How to update your home when it’s not yours

Tile stickers, £22, Not On The High Street

Lucy Dunn rounds up the best rental hacks that are handy whether you rent a house or not

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By Lucy Dunn on

Homes buys don’t come cheap, especially when you are renting. There are often essentials such as beds, bookcases, sofas and tables to buy before you can even get on to the nice frilly bits, like cushions and vases. Then, very often, there’s the landlord’s furniture to put up with, too – plus their own, sometimes quite questionable frilly bits.

In short, renting comes with a heavy dose of irony that are you are shelling out a lot of money for the privilege of living in someone else’s house with someone else’s taste. Obviously, that’s why we buy our own property, right? Without going too far into the obvious pros and cons of renting versus homeownership, what I will say is that when/if you do finally get on the housing ladder, the problems don’t stop. Few people have the time, energy or money to buy something and then promptly redecorate it from top to bottom in one fell swoop. In reality, most of us have live with at least some of the previous owner’s questionable frilly bits for years – the crappy carpets, old-fashioned floor tiles and the bad lighting jobs – before we can afford to change them. That is, if you ever do get round to them – I bought my house 10 years ago and I still haven’t got rid of some tiles in the bathroom that I hate. People might call it lazy. I call it life’s too short.

Renting comes with a heavy dose of irony that are you are shelling out a lot of money for the privilege of living in someone else’s house with someone else’s taste

The thing that both renters and homeowners have in common is that we all have to find inexpensive ways to disguise things in our homes that maybe aren’t to our taste. Which is where my tips below come in. Fortunately, things have come a long way since the days of throwing bed throws over grotty velour sofas and nowadays there are some really artful camouflage tricks you can try.

It’s not all hiding stuff, either. Don’t forget that when it comes to the bigger-ticket essentials, think about choosing things that will multitask. The more you are paying, the more neutral you will need to be, so that can move the pieces with you from house to house. Then, once you’ve got these bases covered, you can fill in with as many frilly bits as you want. Which, I think we can all agree, is the fun bit.



1. Buy some removeable wallpaper

Wallpaper you can put up and take off quickly is a godsend and a wall of big patterns and prints will update a boring magnolia living room in no time. Consider adding it to chests of drawers, wardrobes or the back of bookcases to dress up boring landlord-standard IKEA cheapies.

2. Wall hangings are now chic

Fabric wall hangings have come a long way since their hippy roots. They do a great job of covering up horrid light fittings/wallpaper and they also add cosiness to a soulless living or bedroom. Tapestries, carpets, kilims and Berber-style textiles for walls are all making a comeback, as are macramé wall hangings (check out Etsy UK), although they’re handmade, so not a cheap fix.

3. Ditto: wall murals

They might not be peel-off-and-go, but it’s just one wall you need to return to magnolia-blah when you move. Wayfair is a good place to try. Alternatively, upload your own image at Rebel Walls and they will turn it into a mural for you.

4. Try tile tattoos

I spent months singlehandedly tiling the bathroom in my last house. While I was very proud of my efforts, I’ve done it once and I do not care to do it again. Until I can afford to pay someone to tile for me, I am investing in tile transfers as a way of hiding the ugly tiles that I inherited. Try Etsy UK and Not On The High Street.

5. Throw down floor vinyl

When a kitchen floor is too vile to bear, vinyl is a quick solution. Zazous vinyl flooring is fairly easy to lay (check out this vid here) and can be laid on flat concrete or wood floors without adhesive in rooms up to 6m-square. In the same vein, door curtains are a good update if your room still needs a little more oompf.

6. Make a living wall

Greenery will always make a room feel better, so it’s worth investing in one or two big statement plants, like cheese plants. Artificial ones will travel better and Trouva currently has a great range. As an alternative to wallpaper or wall murals, hang plants on walls to create a “living wall”, as seen here by Ferm Living.  

7. Layer your rugs

Layering rugs on rugs is a neat way of disguising an industrial beige carpet that’s not yours. There are no hard and fast rules – it’s all about mixing plain with pattern and topping with soft fluffy rugs, and in this case Pinterest is your friend for ideas.

8. Buy a big floor-standing mirror

You will always need a big mirror, wherever you go, and they are especially handy for bathrooms, bedrooms, lightening up dark corners in sitting rooms and making small rooms seem bigger. The same applies to floor-standing art.

9. Think ABOUT handles

Anthropologie has long cornered the market for this, and for good reason, because their luxe-looking handles are just a quick and easy way of tarting something up. I also love, love, love these leather handles from The Leather Handle Co via Etsy – they would really prolong the life of a boring B&Q kitchen that you can’t afford to replace right now.

10. Investigate washi tape

Decorative tape is as cheap as chips (Fox + Star has a huge range) and you can have fun making your own gallery walls. Pinterest has a load of ideas here for starters.

11. Invest in modular storage

You need storage that expands as you amass more stuff over the years. This wall-hung modular shelving from String is not only a modern classic, it’s transportable and you can add more shelves – even sideboards – to it. If you aren’t in it for the long term (or can’t bang holes in your walls), go for an IKEA picture ledge. Just £4.95 gives you a hell of a lot of storage.

12. Buy furniture that doubles up  

How many times have you moved and realised that the piece of furniture you bought for your last house doesn’t have a place in the new? That’s why, when you’re buying anything, you always need to think whether there is more than one use for that item. Can that desk also turn into a dressing table if you need it to? The same applies to trolleys that could also work by the bed; coffee tables that are compact enough that you can use them as side tables; and stools that can become hall tables.



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Tile stickers, £22, Not On The High Street
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