Tanieka’s primary design instinct is that your home should work hard for you. “It has to be functional first and foremost,” she says. “Instead of trying to copy and paste what you see and think you like in someone else’s home, start with what you need in yours. From there, add in the things with soul, with history, with life.” For Tanieka, this means utilizing cabinets and baskets that can hide the stuff she doesn’t want out in the open, be it her 4-year-old’s toys or the box of trash bags in the kitchen. Once all that is in place, it means filling her walls with blown-up family photographs, curating her shelves with thrifted knickknacks, and placing plants and flowers all around. “I like to layer,” she says.

Layered rugs in the main bedroom—a more ornate one on top of a simpler one—make for a warm feel. Plus, how much do you love that built-in book nook?

Slowly but surely, with this approach, the house began to read less “typical rental.” For Tanieka, who continues to make changes all the time, it doesn’t matter that it’s only a temporary stopping point on the way to owning her own house one day. “Renters often believe they can’t change anything,” she says. “Some are even scared to hang pictures on the walls. But it’s still your home. You’re paying money to live there. Making it look nice and feel personal is an investment in your happiness.”

Besides, there’s so much available to customize a space without demolishing and rebuilding the whole interior. Tanieka used peel-and-stick backsplash and flooring to modernize her outdated kitchen, for example. She has painted pieces of furniture to give them new life, put up curtains, and DIY’d striped wallpaper using removable gaffer tape in her son’s room (perhaps the most genius trick ever).

Tanieka’s son’s room is both playful and put-together. She created striped wallpaper by carefully adding gaffer tape to the plain walls (it’s incredibly easy to remove and leaves no residue). The photograph above his bed is a blown-up picture of a roller coaster she took on her iPhone.

Copyright 2020. All rights reserved.

Front-facing books blend right in with the gallery wall in this sweet reading nook.

Tanieka has learned a lot about her own taste simply through the practice of trying things out. She likes to go at her own pace, to sit with layouts and decoration for a while before she decides to add, move, change, or eliminate. This authentic experimenting is what makes her rental a space that people like to look at—and somewhere she likes to be, even just for right now.

Do It Yourself

Shop your own home. If you scroll through Tanieka’s Instagram feed, you can see evidence of her doing just this all the time. In one photo, a set of chairs will sit in front of the living room window. Months later, they’ll be at the foot of her bed. One day, a chair will be for sitting; the next, a plant stand. The point is: Before you buy something new, it’s good practice to see if you can breathe new life into a space with what you already have on hand.