How To Make A Rental Feel Like Home

For many, it’s economics. For others, it’s a lifestyle choice to avoid the burden of ownership. Whatever the reason, many of us are spending longer in rented accommodation, which can limit your decorating options. But, whether it’s a family house or a studio flat, there are a few things you can do to imprint your personal style on a rented property. Here’s how to make your rental feel more like your home…

Talk To Your Landlord

Before you open your tool kit, start a conversation with your landlord and find out what you can do under your contract. Often, it’s just a case of returning a property back to its original state. As Zoopla’s Tom Parker explains, "Under a standard rental contract, any redecoration or changes to the fittings and fixtures of the property can only be carried out with the landlord's permission. The more minor the alteration is – for example, putting up a shelf – the more likely it is to be granted. Occasionally, this permission might be granted on the condition that the tenant restores the property to its original condition when they leave, such as removing the shelves and filling the resulting holes in the wall.”
If you maintain good lines of communication with your landlord and you're a good tenant, it's much more likely they will want you to be happy and remain in the property and, as a result, will be more agreeable to small changes. “We have no issue with our residents donning their paint gear and having fun with colour, as long as you are able to paint the wall and return it to the original wall colour,” says Ryan Prince, CEO and founder of Uncle, a residential rental company with buildings in many major British cities.

Define Your Decor

Medina Grillo is passionate about empowering people to enjoy their rental as much as they would an owned home. She has a website (How I Rent), a book (Home Sweet Rented home) and a DIY blog at Grillo Designs full of clever decorating ideas. “One of the best things I’ve done to breathe a little life into my rented home is apply removable wallpaper to the walls,” she says. “It’s pricey, but so worth it because it’s renter friendly and doesn’t damage the wall when it’s removed. You can search for stylish removable wallpaper on platforms like Etsy.”
If you can’t or don’t want to change your walls, you can inject style in other ways. “I personally love a white wall and think it's the perfect setting for almost any interior style, from bohemian to eclectic,” says Emma Jane Palin, a freelance art consultant, interior stylist and award-winning blogger who is much admired for making her rented house in Margate feel like home. “But if you're a fan of colour, I would add bright room accents that stand out. It doesn't need to be huge furniture items – think about vases, artwork and curtains. Look to Bauhaus and mid-century modern homes for inspiration. Alternatively, consider how you can warm it up with natural textures, such as rattan and jute. Layering decor will help to bring your personality to the space.”

Choose Furniture That Can Move With You

“There's no point spending money on something you can’t take with you or that you have to return to its original state in the long run – and that isn't very sustainable either,” says Emma. “If you're worried about sizing for larger furniture items, such as a sofa, look for modular options or ones that fold down for easy access. I'm also an avid thrifter and will often look at eBay and charity shops when homeware shopping. The British Heart Foundation shops are ideal for picking up some seriously stylish second-hand pieces.”

Don’t Mess With The Flooring

Unless you have a specific agreement with your landlord, there isn’t much you can do about flooring – it can be a big sunk cost as you can’t take it with you, or a grave mistake if it doesn’t go to plan. Emma has these tips to transform your flooring where needed: “Self-adhesive tiles for your kitchen or bathroom look great, but won't damage your floor if you buy the right kind. Large rugs are brilliant for hiding brown carpets and I'd recommend layering a Berber-style rug over a large jute number for extra texture. Unfortunately, you'll never be able to pre-empt your next home, but shops such as John Lewis, Habitat and offer affordable styles that will be easy to sell on or take with you.”

Add Personality With Art

No one wants to look at an empty expanse of wall in every room. “It's always about artwork and photographs for me,” Emma says. “I think it's really easy to bring life to a plain space by adding some artwork to your walls, and it doesn't have to be expensive. Pick up posters and postcards from art museums, frame tea towels and scarves, or collect unique works from local artists. You can use command strips as a renter-friendly hanging option that doesn't damage the wall underneath.” 
Ryan Prince advises: “We are flexible with our residents adding their own touches to their apartments. After all, that’s what makes an apartment feel like a home and we love seeing our residents get creative with their space. Adding wall art is a great way to inject some personality into your apartment. But be cautious: using hanging tools like nails or hooks could cause permanent damage to your walls and your deposit. Instead, wall-friendly temporary solutions like adhesive strips are a brilliant risk-free alternative.”

Use Accessories To Style Your Kitchen 

“Kitchens are the rooms I find the hardest to work with, as there's very little you can do if you're dealt a bad one,” says Emma. “We have a white and bland number, but we've added in lots of plants – you could use a tension rod across a wall to hang them – and we've changed all the cupboard handles to add some colour. I'm also an avid tableware collector and have lots of pretty things to distract from the basic tiling and worktops. I've seen people painting kitchens and using removable vinyl, but personally it's an area that I'm happy to put up with while I’m renting. Again, it's all about priorities.”

Don’t Forget The Finishing Touches

Lighting is key to creating atmosphere in a room. From woven shades to statement floor lamps, there are plenty of options that you can take with you when you move. “I'm a fan of statement rattan lampshades or, again, picking up a retro bargain from a charity shop,” says Emma. “You can also layer your lighting by adding in table lamps and floor lamps that fit in with your personal style.” If you want to hide unsightly windows, look to ready-made curtains on the high street – they can disguise a multitude of sins. Emma advises investing in curtains that reach the floor and are a complementary colour to the room: “Good quality but affordable options can be picked up from John Lewis and Ikea.” 

Bring The Outside In

Whether you have a balcony, small garden, or no outside space at all, plants bring an additional element to a home while also creating a better living atmosphere. “A lot of our residents (particularly millennial renters) are green-fingered and love to add plants to their apartments or even create herb gardens on their private balconies,” says Ryan. “Our residents love their views of the iconic London cityscape, but adding a touch of nature to inner-city living is so important.” Small pots with trailing leaves look lovely on high shelves in bathrooms and kitchens, while larger species in bold planters will make a great interiors statement.

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