If I close my eyes, I see a beautiful stone period cottage, overgrown with ivy and white roses. Inside, the wooden beams are chewed by woodworm and time. There is a log burner in the sitting room with a comfy armchair next to it, and if I lean slightly to the right I’m able to see our back garden, overlooking the rolling hills of the beautiful English countryside.
Aaaand I’m back. I do this quite a lot; dreaming about our forever home or aimlessly scrolling through Rightmove became somewhat of a past time for me, even though it annoys my realistic, both-feet-on-the-ground husband. ‘Why do you do that, it’s not like we can afford it!’, he says. And there it is, the subject of money and what we can and cannot afford when it comes to where we live. And we’re not alone. Statistically, nine out of ten under 30 adults in the UK are unable to afford their own house so they are renting – and it doesn’t look like this situation is changing anytime soon.
Which is why it baffles me why in most cases the rules of renting are still really backwards and stiff. Unless you have the landlord of dreams, most property owners make it difficult to turn a rented apartment/house feel like an actual home.
Working as an interior designer I see a lot of properties, yet none of my clients is renting. People are scared of changing things in a property they don’t own – myself included. I’m still staring at the same pair of red faux silk curtains I hate so much, and the yellow walls that make me want to gauge my eyes out (yes, the presumption that all interior designers live in fabulous, beautifully manicured homes is very wrong).
But I think this tendency to put up with rented homes as they are handed to us has grown into a thing because we’ve let it happen. There is always a way to bend the rules, and I’m writing this down as a reminder and a boost of courage not just for you, but for me too.
So, my dear partners-in-renting, here are a few things I would suggest to you if you would come to me for an interior design consultation:
Some landlords are more easy-going than others and will allow tenants to paint the walls as long as they return it to their original colour (hello, good old magnolia). I would always suggest you stick to neutral colours, not just because they are pretty and versatile but also because you never know, the owner might actually like it and you can get away with re-painting the whole house when you are moving out! If you ask me, when in doubt, go for white walls. They are classy, understated and they will even go with the crappy lino flooring you aren’t allowed to get rid of. It’s a win-win.
Now, if you would have my landlord, our consultation would go in a whole new direction (would you consider ‘accidentally’ pushing a 72-year-old over immoral?). I thought our building’s structural issues which force us to spend a fortune on heating and running a dehumidifier would make him more open minded towards our creative ideas, but instead I’ve been told that the black mould and rising damp is caused by us breathing (yep, you’ve read that right) and everything must stay as it is.
So, what do you do with walls you can’t re-paint or wallpaper? You get creative and try and conceal them. Wallpapered panels are easy to make, they don’t do any permanent damage and they are stunning. Plus, you don’t have to spend a fortune on your favourite, extremely expensive wallpaper to cover the whole room – a single panel, positioned correctly can have a huge impact as the focal point of your room.
Hanging fabrics is another great alternative. I used to work in an interior design studio where we had the most beautiful floral fabric hanging off a curtain pole, and it was effective, unique, and received tons of comments.
I’m pretty sure nail holes are the worst nightmare of a landlord. We have that many holes in our walls, you’d think we’ve been caught up in a war. Nothing gives a space more personality as artwork and photos, so to avoid having to re-plaster your entire house, I advise you to be smarter than I am: create wall galleries with hanging strips or install ledges. If you own any paintings, lean them against the walls. It creates a more dramatic and relaxed look (like you are being cool without trying!).
Never underestimate the power of cushions. Yes, they can be annoying, but they are essential in finishing off a room! They are such great tools when you want to shake things up a bit; they are inexpensive and have a huge impact on the overall look of your space. Think about pairing up different shades of the same colour in different textures.
Curtains and blinds (or both)! Curtains/blinds are great. Expensive, but great. Most rented homes come with standard eyelet curtains, which might not always look good but at least it makes the curtain buying process that much easier. If you’re not one for curtains, ready-made blinds were invented for you. I love the ones made out of bamboo and wooden strips – they are natural, minimal and they look great.
Most people won’t see your bedroom but as long as you have a stunning set of bed linen on your bed, you might just get away with the rest of the room.
My favourite part of the whole design process is choosing the lighting. It tends to come as an afterthought for most homeowners, but really it should be something you start thinking about very early on. The right light fitting can transform a whole room, which is a great thing if you are renting because it’s one of those things you can actually move from one house to the other. Choose statement pieces that stand out and make sure you’ve got the right lighting for each part and activity of the day.
Invest in a good rug, especially if you’ve got a long-term rental contract. Good quality rugs age beautifully and you will be able to incorporate them into your design wherever you move.
Have you ever seen the difference a good set of handles and knobs do to an old kitchen cupboard? Try it!
You should always have plants in your house. Not me, I tend to kill them. But you, you should definitely have them! I envy people who make gardening and tending to plants look so effortless because there is no other accessory as beautiful and effective as greenery. Consider the season you are in; go vivid green in spring time and decorate with dried floral branches in the winter.
We spend 80% of our lives inside buildings; some of it at work, but most of it at home. Wherever we live, it’s worth investing time and effort into the way our home looks!