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Practical ways to make an apartment feel like home

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Courtesy of Jesse Italia srl
An alternative to a walk-in closet is a “walk-in cabinet.” This modular clothing storage system provides self-supporting rods, shelves, drawers and cubbies.

Over my 30-plus years as an interior designer, there are many questions I’m consistently asked. For readers with a burning design question or two, or those frustrated with sorting through the myriad online information available without finding an applicable solution, perhaps a direct question-and-answer column on the subject matter will be helpful.

In my new “Ask a Designer” column, I’ll be answering some of those questions, based on years of experience problem-solving in commercial and residential design. I also invite questions from readers, which I may answer in a future column.

Q: What can a renter do to make an apartment feel more like a home than a “rental”?

A: A good approach is to think about what you can do rather than what you cannot do in a rental home. Consider nonpermanent elements in addition to furniture.

One way to add height to a room is to group a variety of pots together that are different shapes and heights. Bring in some lush greenery with living “rubber” plants, as they are commonly called. These originate from Southeast Asia and can grow upward of 100 feet tall there. The domesticated versions we see locally are between 6 and 10 feet tall.

Pots can be sourced at a variety of local places, from Maria’s European Lifestyle at 393 Main St. for more unusual metal options as well as traditional painted ceramics to Los Altos Hardware at 441 First St., which offers outdoor planters that can easily work inside.

There are no strict rules.

Another option for adding height is a floor lamp. While these cost more than a table lamp on average, they can be very sculptural in design, which will elevate the drama factor as well as provide more functional reading or ambient lighting.

You can create a more custom look by installing modular bookshelves and media cabinets that hang, or “float,” on a wall, rather than plopping a bookshelf or media cabinet directly onto the floor. It takes the right composition on the wall for the elements to appear balanced and for a large TV screen to be integrated into that composition. This provides a more permanent look and feel, even though it can be removed down the road. The same floating concept applies to any type of storage system, for living rooms, dining rooms, offices or bedrooms.

An alternative to a walk-in closet is what furniture manufacturer Jesse Italia calls a “walk-in cabinet.” This modular clothing storage system provides self-supporting rods, shelves, drawers and cubbies. While the back panels should be screwed to the wall, all of the fittings are supported by the back panels only. They are available in various colors, widths and heights to fit into your space.

Time to move? They can be taken down and the back panels removed. Once the screw holes are filled and the wall paint is touched up, there will be no sign of the chic custom closet that was once there. In a new location, the same fittings can be laid out differently to suit other wall lengths.

Another temporary design option is removable wall coverings. offers fun patterns that can be ordered online. They are self-sticking, so that’s another benefit – no messy glue.

Don’t forget about area rugs if you are living with hard-surface floors. These are fantastic ways to create or continue a theme.

Available in many sizes, all price points and almost endless color combinations and designs, rugs not only add much-needed flavor to a room, but comfort and softer acoustics as well.

Q: Our kitchen feels dark and outdated. All of the cabinets are dark. Is painting them a light color the way to go?

A: While painting the cabinets might be a quick solution for some kitchens, the condition of cabinets may influence that decision. When the cabinet boxes and drawers are still in good working condition, painting may be an easier option to save time and cost, over a complete remodel with all new cabinets.

Should there be a flat, fixed part of the cabinet showing between the doors and drawers of at least half an inch, that is called a “face frame” style. This style, even when painted a lighter color, will still have a more traditional appearance. The lighter color, though, will update the overall feeling in the kitchen and make it appear fresher.

For visual interest and to provide a more unique character to your kitchen, a section of the cabinets, either uppers or lowers, can be left darker or painted a contrasting color. Keep the demarcation line of the light and dark cabinets aligned top and bottom and in balance with the other darker colors in the room.

For wood cabinets that have been painted over, it is possible to remove the paint, however the process is much more labor-intensive. This would involve carefully sanding off all of the paint, then priming, then staining if another color is desired, and finally sealing the wood. A similar design concept can apply, with a portion of the wood cabinetry exposed, while a section can remain painted. Layering in a unique and updated light fixture will help your cabinetry face-lift look more like a major update.

Sherry Scott is a Certified Interior Designer in California, professional member of the American Society of Interior Designers and proprietor of Sherry Scott Design in downtown Los Altos, 169 Main St. Email questions to [email protected] For more information, visit

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