Desperate to bring decor va-va-voom to your home without upsetting your landlord? Gabrielle Fagan asks an expert for her top tips for tenants.
Faced with grubby paintwork, stained floorboards and peeling wallpaper, it can be hard to know what to do to lift the interior of a rented flat.
It’s a situation homes guru Medina Grillo found herself in, and was disheartened but undaunted. She was determined to find ingenious ways of transforming her pad into a stylish space, without falling foul of her landlord.
The result is her award-winning interiors blog, Grillo-Designs.com, where her affordable ideas and simple, clever DIY projects have inspired so many, and new book, Home Sweet Rented Home: Transform Your Home Without Losing Your Deposit.
“I’m an average renter trying to make a house a home,” says Grillo, a 31-year-old nurse and mother-of-one.
“It’s difficult to stamp your personality on a place when your landlord’s uncomfortable with you drilling a hole to put up a picture. But I kid you not, there are ways.”
Her rental rescue tips cover everything from dealing with poor lighting, cramped spaces, and ugly appliances, to all the ways you can change and personalise a space. “My ideas are great for renters — but they also work for homeowners on a budget, and interior lovers who like to change their decor a lot,” she says.
Grillo’s own home showcases her talent. She’s experimented with removable wallpaper, carpet off-cuts to beautify a dreary staircase, storage created from old crates, and nifty ways to hang pictures and art, without damaging walls.
For the practically-minded, the book includes easy DIY projects – a ‘lean against a wall’ shelf unit, and stylists’ tricks, including dressing a bed so it’s a statement in a bedroom.
To avoid problems, communication is key, she stresses. She always asks a landlord in writing via text or email before she does anything in a property, and and also offers to make good when she leaves.
Above all, Grillo, who simply oozes positivity and enthusiasm, promises renters can create not only a home they can delight in, but one that tells a story and celebrates you, your style, your personality, and your family.
Check out what you can do to rescue your rented living space and turn it into the home of your dreams…
1. Work magic with removable wallpaper
“Removable wallpaper can transform walls. There are so many creative ways it can be used,” declares Grillo, who describes it as “magical”.
In her own home, she’s wallpapered the lower half of a hall wall. She suggests it could be used in a bedroom, where it could act as a faux headboard, to jazz up the inside of alcoves or an untiled wall above work surfaces in a kitchen.
“Who doesn’t like the freedom of being able to write on a wall?” says Grillo. “Best of all, you can create a complete chalkboard feature wall without the hassle of painting.”
In her dining room, she has a painted chalkboard wall which she’s created using chalkboard sticky paper, which can be removed.
Tenant tip: Always check with your landlord first before embarking on wallpapering. If there is existing wallpaper, it will need to be removed first. Check the wall surface is suitable by testing with a small sample of paper first. Removeable paper can’t be applied to all walls (for example, textured or bumpy walls). Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
2. Step up your stair style
“Stairs are the first thing someone will see when they walk into a house, and we all know first impressions count for everything,” she says. “It’s possible to make each step pop, by adding statement features of your own.”
Her staircase is one of the most popular features on her Instagram. She’s carpeted each stair tread and painted the step risers black, stencilling numbers on each.
Tenant tip: You need to ask your landlord’s permission if you want to replace a stair carpet. Bear in mind, it may also mean replacing the landing carpet as well. (If the carpet was worn and damaged when you moved in, you could try asking for a contribution to costs.) You can buy online pre-cut carpet treads and staple them in place. Alternatively, a patterned runner could be fixed to stairs using Velcro or a staple gun.
3. Put your personality on the walls
“You don’t need to whip out a paintbrush to add character to a space,” insists Grillo. “One of the easiest ways to make a house or apartment feel truly like your own, is to hang things up on the wall.”
Think outside of the box, she urges, and don’t confine yourself to photos or art, consider framing decorative tea towels, vintage newspaper clippings, fabric scraps or wallpaper samples.
Ditching a traditional 2D flat look and using multi-dimensional objects – such as straw hats and baskets – will add to the interest, says Grillo, who’s done that in her living room to great effect.
Tenant tip: Always avoid using nails which can damage walls. Consider attaching clipboards to a wall with adhesive strips or hooks. This allows you flexibility to change or rotate art or photos. Be careful to choose adhesive strips which are suitable for the wall surface (most require a smooth, clean wall) and the weight of what you want to hang.
4. Make your own storage
“Wooden crates are a fantastic (and fairly cheap) way to create storage,” points out Grillo.
“Add wheels and then you can move them around wherever you fancy. Once you’ve created your crate shelving, play around with decoration. Try adding removable wallpaper to the back of each one, or paint them a bright colour.”
Tenant tip: If you’d prefer not to use a screwdriver and screws to secure crates together, crates can be stacked and fixed using wood glue or heavy duty adhesive. (Note that this method is not reversible, so you won’t be able to un-stack them in the future.)
5. Hide ugly appliances
A simple curtain could be the answer to cover up those essential machines – dishwasher/washing machine – which in a rental property, may be past their best looks-wise, says Grillo.
“Creating a cabinet skirt to sit under your counter is the perfect way to hide those unsightly appliances,” she says.
Tenant tip: You could use a pair of old bed sheets or curtains with hems already in place. Just cut to size and create a channel at the top for a tension rod (ideal for hanging lightweight curtains). Alternatively, curtain hooks with clips can be used.
6. Dress the bed
Turn that dull bedroom – dominated by a bed – into a stylish sanctuary, by dressing the bed like an interior designer would, and really paying attention to your choice of bed linen, throws and cushions.
“Even if a bed frame looks a little tired, and the bedroom seems bland and neutral, the addition of some pattern and colour can elevate the bed to a focal point,” Grillo promises.
“For a minimal, classic look, always stick to pale neutrals and crisp white, but mix rich textures and abstract prints in accessories, so the bed doesn’t end up looking too plain.”
For a bright and bold look, colourful throws or decorative cushions contrasted with plain white sheets works well, she says. If you prefer a vibrant, patterned duvet set, pick out one of the shades and highlight it with a throw and cushions in the same colour.
Tenant tip: A decorative valance sheet is designed to conceal the base of a bed, and while it may be considered old-fashioned by some, it can be great for concealing an ugly bed frame.
7. Throw a rug down
“A patterned rug is a brilliant way to add colour and drama to a bare room,” says Grillo. “If you really hate the floor carpet – but it has to stay – layer rugs over the top of it, which will also ramp up the feeling of comfort and warmth.”
Tenant tip: If surfaces and shelves are in short supply, she suggests creating a leaning shelf unit (which only needs one screw to anchor it to the wall for safety reasons). A ‘lean-against-the-wall’ unit can be simply made out of structural plywood, but its best to get it cut at the DIY store when you buy it. The shelves are attached to the backboard by screws, so won’t be strong enough for heavy books, but could be sturdy enough to hold a mixture of lighter items.
Home Sweet Rented Home: Transform Your Home Without Losing Your Deposit by Medina Grillo, published by Mitchell Beazley, £15. Available now