10 ways to dress up your walls without paint

March 23 |

Whether you can't paint because you're renting, or don't want to because it's a hassle, fear not! Here are ten ways to change your walls without painting them.

Starched fabric

kimono template
Photo by Elaphurus. Used under Creative Commons license.
You can pick out a lively roll of fabric (hi, Mexican oilcloth!), soak it in starch, and adhere it to the wall. It's purported to be easy to remove, though I don't even have secondhand experiences with that. Here's a simple tute using spray starch.

Vinyl decals

IMG_2390
Photo by Abby Batchelder. Used under Creative Commons license.
They're all the craze. Available on Etsy, Amazon, and any number of other places.

Shelves

By: Tim CroweCC BY 2.0

Use appropriately-proportioned shelves to add color, movement and interest to icky walls.

Shelves are also awesome because you can always change up what's ON them… rainbow-sorted books, anyone?

Bamboo blinds

By: Emily MayCC BY 2.0

Check your neighborhood Asian groceries — mine has an aisle of traditional hats, rice cookers, utensils, tatami mats and bamboo window shades. They sometimes have landscapes painted on them — and they get pretty large, pretty inexpensively!

Mirrors

Finished Convex Mirror for Kelly's Birthday
Photo by Morticide. Used under Creative Commons license.
Find a big mirror with an interesting shape or group smaller, less expensive mirrors together. Mirrors also add light and space to the room.

Start a collection

Skateboards
Photo by israel-avila. Used under Creative Commons license.
My friend Suzana has a plate wall. She's tightly grouped plates to make a dynamic and colorful swoosh in her kitchen. Each plate is worth looking at, and she now often receives additional plates as gifts.

ART

Our kitchen table
6 wolf by Chris Roberts.
Okay, so this one's simple, right? Whether you frame a poster, make something, or buy an original, art adds a LOT of life to a wall.

No art? How about photos?

Photo Arrangement
Photo by palindrome6996. Used under Creative Commons license.
Print a few choice photos and spend an afternoon thrifting for frames. Mix or match or spraypaint — whatever works for you.

Ribbons or tape

Lenore shared her tape-and-tacks project on the Flickr Group:
all finished!

3M Strips

If you need to limit the holes you leave, peruse 3M's line of removable strips. I've done SO MANY THINGS with them (weirdest? Built a removable window screen) and have had good luck with their tack. You could hang framed work or use them to hang a whole panel of fabric.

That's all I've got. What'd I miss? How have you solved the I-don't-wanna-paint/my-landlord-is-a-bummer blues?

  1. Oooh! These are great! I'm mostly just too lazy to paint … I've always wanted to try the starched fabric …

    10 agree
    • How did you hang the fabric to the walls? do you need a staple gun along with the starch?

      2 agree
      • Nope. No staple gun. All you do is drench the fabric and stick it to the wall. We have done this in every rental we have had for the past decade. In my son's nursery, we cut out waves for along the bottom of the walls since his room was pirate themed. The trick is to work with small panels/sections so they go up smoothly. I would be totally up for a tutorial if anyone was interested ;)

        3 agree
    • Be aware that fabric can hold Oder longer, smoke, burnt food other users can linger bc of the fabric.

      0 agree
  2. Tapestries! Like the kind you buy in head shops. When we moved in the previous tenants had painted the entire living room a horrifying shade of green and the landlord never repainted, so me and my hippyish roommates dug out a bunch of those big fabric tapestries you find in head shops to hang up.

    4 agree
  3. There is a trippy hippy coffee house in our arts district downtown. One of their rooms is lined (no other word for it) with a hot air balloon. Yup. Tacked to the ceiling. Walls that are not covered by that got covered in saris, sarongs, and yards upon yards of tulle.

    5 agree
  4. In our old rentals, Husband and I sticky-tacked our 10-year-long postcard collection that we started together-apart in college (started as 2 collections at the same time that eventually merged). It took up a whole large wall, and was great to look at for hours!

    6 agree
  5. 3M Strips will save the world!

    Something I've always wanted to try: a line of fringe, feathers, and various floral stick things hanging from the ceiling pointed down the wall. Painter's tape? Steal the things between two strips of duct tape (sticky sides in), then pin the duct tape to the wall?

    Another idea I saw was just covering the walls in banner paper. INSTANT REMOVABLE PAINT.

    1 agrees
  6. Tape art!
    Living in the dorms at an art college, tape art is everywhere! Masking/painters tape comes in every color imaginable, so what you make is literally limited only by your creativity. Like vinyl decals, but much cheaper.

    2 agree
  7. so, it may not be terribly helpful in other rooms, but i've found that awesome towels do wonders to dress up a crummy bathroom. especially a tiny, crummy bathroom.

    the rental fix: at my old apartment it was just bright, red towels that gave a bit of color to the teensy-tiny room (and by proxy, to the kitchen, which it was off of.

    the "we can't afford to gut the falling-apart bathroom" fix: now i've got pin-up girl appliqued towels that i hang over the shower-curtain bar when we have guests.

    2 agree
    • I love the pin up girl idea. We have pin up girl stuff all over our room. I love love love it!

      1 agrees
  8. I love the ribbon idea!
    I read another good one that Voltaire published in 'Paint it Black: A Guide to Gothic Homemaking' where you hang curtains [or just lengths of pretty fabric *lace!*] along the walls. Works great for a bedroom or something.

    0 agree
  9. my roomie and i have record covers on our walls. we just put some nails in to hold them in place. it looks really cool with our wood paneled walls. plus, when we have someone new over, we can gauge how cool they are by whether the appreciate Bowie or not ;)

    4 agree
  10. These ideas are great! I'd love feedback if anyone has actually done the starched fabric before; I've read about it, but never attempted it. We have horrible flowered wallpaper in our newly-moved-into apartment's bedroom that I'd love to cover, but I'm hesitant to use starch in case it damages the paper (although that wouldn't be such a bad thing, in my opinion)

    I've been considering getting a bunch scrapbooking cardstock on sale, maybe a few different colour-coordinated patterns, and essentially using them as tiles and either sticky-tacking them or using tiny clear pins or something to cover up the wallpaper. Then you could just change it up whenever it got boring. And cardstock is a bit thicker, so the wallpaper underneath wouldn't show through and it would be a bit more hard-wearing.

    2 agree
  11. OMG. Beige walls make me angry… I like walls to be bold and cheerful. But the little rent house is perfect except for ugly paint so here we are.

    I nailed a big rug to the wall behind the couch. We put up a 4'x8' dry erase marker board ($12 for the unframed sheet of bathboard) in the dining room. There's art all over the place. I dyed our old arm chair bright turquoise, hung multi-colored pom poms from the ceiling, and tacked up christmas lights and bunting.

    All of that stuff helps but it's still pretty freakin beige in here.

    1 agrees
  12. My favorite way of "decorating" walls – put book shelves in front of them. ^^

    9 agree
  13. I just did a huge abstract string art installation on the wall with pushpins directly on the wall and wool. It is easy and fun to make and looks great in a 70s sort of way.

    0 agree
  14. I've heard of purchasing wallpaper samples and adhering them to panels as well. I bet that would look cool. I hate my rental-white walls.

    1 agrees
  15. You could get some cheap, lightweight stretcher bars from an art or craft supply store (like what painters stretch canvas over) and staple pretty fabric around them and hang them up. Fairly inexpensive, easy to hang, removable, and you can make it as large as you want. Hang multiples on one wall to really cover the space, and maybe pin some unframed photos or artwork to the fabric.

    4 agree
  16. You can buy all sorts of forms of chalkboards, whether it's paint that you put on something or reusable decal type pieces, which means you can constantly be changing your decor. If you do something big you can have ever-changing murals! And a place to leave notes. We had a big blackboard in my house growing up and it was a blast.

    Also, I've decorated using tarot-type cards that were done by Brian Froud (my fave artist). I now have 2 decks and need to get some of those up again. They're small, so you can do all sorts of awesome things with them and because they're thick you can use sticky tack and not have it soak oil through and damage the front.

    0 agree
  17. Not to be an eco-Debbie Downer, but is there an alternative to vinyl decals? They look really cool and are reusable, but manufacturing vinyl is really bad for the environment, vinyl factory workers and neighbors of the factories. http://www.bluevinyl.org/PVC.pdf I try to buy the vinyl alternative product (like PEVA or fabric shower curtains) whenever possible.

    1 agrees
  18. I saw a really cool idea in a store window in downtown Seattle. It was basically strips of random, colorful fabric tied between rows of cotton string. You could use any old fabric you can find and make it as big as you want. I'm thinking about it for our master bedroom, but haven't made any kind of attempt yet.

    1 agrees
  19. I used three of 3M's removable hooks to hang a few yards of fabric as bedroom curtains.
    Simple and you can change the look of the room rather cheaply with clearance fabric.

    0 agree
  20. I had these really ugly wooden cabinet doors built into the walls of one of my old apartments. They made the room even darker than it was, so I went out and got a nice light shade of wrapping paper and covered them with it. That project cost me $10 and 30 mins. And when I moved out, I had the all the fun of opening presents when I had to take it down.

    0 agree
  21. i've been a bit wary of the vinyl decals – has anyone here used them and can tell me if they actually come off as cleanly as they claim to? I've used 3M strips and hooks before that have ripped paint off of walls when i tried to take them off, and i don't know anyone who's used the decals and can vouch for them so i'm a bit wary of trusting them… recommendations?

    0 agree
  22. O please please please if your renting do not do the fabric starch thing. I ran into this once when I was managing a old building in seattle. The owners brother had treated the walls to a hideous pink floral pattern with starch then let it sit in the amazing sunlight for a good 5 years.

    Needless to say it took me almost a week to repair the walls in a 700sq/ft apartment… Paint please… fabric NO!

    1 agrees
  23. Vacantmuse, I don't think the vinyl is as sticky as 3M. I've moved my son's Blik Studio decals to three different spaces and in a ton of different configurations with no problem. Maybe test your wall with something small first?

    What a bummer for your building, Sparks! I've never had problems with starched fabric either but maybe it depends a bunch on conditions (original paint, sunlight, time). I'd be so sad without my fabric trees!

    0 agree
  24. You can make your own removable wall decals out of Con-tact paper!!!

    0 agree
  25. So do these all apply to plaster walls as well? Our house was built in 1940 an everything is plaster, and I've been told that even putting nails in the walls for pictures can be precarious, because whole chunks of the wall can come out. Any suggestions?

    0 agree
    • I have 1950s plaster, and I'd do any of these in my house.

      Re:Plaster and nails. SO FAR I'm fine with nails. I have been in shittier buildings and had whole chucks of plaster come out just when hitting the nail, but I think that's a result of a crappy plastering job. You can usually tell the difference right away — try tapping in a nail inside a closet and see how it goes?

      Smaller stuff on one brad (with a little picture hanger sometimes), larger stuff (up to a painting on a 2×2 panel on veneer birch, about 6 pounds) on two brads.

      I think for traditional art — stuff in heavy frames with matting — you'd have to worry about chipping. For those, pre-drill a hole through the plaster and into a stud. INTO A STUD, I SAY! Use a larger nail or a wood screw to hang the thinger.

      0 agree
  26. Starting a collection is a great idea. All our guitars are hung up, which not only decorates the living room, but keeps them out of our way.

    0 agree
  27. Unfortunately, as a renter, I cannot implement anything but free-standing shelves. Painting is not allowed, wall hangings, pictures pretty much anything that requires a hole to be made is forbidden, its disappointing when you cant "live" in a place because of all these restrictions.
    I own property which I rent out, I made sure that it had plenty of hooks on the walls for pictures, shelves installed and extra hooks in the bathroom for guest towels, robes etc. And made sure that if a tenant wanted anything extra added or put up then all they had to do was seek permission and have it properly installed. All the tenants have been happy, I get slightly higher than average rent than the others in my area with the same townhouse, as I am a more relaxed property owner.

    0 agree

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