Dec 24, 2023

Tatler How

Look to these expert tips for ideas on how you can decorate a rental property and make it into a beautiful space, no matter its size

There are many reasons why you might consider living in a rental property: you could be waiting on the renovation of your dream home, still searching for that dream property, or have found a beautiful rented unit that is well suited to your needs. Just because you are staying in a rental property doesn't mean that you have to compromise on good design. "Whilst it may not be feasible to replace an entire kitchen or attempt to change a building's structure, there is a surprising amount you can do that will make a huge difference to a rented space and how you feel about it," says Charu Gandhi, founder and director of international architectural interior design studio Elicyon.Read more: Home tour: A Singapore penthouse in Marina Bay with amazing views

But before you begin decorating your rental home, it's important to find out exactly what you can and cannot do to the space. For example, some landlords may allow nails or brackets to be hammered or drilled into the walls for hanging art or furniture, while others may prohibit this. "Before you do anything, it's important you seek permission from your landlord. Establish a good rapport early on as you may find you can do more by dealing with them directly especially if they agree your changes are going to improve the property not only for you but for future tenants," says Gandhi.

Once you have a clear idea about what you can and cannot do when decorating, then you can have fun decorating. Here are tips to get you started.

It's always worth approaching your landlord to see if they will allow you to repaint. Where repainting isn't possible, consider removable wallpaper as an easy way to update walls without causing any long-lasting damage. Hong Kong-based interior designer J.J. Acuna of J.J. Acuna / Bespoke Studio suggests using Venetian plastering or limewashing to depth and texture to a wall. "This way, instead of having a flat colour, you have something with lighter and deeper notes and some contrast. And when you move out, you can just paint the wall back to its original colour," he says.

See also: 10 Singapore design firms to know for your next home renovation

"Don't be shy about using colours. A beautiful wall colour will automatically set the mood of a room," says Juliane Bailey, founder of The Jungle Emporium, a Singapore-based online boutique offering a curated selection of sustainably and ethically produced home accessories. Bailey likes to paint walls with subtle shades of green, blue, pink, and grey to create depth. "Blue feels fresh, but green will make you feel calmer, and a beautiful shade of mink grey immediately creates warmth and is incredibly elegant. Even if it means you will have to change the walls back to white once you move out, it is very much worth the change," she says. If repainting your walls is not an option where you live, attractive fabric screens can be used as feature walls or room dividers.

When choosing furniture, Acuna and Gandhi both agree that modular and multifunctional pieces are the best choice. "Such pieces are ideal for temporary living spaces as they can be adapted to suit different spaces over time. They can also fit into narrow, awkward staircases," says Gandhi. Because chances are high that rental property owners will eventually move out, Japanese interior designer Saori Ishii of Sollys Design says that layout-flexible furniture such as modular sofas and dining tables that are not too large are smart choices. "Modular sofas and more compact tables are easier to move if you terminate your lease and relocate to a new property. For example, if you move, and the modular sofa you have is not a suitable size for your new living room, you can always reconfigure a new layout for the sofa by adding or removing sections," she says.

For rented homes, Acuna says he likes to work with furniture fabricators to create bespoke bookcases or console tables. "These can add a unique aesthetic to the home, but nothing is fixed to the wall, so they are rental safe."

Your rented apartment may have unattractive ceiling lights or even old and ostentatious ceiling light fans, so during the contracting stage, it might be a good idea to talk to your landlord about how to get rid of them and replace them with new ones. When it comes to lighting design, Rowena Gonzales, principal and founder of Hong Kong interior design studio Liquid Interiors likes to help her clients balance their circadian rhythms with layered illumination. "Layer your lighting so that you can control the type of lighting you need for each area. Consider having a warm white general ceiling light or pendant light in each area and add table and floor lamps and reading lights. Use dimmers for more control and add small accent lights as night lights," she says.

Acuna suggests adding floor lamps and side table lamps to illuminate corners and walls of a room, while Gandhi's tip is to invest in high quality lampshades and fittings which can be removed at the end of the tenancy and taken to your new home.

Natural materials like wood, stone and plants can imbue a rental home with the calming energy of nature. "Add plants in every room and design each room with enough natural daylight and temperature control so that plant species that you choose can survive," says Gonzales who believes that creating a comfortable and personalised space doesn't have to be expensive or time-consuming. "With some smart choices and a bit of creativity, you can introduce natural elements to create a home that nurtures your well-being and reflects your unique style," she adds.

Acuna suggests placing large plants like yucca palms, monstera, or Birds of Paradise in big pots on the floor to add a sense of drama to a space. "Plants help purify the air and bring oxygen to a space. And as long as your doors and windows are mostly shut, they don't attract insects. Feng shui planners love plants because they bring good vibrations to your home," he says. If you have pets however, be careful to choose pet-safe plants.

According to Bailey, can't go wrong adding objects and décor that you love to your rented home. "When renting an apartment or house, you often have to work with interiors or finishing like floor tiles or curtains that you may not be able to change. In such cases, home accessories can go a long way in transforming the look of your home. I love to add beautiful baskets, little table lamps, or a unique vintage vase that add colour and texture to the room and help distract from less attractive areas," says Bailey who likes to place table runner or Suzanis over chests of drawers or table. She adds: "We also often create made-to-measure Dhurrie carpets and hand-stitched Crewel embroidery carpets for customers who would like to hide dull white floor tiles commonly found in rental places in Singapore."

If changing your fixtures and fittings are allowed, Gandhi suggests looking at upgrading the ironmongery in your kitchen or the joinery in your bathroom and wardrobe. "A simple update to beautiful handles or pulls can transform an otherwise ordinary looking surface into something eye catching," he says. If you can change a rental's existing dull-looking blinds or dreary curtains, Gandhi says you might want to consider replacing them with plain, un-hemmed linen or cotton curtains. "Not only do these hang beautifully, but they can also be adjusted to the correct length and are easily attached with curtain clips," he says.


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