How to Add Color to Your Walls Without Painting

A wall with furniture and a wall hanging

Simone Anne/Stocksy United/Public Domain

One of the most frustrating parts of renting is when you can’t paint the walls. Navaho white and builder’s beige are rarely flattering to your decor. Don’t become resigned to living in a vanilla space. Instead, use these renter-friendly tricks (such as curtains to cover walls) to add color to your space.

Hang Fabric as Wallpaper

Few landlords who prohibit painting will let you wallpaper instead, but you can get a vibrant, patterned wallpapered look by hanging fabric on your walls with liquid starch. It's completely reversible—and you won’t lose your security deposit when it’s time to move. You can even recycle the fabric as window or bed treatments in your next space.

Save money by shopping for discounted yardage such as remnants. There’s no need to pay full price for fabric. With remnants, you can buy designer fabrics for pennies on the dollar just because it’s the end of the bolt. Be sure to buy extra yardage for pattern matching if you select a medium- to large-scale design.

Cover Walls with Curtains

If you prefer the sumptuous look of draped fabric, cover one of your walls with curtains. They should span from floor to ceiling and from wall to wall. In addition to adding color, they'll muffle some noise from neighboring apartments.

If you’re covering a fairly narrow wall, search flea markets and thrift stores for vintage drapery panels that fit the wall's width. If they're too long, hem them or just let them puddle on the floor. If they’re too short, sew a contrasting band of fabric to the bottoms to add extra length.

If your wall is wide and you can’t find panels already made, make your curtain to the proper size. Hang your panels from a ceiling-mounted curtain rod or track. Or, staple the curtain headers to the top of the wall, and then cover the staple line with nailhead trim or glued-on ribbon or gimp.

You can also hang a wall of floor-to-ceiling curtains from curtain wire. Apartment Therapy has a tutorial for making your own out of turnbuckles, wire rope clips, and a metal cable.

Hang Vintage Textiles on the Wall

Add color and pattern by hanging textiles on your wall. Opt for large-scale textiles such as rugs, quilts, tapestries or artisan weavings. Lightweight, exotic options include colorful saris, suzanis, and pieces of hand-dyed batik.

Hang your vintage textiles with a mounting board and hook-and-loop tape suitable for the textile’s weight.

Hang Painted Panels Made of MDF or Hardboard

To add large-scale pops of color to your walls, cut panels out of MDF or hardboard. Sand the cut edges smooth, and then prime and paint. You can leave the panels plain, or frame them with the picture frame molding used for traditional wall panels.

Bolt your panels to the walls in strategic locations around the room—and plan to patch the holes when you move. You can leave your colorful panels bare or layer smaller pieces of framed artwork over them.

Make a Colorful Folding Screen from Old Doors

Hinge three to five old doors together to make a folding screen/room divider you can stand against one of your walls. If you can’t find doors, make panels from MDF or plywood.

Whichever option you choose, paint the panels with one or more bold colors, or even paint a colorful mural that extends across the entire piece.

Hang a Grouping of Framed Fabric or Wallpaper

To add color and pattern with an eclectic feel, frame pieces of patterned fabric or wallpaper, and then hang them on your wall in an art grouping. For the most vibrant look, opt for bold colors and a mix of patterns.

With both fabric and wallpaper, you can use leftover scraps, discontinued samples, or hunt for vintage examples at the flea market.