I’m pretty vocal about my love for renting. Apart from one teeny blip last year (when we tried – and failed – to buy a house… I blame wedding fever), I’ve lived in rented properties since I was 18. I love the freedom renting brings, the lack of responsibility for boring things like boilers and the fact I can live somewhere I’d never be able to afford to purchase. Yay for renting!
I don’t believe that renting is ‘dead money’ or that I’m living in someone else’s home but I do recognise some of the downfalls of renting, like trying to make a property you don’t legally own, feel like your own.
After 10 years of living in rented accommodation, I feel like a bit of an expert on the subject. So here’s my handy guide to decorating a rented house, flat or apartment – tips, tricks and recommendations to take a space from generic to gorgeous.
First things first – when it comes to rentals, some things are not worth fixing. If it’s not your house, don’t spend loads of your own cash doing it up for someone else’s (eventual) benefit. In other words – make sure it has the right foundations before you sign the tenancy.
For me, that means original features (I look for beams, fireplaces and a great front door… never, EVER UPVC), neutral decor (white walls, cream carpets or the holy grail of rentals – exposed floorboards) and a good kitchen and bathroom. Everything else can be tweaked and styled, but these things should be as you want them.
When you’ve found a place that meets your basic requirements, you might want to consider going unfurnished. It really depends on preference and budget, but I’ve always hated other people’s furniture choices and rentals are almost always rife with Ikea’s cheapest offerings. If you really want to make a rented property your own, fill it with furniture you’ve chosen yourself. It makes a huge difference and you won’t ever have to worry about sitting in another person’s sofa groove.
So! You’ve got your place, you’ve got your furniture – what’s next? Here come the tips…
Cushions and blankets and rugs, oh my!
Soft furnishings will add warmth and character to even the starkest space. Add a couple of patterned cushions to your bed, throw a blanket over the sofa arm and stick a rug on the floor – instant texture, colour and cosiness.
I’ll admit, I have a slight candle obsession. I love them probably too much, and have about 5 on the go in each room of the house. But they really do make a huge difference to a plain room – look for coloured holders that complement the shade of the room, or stock up on cheap pillar candles at Ikea and display them in groups. I also love tapered candles in interesting candlesticks, like these copper ones from H&M Home.
Get your stuff out.
Don’t spend your money on faffy ornamental bits that will collect dust and look dated in 3 years (hello, shabby chic) – use your own belongings to create interesting displays in each room. Books, magazines, plants, jewellery, pretty makeup, framed photos, old tins – whatever you’ve got that you find aesthetically pleasing, put it on display rather than tidying it away in a cupboard.
Change the curtains.
Rentals usually come with curtains in place, and until recently I’d always accepted that and moved on. But changing a pair of curtains is one of the easiest things to do in a rented place and I don’t know why I didn’t try it before. I recently swapped three pairs of tired cream linen curtains for much nicer ones, and the results are amazing. The zig zag curtains we have in the bedroom liven up an otherwise-neutral room with zero fuss. Plus, if you move out it’s just as simple to put the old curtains back in place.
This is a bit of a controversial one, as I know most tenancy agreements have a clause about damaging the walls. But in my 10 years of renting I’ve always hung pictures, and the maximum I’ve ever been changed for wall damage was £10. This might not be your experience and you might not want to risk it, but hanging pictures makes such a difference to a home and holes are easily fixed with Polyfila and a bit of Tipp-Ex. To minimise the damage, try a picture ledge from Ikea (two holes = whole load of pictures on display) or use JML’s handy no-nails picture hanger, the amazingly-titled ‘Duzzit’.
Plants and flowers.
Flowers are the solution to most problems in my life. There is nothing more pleasing to the eye than a big bunch of blousy peonies or some sweet tulips just opening up. I love flowers and try to have them in every room – display them in old jam jars or empty candle holders for a thrown-together look. A flower habit can be expensive (Elton John knows that struggle) so pick wild flowers (read this first) rather than buying from supermarkets, or just go for plants instead – they last longer and cacti are so on trend right now.
Paint a wall or two.
My last tip is not for the fainthearted. It also might not be possible, so you MUST check with your landlord/landlady first. A ‘statement wall’ is a quick and easy way to inject a bit of life into a simple room. Rentals are renowned for their magnolia walls – much better than 70s wallpaper, but they can get a little samey. On the other hand, you might find yourself stuck with someone else’s idea of a ‘statement wall’, like we were – bright pink in the kitchen. Rather than put up with it, I asked our landlady if she’d mind us painting it – we’d buy the paint, do the hard work and ensure there were no spillages. She agreed and now we have a lovely grey wall where the pink used to be (it’s Farrow and Ball’s ‘Mole’s Breath’, btw). Always worth an ask!
Where to go.
With all those tips in mind, here are my (much researched, tried and tested) favourite places for great homewares that’ll make your rented place feel like your own home.
I will never tire of this place. If you’re looking for something specific this is not the shop for you, but for general browsing and unusual finds, this is the one. It’s also AMAZING for half price designer candles – the NEOM one in shot above was £20 (rather than £40) from HomeSense.
I only discovered H&M Home, which I think is just online and not in-store, when Kate wrote this excellent post on her own homeware recommendations. It’s a brilliant site with lots of lovely home accessories at H&M prices. Think mid-century, Scandinavian-inspired pieces, like these copper candlesticks and this wooden tray.
An oldie but a goodie. Ikea gets a bad rap for being a ‘cheap flatpack’ kinda place, but if you look carefully there are some gems to be found. It’s also really great for plants – all of my cacti and succulents (and their pots) are from Ikea.
Dunelm isn’t top of my list, but it’s a great stop for home furnishings and lighting, especially if you’re on a tighter budget. They have a fab range of patterned cushions and I recently picked up a copper ceiling shade for £14.99, which is almost identical to Habitat’s £50 version.
Oh, West Elm. How I adore you. This American homeware brand recently opened up in London and their website now ships to the UK – happy days! They have that mid-century hipster house thing down – our much-loved zig zag curtains are from West Elm, as is our bedding plus the kitchen tray and salt and pepper pots in that last photo. It is pretty pricy so I try not to visit too often as far too tempting to spend a fortune!
I was really sad to see Habitat disappear from our high street as I think it’s a beautiful brand – the products are great quality and although the prices are high, they are reasonable for the level of quality. I tend to shop when there’s a sale on and it’s worth signing up for the Habitat newsletter, as they often do online discounts and flash sales. The rug in our bedroom is from Habitat, as are the grey and yellow dining chairs in the kitchen.
So there it is – my guide to decorating your rented property and making it feel like home. Any more tips to share, fellow renters?