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  • Sharon Lomas

home stories: how to make a rental feel like home with Laurel Chick Design

laurel chick design rented north london flat gallery wall
Laurel at home in her rented North London flat

As someone who sold their house seven years ago to give me the financial freedom to start a business, I can fully empathise with the frustrations of renting when you are an interiors fanatic.

Us Brits are also obsessed with owing our own homes, something which is not so prevalent with our European neighbours. I was 26 when I bought my first flat in 1999, the average age of first time buyers in the UK now is 34, 6 years older than it was back in 2007. With the average deposit required being £46,200 ( rising to a whopping £110,000 in London) its no surprise that renting is going to be a big part of many peoples lives.

I have been fortunate so far that the properties I have rented since jumping off the property ladder have come with very accommodating and flexible landlords who have trusted me to decorate. I'm sure being an interior designer has played a part in this trusting relationship but also because I take my guardianship of the properties I live in very seriously, treating them as if they were own. Essentially though the changes I have made have been decorative and focused around using paint to transform my spaces, which can easily be rectified.

I can understand however why many landlords are restrictive with tenants, so in these situations it can be very difficult to make a rental feel like home. So what can you do to a rental to create your home haven when your decorative options are more limited?

I met Laurel Chick Design via her Instagram account and instantly loved her homes tonal palette, use of botanical artworks and subtle touches of nature inspired fabrics. I was stunned when I found out her home was rented. Laurel has a great approach to making her rented property feel like home using art to transform the space. So I asked her to share her tips and advice to inspire readers and show how it is possible to transform your rental. Over to you Laurel.

rented london flat feature fireplace neutral tone decor

Laurel Chick Design

I work in many different fields of design, from creating interiors for both residential and commercial clients to set decorating for film and television as well as styling for stills photography. My partner Samuel and I rent a one bedroom flat in North London with our little ginger cat Sergeant Tibbs and I love to create eclectic and curated interiors in an elegant and stylised way.

How to decorate a rented property?

Although one day I would absolutely love to own my own home that I can do whatever I please to, having lived in London for 10 years now I made my peace very early on with renting. A friend of mine lived in Berlin for sometime where practically everyone rents, as well as across most of Europe, and I found it very inspiring seeing pictures of her beautiful apartment, that despite the fact she didn’t own, she still treated it like she did when it came to making the interior just how she wanted.

fireplace mantel styling black white vases framed prints candlesticks

This philosophy has always stuck with me and I think my golden rule of renting is to remember that for however long or however short you rent somewhere for, for that time, it is your home.

Don’t fall into the trap of just buying temporary items because you only see that space as temporary. If you see a forever piece of furniture that you love, get it and enjoy it, knowing that someday it will have a place in the home you will one day own.

white eames recliner chair monochrome accessories natural textures
Renters advice: Invest in classic furniture that will stay with you forever

I tend to fill our rented home with things that are fairly classic in style and tonal in colour as I believe that they can then fit into any future homes we have.

neutral natural decor nature inspired print armchair
Renters advice: Tonal palettes which will easily transfer when you move

As a renter, command strips are your best friend, just remember to be patient when taking them off to avoid peeling paint. It’s incredibly important to fill your walls with art as this becomes one of the main ways you can transform a space and add colour. In our bedroom we created a wall mural using inexpensive fabric, a bit of wood baton and command strips. It hangs floor to ceiling behind our bed and makes such a difference to the space.

making a feature in a rented bedroom with free standing wall mural
Renters advice: Inexpensive oversized wall mural behind the bed adds pattern and creates a feature

That said, we hung some picture shelves in our living room as we felt really strongly that they would help with the ceiling height. We will fill the holes and paint over them once we leave and in my mind it will totally have been worth it as they have made the house far more of a home whilst we’ve been here. I think sometimes with renting you have to weight your options.

picture shelves gallery wall botanical prints neutral tones

If you rent, rugs are incredibly important. Not only do they cover up any dodgy flooring you may be stuck with, but they create a cosy environment and are a great way to add a big splash of your style. My favourites are the IKEA Lohals, they’re hard wearing, inexpensive and super stylish.

tribal kilim rug in kitchen recycled rug
Renters advice: Rugs can transform a space adding colour + texture without being too costly

Don’t be afraid to change things like any pendant shades you don’t like or any drab curtains you may have. When we moved in, we took everything down we didn’t like, carefully put it into storage and replaced them with things that were a much better match to our style. When we move, we will simply put them back up.

Lighting is important in all homes, but especially in rented homes as you haven’t been able to decide on the fittings you would ideally like. I tend to use a lot of lamps (and a lot of extension cables) to make sure we have atmospheric lighting in every room and the main lights stay off. I recently used The Magic Light Trick, which is a brilliant rental hack to create wall lights in our hallway and they have totally transformed what was a really dark space. There is a story highlight on my instagram showing the process.

magic light trick for renters

magic light trick for renter no wiring wall lamps
the magic light trick

Best interiors advice you’ve received?

My mum said something to me quite recently actually and it really stuck with me. She told me that where most people go wrong with interiors is not getting the scale of things right. So don’t be afraid to buy the largest ceiling pendant you can find, fill a vase with an oversized arrangement or go for the biggest piece of art. Large scale items make an impact, create a focal point and give a space a more ‘designed’ feel. This is never more true when renting, you can’t do the obvious things like paint or wallpaper to add your personality, so it all comes down to the styling.

console table styled with plants candlesticks mirror textiles

Positives of renting

Sometimes it may be hard to see any positives in renting, but there really are. The main one being that if something goes wrong with the property, it is the responsibility of the landlord to remedy it, not you. It also gives you the freedom to essentially try before you buy. I’ve always found it quite daunting, the prospect of buying in an area where you’ve never lived before, what if you hate it? With renting however, if you’re not keen on the area, you can move on relatively hassle free.

What would I do to the flat if there were no restraints?

When I first viewed the flat, it was the sitting room that sealed the deal for me, it has beautiful proportions and some lovely original features. If there were no restraints from our landlord though, I would love to put up some decorative beading to create a paneled effect, I think this would suit the property so well. I would also love to paint our bedroom a dark colour to really make it feel cosy.

Thank you Laurel for sharing how you've turned your rented property into such a stylish and comfortable home. Hope any fellow renters reading this have found it a great inspiration for what is possible.

If you would still love to decorate your rental my advice would be to speak to your landlord, create a mood/inspiration board of the look you want to achieve so they can have an idea of what you want to do. It can't hurt to ask if they would allow you to make decorative changes, after all they can only say no.


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