How to Decorate Without Paint

So your landlord says you can’t paint. Bummer. But don’t worry – there are plenty of ways to make your walls unique without painting (which is also useful if you’re a decor commitment-phobe). Here are a few ideas…

Temporary Wallpaper
Wallpaper can make a huge impact on a space, but it’s notoriously difficult to remove – not a great idea for a rental. The solution? Tempaper makes self-adhesive, re-positionable and completely removable wall decor.

Online stockists include Design Public and Amazon. Prices run around $70-$90 a roll (approx. 33′ x 20.5″). It’s not the cheapest solution, but it makes a big impact.

Make Your Own “Wallpaper” with Fancy Masking Tape
Happytape sells gorgeous Japanese washi paper tape from about $3 for a single 50′ roll – perfect for a tighter budget. Jenny at Pearl Street Interiors used their aqua masking tape to create a subtle diamond pattern in her entryway. Genius!

From here

I am thinking of using their gold leaf tape to add a little bit of bling to the stripy wall I recently painted in our master bedroom (I’ll post about that soon). Maybe I’ll also add a diamond pattern to the wall in our dining area – that would be fun.

A slight less renter-friendly option is to use ribbon and thumbtacks like Rita from Design Megillah did. You might be left with a lot of patching to do when you leave, but it sure is pretty!

From here

Use Contact Paper
If you have plaster walls (this method isn’t so great on drywall – it can be hard to remove), contact paper can provide an inexpensive starting point for more interesting walls. Stephanie at Sabbe Interior Design used white contact paper to create a chevron pattern in her rental.

See the tutorial here
Some of the designs are yummy enough to use as-is:

And if you’d rather not stick it on the walls, you can always use it to cover the back of a bookshelf or a china cabinet, like Jesyka at Visual Vocabulary did here:
You can buy contact paper online or at Target, Home Depot, ACE Hardware and many other retailers. It runs between $6-$15 a roll (18″x24′).
Wall Decals
If you have drywall in your place, or you aren’t interested in making your own decals, ready-made decals can be an equally affordable option. They range in price starting from as little as $10. I used one in my son’s room as a temporary solution to fill a big blank wall:
Good sites to search include Amazon, BlikAll Posters and Ferm Living. For kids’ rooms, check out Target, Land of Nod, Pottery Barn Kids and Toys R Us.
This would look perfect in my imaginary baby girl nursery.
And for more adult spaces:
Jazz Up A Kitchen or Bathroom with Tile Stickers
Got a boring back splash? Give it a custom look with tile tattoos from 2Jane ($18 for a set of six).
Starched Fabric Walls
Another alternative to wallpaper – take enough fabric to cover your wall, apply liquid starch with a roller, and stick the fabric to the wall like Kim Myles did here. When it’s time to move, dampen the fabric with a sponge and it’ll come right off again (so she says).
You could also use decorative thumb tacks to secure fabric to the wall for even easier removal.
There’s really no end to the options. You could also think about using a decorative light switch plate cover to add a pop to plain white walls. Hopefully some of these ideas will inspire you to take a no-paint ban as encouragement rather than a deterrent to your creativity! Happy decorating!


  1. May 31, 2011 / 12:24 pm

    Hi, great advise but other than masking tape (of which I can only find that yucky beigy one) do we have any of those other things in England? It's so hard – I LOVE reading all these fantastic crafty blogs but can never find the necessary equipment here – GRRRR! As a fellow Brit, I thought maybe you'd know…? x

  2. May 31, 2011 / 1:34 pm

    Hi bluebellbunny. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂 Good question. I know you can definitely buy liquid starch and Contact paper (but it goes by "sticky back plastic" in the UK). I'll look into it and do a Brit-linked version of this post soon!

  3. May 31, 2011 / 4:58 pm

    Ooooo that would be SOOO brilliant, you're the best! x

  4. August 15, 2011 / 6:12 pm

    I've done the starched fabric thing, and while I love it, I can see that it'll be impossible to wash the shiny marks from the starch solution off the walls once I pull off the fabric. And the paint is so cheap that wiping too hard rubs off the paint…! Sigh.

  5. August 15, 2011 / 7:54 pm

    Hi Jennifer. Thanks for that – I was curious to see if anyone had tried it and if it was successful. Definitely good to know that clean up isn't as easy as I thought! (Although that also sucks – I really wanted to try this one myself.)

  6. February 13, 2014 / 8:24 am

    Thank you for the most creative and easy ideas for adding color when it's not allowed by painting. Far superior to other sites. We found a cute home to rent with lovely colors going throughout the home. Unfortunately the owner painted every room eggshell! I offered a higher deposit, painting it back etc. but he still refused! Color is very important to me because I'm on bed rest and an awful lot of my days are simply looking at colorless and sterile walls that remind me of the hospital! I am definitely going with the tape but also hope to do the wallpaper screen. Is there any reason I couldn't do the same with paint instead of wallpaper? Only would need better wood, I think. ! I also might use the same screen to use cloth and ribbon behind my bed! I cannot thank you enough! Just a few hours ago my husband said we wouldn't live there because I need paint/color to be truly happy and make it a home. I don't want to be the cause of us losing a home that's a great size and even better location. I cannot wait until morning to tell my husband there are answers!! Thank you is just not enough!!