Saturday 17 March 2018

How to make a rented house feel like home on a budget

Bright budget décor ideas to make a rented house feel like a (stylish) home

The new 'Hawaiian Noir' collection from Penneys
The new 'Hawaiian Noir' collection from Penneys
Pineapples and exotic foliage loom large in Penneys' 'Hawaiian Noir' collection
Tropical-patterned bedding and cushions from Penneys

Eleanor Flegg

I can't imagine that my children will ever be able to afford to buy their own homes. Property prices are bananas and it’s damn hard to get a mortgage. Like the rest of the hipster generation, they’ll be renting for the foreseeable.

But does that mean that they’ll be stuck in magnolia-painted rooms furnished with the leavings from the landlord's other properties?

The interior designer Laura Farrell thinks not. “Everyone wants their home to look halfway decent, even if they’re renting,” she says. Farrell rented in New York in the 1990s, where they have a different attitude.

“In New York, everybody rents. They understand that your home is your family and the immediate items around you. The rest is just

Pineapples and exotic foliage loom large in Penneys' 'Hawaiian Noir' collection
Pineapples and exotic foliage loom large in Penneys' 'Hawaiian Noir' collection

the envelope.”

With or without money, there’s a lot that can be done to spruce up the interior of a rented home.

When Farrell’s own small house in Dublin became too small for her family, she had to move. Selling it didn’t make financial sense, so she let it out. In the past six years, she and her two children have lived in three different rented houses.

“We’re like a touring theatre company — we move with our stage set,” she explains. As she brings most her own furniture with her, she prefers to rent unfurnished houses. “I’ve had to ask for places to be emptied. Nobody wants to live with an old chair that used to belong to the landlord’s granny.”

One of the first things that she does in a new house is to ask the landlord for permission to paint. “Every landlord I’ve ever had has been decent about me doing what I want,” she says. “But it probably helps that they know what I do. I’m not about to go and paint everything orange.”

When she moved into her current home, the hall had just been painted beige. “It wasn’t exactly what I would have chosen but I didn’t feel like doing it all again, so I made a feature of the woodwork by painting it two-tone in coffee and black.”

Tropical-patterned bedding and cushions from Penneys
Tropical-patterned bedding and cushions from Penneys

Farrell also replaced the crumbly, old-fashioned, paint-covered door knobs and wardrobe handles. Then she removed the sheer curtains and replaced them with wooden Venetian blinds from All Window Blinds ( “They cost between €100 and €200 per window and I’ll leave them behind me when I move. They won’t owe me anything in a couple of years,” she explains.

She also changed the kitchen floor. “When you move into a place, there’s a sense of wanting to sterilise it. Putting a new Marmoleum floor into the kitchen cost me less than €300. It costs €36 per square metre from Contract Flooring (” The floor is marbled teal and beige, which offsets the old oak cabinets that she’s painted in teal.

The walls are a dramatic near-black. “One of the advantages of decorating a rented house is that you can take a few risks,” Farrell explains. “It’s very freeing knowing that you can walk away from it.” Just keep the investments small and the landlord sweet.

When it comes to furniture, the trick is to keep it light, moveable and versatile. If you’re young, you’ll probably need it to be cheap too. There are some good options (and a few gimmicks) in Ikea’s 2017 PS collection. It’s designed for people who move around a lot so the items are portable and not too expensive.

Storage solutions include a cool-looking humanoid valet stand (€25) and a five-box set of sturdy moving boxes (€55 for the set) that assembles into a stacking storage unit. The designer, Gustav Carlberg, has moved house 12 times in 12 years, so he has a good scope on the issues involved. There’s also a collapsible metal storage unit (€75) with an open-cage construction and an industrial warehouse vibe. It looks good, so long as you keep it tidy.

Some of the seating in the Ikea PS 2017 range looks comfortable, although I have not actually sat on it, and includes a foldable two-seat sofa (€145) and armchair (€95). They work just like deckchairs but are designed to be used indoors.

There’s also a nest-like rocking chair (€295), a corner easy chair (€175 with cushions) that can be joined to another of its kind in order to make a sofa, and then there’s also an ultra-lightweight armchair (€165).

“The manufacturing technique is called 3D knitting and is used to make colourful trainers, which I love,” says its designer, Sarah Fager. “This armchair can endure many years of wear without its shape being distorted, just like a nice pair of trainers.” The jury’s still out on that one!

Other pieces are multi-functional. A side table that you can also use as a stool costs €39 and a quilted throw (€30) folds into cushion. That one’s inspired by the light, sporty materials that are used in camping equipment and designed by Paulin Machado, who is also responsible for the seat/floor pad (€39).

Among the gimmicks in the Ikea PS 2017 collection, you have to love the self-watering plant pot set (€20),  designed for flaky people like me who go away and forget to ask someone to water their plants.

Even for people on the lowest budgets, a little bit of shopping around will definitely pay off. It’s a good idea to source accessories from several different shops. Argos stocks an array  of good inexpensive designs, like the ColourMatch bentwood dining chair (€37). TK Maxx have a fun range of tropical-style trivial homeware items, as does Penneys’ 2017 ‘Hawaiian Noir’ collection — with pineapple candles for €6, pineapple bookends for €10 and a pineapple rug for €12.

As when purchasing all low-cost items, it’s a good idea to check that the people who made them have been properly paid. In the past, Penneys has been in the spotlight for a less-than-perfectly ethical production model overseas and have stated their intention to reform their practices. Now they’ve got a dedicated ethics section on their website. So does Ikea. But then, those lads are Swedish. You kind of expect them to be sound.

Interior designer Laura Farrell can be contacted on See,, and

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