Don’t let renting cramp your style

Joanna Thornhill author of Home For Now.
Joanna Thornhill author of Home For Now.

More and more of us are living in rented homes — but can we ever make them feel like our own? Joanna Thornhill tells Gabrielle Fagan about her mission to help tenants create stylish nests.

Our home should be a place where we can truly feel ourselves and show off our style and taste — but millions of us are living in someone else’s property, with all the limitations that imposes.

Undated Handout Photo of a collection of postcards put up using Blu-Tack or poster strips. Image in Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill, published by CICO, �16.99. See PA Feature INTERIORS Rental. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature INTERIORS Rental.

Undated Handout Photo of a collection of postcards put up using Blu-Tack or poster strips. Image in Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill, published by CICO, �16.99. See PA Feature INTERIORS Rental. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature INTERIORS Rental.

Tenants have to cope with decor choices that aren’t theirs and landlords’ rules on what they can and cannot do to rooms. To add to the frustration — especially for decor divas — current spiralling house prices mean it could be years before many can make the giant financial leap onto the property ladder.

After living in 12 rented homes, Joanna Thornhill knows exactly what it’s like to “have a sinking heart as you look at wallpaper that doesn’t appeal and furniture that’s seen better days, and to be unable to make even basic cosmetic alterations”.

She has come to the rescue with her new book, Home For Now, which bursts with inspiring ideas, practical advice, projects and tips to transform rooms without breaking the rules or busting the budget. It’s just as suitable for those who are nesting temporarily in their first-bought house or flat, before investing in their ‘forever’ home.

“I’ve found through personal experience and through visiting a range of homes for the book, that rather than feeling burdened by the challenges of living in a place that cannot really be changed, it’s possible to be empowered by those circumstances.

Undated Handout Photo of dated brown sideboard transformed by paint and family photos. Image in Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill, published by CICO, �16.99. See PA Feature INTERIORS Rental. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature INTERIORS Rental.

Undated Handout Photo of dated brown sideboard transformed by paint and family photos. Image in Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill, published by CICO, �16.99. See PA Feature INTERIORS Rental. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature INTERIORS Rental.

“Underwhelming or disheartening spaces can be transformed with a bit of creativity, imagination and a minimal outlay. Small changes, easy DIY projects and a little reorganisation can make a space you’ll truly love that you’ll be proud to call home.”

Follow her suggestions for rescuing rented spaces, and you’ll find you don’t want your tenancy to end!

Wall wizardry

Boring walls — especially in an unappealing shade — can really impact on the atmosphere of a home. “Don’t be daunted, with a little thinking outside the box there’s no reason why patterned walls can’t be a part of any home, without breaking any of your tenancy rules,” says Thornhill.

Undated Handout Photo of a ugly boiler has been disguised by covering its front with an offcut of wallpaper. Image in Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill, published by CICO. See PA Feature INTERIORS Rental. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature INTERIORS Rental.

Undated Handout Photo of a ugly boiler has been disguised by covering its front with an offcut of wallpaper. Image in Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill, published by CICO. See PA Feature INTERIORS Rental. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature INTERIORS Rental.

She suggests: Hide hideous walls by cladding a large freestanding board in wooden planks, or simply use a trompe l’oeil woodprint wallpaper. B&Q’s vinyl Wood Effect Wallpaper in Brown by Lutece, £14.98, looks like planks (www.diy.com).

If the walls are plain but boring and there’s a paper you love, try suspending one roll as a single drop by hanging it from a trouser or wire hanger secured with clothes pins or simply a couple of tacks at the top.

Tactic tip: A tenancy agreement may stipulate that you cannot make changes to your home, but if there’s a specific task you feel needs doing you could approach the landlord to ask if you can do it yourself. For instance: one wall may be shabby or in a garish colour and you could paint it and then promise to return to the original colour when your tenancy ends, if they wish.

Stick ‘em up

Undated Handout Photo of a length of chalkboard paper has been fixed to a wall and used for a calendar. Image in Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill, published by CICO, �16.99. See PA Feature INTERIORS Rental. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature INTERIORS Rental.

Undated Handout Photo of a length of chalkboard paper has been fixed to a wall and used for a calendar. Image in Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill, published by CICO, �16.99. See PA Feature INTERIORS Rental. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature INTERIORS Rental.

Pictures and photos instantly personalise a space but hanging these up can be a problem if the landlord will object to potential damage of walls from hooks and nails.

“Removable wall stickers, and increasingly, removable murals and even wallpapers have risen in popularity in recent years,” says Thornhill.

“They’re also perfect for commitment-phobes because they can simply be peeled off, leaving no trace when no longer required. Picture hanging strips, instead of nails, could mean less, or no, damage to walls.”

She suggests: Make the most of paint leftovers or tester pots and create your own inexpensive artwork with a cheap canvas. Dab on different colours to create an abstract pattern, or echo colours which are already featured in the room. Lean against a wall on a shelf or centre-stage on a mantel, or use to cover up an ugly fireplace.

Small cardboard gift boxes glued together create a display space, and are the perfect spot to show off lightweight items. Line each box with colourful paper offcuts and attach to a wall with removable picture-hanging strips.

Removable wall stickers and murals are available from companies such as Stickers Wall (www.stickerswall.com); Command’s range of adhesive picture hooks and hanging strips available from supermarkets and stores including Homebase (www.homebase.co.uk). NB: Always do a patch test before embarking on a project to ensure the surface is suitable.

Undated Handout Photo of Small cardboard gift boxes glued together which are a place to display lightweight items. Image in Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill, published by CICO, �16.99. See PA Feature INTERIORS Rental. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature INTERIORS Rental.

Undated Handout Photo of Small cardboard gift boxes glued together which are a place to display lightweight items. Image in Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill, published by CICO, �16.99. See PA Feature INTERIORS Rental. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature INTERIORS Rental.

Tactic tip: If you plan on staying in the property for a while, use this as a bargaining tool. Tell the landlord how keen you are to make it feel like home as you are likely to stay longer if you can make minor alterations. No landlord wants a property lying empty or the constant expense and hassle of advertising for tenants and vetting them, and so may be willing to bend the rules to retain a long-term tenant.

Makeover magic

Small spaces mean storage is vital but as a tenant, spending thousands on bespoke fitted storage that you’d leave behind if you move is unlikely to be an option, says Thornhill.

“Luckily, with clever planning and savvy shopping it’s possible to marry the aesthetic and the practical into one happy union,” she says.

“It’s no coincidence that the trend for painted furniture coincided with the last big recession. Think of it as your interiors secret weapon, ready to turn even the most dated and dull furniture into something more appealing, rather than simply hitting the shops for something new.”

She suggests: Convert a redundant wardrobe into an armoire by adding shelves inside and, if the furniture is yours, paint it (if wooden, sand and prime first) in a striking shade to make it a feature.

Alternatively, cover doors with self-adhesive chalkboard sheets so it works as a place for messages and shopping lists. Amazon has a selection of blackboard sheets and a roll of Magic Black Board paper is £21.24 for a pack of 10 A1 sheets.

Create a handy storage space for everyday crockery on a counter top by using a simple fruit crate. Add cup hooks inside and use the top for extra items. Old, vintage suitcases make a great makeshift table; stack a few together for a coffee table and if they’re scruffy give them a blitz with spraypaint to transform them into a matching set.

Tactic tip: Adjustable shelving can be a great solution for rentals. If your landlord is reluctant to put up shelving for you, see if you can get permission to install it on the basis it could be customised for future tenants. Always ask for permission before making any changes outside of the rules of your rental agreement, however minor, otherwise you could be in breach of the terms of your contract.

Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill is published by CICO, priced £16.99. Available to readers for £11.99 (inc p&p). Visit www.cicobooks.co.uk or call 01256 302 699 quoting ref GLR 9OJ.

Undated Handout Photo of Printers trays which can make a feature of collections such as shells or thimbles. Image in Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill, published by CICO, �16.99. See PA Feature INTERIORS Rental. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature INTERIORS Rental.

Undated Handout Photo of Printers trays which can make a feature of collections such as shells or thimbles. Image in Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill, published by CICO, �16.99. See PA Feature INTERIORS Rental. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature INTERIORS Rental.

Undated Handout Photo of Old suitcases and carates providing living room storage. Image in Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill, published by CICO, �16.99. See PA Feature INTERIORS Rental. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature INTERIORS Rental.

Undated Handout Photo of Old suitcases and carates providing living room storage. Image in Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill, published by CICO, �16.99. See PA Feature INTERIORS Rental. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature INTERIORS Rental.

Undated Handout Photo of a sunny yellow feature wall and cheerful accessories cheer up a kitchen Image in Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill, published by CICO, �16.99. See PA Feature INTERIORS Rental. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature INTERIORS Rental.

Undated Handout Photo of a sunny yellow feature wall and cheerful accessories cheer up a kitchen Image in Home For Now by Joanna Thornhill, published by CICO, �16.99. See PA Feature INTERIORS Rental. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature INTERIORS Rental.