12. Thank you so much for this post! And what lucky timing for me, I have just been shopping Craigslist and Target for my new apartment! Just like Jessica, I was feeling as if I could not get past the white walls and blah carpet, but this has inspired me to keep going!

  13. As a recent college grad, I understand how difficult it was to live in a dorm or an apartment when you can’t paint the walls! My walls at home are BRIGHT blue and I LOVE COLOR! I love your ideas, and wish that I had read them before I decorated my old apartment…I did my best with hot pink accents and colorful pictures all over the walls! These suggestions are great- and hopefully more college/renters find these suggestions helpful!

  14. I notice Pottery Barn no longer has those vibrant print rugs, and West Elm’s are lacking that pop of color that I’m looking for. Any suggestions on other places to try? Or do you think the bright rugs are a “seasonal” offer?

  15. For years I lived with off white walls by choice. The homes were my own. Now, I don’t have any. I still stay very neutral (dark taupe) but the color adds so much. You have given wonderful ideas on how to warm a home with white walls. Nicely done!

  16. Thanks for all that brilliant inspiration! Those images have certainly brightened my day.
    Our family are serial renters, my Husband’s profession means we are transfered from location to location every 12 – 18 months!
    Colour and texture have been my saviours these past six years of moves. The first thing I do when we arrive in a new house is remove the drapes and put up the ones that I have for each room – if they don’t quiet fit, then out comes the sewing machine and they are ammended to do the job. I seal up the existing drapery and give it to the landlord so that we are not up for drycleaning when we leave, one landlord was so impressed that she purchased the drapery I had installed when we were leaving! I have several bright cut wool rugs that I use and co-ordinated throws and cushions to “lift” the room!
    We have battle everything from plastic fake timber panelling to buttercup yellow walls and so far these tried and true solutions have seen us through!
    Good luck to all the other renters out their trying to make someone elses house their home.

  17. Great ideas on working w/white walls in a rental. But what do you do when your rental has that horrific 70’s brown ‘renters carpet’ that runs through every single inch of your house? :( There is just no escaping it.

  18. I use fabric on curtain rods or stapled to the wall(s). It is cheap and easy, plus can be changed quickly and without too much work. Plus with kids it is easy to wash.

  19. White walls goes well with dark furniture (that’s my notion). With white walls, you have the freedom to play with colors on your furniture and accessories. The second image looks great…..nice post.

  20. Wonderful post! I think you hit the nail on the head with how to work with white walls. All of the rooms you showed are colorful and bold…with white walls. You are good, girl. :)

  21. FANTISTIC ideas for renters who need to add beauty to their space without permanently changing walls, flooring, etc. I am going to tweet this for all of the friends & students I work with who could use some ideas.

  22. After 7+ years of “apartment eggshell” everything, I just broke down and painted, with the notion that 1) it’s easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission, 2) it’s easy enough to revert back to “apartment eggshell” when we leave. BUT… we’ve been in our current apartment for over 3 years and have an incredibly good relationship with the complex manager, so I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone.

    For folks who can’t/won’t take the risk, I can’t say enough about window treatments. It is absolutely amazing what some nice curtains or drapes can do for a room, especially in a color you love.

    Another thing I love to see is a photo grouping – not a collage frame, but several similar frames hung very near to each other with similarly-styled pictures in them, or even maybe not even pictures, but patterned paper/wallpaper/fabric. A friend of mine did something similar not with picture frames, but with inexpensive wooden embroidery hoops in different sizes that she sanded and painted, then stretched pretty fabric in. It’s quite a striking look.

  23. I love this post. Just the boost I needed to add some color to these four white walls. Also want to thank you for linking the Nester. I just clicked over to her 31 Days and was so excited I linked you and her post to my blog. Hope lots of my friends and family visit you both.

  24. Our family rents and LOVES renting!! I get bored so easily and I love being able to move if I am bored! So thats what we do!!

    I tell ya I would KILL for white walls!!! Ours are this weird beige color with pinkish undertones!! It leans more towards a warmer color toned decorating style and thats not my style! I have tried to deal with them but reeeally hate it! But we asked if we could paint and the owner said absolutely not which he is retarded these walls are so beat up and would really help the house if we painted!

    Oh well so I have added a lot of white frames (which you could do, but colored frames to add some color) to make the wall feel whiter! And white accessories again opposite for you!

  25. I was so stoked to see this post!!! I have an apartment that I’m not allowed to paint and this is soooo inspiring and helpful! Thank you!

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