‘I put the heart and soul back into our lifeless rental flat’

An earthy palette of soothing neutrals, wood tones and charcoal details made all the difference

rental flat open plan kitchen diner
(Image credit: Richard Kiely)

Moving into an unfurnished rental flat on the eighth floor of a new-build block in East London, the challenge for this homeowner was how to make the bland and unhomely space feel welcoming and warm.

‘I grew up in France, where eating together is the most important and most pleasing part of the day,’ says the homeowner. ‘A home needs to make you feel something and I wanted mine to have the happy feeling that I enjoy when I’m sharing a meal with family and friends.'

'The challenge was how to do this within the limitations of our rental flat – and persuading my husband it could be done without spending a fortune! I had to be very creative with the interior.’

The living room

rental flat living room and windows

(Image credit: Richard Kiely)

‘I’ve lived in London for 10 years now and it’s where I met my husband, who is Greek. After living in separate house shares, we started looking for our first home together. We wanted to avoid the potential problems that sometimes crop up in older properties, so we set out to find a new-build flat to rent with modern (and reliable) fixtures and fittings.’ 

‘When we viewed this place, we were initially put off by the rooms crammed with furniture and baby stuff – but I could see beyond the chaotic layout. I loved the big windows in the living room and bedroom with their vast views across London and the space, particularly the large kitchen-dining-living room.’

rental flat living room with shelving unit

(Image credit: Richard Kiely)

‘We couldn’t change the beige carpet or wood laminate floor, but they were inoffensive, and along with the white decoration, provided a modern, neutral foundation to add personality and character.’

‘We moved into the flat with just a second-hand sofa and my collection of plants. As I’m an interior designer @topology.amelie I immediately started thinking about what I could do to the interior. I  took the same approach that I do with client projects: I imagined coming into the flat as a guest and wondering what my journey would be like.'

'I try and create spaces within a space, using an arrangement of furniture, shelving ideas, plants and lighting to draw people in. I could imagine hosting our friends at a beautiful wooden table, or lounging on the sofa, with layers of soft lighting around us.’

The dining area

rental flat dining room

(Image credit: Richard Kiely)

‘I set out to embrace the flat’s modern bones and inspired by visits to Greece, I incorporated lighting, wood grain and an earthy Mediterranean palette to infuse warmth. The flat can get cold and the new-build architecture felt cold too, so I had to find the right balance of tones and textures. Wood and natural materials break down the modernity and introduce an organic textured look.’

‘Key furniture pieces were a priority and we went for a simple Ikea bed, caramel leather sofa and a six-seater dining table in the dining area. I find the quality of furniture and lighting from French brands, Maisons du Monde and La Redoute very good. I also like Scandi-style vases and sculptures from HM Home and Zara – their collections change quicky and they’re great for a high-style look on a budget.’

rental flat kitchen with stools

(Image credit: Richard Kiely)

‘With limited space, I made our furniture work hard and came up with the idea to turn white Ikea cupboards into extra seating and storage, covering the surfaces in wood-effect vinyl.'

'To get the right height for sitting at the table, I placed the whole unit on another length of the panelling and recessed it back – the result looks as though the furniture has been made to fit.’

Streamlined storage

rental flat with built in storage

(Image credit: Richard Kiely)

‘In fact, my DIY project was so successful I continued the bench storage through to the living area where it provides a surface for the TV and plants too.'

'Before, this end of the room felt disjointed but now the long unit looks like bespoke joinery and draws the eye to create the illusion of space and openness. I’m amazed how much bigger our flat looks and feels compared to our neighbours’.

‘I also created a similar built-in style in the guest bedroom/home office where we needed storage for my interior design work samples and my husband’s musical instruments.’

The bedroom

rental flat neutral bedroom

(Image credit: Richard Kiely)

‘I painted the cupboards in the same beige as the walls to blend in, while in the master bedroom we used an organic limewash on one of the walls. I started out with a rich terracotta but I wanted the bedroom to feel more calming. Limewash is a mineral powder mix with a beautiful textured finish that you notice as soon as you walk in the room.’

‘Elsewhere, I’ve left the decor white, except for the long charcoal wall in the living area. I found I wanted something more from the interiors to give contrast to the leather and wood tones. Rather than looking too bold and too much, charcoal gives the room depth and makes the space feel bigger.’

rental flat neutral bedroom

(Image credit: Richard Kiely)

‘I’ve used lighting to showcase focal points with table and floor lamps, as well as bespoke solutions, which didn’t need invasive electrical work. You can completely change the tone of a room with good lighting.’ 

The kitchen

rental flat kitchen with island

(Image credit: Richard Kiely)

‘There were limited changes I could make in the kitchen, so I styled the extractor with plants and hung them from the ceiling.’

‘Placing a favourite piece of art on the blank wall draws the eye into the space and makes a pleasing style statement. I bought the Picasso print from the Tate Modern.’

rental flat kitchen with bench

(Image credit: Richard Kiely)

‘The mix of wood tones warm the room, along with the B&Q stools, modern black accents in Etsy art and metal furniture legs. The Etsy dining table was made to measure and surprisingly affordable.’

‘Ikea’s Mosslanda kitchen shelves on the wall are the ideal size for spice storage and with matching jars add style interest to a blank area.’

The bathroom

rental flat bathroom with greenery

(Image credit: Richard Kiely)

‘I couldn’t change any of the fixtures and fittings in the bathroom, but I added the artificial hedge tiles from the Outdoor Look.’

‘My secret homeware addiction is plants. My passion began when I lived next door to a plant warehouse and I’ve been cultivating plants ever since. I propagate them – I split my tall strelitzia into two pots – and they come with me in every house move. Ikea is also good for affordable tropical plants.’

The balcony

rental flat balcony

(Image credit: Richard Kiely)

‘One of the flat’s selling points was the long glass balcony with uninterrupted views across London. I already had the plants and added faux grass and a hammock from Amazon.’

rental flat balcony with hammock

(Image credit: Richard Kiely)

‘I love our flat, but I enjoy interiors far too much to be finished yet. Our home will forever be evolving. I’m so pleased with how far I’ve been able to take the interiors even though we’re only renting. But what pleases me most is when the table is set, the lights are low and guests arrive – that’s when our flat comes alive.’

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