When you rent a property it can be difficult to put your stamp on it decoratively without risking your deposit. However, there are a raft of ways to bring character and style to a rental that are easy to undo when you leave. We spoke to interior designers Clare Gaskin and Lonika Chande for their insider tips, as well as renters Zeena Shah and Medina Grillo.
Ask your landlord what you can and cannot do
Interior designer Clare Gaskin may not work with renters often these days, but she has been one before and leases her current studio. Clare has a wealth of tips for decorating in a way that works for rentals, but her main emphasis was on speaking to your landlord about making changes. All too often, we assume we won’t be allowed to paint, change curtains or put nails in walls - and while Clare and the other design insiders we spoke to for this piece have ways around that - Clare was adamant that you should speak to the landlord first; ‘check the terms of your lease first and don’t just assume that you can’t push things a bit. If you think you’ll be there for a while and want to change something, put it to your landlord and make your case as to why something should change. It can add value to their property after all. They probably won’t be willing to change the flooring or anything major like that, but if it is particularly bad, you can always offer to cover a third or half of the cost with them.’
When you rent a property, things like windows are often ignored as you decorate and they often come with rather lacklustre blinds and curtains. Clare’s advice? ‘Check if you can take them down, if you need to store them or can just get rid of them and then look at really simple options.’ She suggests Ikea’s long unhemmed curtains and using the iron-on tape to easily hem them yourself to the right length. ‘You want curtains to be quite simple if you’re on a budget,’ Clare continues, ‘it doesn’t make sense to spend lots on this aspect in a rental scenario. Keep it really simple with lovely linens and cottons that hang beautifully.’ Lonika follows the same ethos, suggesting ‘These don't need to be made to measure but Caravane and La Redoute have lovely coloured linen options that can be attached with curtain clips.’ A final word from Clare: ‘Don’t give up on your window - it’s a big thing in the flat, give it a bit of love and ask for it to be cleaned.’
Just like windows, lighting is something we often assume we have no control over but Clare and Lonika’s advice may change that thinking. ‘Light is often harsh and unsightly in a rental,’ says Lonika, something which Clare wholeheartedly agrees with, especially if every room has a single pendant. ‘Swapping out cumbersome shades for pretty rattan ones you can find on Ebay’ is one way Lonika improves the situation, and both are very keen on low level lighting instead of the single central bulb. For Lonika, it’s really important to ‘add lamps and create a bit of a mood,’ while Clare also mentions ‘uplighters to create washes of lights - they are an inexpensive way of lighting a feature, perhaps an artwork. You could be wanting to light where your plants are or increase the lighting in the room and make it more cosy and a nicer environment. There are ways to improve on lighting so do improve on it.’ For Clare, in fact, ‘lighting is the most important thing and always the best place to start,’ both in projects she works on and a rental scenario.
A simple way to inject personality into a rental without risking your deposit is through colour. If you can’t paint the walls, Clare Gaskin suggests that renters could ‘paint or wallpaper big boards or canvases in colours you love and leave them propped up - like leaning art that can become a feature. It’s a good solution for people who are really into colour or pattern and don’t want a magnolia box.’ Zeena Shah, a popular renter on Instagram who keeps her followers updated on her decorating process has a different solution: ‘As we can't paint the walls [in our flat] we've brought colour and pattern into the space with the furniture and decorative accessories. Cushions, throws and rugs are a great way to inject some colour if you're not sure where to start. Bolder items like a pink sofa can bring so much fun and character to a room.’ In her rented flat (pictured at top), House & Garden's Creative Director (Interiors), Gabby Deeming, framed lovely paper from Antoinette Poisson as a lovely way to bring pattern in affordably. Medina Grillo, who runs a blog on decorating and penned the book Home Sweet Rented Home: Transform Your Home Without Losing Your Deposit, goes a step further: 'Removable wallpaper will change your life, and your bland walls. It can be a little expensive but it is well worth the investment. You don’t have to worry about lasting damage that may prevent you from get your deposit back, as its very easy to remove. Search shops like Etsy for some modern designs.'
For lovers of fabric, a rented property can seem to offer little chance for displaying swathes of your beloved prints and patterns, especially if it comes furnished. However, there are many ways around this. Clare Gaskin’s brilliant suggestion is investing in a room divider or screen; ‘Screens can be really useful as you can have lots of fun with them and cover them in your own fabrics - a trifold is particularly good as you can use three different ones or wallpapers.’ Lonika agrees, saying that ‘introducing lots of textured materials helps to make a space feel homely and loved’ and suggests upholstering a favourite chair in a fabric you love, as you’ll have that forever. Renters can also cover canvases in favourite fabrics and hang these, or if your landlord allows nails in the wall, Clare says ‘wall hangings are a great way to add character - buy a metre of fabric and hang it!’ The simplest way however, as Lonika states, is to ‘invest in nice bedding, or a fabric-covered headboard.’ Medina echoes that, adding 'don't forget about all your soft furnishings like cushions, rugs, and curtains. Even if your rental is fully finished, you can switch these homeware items up so that your home reflects your style.'
Everyone agrees that plants are pretty much the number one way to add personality to a rental in an easy, affordable and approachable way. Interior designer Lonika Chande - who offers a one-off consultancy service that could be brilliant for a renter - says, ‘Never underestimate the power of a good houseplant. A bit of something green, be it a large ficus or potted fresh herbs in the kitchen in old flower pots. I collect these, picking them up from Ebay or reclamation yards. Also dried flowers - Straw London has started selling some lovely dried arrangements during lockdown.’ It’s a sentiment echoed by Zeena Shah, who uses them to great effect in her flat as ‘we don't have a garden of our own.’ She advises, ‘We've hung plants from the curtain pole to bring the outdoors in. Hanging them from the picture rail too is another great easy to remove option for a renter.’ Clare Gaskin, who finds that her plants live best in the bathroom, suggests looking to Patch London for ideas on what plants to bring into your space as ‘they have good advice on good plants for wellbeing.’
For anyone with a landlord who will not accept nails in the walls, there are things you can do to be creative with displaying art. Both Lonika and Clare advise on propping pictures up rather than hanging them and displaying smaller frames or canvases on shelves and leaning bigger ones against walls, as does Medina. Clare also suggests that easels can be a brilliant way to get around the issue, while renter Zeena has a nifty trick for creating a gallery wall without nails. ‘Living in a rented home doesn't mean it has to be boring,’ she explains, continuing ‘We've injected a bit of us into the walls using command strips to create a temporary gallery wall. We aren't able to drill into the walls so it's the perfect solution as they're completely removable. We sourced affordable art from independent designers and drew some ourselves.’ Again, do check with your landlord first as some may be happy to let you put nails in the walls, so long as you remove them, polyfilla the hole and paint it when you leave. Once you have your answer, set about getting your art up as, as Medina says, 'gallery walls are a great way to inject colour to your walls and display items that you love.'
To cover up an unsightly carpet or floor, Lonika likes to layer rugs - ‘a more neutral natural fibre rug like a sisal is perfect underneath, layered with a smaller softer rug like a lovely vintage Berber on top. To achieve this look, I use the Lohals rug from IKEA a lot, or a taped sisal area rug from Fibre Flooring. Another favourite is rush woven matting squares; you can purchase these from Edit58 and she will make bespoke too.’ For a long hall or entrance space, Lonika looks towards vintage kilim runners, which she finds Etsy is a good source for. Finally, she suggests that ‘pretty cotton rag rugs are a lovely way to add colour and texture to a more neutral bathroom.’
Lonika Chande: lonikachande.com
Clare Gaskin: claregaskin.com
Medina Grillo: grillo-designs.com
Zeena Shah: @heartzeena
This article originally appeared on House & Garden UK.