Many of us, currently myself included, rent our homes, and it looks like our numbers are set to grow. So how we design and decorate our rented spaces is going to become more and more relevant. Ever since I first moved out of home and into a rented basement flat on the seafront in Brighton with my three other fresher flatmates, I have loved the transformation you can make so quickly and affordably by dressing your rented home with your own accessories.
Let me paint the picture for you, my first flat, I was aged 20, was a kitsch-fest of leopard pink, 60’s knick-knackery, gold mirrors and pops of shocking pink everywhere. I made a bedspread from fake leopard print fabric from around £3 per meter and covered my crappy TV in faux fur with stick on gems on all the buttons- this one didn’t even have a remote control. Then when I moved flats, which I did each year of university, I packed up my bundle of kitsch accessories and made a new home elsewhere.
My tastes have developed rather dramatically since those early days but the sheer delight in making a new house a home, bursting with individuality, hasn’t left me. While it’s not always allowed to pull out the paint tin to create dazzling decorating transformations you can up-style your pad with a few well chosen accessories. Here are my top ten tips:
1. Use Mirrors
One design dilemma that I hear people come up against again and again is how to get a feeling of more natural light into a room. Sunlight instantly delivers the feel good vibe, and so if you cannot paint the walls a light-enhancing colour, there are other tricks. Mirrors are not only for gazing in- they are a great way to reflect light around the room. I love to go large, the bigger the better. For a hip and relaxed look prop an oversized mirror on the floor or above the mantle. Failing that a collection of mirrors can look dazzling and add some decorative interest to a large plain blank wall. Try hanging the mirror opposite the window, this way you reflect not only the view but the natural sunlight too. Also consider how mirrors create a visual illusion in the room. They can actually work to make the room feel large than it is. Again the position is crucial. If you have a long thin room, position the mirror on the long wall. This will help to stretch the view of the room helping it appear wider.
2. Add texture
The key to any successful design scheme key is to include lots of contrasting textures to keep the eye entertained. This is a particularly important rule if you are decorating with neutral colours. Where there is a lack of colour you need to add the interest with the texture otherwise the scheme will just look flat, bland and boring. Contrast is key, so sit rough textures like wool, wood and stone next to some glossy glass, polished marble or velvet. A neutral scheme is a total winner if you are renting, as its something you can happily invest in with the knowledge that will stand the test of time. You can then have fun, ringing the changes with a few well-chosen affordable accessories to add that essential pop of colour.
3. Create a display
One way to create instant impact in a room is to think about the way you style and organize the items you already own. For example most homes have a bookcase but these are massive problem areas in many homes that are soon groaning under the weight of shoddy paperbacks and stacks of DVDs. It’s important to pay attention to everything that’s on view in the room, so unsightly but necessary clutter, like DVD’s should be relegated to cupboards or very low shelves out of view. This frees up shelves to be display areas. Smartly stack hardback books both horizontally and vertically, making plinths to display favourite objects. Next group object like ornaments and vases in groups of odd numbers like three or five, making sure you have varying heights. I always think its nice to theme your display, either by a colour story, monochrome for example or with a style d theme. This way your objects will hang together and look coherent. I’m afraid to stay its time to be ruthless. If your not going to read that paperback again any time soon, then its time to pass it on.
4. Make it personal
I think it is essential that your place feels like a home, and you can easily do this by arranging some displays of personal collections. The obvious personal display is a collection of photographs of friends, family and favourite holidays, but there are some ways to keep these collections looking stylish. One trick that designers often use is to convert family photos into black and white- they instantly look better when all grouped together. I’d also think about the frames you choose. It can look messy if all the frames are different- but that doesn’t mean they all have to be the same either, I like to avoid the overly matchy matchy look at all costs! But you might choose a colour story like, black, gilt or wood, and then choose different style, shapes and sizes within this theme. Your collection will have more impact if you display them as a group. You could mount your collection on a wall or bring them all together on a sideboard or console. If your landlord won’t allow lots of nails pined into the wall use Picture hanging strips. These are high adhesive strips that are strong enough to hang a picture but can be easily moved afterwards, leaving the paintwork intact.
5. Style in symmetry
One trick that designers use to help get a room to hang together is styling with symmetry. We all want our homes to be easy on the eye and help us feel relaxed, so arranging items and furniture in simple symmetry is a great way so bring order and calm to a room. So think about buying a pair of statement lamps and sitting them either side of the sofa. Rather than two sofas, consider positioning a pair of armchairs adjacent or opposite your main sofa. A pair of framed pictures over a console table creates a stylish feature. Simply dress your bed or sofa with a pair of large statement print cushions. And voila, you can instantly take your home from glum to glam.
6. Ways with walls
One of the biggest drawbacks of renting is not being allowed to touch the walls, although some landlords are more lenient than others you MUST check what you can and cannot do. Perhaps you can paint, as long as you put it all back before you move out. However using wallpaper can be really transformational. I just discovered this great product called ‘Peel’ which you can buy from WallpaperDirect . You prepare the walls with it and then wallpaper as usual on top. However when you come to move out, you can easily pull the paper off, without the need to strip and steam. A lick of paint over the top after you’ve removed the paper is all you need to put it back to rights. Genius. Failing that you could wallpaper an MDF panel and hang it on the wall like an overgrown artwork.
Another idea to get some pattern up is to use wall stickers. These are great fun as they are cheap and instant, and can really make your home fee individual. You can buy pre cut designs from cool shops like The Sticker Studio , or better still design something yourself on the computer and have it made up at a local sign shop. My tip is to use a hairdryer to heat up the sticker when you come to remove it, which softens the glue and saves the paintwork.
7. Add soft furnishings
If you are reluctant to touch the walls you can create a look with the soft furnishings. Usually rented properties are some shade of white or off white, which means anything goes. A striking set of bed linen can really make the statement in the bedroom or think about a collection of scatters for the sofa. Even a set of curtains can transform the look of the room, and unlike blinds which have to be made to fit the individual window, curtains com in a range of standard drops which will fit most windows.
8. Lots of lighting
Lighting can really transform a space, especially when you consider the time we spend most at home is in the evening often under artificial light. While you can’t get involved in designing integrated lighting systems you can create a mood with lamps and floor lamps, even fairy lights can add a glow to a dark corner or shelf. My rule of thumb is the more the merrier, different styles at different heights. Oh and turn off that dismal pendant light.
9. Update the floor
Turn your attention to the floor and chances are you hate the carpet or you’re scared stiff you’ll stain it and loose your deposit. A LARGE and I mean at least 2.3 x 1.6 kind of size rug and really transform a room. Hide and protect the carpet and go for a statement rug and get some much needed colour or pattern in the room. A glass top table will help to make sure your designer rug remains the hero. I find The Rug Seller, The Plantation Rug Company and indeed Ikea all have a great choice of styles and sizes, at a range of affordable prices.
10. A Signature Scent
The power of smell is a very evocative and emotional trigger so I think if you can introduce a signature scent to your home, it will always help a space feel familiar. Its a bit like the comfort you have from your fabric softener- all your clothes just smell right. I’m not a fan of synthetic scents and so buy my Home fragrance from Neals Yard and scented candles from Willow and Honey. But there are stacks of Home scents, candles, diffusers and plug ins to choose from, so explore your senses and pick one that suits you.
You can view a video I made for Heart of House at Argos where I discuss many of my decorating ideas for rented spaces here:
Welcome to my blog where I share my passion for interior design and everything I know from 20 years in the business.
I’m a self confessed colour lover, pattern clasher and cushion hugger.