Rental home renovation guide: how to transform a home with creative styling and reversible DIY

·7-min read
Emma Jane Palin negotiated making changes to her rented home that the landlords then chose to keep for future tenants  (@emmajanepalin)
Emma Jane Palin negotiated making changes to her rented home that the landlords then chose to keep for future tenants (@emmajanepalin)

Making your house a home is no easy feat, especially if you’re one of the estimated one in five UK households in rented accommodation.

According to campaigners at Generation Rent, over 13 million people in the UK rent their home from a private landlord, accounting for 20 per cent of the population overall and 29 per cent if putting the microscope under London only.

With every let comes the likelihood of complicated tenancy agreements that limit changes a tenant can implement, and as I found in my own time offering rental interior inspiration, comes the stigma that we cannot make a home our own.

But as Dylan once sang “times, they are a-changin.” The BBC’s recently released ‘Flat Out Fabulous’ saw interior designer Whinnie Williams and co-host Tyler West take on unloved rentals across the country.

From using dust sheets as curtains to spray painting antiques, the show is a lesson in how to update your rental home for less, and no magnolia walls will stop Williams and West on their quest to make rented homes fabulous.

On a day-to-day level, Instagram has become a hub of rental interior inspiration. Before buying my own house a few months ago, I was part of the gang, offering tips and advice to reluctant renters that wanted to overhaul their space without losing their deposit.

Thanks to the likes of Medina Grillo’s #HowIRent hashtag and my own #MyRentedAbode community, I grew in confidence over the years and managed to dictate rental agreements on my own terms. I sanded floors, painted walls, and removed woodchip wallpaper. As a result, a number of rentals I lived in kept the changes I made and were able to up the monthly rent as a result.

While I may have moved on to new ventures, if you’re looking for advice on how to inject colour and style into your own rented home, there is still plenty of inspiration to be found. Below, five familiar Instagram faces are sharing their most unusual tips on decorating their rented homes. Think of this as your rental renovation 101.

Kristabel Plummer

@iamkristabel

“I actually like having white walls in my home, as it means that I can go quite bold with my choices,” explains lifestyle content creator Kristabel Plummer. “You can definitely get creative with styling shelves, wall art and soft furnishings.”

Her North London-based flat is a lesson in how to decorate with colour, without even setting sight on a paintbrush. “The IKEA Billy bookcase is a great blank canvas to work with, especially if you don't have any fireplaces or original features like me. Play around with arranging books, candles, plants, even trinkets from past holidays.”

Plummer’s walls are filled with art, and in the living room, a woven basket feature wall provides colour, pattern and texture. To get the look, Plummer recommends experimenting with different sizes and patterns. “I love shops such as The Kenyan Crafts Company and La Basketry for all the intricate designs. Command hooks will be your friend, they can hold the weight and are so easy to remove.”

Amara

@thepajaamahub

A common problem area for renters is often the practical areas such as the kitchen and bathroom, with limited options for reversible changes. Enter Amara of The Pajama Hub whose home is filled with easy DIYs and creative hacks that go well above and beyond the standard. In fact, Amara has just been enlisted as a B&Q changemaker in a bid to inspire others. “I get my inspiration from Pinterest and Instagram,” says Amara. “Once I like the idea, I work out a method to introduce it into my rental while making it removable.”

In her bathroom, Amara has created a feature geometric wall using self-adhesive tiles, finishing the look with sleek gold lighting. “The light sconces above the mirror have been stuck with gorilla glue on top of peel and stick tiles,” she explains. “I removed the wiring from the inside to make them as light as possible. Instead of normal light bulbs, I used Puck lights from Amazon, and they work with a remote.”

As Amara reiterates, you shouldn’t feel limited with self-adhesive tiles. There are many options available at the likes of B&Q and Dunelm in a variety of colours and patterns. “They can be used to create a feature wall, update a tired looking floor, revamp a boring kitchen, or to add character to a staircase.”

Charlotte Jacklin

@charlottejacklin

Content creator and self-confessed floral lover, Charlotte Jacklin, lives in a 3-bed property in Lincoln. Within it she’s created a fake fireplace and has recently overhauled her kitchen with the permission of her landlord.

“I know scalloped shaped things are very popular right now but I also think they are really classic, never met a scallop I didn't like in interiors or on my clothes” says Jacklin. Inspired by Matilda Goad's scallop trimmed homewares, she set to work on upgrading her kitchen shelving with a reversible DIY. “Once I found the scallop MDF trim, I knew that was it; it's from a seller on eBay. I tacked them to the IKEA shelves that we already had, before filling and sanding, and then I painted them in Lick Pink 02, the same colour as the walls. I really like how they really allow everything on the shelves to stand out.”

As well as asking permission from your landlord for larger jobs, Jacklin advises changing the light fittings in your home for a look that’s more suited to you. John Lewis, Made.com and Dunelm all offer affordable options that look sleek and stylish. “Of course when we leave, we will swap them out. You could extend this to taps, toilet seats and sockets, just remember to keep it all in a safe place.”

Zeena Shah

@heartzeena

“The easiest way my husband and I could make our rented space ours was by adding things we loved to the space. My husband loves plants and started hanging them from our picture rails when we moved in, since then our indoor jungle has grown and it really makes our space feel unique to us.”

That’s not to say that Shah has avoided decoration all together in her rented Art Deco flat, opting instead for additions she can easily paint over. “ Our bedroom felt very bare and boring in brilliant white. It wasn't very us. So without committing to painting the whole wall, we decided to create a scalloped painted feature behind the bed. It's a faux headboard really, it gives the room a focal point.”

Shah recommends using paint tester pots to achieve the look affordably, and also champions Posca pens for adding smaller details. “You can draw onto a plain lampshade to add some unique colour and pattern if you're not ready for the walls,” she explains.

Steph Kaluza

@ohsorented

Think outside the box with your rental updates. How can you improve existing fixtures and fittings? Ill-placed radiators, complete with peeling paint or unidentified stains from previous tenants, are another pain point for the majority of tenants.

Interior Instagrammer, Steph Kaluza, opted to DIY her own radiator covers using a basic model bought from B&Q. She removed the original centre inserts and replaced them with cane webbing, secured with every renter’s best friend, the staple gun.

While covering the unsightly radiators in her one-bed London flat, the covers also provided a space for leaning prints and styling decor.

For those less inclined to DIY, Steph recommends “making the furniture the focus of the room” as a great way to draw eyes away from plain walls. “Put up a standing statement cabinet, pick out a colourful coffee table or find a unique TV unit.”

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