After a lot of us spending the majority of our time in our homes in 2020 and 2021, more of us than ever are fixated on our interiors: from deliberately decorating with joy to tablescaping to making peace with our clutter. In particular, we were inspired to spruce up our spaces in lockdown and thanks to the growing #HowIRent movement on Instagram, interior inspiration is no longer reserved for those who own their own property.
"I noticed that there was a lot of stigma around renters who were trying to make their homes look pretty. There seems to be this assumption that because you rent, you shouldn’t be investing in making a home feel like a home," says Medina Grillo, the founder of the HowIRent video series, author of Home Sweet Rented Home: Transform Your Home Without Losing Your Deposit, and previous participant in R29's Sweet Digs series.
Grillo’s video series showcases inspiring rental homes which have been transformed to their owners’ tastes with useful tricks that viewers can implement themselves. After all, for so many, buying a property is out of reach (two words: housing crisis). The community Grillo has created also questions the stigmas that come with renting, especially in a country like the UK where owning a house is positioned as an important life goal and marker of success.
On Instagram, the #HowIRent hashtag has garnered over 18,000 posts and a crop of influencers are leading the way with content dedicated to rental upgrades. While renting itself can often be a nightmare (difficult landlords and instability most notably), it can also provide an exciting interior challenge. Here, the women leading this movement share some of their top tips…
Medina Grillo, the founder of the HowIRent video series and author of Home Sweet Rented Home: Transform Your Home Without Losing Your Deposit
Don’t despair at a sad-looking bathroom
"Swap out the shower curtain for something fun, add plants (ferns work well) or try colourful bath mats and pretty display towels. You can also freshen up grout with grout pens, re-caulk areas around the sink and bath if the seal is looking a little grotty, switch the shower head or upgrade bath panels with removable wallpaper or vinyl fablon."
Use smart lighting solutions
"Lighting is one of the key elements that helps make a home feel warm and inviting. Sometimes the lighting in a rented home can be quite basic but there are a few things you can do to improve it: adding plug-in lighting or floor lamps for specific areas, switching to smart LED lightbulbs or fixing battery-powered LED lights to the inside or on the underside of cupboards. It’s also worth looking at window dressings. Could switching from curtains to blinds (or vice versa) improve the natural lighting of the room?"
Invest in soft furnishings
"My favourite hack for instantly making a rental place feel like home is adding soft furnishings like cushions, curtains, rugs and throws to corners of your home. The result is immediate and depending on where you shop, doesn’t need to be expensive."
Think creatively about storage
"I always repurpose packaging and use it for storage. Upcycling boring cardboard boxes with something like marbling gives a brilliantly luxury feel and saves on waste. Baskets and crates are also fab ways to store your items. Upcycling old wooden pallets into under-bed storage also works a treat for those on a budget."
Separate work from life when WFH
"It isn't ideal working from your dining table when you live in a small space. I tend to store my work things in a beautiful straw storage basket and make sure to put my screen out of sight behind the sofa at the end of the working day. If you can, desks that double up as shelves or hidden storage are a great way to hide things and still have a tasteful piece in the space."
Bring the garden indoors
"Adding some foliage to your living space is a brilliant and easy way to add a bit of character. You could also DIY your plant pots with some paint tester pots and a paintbrush to add a bit of indoor art."
Try to choose a property designed to be decorated
"I used to be really wary about mentioning decorating when looking around a rental property as I thought landlords would think I was difficult. Over the years I realised it was actually a strength so I advertised myself as someone that could benefit them. I bypassed traditional estate agents and looked to Facebook community groups for someone that wanted their property decorated. If that's not possible, I'd look for somewhere with white walls and nice flooring as a good base for adding personality via furniture and decor."
Negotiate with your landlord
"Some landlords and management agencies are laid-back and will let you do as you like (as long as it's returned to its previous state) but others might need some convincing. If you don't really have a plan yourself, you can't expect your landlord to get on board with your ideas.
If you go above and beyond with showing what you would like to do, how this could appeal to future renters, and show any examples of where you've done this before, it will be hard for them to say no!"
"Art and photographs are a super easy way to add colour to a home so it's always the first place I'll start when moving in somewhere new. Command Strips don't damage the walls so you can pop pieces up and change them around easily."
"My favourite cheap rental tip is using paint. It’s not always possible but ask the landlord if you can paint the walls white to create a blank canvas. We have been really lucky that our current landlord is so flexible and for the first time ever I have ventured beyond brilliant white (it’s cheap and comes in big tubs) and used other colours (my kitchen is now putty pink). It’s such a mood changer!"
"A lot of furniture in our house is secondhand. Our floral chair is from the British Heart Foundation – they sell really great quality secondhand furniture. I’m often looking on eBay, Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree for the pieces we need. It’s always good to think about what you could sand, paint and change the hardware on."
Make your own furniture
"Buying wood in sheets and adding legs can be a more affordable way of making desks, benches, dining room tables and sideboards. The wood and legs can always be repurposed if needed (hairpin legs are a great option). The bed head in our bedroom is MDF sheets covered in foam with a tablecloth and curtain stapled to it. It cost much less than a new headboard and is exactly what we wanted."