Their house, your style

Wall-coverings can offer decorative flair in the plainest room and with innovations in adhesive...
Wall-coverings can offer decorative flair in the plainest room and with innovations in adhesive wallpaper, can provide a great solution for renters who aren’t able to paint. PHOTOS: YUKI SUGIURA

Home ownership is becoming increasingly unattainable and many of us are renting for much longer than before. In her new book, Your Not Forever Home, seasoned renter and DIY enthusiast Katherine Ormerod says you can make a rental both stunning and personal with affordable and temporary changes.
In this edited extract, she discusses buying and placing furniture, art and objects.
Renting can be incredibly annoying on so many levels. I’m not just talking about the coal-face moments of moving in and out, which remain high up on the list of some of the worst days of my life.

More the little frustrations and irritations that you will never be able to resolve. I’ve spent countless hours of my life re-imagining floor plans in every single rental I have ever lived in, fantasising about dream extensions and debating with myself whether a room I don’t own would be better with a skylight or not. I think about how kitchens could be reconfigured to actually fit stuff in, and about which walls should be moved to enable a better flow through a space. For me personally, because I make my rentals feel so like home, I can get a little lost in my daydreams.

Reining that all back in is advisable, for obvious reasons. Similarly, when I see incredible Welsh dressers or vintage bookcases for sale at fairs, I need to keep myself in check. Buying massive pieces of furniture that may very well not fit into wherever you are going next is ridiculous. I do have a friend who kept a storage unit full of such finds for 10 years before buying her own home, but for most people struggling to make rent every month, it’s not a sensible option.

Instead, it is far better to invest in pieces that travel well. I look for relatively lightweight pieces, which can be bubble-wrapped and boxed up, but still have maximum impact wherever they end up living.

Artwork for me is the number one investment, outside of beds and a sofa - the moving of which we all just have to suck up. A lot of the artwork I have is glazed in vinyl so it’s very light and not wildly fragile. I bubble-wrap my glass frames and transport them myself, which is a bit more of a hassle, but it’s punitive to replace glass, and from long experience at least one frame bites the dust every move. As to which I prefer aesthetically: glass, obviously. But the vinyl compromise is worth the cons.

Painting furniture is a good way to bring your favourite hues into a rental property.
Painting furniture is a good way to bring your favourite hues into a rental property.
Art has such an incredible power to bring personality to any space. Some of my artworks are huge, like the framed tapestries that stand alone and don’t need to be affixed to a wall. Others do very well with Command strips and can just be stuck on and peeled off when it’s time to say adieu. My travelling gallery may seem absurd, but I feel like rooms are naked without it.

Soft furnishings are another obvious purchase for renters, though I always think the ‘‘throw a cushion (pillow) on it’’ mentality is a bit misguided. Cushions work best when layered with rugs, throws and textured upholstery fabrics - they’re not going to transform a rented space alone. I’m absolutely obsessed with fabric in general because it literally softens any space, changing the auditory environment and making it so much more inviting to relax into. In a bedroom, I like to double up pillows on a bed and then add a lumbar or bolster cushion or two square cushions to elevate the look. Combined with the fabrics I have on my headboards, the bed linen, a throw at the end of the bed and a rug on the floor, it’s a veritable soft furnishings party. And all of it is, of course, a movable feast.

Lighting is a controversial one and goes against the rest of my general ethos because a) you’re going to need permission to change light fixtures - although to be fair, the vast majority of rentals I’ve moved into had naked bulbs or else cheap paper shades - and b) unless you are really confident with electrics, you’re probably going to have to pay someone to install them.

In saying that, the value of even one nice light fixture in your sitting room, or wherever you relax and spend a lot of time, is second to none. Bottom-of-the-barrel lighting is probably one of the most maddening things about renting, so upgrading it in any way can make such a difference. For all those living under the tyranny of stark spotlights, diffusers - basically opaque plastic stickers that you stick over the entire spotlight - should be your new best friend.

When I invest in furniture, I honestly consider how much I could be motivated to bubble-wrap it. If it’s not special enough for me to get obsessively protective about, and I can imagine just saying, ‘‘wang it in the van’’, I know it doesn’t deserve to cross my threshold. Of course, there are things that I’m so not precious about - washing baskets and the like - but everything else I buy is killer and not filler, so I do my utmost to make it work in every space I live in.

Collections of artworks that are associated in some way with each other can travel well and...
Collections of artworks that are associated in some way with each other can travel well and enable you to almost instantly inject your personality into any space.
As to fitting furniture into new rooms as you move, OMG the rage. I’ve had wardrobes around 6mm too wide for alcoves, sofas that don’t go through doorways and curtains ... too short for a window frame. If you encounter similar situations, I feel your pain in my marrow. The obvious answer is to try and re-imagine the use of a piece of furniture somewhere it will fit - thus, the reason I had a bedroom wardrobe in a kitchen for two years, turning it into pan storage. There was no wall space big enough for a huge double wardrobe I had in the rental before this one, so I split it in two and placed it into two different rooms, which has also worked to a passable level.

The smaller your space, the more challenging the jigsaw, but I’ve only had two occasions where it really did all go to pot. One of those included the sofa that I couldn’t fit in through the new front door, which was summarily sold for a fraction of its cost. Not a happy renter in that moment. The second was a really nice television unit that was again scuppered by alcove space. Said unit now resides with my brother in his rental and I dream of being reunited one day.

There are amazing things about renting; this is not one of them. Trying to stay unsentimental and not get angry about it when furniture doesn’t fit exactly as you would have liked (tables too small or too large for the new space, wardrobe poking too far out, sofas stopping the door closing, and so on) is part of the compromise. Though I have learnt some good lessons along the way. Look for tables with leaves that can add or subtract volume as needed (our current dining table is a four- or six-seater and can be configured as a square or a rectangle). I generally opt for smaller rather than larger sizes (two and a-half-seater sofas, narrow width and depth chests and wardrobes, queen, not king-sized, beds). Then it’s looking for pieces that are multi-use and flexible, like convertible bunks, which can be transformed into single beds.

THE BOOK: Your Not Forever Home by Katherine Ormerod. RRP $50, available in stores nationally
THE BOOK: Your Not Forever Home by Katherine Ormerod. RRP $50, available in stores nationally
When you live in a not-forever home, you have to accept that maybe all your furniture may not be forever either. But some pieces work literally in every space. I have eight black Eames dining chairs that we bought one by one in sales and auctions up and down the country and they look so classic and elegant no matter where we live. Lightweight, hard-wearing and the definition of timeless, they were worth every penny and will be going with me to the grave.

As with everything to do with renting, there is no perfect or easy solution and moving your furniture from space to space involves a good amount of give and take.

Just know you aren’t the only one who has screamed at an alcove or a fireplace.