Step inside this fresh, Jewel-box bright apartment in south London

Decorating a new home on a budget is a common issue for new homeowners, but this colourful flat shows that low-cost design can still be beautiful

[sidebar id="premium_inline_before_last_p"]

When you spend a lot of time with a particular person, or in a certain place, it's inevitable that ideas will rub off on you. For the owner of this two-bedroom flat in south London, school holidays spent with her grandmother - tailor to Hindu princesses and Malaysian magnates - influenced her own style and design tastes. 'My grandmother was Chinese and she married a Dutchman,' she says. 'They moved from Malaysia to Britain in the 1960s and their house was a real mix of Chinese antiques, Japanese artworks, mid-century furniture and Eastern fabrics, so I've always been drawn to a combination of exoticism tempered with modernity.'

1/12 Exterior

exterior house semi detached and window

(Image credit: Future PLC/Kasia Fiszer)

This stylistic DNA proved useful to the owner and her partner when they moved from a small flat in Forest Hill into this property, also in south-east London. 'There was a bidding war for the flat and we ended up going over budget,' she says. As a result there was less leeway for decorating costs, so 'we had to draw on our creative reserve to make this place express our taste.'

2/12 Living-room

living room with velvet sofa cushions and photo frame on wall

(Image credit: Future PLC/Kasia Fiszer)

As grand structural alterations were out, personality has been added through even-handed blending of colour, texture and pattern. Against a mostly white base, furniture featuring blocks of beautiful, saturated jewel colours, and well-balanced patterns and textures - Ikat with velvet, seagrass with silk, palm tree prints - have transformed the interior so it feels 'exotic, but not hippy-ish.'

In the living room, for example, a print of a Tamara de Lempicka painting highlights the key colour palette of emerald green and grey-blue hues. The bold green makes up the opulent upholstery on the sofa, while alcove storage has been painted in an understated muted blue. The owner designed the cushions to contrast with the sleek nap of the velvet sofa.

Cushion fabric
Jim Thompson Fabrics

3/12 Living room mantelpiece

living room mantelpiece with mirror flower vase book case

(Image credit: Future PLC/Kasia Fiszer)

The influence of the owner's grandmother can be seen clearly in the living room, where a battered (but treasured) Chinoiserie fire screen sits in front of the fireplace. The piece, which the couple found in Malacca, is framed by bookcases which the owners transformed with smoky-jade paint. An arched, gilded mirror draws the eye upwards and adds another Eastern-influenced dimension to the room.

Similar mirror

Similar fire screen
Westland London

4/12 Dining area

dining area with dining table chairs sash window covered with curtains

(Image credit: Future PLC/Kasia Fiszer)

Mid-century style and classic far-eastern materials - we're looking at the beautiful dark wood finishes - give this dining area a sophisticated style. The sash windows are frosted, rather than covered with curtains, which create privacy without cutting the room's natural light. A geometric Ikat-style textile blind, a favourite style with the owners, adds to the grown-up vibe here.

Similar dining set

Retro Living
Blinds fabric
Jim Thompson Fabric

5/12 Kitchen

kitchen with kitchen sink wooden chopping board and tiles on wall

(Image credit: Future PLC/Kasia Fiszer)

The previous owners had installed the current kitchen. 'It looked a little cold and sterile, but we had to work with what we had,' say the couple. They decided to perk up the space by switching out the grey tiles for a rich blue decorative design. They also installed a copper tap, and chose warm-coloured accents throughout, to bring a welcoming glow to the kitchen.

6/12 Bedroom

bedroom with bed cushions lamp and flower vase bedside table

(Image credit: Future PLC/Kasia Fiszer)

The owner's rule-breaking approach to colour has the effect of making the two-bed property feel much larger than it is. 'People often go for softer colours in bedroom,' says one of the owners, 'but I wanted a warmer, more sumptuous look.' And so, oranges smoulder against jewel-bright mauves and, as elsewhere in the flat, textures and patterns bring added depth and interest to the decorating scheme. Cool white keeps the look fresh, rather than overwhelming the senses and the space. As a perfect finishing touch, one of the beautiful carved bedside tables, a piece which travelled to the UK from Malaysia, belonged to the owner's inspiration - her grandmother.

Similar bed

7/12 Guest bedroom

guest bedroom with cushions and photo frame on wall

(Image credit: Future PLC/Kasia Fiszer)

When it comes to multi-tasking, the couple's guest bedroom has all the bases covered - it also acts as a home office and a dressing room. This colourful display of tactile cushions, bright wall art and ruffled pom-poms brings a fun, relaxed feel to the room, making it feel more welcoming still.

Gem print
Similar cushions
John Lewis

8/12 Work space

workspace with tall window dressed with exotic tiger print blind carved wooden writing desk mirror

(Image credit: Future PLC/Kasia Fiszer)

'It's tempting to stick to neutrals,' says the owner, 'but I like to be different!' So, beside the guest room's tall window that's dressed with an exotic tiger-print blind, a carved wooden writing desk nestles in an alcove to create a neat work space. The palest blue walls keep the room feeling cool and calm, while an over-mantel mirror bounces natural light through the space.

Blind fabric
Jim Thompson at Jane Clayton
Similar desk
The Old Cinema
Similar chair
The Cotswold Company

9/12 Shelving

shelving with book and photo frame on shelve

(Image credit: Future PLC/Kasia Fiszer)

Every detail in this flat is carefully thought through - precision is something else that was passed down through the generations! Here, bamboo and fan-inspired accents bring a lovely touch to a storage solution, and help to pull together the East-meets-West decorating theme.

Similar frame
Zara Home

10/12 Bedroom storage

bedroom storage with wood chest drawer and chair

(Image credit: Future PLC/Kasia Fiszer)

Aged wood and vintage pieces are mixed and matched in the bright and airy guest room to create a useful dressing area (or space for a wardrobe overflow from the master bedroom!).

Similar chest of drawers
Similar chair

11/12 Bathroom

bathroom with floor tiles and bath tub

(Image credit: Future PLC/Kasia Fiszer)

New flooring, shimmering wallpaper and a dramatic paint colour transformed this space. 'We went for bold choices, like the deep cobalt paint and metallic palm print wallpaper,' say the couple of their bathroom. They painted the roll-top bath forget-me-not blue to tone in with the rest of the relaxing scheme.

Farrow & Ball
Similar floor tiles
Fired Earth

12/12 Bathroom-basin

bathroom wash basin with palm fronted wallpaper and mirror

(Image credit: Future PLC/Kasia Fiszer)

The blind fabric inspired the palette of brooding blue, while the palm-frond wallpaper evokes Eastern climes, even with the classic bathroom suite.

Similar mirror
Cox & Cox
Cole & Son

Despite their limited budget, the couple have made their flat into a comfortable and stylish home that shines with their own style and design ideas throughout.

Heather Young

Heather Young has been Ideal Home’s Editor since late 2020, and Editor-In-Chief since 2023. She is an interiors journalist and editor who’s been working for some of the UK’s leading interiors magazines for over 20 years, both in-house and as a freelancer.