by Paul Coates
Until about four years ago, I had been a renter my entire adult life (and we’re talking over thirty five years). In Los Angeles I lived in multiple student-appropriate places during college, then moved to New York (and moved IN New York seven times in six years!). After returning to L.A. in 1992, I relocated to San Francisco for six months, met my future husband, we headed back to the City of Angels …and lived in six different places over a decade or so, before finally being able to afford to buy the home we now live in.
There was not a single rented apartment or small home I didn’t fix up while living in it. There’s an argument about how little or how much one should “waste” their money on, in a rented home. It was never an option for me. We rented a stunning mid-century home in the San Rafael hills in Western Pasadena, CA – this was literally the only place that didn’t need work. And even there, I totally landscaped the grounds, furnished the several terraces with potted plants, a cage of white doves, espaliered apple trees, water features, rustic rain barrels, and outdoor furniture.
One home we rented near the Hollywood Bowl had been built in 1913, and was desperate for a makeover. We worked with the landlord to refurbish the entire thing, adding french doors, a farmhouse sink, new eaves, a new roof – and I spent almost ten thousand dollars designing and planting a full English Cottage garden, with perennials, edibles, topiaries, citrus, walkways and arbors. When we moved to Pasadena, I carefully took all the most cherished plants with us and potted them, creating a beautiful “potted garden” on the terrace overlooking Old Town Pasadena. Once we moved here to the Hollywood Manor, everything went in the ground, finally, and for good.
The question is… how much is too much, when making a rented home your own? The answer is, with the landlord’s consent (occasionally without, shhhh…), do whatever you like! These days our quality of life is sometimes the only thing we have control over. Work is work, it comes and goes, you get promoted or you might get laid off. Our climate is in the shitter, the global situation is in a shambles, terrorism rules (off and on), and don’t get me started on the latest Presidential Election season. I want to come home to a place of harmony, a peaceful, special, tranquil escape from the calamities of the day. Don’t you? So if I want gray walls, if I want to paint over crappy, cheap kitchen cabinets, if I want to faux a stunning houndstooth feature wall in my bedroom – I’m doing it.
A few tips…
- Paint is pretty cheap. And if you have to return it to hideous “Swiss Coffee” or “Desert Sand” like when you moved in, you can. I choose to forego a bit of my security deposit.
- Make sure any high end “buys” are things that are classic, won’t become dated, and you can take with you. Furniture, chandeliers, specialty trees and plants, water features – all of these can follow you in a moving truck, and upgrade your next place.
- LEARN HOW to do things. Go on YouTube, research, get a Fix-It book, but learn how. Make mistakes, enjoy the process, you’ll save so much money and you will have amazing bragging rights around the Christmas table! “I made this Christmas table!”
- When in doubt, go gray. Or shades of gray (maybe not fifty, though). I think muted colors are always best – the star should be YOU and your friends and family, not the room. You should be the color. Same with a great meal, make the plates white so the food stands out!
At the end of the day, it sometimes feels like all we have is our home. And buying in a good neighborhood can take decades to save for a downpayment. It doesn’t make any sense to get by, to put up with, to turn away until you can afford it – PAINT, for heaven’s sake. Strip a built-in cabinet, refinish a floor, replace some windows, be careful, but do it, and don’t worry about the money – this sounds perhaps a little too zen, but… if you love where you are living, your entire spirit changes and wonderful things can and will happen for you.
Paint, I say unto thee…. PAINT.