Friday, 22 May 2015

20 ideas renters can steal from these amazing homes

Last week I attended the Living Etc West London House tour. I just missed out on tickets last time so I purchased in plenty of time this year! It's a brilliant concept, nosy interior nerds like me pay £32 (with proceeds going to Crisis) and some lovely homeowners, many of whom have been featured in the magazine, kindly open their doors for us to look around. There were 8 homes on the self guided West London tour and over the course of six hours I managed to get round them all. After purchasing a ticket, you get sent a map, with full addresses and clear directions on how to get between the properties and it was very manageable walking or using public transport, especially since it was a beautiful day.

Aside from the obvious attraction of looking at beautiful interiors all day and the added bonus of chatting with the knowledgeable Living Etc staff, very enthusiastic volunteers and fellow attendees, I was on the look out for inspiration for us renters. We may not own million pound houses (£6.9m in one case!) but we can still get some great ideas from them.

The properties are really varied and it gives you the chance to experience a range of styles of house types and decorating styles, so it's a great way to find out what your own style might be. In my case, I walked in the first house thinking it was my idea of perfection, being all white walls, glass and pristine minimalism. By the end of the day though I'd decided my favourite house was, in fact, the complete opposite. It was bold, dark, floral and colourful and with a lot of pink. Not something I ever thought I say!

Here's what I took away from the tour:

1. Make your bed.
Without exception, every bed on the tour looked inviting. Some were minimal, some were opulent, some had colour and pattern, some were plain. What they all had in common though, was that they brought a focal point to the room and even the addition of a simple throw and two small pillows could elevate a room from plain to stylish. Think about it, in most cases the bed is the largest piece of furniture in a bedroom so if it doesn't look good, neither does the room as a whole. A cozy throw and a couple of pillows is a very inexpensive way to dress your bed. Air your bed in the morning after you get up, throw back the covers and throw open the windows if possible and don't leave the house without making the bed! 

2. A little bit of minimalism goes a long way.
Live in a beige box? Or maybe you just don't have the resources or inclination to put a lot into decorating your room? Instead of thinking of the beige box as something to fix, why not celebrate it instead? Invest in some really good quality linens (my favourite ones are from Cologne & Cotton) a couple of key pieces of furniture, and embrace simplicity. The slim legged table below gives the illusion of more space in the small room, and the small but careful grouping of toiletries just lifts the simple bathroom. The key here is to be very clean, uncluttered and concentrate on quality. It's the difference between minimal and barren.

3. But then so does a lot of maximalism.
This house was the one I surprisingly loved so much. A perfect example of maximalism it has a killer colour palette, clashing patterns, bold prints, large groupings of vases and a lot of florals. But it works. The patterns might clash but the colours don't. The vases are small, but the artwork is huge and that circle of blue in the right hand print just pulls the whole thing together. Cover that print with your hand and see how it changes the look of the room. The console behind the sofa is a great idea to steal. Pop a collection on there, prop up the artwork instead of hanging it, and you have a landlord friendly way to get a real wow factor into your room. I've been obsessing over that exact shade of pink on the walls ever since my visit...

4. You don't have to hang anything.
Floor standing furniture and decoration isn't just the reserve of renters. These three rooms employ clever placements to avoid damaging walls. The first room had simple frames clamped to the headboard, the middle home used black bamboo ladders in the bathroom for towels and a striking green one to hold scarves in the bedroom. The third house had a couple of floor standing gold mirrors in one bedroom, and a giant thick wood framed one in another. All of these ideas give height and interest to a room without the need for hammer and nails.

5. Make every room count, even the bathroom.
Even the smallest room can benefit from some attention to detail. The first room below contrasts an old wooden stool against the modern tiles and celebrates the ritual of bathing by elevating luxury bath products on tall candle pillars. Flowers and a tray do the same job in the more classic, marbled middle bathroom and the third uses a large sculpture to add texture and interest to an otherwise sleek and quite hard scheme.

6. Be bold.
This house isn't backward in coming forward. The owner loves flowers so they're everywhere. In vases, on the wallpaper, on the artwork and on the furniture. If you love a particular colour, pattern or motif, don't be afraid to really go for it in every room. The colour palette of blacks, inky blues, pinks and purples that run through this house is what keeps the whole scheme together.

7. Be clever with lighting.
If you're stuck with your fixed lighting in the wrong place, use freestanding floor lamps to direct light to where you need it. The leaning Manana lamp in the first photo has the same effect as wall mounted sconces and the wide, high arc of the one in the second is great for seating and dining areas. See John Lewis for similar or Ikea for a more budget friendly option.

8. Put flowers everywhere.
OK, so all the houses were somewhat staged for us visitors, but I couldn't help but notice what a huge difference fresh flowers made. Hydrangeas were a popular choice, and because of their size, just three stems made a lot of impact. Flowers weren't reserved just for living areas though, they were everywhere. In bedrooms, kitchens and especially bathrooms. Small bunches or a few choice stems don't cost a lot, or for longevity group several orchids in a large planter and enjoy the blooms for weeks at a time.

9. Use the rule of threes.
Things displayed in threes, or fives, or sevens, are more visually pleasing than displays in even numbers. Almost every house on the tour had groupings displayed in threes. Jugs, cacti, toiletries, pictures... once you try it, you'll never look back.

10. Celebrate your collection.
Whatever you love, show it off. From your prized designer handbags and purses to your ceramic collection, put them out on show instead of hiding in a cupboard. These Constance Spry vases have real impact when shown en-mass and if you've paid for a good bag why stick it in the cupboard when you're not using it? Likewise your favourite blankets or clothes could be stored in a basket instead of a drawer.

11. Mixing woods is good.
Don't make everything too matchy-matchy. Mix up your pale woods with painted and different shades of wood for contrast. These chairs all match but of course, they don't all have to be the same. I have some Ikea benches paired with some old church chairs, the juxtaposition is what makes it work.

12. Put candles everywhere.
Like flowers, scented candles were everywhere on the house tour. From giant Jo Malone triple wicked ones, to this striking black Diptyque one. They were in every room too, the one below for example was in a teenage boys room. There are plenty of cheaper options on the market of course, they main thing is to find something you like to fill your home with a comforting scent. Just remember to never leave burning candles unattended.

13. Play with scale.
This house had large scale floral wallpaper, an oversize floor lamp and a lot of the artwork wasn't just big, it was HUGE. Most people might hand a gallery style arrangement up the stairs for example, but this homeowner had metre and a half portraits of her dogs hung there instead. Large artwork is actually better for renters, it's easy to prop on the floor or on a mantle. Sometimes bigger really is better. The wallpaper is Dark Floral by Ellie Cashman, The French Bedroom Company sell a similar lamp, try PhotoBox for a reasonably priced hardback poster print on a large scale.

14. You don't need dedicated garden furniture.
Don't have the budget or storage space for dedicated outdoor furniture? Just buy indoor pieces that can be taken outside when the weather is good. These polypropylene stacking chairs by Robin Day for Hille are both space saving and versatile. They are available from TwentyTwentyOne. Likewise, the Louis Ghost chair by Phillipe Stark for Kartell is at home in the garden as in the house. Again, Ikea is a good source for low priced options.

15. Colour isn't just for walls.
Love colour but can't paint? Use furniture, bright cushions and artwork to add pops of colour to an otherwise neutral room. These are Arne Jacobsen Series 7 chairs for Fritz Hansen available at Heals. Try John Lewis for a similar Marilyn Monroe print and Ikea for bright orange cushions.

16. But you can put colour on the walls if you want.
Don't let restrictions on decorating stop you from getting colour on your walls. Roughly paint a large canvas and prop on a piece of furniture or on the floor. You could also use a non permanent adhesive like 3M Command Strips if you really want to affix a light canvas to the wall.

17. Buy nice towels.
A bit of luxury goes a long way and a bale of good quality towels needn't break the bank. Cologne & Cotton have some well priced grey towels like this. Look after them well and they will stay fluffy and soft for years, as well as adding some hotel-chic to your smallest room.

18. Go large.
If you don't have a garden, take inspiration from the house in the first and third photos below and plant up some architectural specimens in oversize containers. These ones are from Vondom but try here for a budget version. If you do have a garden, group large terracotta containers together on a paved area to bring greenery in. Large trees or shrubs work equally as well as smaller flowering plants in this situation. Unglazed terracotta pots are a more budget friendly choice at this scale, but be sure they are frost proof. Try Homebase, or your local garden centre for large pots.


19. Never underestimate the power of a coffee table.
A well styled and practical coffee table really makes a living room. From large square ones, to groups in different materials, to a glass one which shows off the rug underneath, having somewhere to park your cup of tea, your favourite books or a bunch of flowers makes all the difference. It doesn't have to be a designer one, Ikea have an excellent selection or check your local FreeCycle group or charity shop for old or vintage ones.

20. Your furniture doesn't have to point at the TV.
It's all too easy to make your TV the focal point of your living room. In this  relaxed, but formally arranged room, the cocktail chairs face a sofa and the TV is tucked away in the corner. Of course, it's easy when you have a fireplace to have as the focal point instead, but you could just as easily use a sideboard or table and style it with some books, flowers and artwork instead. If your living room layout isn't working, try re-arranging without the need for the TV to be the centerpiece and see if it works any better.

If you're feeling inspired, there is one tour left this year's schedule in North West London on the 12th June, click here to buy tickets. If you can't make it, don't worry, the tours are an annual event and will be back in 2016, I'll certainly be going again! Alternatively, one of the houses is featured in this months issue of the magazine, which is also packed with more ideas for your home, as is the blog run by the magazine team, Life.Style.Etc.

Many thanks to Living Etc for permission to photograph on the tour and to the homeowners who were so generous in opening up their homes.

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