Don't be reluctant about asking the landlord what you can and can't do with the space - you might be surprised. Most are fine with painting, hanging wall decorations and replacing existing window treatments and light fixtures, as long as you return the apartment to its original state when you move. A little paint, throughout the whole apartment or just on one wall, can make a world of difference in terms of how you feel about your space.
Don't Ignore Lighting
Lighting is an inexpensive way to decorate and instantly improve the atmosphere of a rented space. First things first: Change out that hideous overhead light fixture that casts a stark, unattractive light on everything. In its place, put up a chandelier or any fixture that expresses your own style. Dimmer lights are great for controlling the ambience, and canister lamps placed on the floors wash light up the walls.
Don't Resign Yourself to Rectangles
Many apartments are large rectangles where dining- and living-room spaces are in a line, creating a bowling-alley look. To cure this malady, divide each space into boxes based on functionality into boxes. A large plant, large artwork, a bookcase or a curio can be used to divide the space into halves. Curves can also take the edges off a boxy room. Think round tables, chairs and other furnishings.
Don't Hide Your Bed
Of course, you can tuck the bed into a wall (there are fabulous new takes on Murphy beds) or a couch or block it with drapes, screens or bookcases, but there's another, more daring option: Put it in the center of the room.
Accessories, fabrics, artwork, rugs, light fixtures, drapes, mirrors — they all add wonderful style to a rented space and are all wonderfully portable. Bare walls can be dressed and undressed with moldings that you add for architectural distinction or stick-on wallpapers and decals. And items that stimulate the senses can also contribute to making an impersonal space personal.