This Rental Feels Like Home for the Holidays Thanks to Clever DIY Solutions

Being with the military, the Coulston family moves every few years. But mom Chelsea has made it her mission to make each new rental feel like home—especially at Christmas.

Chelsea Coulston is no stranger to change. “My husband, Matt, is in the Navy, so we move quite often,” she says. “In fact, we have moved 10 times in the last 15 years, crisscrossing the country.” But the design-loving mom has never let the reality of living in a rental keep her from making each place feel like her family’s forever home.

“When we move into new military housing, it’s always very plain—think brown rugs and white walls with zero personality,” Chelsea says. “I was a new mom when my husband was deployed on a ship and was staring at our boring rental in San Diego thinking, I can’t live here like this. I need to make this feel like a true home, like an expression of us.

With a limited budget, Chelsea researched DIY projects online, but all of them felt too permanent. “I realized that we needed some renter-friendly ideas in the universe, and that’s when I launched my website.”

blue detail christmas living room

David Tsay

Making Home Base, the blog where Chelsea shares her tips and tricks for beautifying rental properties in landlord-friendly ways, has amassed a large and loyal following. “I love that I get to inspire people who don’t own their homes to start thinking of ways they can at least make them feel like their own. It’s important because home is where your people are.”

In the living room, basic IKEA drapes customized with blue tassel trim from Etsy flank a Christmas tree. Hanging the panels a little tall and wide gives the illusion of an even larger window. To add lighting without hard wiring, Chelsea hung sconces from the wall and inserted remote-control puck lights. The wicker ottoman doubles as toy storage. ”I like for things to have dual functions,” Chelsea says.

coulston family

David Tsay

For Chelsea’s people—Matt and their daughters, Millie and Peighton—the holidays provided a welcome opportunity to deliver even more personality to their townhome in Twentynine Palms, CA, about 15 miles from Joshua Tree National Park. “I treat my seasonal decor in much the same way that I do my everyday design,” she says. “I like simple and understated, with a bit of sentiment. And I carry the same color scheme throughout the house so there’s continuity.” 

A Christmas tree lights up the living room. "We have a faux tree, because I never know if we'll live in a place that actually has live ones for sale," Chelsea says with a laugh.

entryway dresser and stockings

David Tsay

“We have a teeny-tiny entryway, and I made the peg rail for backpacks,” Chelsea says. “But during the holidays, it’s where we hang our stockings.” For more Christmas spirit in the space, she added an evergreen garland to the dresser, weaving in a strand of pale blue wood beads and tying magnolia branches in the center. The coppery backsides of the leaves are one of several orange notes used to complement the blue of the home’s day-to-day decor. A small box on the drop zone dresser holds incoming holiday cards.

blue wallpaper dining room

David Tsay

Keeping the family’s favorite color, blue, at the fore was key. Chelsea balances the cool blue-and-white hues with the warmth of gold and copper. “I like to tie simple copper bows on the tips of the Christmas tree branches and on picture frames throughout the house,” she says. She weaves in plenty of greenery too, including garlands and miniature cypress trees.

Chelsea had her eye on this Serena & Lily wallpaper for the dining room, but it wasn’t peel-and-stick. She used FrogTape and double-stick tape to adhere it safely to the wall—strippable and reusable.

Greenery and branches—some gathered from their yard—fill vases and top surfaces.

“I have collected these peace dove Christmas balls from Li Bien since we got married, so they’re very sentimental to me,” says Chelsea, who shows them off in a basket. 

“I don’t have lots of storage for Christmas knickknacks, so my collections are minimal but meaningful. I try to take what we have and adorn it in some way that feels festive, so it’s more like an extension of what is already here—and, as it turns out, it’s an expression of us too.”

“When you’re working with bad carpet, you have to get creative,” says Chelsea, who layered a blue-and-white runner over the industrial carpet to add life to her stairwell. Rudy the Airedale terrier approves. Satin ribbon bows tied gently around picture frame corners dress up a gallery of black-and-white photos.

Chelsea Coulston

Building on our everyday color scheme during the holidays keeps our small space cohesive.

— Chelsea Coulston

Ticking-style gift wrap wears copper ribbon, echoing the bows on the tree and picture frames. The handprint-turned-snowmen ornament is a Millie original.

snowglobe on cabinet

David Tsay

The IKEA metal curio cabinet has moved from one house to the next, serving as a bar, craft supply storage, and now a china cabinet. Cake stands elevate a collection of white ceramic houses.

Styled by Liz Strong

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