DIY Design Master Janet Lee Has A New Book & Brilliant Design Tips For Renters!

Mar 28, 2012 | Home Style


Photo courtesy of Aimee Herring and Living in a Nutshell.

Janet Lee is a design & DIY master, having produced and styled for the likes of Martha Stewart (my hero!) and worked as a Senior Producer for Oprah Winfrey with talent like Nate Berkus.  She also has a fabulous , popular website full of tips for small-space designing called “Living In A Nutshell” that is the namesake of her new book, “Living In A Nutshell- Posh and Portable Decorating Ideas For Small Spaces.”  Urban dwellers, small-space livers and design freaks, listen up: this is a must-read!  Janet’s ideas and solutions are doable, beautiful and quite ingenious.  I am thrilled that  she was able to answer my own questions about small-space solutions for renters that can’t quite invest in renovations for something they don’t own… So get ready to be wowed! Janet, my readers ask many of these questions over and again in coming up with feng shui solutions & decorating their homes.  Please feel free to answer whatever portion you would like.  Also, I am thrilled to see your book!  Ok, here’s my first question: 

If you need to ADD COLOR to your apartment and just can’t bear the thought of painting a rental, is there a clever way to add color that is not as permanent?

JANET: My favorite rental tip is to cover walls with fabric and liquid starch. It’s the same kind of starch most of us have used in grade schools for art projects. You can find it at Walmart and some grocery stores. Here is a commonly found brand:

I suggest pre-washing the fabric before applying on the wall. There might be some shrinkage once it is soaked with liquid starch.  Just roll the starch on with a foam roller like you would paint. I’ve used this method to cover generic melamine kitchen cabinets in a friend’s rental. It dries hard and peels off without damage to walls or cabinets.

Think about also covering closet doors for added color to a bland room or a wooden headboard. Since this is a temporary style fix, it’s a great opportunity to go bold with pattern and color! What do you have to lose?

Here's another pop-art style solution from Janet to artistic lighting...vinyl wall decals MIXED with lamps! (photo courtesy of Aimee Herring and Living in a Nutshell)

And, in the same vein, if you have UGLY MINI BLINDS and can’t actually take them down in your rental, is there a way to fix them up so that they aren’t as bad, or to cover them without looking super-tacky?

JANET: Not really.  Those cheap blinds we find in too many rentals collect so much dust and they block out too much of the light when all you want is a little privacy.

I just roll them all the way up so you can’t really see them. Then I buy high-quality tension rods and hang curtain panels. If the blinds leave little room to accommodate a tension rod inside the window frame, I love using repositionable extra large Command Brand nickel-plated hooks that attach to the wall with adhesive strips. I place them outside the window frame so they cradle the curtain rod on both sides. You don’t need to use any nails or anchors in the wall! No more asking landlords or handymen to help.

louis vuitton file cabinet

Louis Vuitton-inspired file cabinet! Wrapping less attractive furnishings makes them decorative! (photo courtesy of Aimee Herring and Living in A Nutshell)

Any ideas for homes where a living room doubles as an office (like many freelancers live in NYC, and around the country?!) to maybe HIDE THE OFFICE when its not in use?

JANET: You have just described my work life in a nutshell! My desk is large and glass so it doesn’t take up visual real estate. Make sure your printer and fax machine is an all-in-one unit and wireless so you can hide it in a closet. I have two file cabinets that I covered with shrink-wrap vinyl with a Louis Vuitton inspired pattern and they stand in as stylish storage units that are too cool to hide. The vinyl can be customized with the help from your local printing shop.

And, last one: what do you think of USING ROOM SCREENS (room-dividers, shoji screens) to create space partitions, etc? Is there a way to make one or revamp a vintage/old one that one can try at home?

JANET: I could never, ever live in a small space without a paneled screen.  I tried once and I was overwhelmed with clutter and had a hate-hate relationship with my laundry basket and vacuum cleaner which had no place to hide. My current screen is made from three wooden doors hinged and covered in silk taffeta. On the back I hung 2 muslin shoe bags and a laundry bag for dry cleaning.  Now a full season of shoes can be stored sight unseen and my vacuum cleaner and laundry basket have a permanent home.

Wow, thank you Janet!  I now have four projects to add to my home list that will make a huge difference!   

You can grab your copy of Living in a Nutshell on Amazon and start creating your own “makeover” projects that will wow even the DIY skeptics with your chic small-space solutions!


Janet Lee JANET LEE, an Emmy Award-winning television show producer, has styled and produced for leading home decorators, entrepreneurs, and designers such as Martha Stewart, B. Smith, and Thom Filicia. She launched her career as a home décor producer for Lifetime Television’s Our Home and spent ten years as a senior producer for The Oprah Winfrey Show, working closely with style legends like Nate Berkus. Since 2008, she has been writing a popular small space design blog, Named one of the top go-to sites for affordable modern design by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2009, her blog continues to attract people from all over the world—an average of 50,000 hits a month—seeking DIY tips and innovative ideas for chic urban design. She lives in New York City.


  1. Kristin

    On the subject of ugly mini blinds in a rental…. Is it okay to add some kind of valance over the mini blinds to add color to a small bathroom?

    • danaclaudat

      YES! Or you can ask the building to pop them out and then stick them back when you move out 🙂

  2. Teresa

    I was trying to find your instructions on using vinyl to wrap the filing cabinet. I have a nasty colored one I’d like to use for my girls home school in our living room/dining room area. Thank you!

    • danaclaudat

      I think Janet Lee has instructions. I will look it up, but you may want to google as well. She is big on vinyl wrap 🙂



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