A rental needn’t be a bland box as this two-bed Victorian apartment proves

With the right ideas, anything is possible when renting
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  • Looking for ideas to make a rental flat feel more homely? Look no further than this stylish apartment. The resident, interior designer Salsabil El-Awais, @seinteriors, has cleverly infused her rental flat with subtle colour, using wall art and a growing collection of houseplants.

    Salsabil lives here with her husband and four year old son. When they moved in it needed re-carpeting, which thankfully for them the landlord did straight away. There are plans for a new kitchen to be fitted in the future. But for now the family have decorated throughout and invested in some good-quality furniture and artwork.

    Related: Why Phil Spencer says it’s important to factor in the landlord when renting a flat

    ‘We moved to this apartment when our son was still tiny’ Salsabil explains. ‘Although we knew we wanted to rent long term, we saw no reason to live in a magnolia box. And happily, the landlord of this property gave us free rein to decorate as we wish. The up-side of renting is that we don’t have to spend money on maintenance; we just get to do the fun things!’

    Hallway

    white hallway with navy blue painted below dado

    Image credit: Douglas Gibb

    The hallway has been updated with a lick of paint. ‘I have painted up to dado rail height in the same shade of blue as the back wall of the living room’

    ‘We painted the whole place white initially, and then added some quite bold accent colours’ Focusing on each room in turn. ‘As and when we could afford it, we’ve splashed out on investment pieces of furniture and some lovely artwork. Knowing that we can take them with us to our next home.’

    Salsabil’s first top tip for styling a rental property is to invest in rugs. ‘Rugs work well in a rental as they protect the landlord’s wood flooring from scratches and furniture dents’.

    Living room

    white living room with colourful accessories

    Image credit: Douglas Gibb

    ‘In the living room I have created vignettes with collections that I change up, as and when I wish’ she says. Before adding, ‘We can take them away with us to our next home. I would rather do this than spend money on expensive wallpaper, fittings and fixtures that I would have to leave behind.’

    For instance rugs are a great investment for a rented apartment; simply take them with you when you move.

    white living room with grey armchair

    Image credit: Douglas Gibb

    ‘I started collecting houseplants when we moved in. Plants are a delight to have in a flat, the greenery brings such a sense of life to the space.’

    ‘We live minimally and find this way of life really tranquil. We have no television for instance (although we would love a Samsung Frame TV, a beautiful object that serves as an artwork when it is switched off). But I would rather watch whatever I want on my laptop than have a huge looming TV on a stand in the corner of a room.

    Living room with navy blue feature wall

    Image credit: Douglas Gibb

    ‘I was born in Palestine and my family moved to Scotland, as refugees, when I was two years old,’ says Salsabil. ‘When I left school, I chose to study interior design in Syria, at a university near Damascus.’ She lived there for three year but  came home after graduating.

    ‘I worked for Homebase for a number of years as an in-house interior design consultant, which I really enjoyed. When our son was born I set up my own business, so that I could work from home, as well as be with him’ she explains.

    Speaking of her design ideas and inspirations she says, ‘I am hugely inspired by travel and my Middle Eastern heritage. I love going to countries like Morocco and Turkey; the colours are amazing, but I tend to pare them down to paler versions when I use them in my own home – it’s just a better fit. I love decorating with pale greens, soft pinks and white.’

    Kitchen

    white kitchen with pale blue cabinets

    Image credit: Douglas Gibb

    ‘The kitchen is yet to be refitted, but it functions perfectly fine and we have focused on creating practical, temporary storage solutions in this room’ says Salsabil. ‘I painted the cabinetry a soft blue, which has freshened it up nicely.’

    Inspiration: Stunning green kitchen makeover offers a traditional look with a trend-led twist

    open kitchen shelving

    Image credit: Douglas Gibb

    A creative top tip, ‘By choosing only crockery and glassware that you truly love, and then displaying it on open shelving you can soon put together a beautiful scheme with the things you use every day and at very little extra expense’

    ‘I have repurposed a white Billy bookcase from Ikea as a pantry. It makes great storage because it is so shallow’

    White dining area

    Image credit: Douglas Gibb

    The couple have splashed out on some investment dining chairs. The classic Hans Wegner wishbone chairs are replicas from Cult Furniture. Another top tip for displaying artwork and poster in a rented home is affixing them with Washi tape, meaning there’s no damage to walls.

    Master bedroom

    pink bedroom

    Image credit: Douglas Gibb

    ‘I added the white painted MDF panelling myself’ Salsabil  explains. ‘Above it I painted up to the cornice in Farrow & Ball’s Sulking Room Pink’.

    ‘For me, interior design is all about balance. I love organic forms and materials teamed with soft colours that hint at nature. I like to consider every detail very carefully, and of course, in a rented apartment you do have to compromise. But it is amazing what you can achieve with a little layering and by displaying personal collections.’

    Childs bedroom

    childs bedroom with bed canopy

    Image credit: Douglas Gibb

    ‘I bought the grey cotton canopy on Amazon’ she explains. Going on to explain ‘hanging a canopy creates the illusion of a lower ceiling’. Helping to make a child’s room feel more cosy.

    Related: Budget children’s room design ideas – to create a room you’ll love for less

    childs bedroom with storage and book shelves

    Image credit: Douglas Gibb

    There’s plenty of storage space for toys and more in this little one’s bedroom. Salsabil has even managed to squeeze in one of her beloved plants.

    ‘I made the simple clothes hanger, and the Hemnes chest of drawers is from Ikea’ she explains.

    Related: Enjoy the calming grey interior of this semi-detached family home in Yorkshire

    Original feature, by Alison Gibb, appears in Style at Home, February 2021.

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