My husband and I live in a rented flat in central London. It’s small — a lot smaller than the seaside house we lived in for six years, and the flat we moved into when we first came to London. And it’s not just small — it’s boring and grotty, too. But it’s allowing us to save some pennies for our future travelling plans, so we can put up with it for a little while.
It’s a space that we can’t really personalise too much — we have no idea how long we’re going to be here (could be three months, could be a year). We can’t hang pictures or shelves without permission, and we certainly don’t want to spend any money on furniture or decorating right now. We’ve had to work with what we’ve got, and I’m happy to say that little by little over the past couple of months it’s really taken shape.
How have we turned a dull, boxy flat with dirty walls into a space that we actually enjoy? A few cheap tricks:
1. Hide the ugly
Our first priority was giving everything a good scrub. It was a crappy way to spend our first weekend here but it brightened things up a bit. Unfortunately it also showed us that some walls were beyond saving. So we bought some coloured bulbs for the lounge, lit some candles and hey presto! No one can see that the walls need a repaint.
The wardrobes here are hideous, so we charity-shopped some silk curtains and covered them up.
There are some ancient and horrid thermostat controls dotted around, so we hung our hat collection on them — we’ve had compliments on this “innovative” wall décor!
This one in the bedroom also made a good hangy place for my earrings, which are displayed on an old cut-up bag.
We also had a couple of walls which had little holes in them, so we bought cheap but pretty posters to cover them up.
2. Plants are brilliant
They come with us everywhere we go and add a bit of life to whatever room they’re in. Especially the tall ones — great for breaking up the expanse of walls you can’t put anything on for fear of losing your deposit. Plus you can hang pretty things from them.
For the plant murderers out there (I used to be one of you!) you can’t go wrong with some spider plants. They grow quickly and easily, and they multiply, too. You just pick off the sprouting baby and stick it in a new pot. Honestly, you’ve got no excuse — they’re very hard to fuck up.
3. Fairy lights make any space better
Our PC is cunningly disguised in a gorgeous cupboard — an Ebay bargain. It’s good at hiding the ugly monitor and wires from the rest of the room, but inside it’s a bit dark and gloomy, and I realised this was putting me off using it — not good. So I added some cheap lights and BOOM! I’ve got an inviting little grotto of a workspace. I feel a bit smug every time I turn these twinklers on.
Other lighting can be cheap but effective too — I put a small lamp behind my collection of medicine bottles to make a glowing feature.
4. Repurpose all the things!
Change the way you see objects and you can do anything you like with them. My guitar amp doubles as side table next to the sofa. Our slimline book case slides neatly into a space in the kitchen and doubles as a booze and treats altar.
We had no bedside tables but I really needed one and didn’t want to splash the cash. I dressed a stool with a scrap of fabric from an old dress I haven’t worn for years and a gold plate to made a makeshift one.
The bedroom was particularly dull (literally a dirty white cuboid) but I recently found a gorgeous turquoise skirt in a second-hand shop. Floaty and flowery is not really my style when it comes to my personal style, but I love that colour (hello, matching duvet, bathroom gear, blog logo…), so I hung it up on a piece of string suspended between the curtain rail and the one nail in the room.
5. Cater to your routine
I followed Ariel’s advice and made a little “tea altar” which I appreciate every morning. Our hallways usually become dumping grounds, so I’ve made a designated floor space for flat shoes, high heels hang off the radiator, and an old broken chair that can’t take a hoomin’s weight happily stores our bags.
I like to get into bed early most nights to watch a film, or listen to the radio while I blog, so next to my bed I keep face wipes, nice smelly candles, and a wee bowl to put my jewellery in because I always forget to take it off until I’m all snug and cosy. All of this helps keep the place tidy and makes my day run a bit more smoothly — which makes me feel more positive about the living space as a whole.
So, if you’re despairing about your rental space and can’t afford to go buy new things or paint and decorate but, like me, really need your space to be welcoming and pretty… Fear not, it can be done! We’ve spent less than £50 on this place so far and it’s definitely starting to feel like home. It’s not perfect, but it works.
Be sure to check our Renting archives for TONS more thoughts on making your rental less ugly.