Thank you to Sarah Peachey for these fabulous decorating tips!

Whether you live in privatized installation housing or are renting a home off post/base, the first step after unpacking and organizing is decorating. With large white walls and neutral carpets, many spouses wonder what they can do to make their home cozy and different than the neighbors’. My husband, Frank, and I recently moved in to a rental home off post and were trying to figure out a way to make it our own. With a little bit of work, we did it and you can too.

1. Paint it up!


Choose paint colors based on the accent items you already have in the room. Photo by

No matter what type of housing you live in, painting is the simplest way to add color and coziness to your home. Even though your landlord may prefer you don’t paint, they often make exceptions in a few ways. First, they may allow you to paint the inside of the home any color you choose, with the agreement that you are responsible for painting it back before vacating. It may seem like a lot of effort, but if you’re in a house for two or three years, it may be worth it. Another agreement is the landlord approves your color swatch and you are not required to paint the room back to white when you vacate. That makes the effort a bit more worthwhile, but rules out any dark colors. The third way exceptions are made for painting is by having the landlord approve a color that they would like in the home. You do the work and don’t have to worry about a thing later. Be sure you check with your landlord before painting. While many spouses adhere to the, “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission” rule, you can save yourself a lot of effort by knowing the regulations.

Neutral wall colors can really warm up a space, but no colors are off limits unless your landlord says so. Stick to the basic paint rules — dark colors look better in spaces with lots of natural light, small rooms with little light look better in lighter colors and muted colors are better in rooms you relax in. When deciding on what colors to try, you can pull colors from items within the room you plan to paint.

Frank and I painted our living a nice dark grey, but it gets a lot of natural light. The darker color also helps the large room feel a bit smaller and cozier. Our hallways and stairwells don’t get any natural light, so we painted them a very light grey.

Painting is actually very simple and easy. When Frank and I were at Fort Polk, a few of our neighbors painted their homes, knowing they would have to paint it back. It was worth it to them since they lived in their homes for more than three years. Frank and I recently painted our rental and completed the living room, kitchen/dining room and the hallway and up the steps all in a weekend. We had help of course, but if you buy some pizza and beer for your friends and neighbors, you’ll get plenty of volunteers.

2. Cover the walls.

cover the walls

Use neutral furniture and colorful accents to decorate a white room. Photo by

There are plenty of other ways to add color to your home instead of painting and you won’t even notice the white walls. When purchasing furniture like tables and seating, choose neutral colors. That way, you can really brighten up the room with colored throw pillows, window treatments, blankets, rugs, and decorative items. Your neutral furniture won’t look so plain afterward. No color would be off limits here and feel free to mix and match colors that work together. For example, if you use orange accents, add in some reds and yellows too. You can display your accent pieces and other tchotchkes on shelving units like ladder shelves. This helps take up wall space.

Don’t be afraid to cover your walls with framed pictures and family photos. Flea markets, second hand stores and consignment shops often have inexpensive frames and artwork. Pinterest offers a variety of free, colorful printables that you can frame. You can easily paint picture frames to match your décor, so dig through those discount bins.

Frames and Shelving

Use frames and shelving units to fill wall space while adding color. Photo by Nordic Design.




Have a large wall you don’t think you can cover with picture frames and shelves? Look for a pretty blanket or quilt and hang it with tapestry hangers. Frank brought back beautiful woven blankets from his time in Afghanistan and they were just too pretty to use as blankets. Tapestry hangers are inexpensive and clip right on to the blanket, so we didn’t even have to put any holes in it. We used one to take up a large bedroom wall and never got tired of looking at it.

Wall decals are also a great way to fill blank walls with something. Nowadays, they’re so popular, it’s easy to find something that fits every décor style. For example, my bedroom is done in a French style, so I have a vinyl Eiffel Tower decal that once filled a skinny wall that just needed something. My daughter has safari animals in her room to add color. In my experience so far, the decals have remained sticky through three moves. It can be time consuming to hang them perfectly straight and even, but they can add color, fill space and not make the room appear so plain. You can find wall decals through almost any home décor store and website, as well as Etsy and Amazon.

3. Don’t cut off the lights.

lightsLighting fills in the dark spaces that make rooms appear smaller. Photo by HGTV.

It’s a simple decorating rule — darkness in a house appears as cut off space, making your rooms appear much smaller than they are. That’s no good for installation housing, where you sometimes feel a bit claustrophobic. This is where decorative lighting comes in handy. You can use any type of lighting, but be sure you’re using light bulbs with a softer light. The details are always listed on the light bulb boxes. Lamps on end tables and a pole light in a corner can really round out a room, lighting up all the corners and creating a nice ambience. For the energy conscious, opt for energy saving and lower wattage bulbs. Your light will be a bit dimmer and keep your electric bill down. Lamps come in all shapes and sizes, so have fun picking out something that works with your room.

4. Do some magic and make your space appear larger

The worst problem in my experience with installation housing is they feel very closed in. I always wanted to make my house feel more open. Window treatments can help with that, plus they can add a lot of color. You can hang them more toward the ceiling to make the windows appear larger and ceiling higher. Purchase some tiebacks or pretty ribbon to leave the curtains open. Leaving windows visible, rather than cutting them off, helps extend the room.


Hang a decorative mirror in your small living room or foyer to extend the space a bit. You can also paint the trim of these to make it funkier or more your style.

Try to organize your furniture so it doesn’t cut off the room. For example, my front door opens to a small foyer and then into my rectangular living room that connects to my kitchen/dining room. Since there is a large pathway to connect all the rooms, I don’t want any furniture in that area. It cuts off the room and makes the space seem smaller. It’s better to have the furniture line the walls to keep the living area more open.

5. Have fun with it

This is most important. Do what you enjoy and make your home how you want it to be. You have to live in it and see it every day, so how you choose to decorate should be in your taste. Scavenge through flea markets, secondhand stores and consignment shops to find the prefect treasures for your home. Happy decorating!


Sarah Peachey is a 20-something journalist from the northeast, living back on the East Coast with her husband, two furbabies and infant daughter. She began a career in journalism with The Fort Polk Guardian, an installation newspaper, winning three state awards for her work, and now freelances for military spouse support sites. She is an active blogger on MilitaryOneClick and her blog, “Stetsons, Spurs and Stilettos.” She enjoys spending her days on the shooting range or at home with a good book. She considers herself a bookworm, pianist, wine enthusiast and artist.