Small Projects + DIY

3 renter-friendly TikTok tricks to refresh your apartment

  • TikTok creators share lots of DIY projects but make sure you don't put your security deposit at risk
  • You can use peel-and-stick tiles to upgrade your kitchen, add an accent wall, or spruce up your patio
Celia Young Headshot
By Celia Young  |
July 13, 2023 - 12:30PM
A kitchen backsplash decorated with green tiles.

Julian Thomas refreshed his kitchen with green peel-and-stick tiles, gaining him 2.3 million views on TikTok.

Julian Thomas

If you have rented in New York City, you’re probably intimately familiar with the boxy layout of an empty apartment drenched in “landlord white.” And if you’ve recently moved into a new place, you may be eager to upgrade from handyman-grade lights and blank walls.

Luckily, there are renter-friendly, do-it-yourself video creators posting on TikTok, offering plenty of tips and tricks to help make your NYC apartment feel like a home. But before diving into what could be hours of scrolling through DIY videos, make sure to read your lease so you understand what changes you can and cannot make. 

A good rule of thumb is don’t do anything you can’t undo. In general, you can make smaller upgrades—like painting, swapping out light fixtures, putting up shelves or pictures—as long as you return the apartment to its original condition when you move out. (That includes repainting if you decide to ditch your off-white walls).

If you’re not sure if your landlord would be alright with a change, it doesn’t hurt to ask, says Yaro Zuarich, a Home Depot marketing analyst and DIY TikToker.

“Always check with your landlord,” Zuarich says. “You don’t want to destroy the property, you don't want to cause damage to any walls, and you definitely don't want to compromise yourself in the process.”

Most leases will prohibit renovations like adding wallpaper or finishing floors, and it’s generally a good idea to patch up any holes from paintings or shelves before leaving your place to make sure you get your security deposit back. (Speaking of which, your landlord is required to return your deposit within 14 days of your move-out, and must supply an itemized receipt if they withhold part of your deposit to make repairs.)

Keep reading to learn more about three of Brick’s favorite renter-friendly DIY ideas.

Refresh your kitchen without getting kitschy

Your kitchen backsplash might not take up a lot of room, but giving it a little color can make your apartment pop—not to mention cover up any awkward styling choices from a previous renter.

Redecorating your backsplash—aptly named for the splash zone of your dirty dishwater—also presents a perfect opportunity to give the area a good scrub before replacing it with less of an eye sore.

Bushwick-based freelancer and TikToker Julian Thomas recently covered his kitchen backsplash with iridescent green tiles to make his orange cookware stand out. 

“It is absolutely my favorite renter-friendly DIY that I’ve done,” Thomas says. “And once I move I can easily just peel them off and put them on some wax paper for the next place.”

Thomas has rented five apartments in NYC—all within a two-block radius of each other—since moving to Gotham 15 years ago. At his last rental, his landlord actually paid him for some of his renovations because the owner was able to upcharge the new tenants as a result of the upgrades he did, Thomas says. 

While updating your kitchen backsplash might not line your pockets with cash, it will help perk up your apartment.

@marfastewart And for my next (renter-friendly #HomeDIY) trick…..I’ll make my boring kitchen backsplash disappear. #kitchenmakeoveronabudget #renterfriendly #peelandsticktile #backsplashideas ♬ POOF BE GONE - KyleYouMadeThat

If you’re at a loss of what to buy, here are some of Brick Underground’s recommendations on peel and stick tiles.

Mirror, mirror on the accent wall

Let’s face it, plain, white walls are boring. A blank wall looks unfinished, especially in a cramped NYC apartment where there’s more stuff than space.

An accent wall can be a great way to make your apartment feel more unique, and incorporating mirrors will help add more light to a room and make it feel larger. In a city known for its lack of square footage, a little smoke and mirrors can go a long way.

You can use velcro peel-and-stick strips to attach light-weight wooden boards to your wall to create texture. You can also center those strips around mirrors to add a focal point to the wall.

@ms_fambro Replying to @bossmom609 Yall asked for this tutorial. I hope it helps 😁🥰

Make sure you’re using the correct strips for the weight of what you’re hanging and that you follow the instructions to remove them to avoid accidentally chipping any paint. Thomas recommends Command Strips, which we at Brick have seen used to mount everything from a magnetic knife holder to decorative lights.

Think outside the box for your patio

If you’re one of the lucky few in NYC to have an outdoor patio, firstly, why haven’t you invited us over for drinks? Secondly, did you know that a DIY trick can turn your patio into a comfortable seating space without sacrificing storage space?

That trick is something Zuarich discovered when he was looking to spruce up his Atlanta, Ga. condo’s balcony. Because of his strict homeowner association rules, Zuarich couldn’t make any major changes to the patio. Luckily, he had found an obsession with renter-friendly DIYs during the pandemic.

“I wasn’t allowed to paint, to drill or to do lighting outside, so I had to get very creative,” Zuarich says. “I wanted something that serves a purpose but also looks pretty to the eye… I had this vision in my head of an L-shaped bench but to have the bench also work as a storage unit.”

His DIY is fairly complicated. Zuarich built three box benches to give him extra storage space outside and covered them with pillows and blankets to keep the patio both accessible and aesthetically pleasing. (Renters looking for an easier hack can also purchase furniture that comes equipped with storage, but what’s the fun in that?)

@yaro__zuarich Everything was primed and treated for outdoors

When attempting any DIY—from bathroom to balcony—Zuarich says go big. Pick bright lights and funky colors, and don’t be afraid to test things out. After all, it’s a renter-friendly DIY. You can always undo it.  

“With a bit of research we can all achieve incredible results regardless of whatever space we are working with,” Zuarich says.


Celia Young Headshot

Celia Young

Senior Writer

Celia Young is a senior writer at Brick Underground where she covers New York City residential real estate. She graduated from Brandeis University and previously covered local business at the Milwaukee Business Journal, entertainment at Madison Magazine, and commercial real estate at Commercial Observer. She currently resides in Brooklyn.

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