How One Designer Transformed a Drab Palm Beach Rental Apartment Into a Beachy Showpiece That Feels Like Forever
While nearly every designer might tell you that their dream job most definitely comes with complete creative freedom, in reality, it’s the rare design project that doesn’t come with at least a few caveats. Sometimes, a client just needs to have that antique doll collection displayed front and center. And other times, constraints come not from a demanding client but from one’s very own landlord.
That’s what Caitlin Kah, a designer at Palm Beach’s Kemble Interiors, encountered when she began the hunt for a South Florida starter apartment to share with her then-soon-to-be-husband. As most rentals do, the apartment they found came with some less-than-desirable traits (think builder-grade ceramic floors and a canvas of blah beige paint) and a contract barring any permanent (or semi-permanent) alterations. Luckily, Kah focused on the space’s strengths—it “had good light and was bright and happy,” she says—and channeled her design prowess to create a home that feels fun, fresh, and totally Florida. Here, Kah shares how she turned basic into beautiful in five simple steps.
Dress Up the Windows
In addition to framing views and bringing natural light in, windows often serve as the focal point for an entire room—and drab vertical blinds almost never do a duty like that justice. Since the blinds in this apartment were easy to remove, Kah swapped them throughout for an easy, breezy alternative. “Window treatments were a game changer—just the addition of something soft on the windows really made a big difference in transforming the space,” she says. “We purchased pre-made white linen curtains from Restoration Hardware and then added a fun trim from the Fringe Market to make them more our own.” Because it was a ground-floor apartment, Kah also added privacy-boosting woven shades underneath, which have an added bonus of blocking morning light without completely blacking out the room.
Soften the Landing
In Kah’s apartment, area rugs served a dual purpose of adding cushion to the hard ceramic floors and bringing cohesion to the separate spaces. “In small one- or two- bedroom apartments, I often use the same rugs from room to room as it can make the apartment feel a little larger with the continuation of the same material,” she says. As a nod to her Florida locale, Kah opted for natural colored jute, which is “softer than sisal but has a similar look.” “They are really grounding and somewhat neutral which gives you a lot of flexibility for your art and pillows,” she says.
Swap Paint for Accessories You Love
In a rental home, big-impact changes like painting or retiling a kitchen backsplash are typically off limits.
Thankfully, these aren’t the only modifications you can make with major results. To counter the all-neutral palette of the rental, Kah added pops of color through artwork and accessories. Many of the pieces, including the four palm prints here, were sourced through local art fairs or antique shops, adding a personal spin to the apartment. Aside from the artwork, Kah says that some of the best ways to make a rental feel like your own also happen to be the easiest and cheapest. Her go-tos? “Lots of flowers in beautiful vases, books, and framed photos.”
Not all walls call for traditional artwork. As a fun (and super beachy!) alternative in the living room, Kah hung a collection of woven hats and bags she’d collected over the years from Palm Beach and on her travels. “I love displaying bags and hats as art, particularly because there was not a lot of storage in our small apartment and because they are too pretty to stuff away in a closet,” she says. “I also love the dimensional aspect of having some pieces on your wall that are not flat!”
Invest in Forever Pieces
While some items—like window treatments, throw pillows, and books—are designed for transitioning with the seasons, styles, or personal tastes, others should be mainstays that travel with you from one home to the next and, ultimately, make a new space feel a little more like you. Kah suggests investing “in a few key pieces that you can take with you to your next home. For us, that was a nice comfy sofa that grounded the living room and a custom upholstered headboard in our master.” And, when searching for that perfect piece, don’t rush the process, says Kah. “There may be a certain piece you can visualize—maybe it’s vintage and you can’t find it anywhere at the moment. But I promise if you wait it out, continue to look on Chairish (or your favorite site for great vintage finds), and keep an open mind, you will find that one piece you’ve been searching for.”