Designers & Industry Professionals Guide to Decorating a Rental Home
By Matilda Sturley
Matilda Sturley has gathered together a group of extremely stylish and knowledgeable people to ask them for their tips on the best way to decorate a rental home.
The UK housing market has seen some extraordinary things over the past year. Interest rates were at an all-time low at around one per cent, followed by spikes of up to ten per cent in September last year. In 2023, the average person would need to raise a 15 per cent deposit to secure a mortgage. So for a £250k home, you'd need a 15 per cent mortgage of £37,500, accordingly to Money Saving Expert. Though some lenders offer mortgages with a five per cent deposit, adding together the cost of living crisis and current fuel prices, it's no wonder buying a property isn't on the cards for many of us.
With reduced responsibility for unforeseen issues and the ability to up-sticks, rental homes do offer positives that an owned property can't, though moving in can often feel a little anticlimactic. We've been there... scuffed magnolia walls, slightly stained furniture with fraying edges. It's the all-too-familiar scenes greeting those of us who have or are renting our homes. Tenancy contracts often frighten us into believing we have to keep the flat exactly as we received it for the duration of our time there, or our deposits will be lost, gone, forever.
There are however some very nifty ways to transform your rental into a home that reflects who you are and your interior style. We've asked Interior Designers and Industry Professionals for their advice for decorating a rental, and trust me, and they did not disappoint... Before we get into it, though, a quick disclaimer to always check with your landlord before making any changes to your home. Even if you are improving it, the nod of approval is a must!
When moving into a rental, what are the do's and don'ts of decorating?
I would suggest trying to fill your rental with as much plant life as possible. Potted plants can be moved around the house and are easy to move if your time in the property is only temporary. Try pelargoniums in terracotta pots. They flower in summer but hold on to their shape and foliage throughout the winter, so they brighten up darker days. Don’t forget about indoor spring bulbs too. Pot up hyacinths, daffs, iris reticulata, and amaryllis in autumn for a display in late winter. For something more substantial, try a sparmania africana in a bright spot. However, be warned, they can grow quite tall and wide inside if they like their spot! All of these will go some way to add colour and personality to rooms that you have limited scope to decorate in.
What are the easy wins when decorating a rental home?
Addressing what is going to make the biggest impact that is a) easily changed b) doesn't cost a bomb, and c) is ultimately going to please your landlord! In this NY apartment, we redecorated all the rooms, a fresh lick of paint is obviously the best facelift but going a step further, we repainted the very drab kitchen cabinet doors and changed the hardware throughout, replacing the chunky chrome door handles with beautiful bronze alternatives. Replacing the curtains and blinds are going to make a huge difference too - and you can take them with you when you leave.
What are the misconceptions people believe when considering redecorating their rental home?
Probably the walls have to stay white and you can’t do anything to it. I’m not convinced that’s always the case and it’s generally worth having a conversation with your landlord in the beginning (or three)! There’s often some sort of deal to be done - I even know of people who have spruced up a rental in return for reduced rent. But you understandably won’t want to spend loads of money on something that you can’t take with you. So I think big paintings or prints, wallhangings or tapestries are a great way to go – they cover lots of wall and make it feel like home at the same time. Also if it’s some sort of textile it will help with sound if there are lots of hard, cold surfaces.
What are the easy wins when decorating a rental home?
When it comes to decorating, textiles are my favourite way to add colour, texture, and a little personality to a space. Textiles can be used as an accent piece or as a focal point. One of my favourite ways to use textiles is by draping them over furniture. I like to use some of my favourite scarfs and hang them over the back of chairs as an accent piece. Duvet covers are another great option for instantly changing the feel of your bedroom. Opt for natural fabric, which only gets softer over time. Another tried-and-true way to update a sofa is with throws - they're lightweight but provide warmth and colour. Cushions also quickly add colour and texture; they can be added as accents and best of all, you can take these textiles with you when you move!
What is the best way to create additional storage in a rental?
When we were renting, I was having precisely this problem. I was looking for some book and toy storage that could also house a television. After a lot of googling, I came across these genius modular storage solutions from Spain and haven’t looked back.
They're called BrickBox. They are so clever because they stack safely, but when you’re ready to go, you can turn each individual compartment on its back and carry it out as you would a box. I still use them in the new house and studio but just in different configurations. – I put wheels on a couple of stacked boxes - it’s now my paint trolley and I’ve used others for toys.
And you can’t go wrong with a Pulleymaid for drying clothes which frees up other areas. We hung ours in the stairwell at the top of the flat.
Utilising every single piece of furniture for alternative means! Choose an ottoman with a lid for storage, a divan bed with drawers underneath... Use the height, too - a shelf above the door is a great place for books.
What are the most affordable ways to redecorate a rental home?
I would say buy second-hand and antique as much as possible, and choose furniture and art with a view to it being in your life for the long term. Trawl your local auction house or antique fair, and track the names of brands and designers you like on eBay. Buy good quality stuff that will become the start of your furniture collection. For the rest, head for the high street - we are really lucky to have some great affordable options in the UK. IKEA, La Redoute, Habitat, Dunelm, Zara and H&M Home all have decent stuff. There are also some really wonderful affordable independent options - v. useful House & Garden list here:
As a long-term renter, when I move to a new place, the first thing I start to think about is painting. It may seem daunting to paint such a blank canvas, especially when landlords require you to leave the place as you found it, but I believe that renting shouldn't mean you can't make a place your own.
Before painting, I gather a few things together that I like the colour of, whether that's a dress, or a phone case, and then match them to a paint swatch book. Get tester pots where you can and test a patch, how natural light hits the room can make a huge difference to paint colour. Try to rope some friends in to help with a wine and painting night.
What are the do's and don'ts of hanging art in a rental home?
A landlord should be happy that you want to hang art on the walls of your rental property – it shows you, as the tenant, are invested in the home and are more likely to look after it. That said, it is a good idea to make sure that anything you hang doesn’t cause too much damage to the walls that cannot be made good when you leave - there are damage-free picture hanging adhesives that are a non-intrusive method of hanging art that can help. Also consider displaying your art in other ways, especially for particularly heavy pieces, perhaps propped up on shelves and tables.
I'm not really sure I have much wisdom to impart for this one having always just whacked whatever I wanted on the walls of previous rental homes and then poly filled and painted over the evidence when we moved out. I would say my do is, DO hang things (obviously unless your landlord is a real tyrant about it, or the house you've rented has precious wallpaper), and if you can't hang, stack and lean pictures instead. Displaying things in frames, not just art but anything that is precious to you, is the fastest way to give a rental home character and make a place feel like home.
My don't is perhaps to be mindful of the urge to rush out and buy cheap filler pictures for walls you're desperate to cover. In my experience, it is better to spend your money getting things that you want to cherish properly framed (inexpensive things like photos, cards, anything that holds a memory), or biding your time and spending your money on things you really love when you come across them. The wait to find the right piece can feel agonising when you want a room to be decorated, but in the long run, you'll end up with the start of a collection that you'll want to take with you when you move rather than a pile of cheap frames and prints that you've gone off gathering dust in the attic.