This is the third installment in our series, The Rented Home where we look at ways to create a perfect home even when you don’t own the bricks and mortar where you reside. Alex Outhwaite takes us through her own journey of turning a rental property into home and offering her personal experience and insights along the way. Part One, Finding The Perfect Rental can be found here and Part Two, Working with What You’ve Got can be found here.
I love furniture. I do not love shopping but I cannot resist a shop that sells furniture, whether it’s an unattainably high-end place that makes me feel scruffy, or an Aladdin’s cave of an antiques shop that thrills with the promise of hidden treasure.
If being a member of Generation Rent depresses you, then the last thing you want to do is fill your house with bland furniture in one all-out session at Ikea or Argos. Which is not to disparage that type of shop – a stroll round Ikea is one of my favourite ways to spend an afternoon, but I wouldn’t want my whole home to look like their showroom.
Investing in furniture is a good thing to do, practically and philosophically. Having stylish, well-made pieces that could last a lifetime means you have a solid foundation for a home whenever you move. Cheap stuff that falls apart after a couple of years is a false economy, and thankfully interior design has moved away from the consumerist ideal of always buying new, in favour of a more enlightened, anything-goes eclecticism.
Good furniture does not have to mean expensive furniture. Virtually every piece in our flat is second hand, whether it’s antique, a charity shop bargain or a hand-me-down. It’s all well made, and not a single item cost more than £200. Most of them far less.
When I moved from the country, I sold on some of my furniture, as it was quite cottagey in style and didn’t fit the grander proportions of our Victorian flat. Because I had bought decent stuff in the first place, the money I made from selling my original items almost entirely offset the cost of replacing it. New furniture depreciates significantly as soon as you buy it, but good quality second hand or antique items retain (and sometimes increase) their value.
As well as hunting for bargains, don’t discount having items made or reupholstered. If you find the right crafts-people it may not be as expensive as you’d think.
One of my prized possessions is my blue velvet, deep buttoned ottoman.
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but the truth must be told – I became obsessed with the idea of this ottoman after seeing it in the film The Holiday. Terrible movie, gorgeous interiors. I have it on DVD just to admire the homes. Honestly.
I couldn’t find anything like the ottoman anywhere that I could afford, but so fervent was my desire that eventually I decided I had to have one made. I scored some blue velvet curtains for £3 in a catacomb of an antiques shop and found an upholsterer on eBay who was selling custom-made footstools for £150. I sent him the fabric and the measurements, and a few weeks later my dream was fulfilled, astonishingly inexpensively. It’s a beautifully made piece of furniture, and my beneficent upholsterer even repurposed the legs from an old Edwardian sideboard to get the right look – recycling is always pleasing.
I like to make-over versatile pieces. I bought this neat little chair from a charity shop for £4 and I recently put it through its third refashion – transforming it from a pretty, Laura Ashley-covered incarnation of vintage femininity to this glossy, geometric, masculine specimen.
In our flat we are surrounded by stories and memories prompted by our furniture – taking a punt on poorly photographed chairs on eBay, the hand-me-down armchair battered by decades of family cats, the lunatic courier who delivered our antique chest of drawers and threatened to stab us. Those were the days.
Hunting these pieces down, finding bargains and being thrifty makes creating a stylish home all the more satisfying, and once you have a place filled with beautiful furniture and an abundance of memories, does it really matter if you don’t own the shell of bricks that contains them?