Food & Drink

Before & After: I Gave My Dining Nook a Renter-Friendly Refresh for Just $381

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When it comes to small-space living, there are few places that prepare you better than New York City. There, the kitchens span a single (tiny) wall, your elbows bump the edges of your shower — and in some apartments, you can lay on the floor of the bedroom, reach out your arms, and touch both walls.

So when I moved into my West Hollywood one-bedroom apartment in March 2019, fresh off of a decade in New York City, I was so completely baffled by the strange little area off of our kitchen. I’d lived in such small spaces in Manhattan that I’d forgotten some people have a whole separate room for eating. A dining room, I think they call it.

Ours — I live here with my boyfriend, Tao — has lovely crown moulding and wainscoting, which is a big part of what drew me to the space. But other than that, it was blank, featureless, and honestly a bit intimidating to me from a decorating point of view. The lighting is a plain but reliable black ceiling fan; the flooring is a porous stone in mottled shades of peach and tan. It wasn’t exactly cheery.

By the time the pandemic kicked into full gear last March, we’d already lived here for a year, and the most effort I’d made in the room was purchasing a gorgeous wooden table and matching benches with hairpin legs from a weekly outdoor market in our neighborhood called the Melrose Trading Post. But as we spent more and more hours at home, I felt my attention increasingly pulled to the bare walls.

We’re renters, so painting was out of the question. But a removable stick-on wallpaper held promise — I felt sure that once something was on the walls, the direction of the room would fall into place.

I wanted something sunny and cheerful for the light-filled spot, and after a few weeks of searching, the pattern that finally caught my eye was one of blossoming lemon boughs against a pale blue background (the Lemon Zest Peel and Stick Wallpaper in Blue from RoomMates Decor). My plan was to go just two-thirds of the way down the wall, to the wainscoting, so I took my measurements and got four rolls ($165 with shipping) — one more than I needed, but given that this was my first wallpapering project, I figured there was a lot that could potentially go awry.

As it turns out, I’m glad I hedged my bets. I suspect that the pattern is measured out for the sizing of full-length walls, because every time I went to start a new row, I had to trim about a foot or more from the roll to make the pattern match up. Thankfully, I had enough, and was able to use many of those cut portions to fill in gaps at the bottom or to fix errors.

The wallpapering itself took me about three hours of solo work — as a Virgo, I’m loathe to accept help even from my partner — and just as I’d hoped, once I got the walls decorated, it started to inspire me even further. To finish out the space, I added a brass mirror from Target, and a complementary round gold bar cart. I use the top to display liquor bottles, some cut glassware, a faux IKEA plant, and my favorite candle atop some cookbooks; the bottom shelf is a perfect spot for wine bottles.

And for my beloved table, I’ve found what sets the wallpaper off best is a simple plant. This one is a faux fern from Target that arrived with its pot mostly shattered, resulting in me getting it for free. Total cost for my mini upgrade: $381, with the paper and the bar cart making up almost all of that.

There are still more things I’d love to do in this room, but as the months pass, the wallpaper in particular has given me more and more joy. In particular, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how effectively it transitions through the seasons. (Or what passes for seasons here in LA, at least.) During the summer, the orbs of yellowy fruit glowed in the golden hour light, while now, the chilly mornings set off the white blossoms and cool background, like a squeeze of winter citrus. 

I’m looking forward to seeing how it takes to spring, as well, and now I can’t imagine my dining room any other way.

Inspired? Submit your own project here.

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