And it's bland, bland, bland, bland. The walls are toothpaste white. "Architectural detailing" means you get light fixtures instead of bare bulbs (lucky!). The bathroom reminds you of a school locker room.
The place has all the character of, well, the blank box that it is.
What's a renter to do?
Do it yourself, undo it yourself
The truth is, you probably have plenty of remodeling options, even as a renter. Check your rental contract -- Realtor.com has some good advice -- but you'll want to satisfy a few basic requirements:
Your remodeling projects must be reversible. You need to be able to restore the place to its original condition, in case your landlord doesn't appreciate the results. (Or in case you don't want your landlord to know you'd ever done them in the first place. Don't worry, we won't tell.)
The improvements should be reasonably cheap, because they're temporary …
… Or else the improvements should be portable. If you put a lot of money and/or love into a project, make sure you can take it to your next place when you move out.
Don't disrupt your neighbors. That's not only common courtesy but common sense: If your projects aren't quite landlord-approved, you won't want the neighbors ratting you out.
Got your screwdriver? Got your credit card? Let's get to remodeling that shoebox of yours.
Add character with hardware and other details
Apartments with "mass appeal" can be so nondescript. But they don't have to be -- you can add lots of semipermanent personality with easy changes.
Switch switch plates -- and drawer handles, and door knobs. It's amazing how much difference new handles can make, whether they're on an entry door or bathroom drawers. Anthropologie always has colorful, distinctive hardware options in multiple styles (Art Deco, midcentury, bohemian), and often they're on sale. Anthropologie also offers a fun online mix-and-match tool that lets you drag and drop various options onto a virtual piece of furniture. For vintage upcycling, check out Tin Can Sally's sweet switch plates and outlet covers made from found items like old coffee and baking soda canisters. (The site isn't sophisticated, but the products could look great in the right environment.)
Crown moulding and ceiling medallions can really class up the place. See Home Depot for tips on choosing a moulding style, and an old Design Sponge post for a lovely modern take on a ceiling medallion (via the now-defunct and sorely missed Domino magazine). Be warned, though: Removal is admittedly a little risky. If your landlord doesn't like it, or if you want to salvage it, just make sure to pry it off carefully; then prepare and paint the underlying surface to original condition.
Create more space with room "additions"
OK, these aren't really additions, of course -- but they will make it seem like you have more space.
Add a second story. If your ceiling height is at least 9 feet, consider a loft bed. These elevate the sleeping platform higher than bunk-bed level, giving you space underneath for a desk or even a curtained-off walk-in (stoop-in?) closet. Ikea sells a simple $299 loft bed; for six times as much, PB Teen offers a fancier version with bookshelves, a desk with pullout keyboard tray, and a tall, skinny cork board. Whatever you choose, don't forget that you can trick out the bed, too: Add curtains for privacy, screw in hooks to dangle jewelry from, etc.
Subdivide. Sometimes a room is bigger than you need, so buy or make a room divider. A clever project on Instructables uses nothing but cardboard, a utility knife, a pencil, and a ruler. With some paint, its geometric diamond motif would really pop. For the look of a full-on wall, check out Andrew Schwalm's canvas-encased frame on Ikea Hackers, intended "to preserve a separate sleeping area [in a studio] without leaving any trace on the walls, ceiling, or floor." He says it's sturdy enough to hang a painting on.
Update the bathroom or kitchen
Bathrooms and kitchens might seem a little tricky for the remodeling renter, since you can't exactly rip out the vinyl or ceramic tiles that characterize the space. Don't despair!
Upgrade the flooring with "floating" options. If you have a smooth surface to work with -- pretty much anything but carpet, and sometimes even that's OK if the pile is low enough -- look into click-together cork or other non-adhesive "floating" floor options. The labor may not be negligible, and it won't be cheap, either, but you should be able to reuse any pieces that weren't cut to fit. Modular carpet tiles from Flor are another portable choice; for bathrooms and kitchens, choose a heavy-traffic style -- for instance, the whiskery House Pet comes in more than a dozen cheerful colors. Or you could lay down a roll of vinyl flooring and hot-glue just the edges for later removal, as one Apartment Therapy reader did.
Swap the vanity or install wall cabinets. If you have a conveniently placed window, you could install a shallow cabinet directly underneath it to create a windowsill at the same time. CB2 has some airy options -- and they're even on sale.
Gussy up the tiles with removable stickers. Mibo's "tile tattoos" sell for about $3 each (available in packs of six and eight on 2Jane.com).