When freelance interiors’ stylist and now author, Joanna Thornhill first approached me about including my home in her new book, Home for Now and explained to me the concept behind it, I knew she was on to something. Taking into consideration those of us who are either renting or have only just settled into what would be a stepping stone for a future home purchase, where were the interior books for us? Of course, seeing full scale renovations on a property or those who have had an interior designer’s involvement is wildly inspiring but what about those of us with budgets stretched quite far enough? Or for those of us who don’t want to spend lots of money and time on a property that will be sold eventually anyway or one that we don’t own outright?
So, while it’s entirely possible that I may be a little biased about how fabulous Joanna’s new book really is, I actually think it’s a gem of a book. Ok, yes, seeing my own home appear within its pages as well seeing the home of our fabulous AO Life contributor, Carole Poirot‘s home appear as well was rather exciting – but far beyond that were many other homes, both owned and rented, with inspiring and inexpensive DIY ideas to transform your own ‘Home for Now’ into something rather special.
I had the chance to speak to Joanna recently about her inspiration for writing the book and what advice she has for those of us ready to create a lovely home with a modest budget.
Could you tell us a little bit about your background first?
I’m a freelance interiors’ stylist and writer by trade, producing imagery and content for magazines and commercial clients as well as doing things for the odd event here and there. I started out as a TV runner, before capitalising on my art and design studies and moving more into props and art department work. I then started to assist other interior stylists. Eventually, I decided to branch out on my own.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
It’s very much based on my own experiences – I rented myself for over a decade in lots of different places, from little warehouse flats to big Victorian houseshares and even one particularly grotty flat above a shop which had mushrooms growing on the walls, so I’ve seen it all! I’ve always tried to personalise my rentals and work around my landlords’ restrictions, but I always dreamed of the day I’d get the keys to a place of my own and could finally do whatever I wanted.
However when that day happened, reality very much hit as I realised I had zero money left to do any of the things I wanted to do, and had to radically scale down my expectations. I was wary of making big, scary changes that might impact the resale value, making it difficult for me to carry on moving up the property ladder. I was surprised how my approach to decorating ended up not being wildly different from my renter’s approach – with a mindfulness of how I could easily reverse any changes I made when the time comes to move on again. It occurred to me that, with the housing market as crazy as it is right now, there must be an ever-growing number of people like me in the same situation, yet no one was really doing anything tailored to our specific needs. And that was the birth of Home for Now!
What do you think is the easiest way to update a rental home?
I think a decent bit of styling can be a very underrated tool when it comes to making a big impact, especially for renters as it doesn’t involve doing anything that would need ‘making good’ again. Cover any soft furnishings that have seen better days with throws and cushions (though try tucking any throws in neatly, as seen above, to avoid that dustsheet-down-ready-to-decorate look), create little vignettes for interest and group some artwork together on walls to really finish off each room – this, too, can be achieved very inexpensively if you stick to prints or even paper ephemera. Avoid damaging walls by using removable picture hanging strips, or casually attach unframed items with washi tape, for a look you can build on as your collection grows.
What are your favourite projects from Home for Now?
That’s a very tricky question, as (although I’m a teeny bit biased) I think all the step-by-step projects and make-your-own mini-projects are fab! I specifically chose them as they showcase a real mix of craft and DIY, and contain ideas for every room in the home. I guess for me personally, I’m hoping to decorate my dining room soon and would like to fit some shelves into one of the alcoves, and I’m keen to try cladding them with old fruit crates, as seen in the kitchen above – the room links to the kitchen and it’d be a fun way to tie the two spaces together.
It was also fun thinking up my “renter’s alternatives” – landlord-friendly ways to adapt certain projects to make them home-for-now proof, such as my printed bookpage wallpaper project, where I suggest recreating the look by getting a large sheet of MDF and papering that instead, to create a moveable feature wall that you can take with you when you move.
Are there any ideas from the book when you were putting it together that you used in your own home?
So many of the homes’ featured in the book had an abundance of indoor plants – from the smallest to the largest of spaces, it was a real running thread. There’s been a lot of press lately about how house plants are ‘cool’ again but these people had cottoned onto it a long time ago – they really do breathe life into a space, and I think they’re particularly important for those who don’t have any outside space of their own (which many of them didn’t). I’ve since started building a bit more of a collection of house plants at home which I want to add more of. And I plan to make a hanging macrame plant holder for my bathroom, as seen in the tiny studio flat above, where they were a necessity as there was no surface space for them to stand on otherwise!
What would you say to people who think if it’s not their home, there’s no point in making it their own?
I think that everyone, regardless of circumstance and whether they’re interested in interiors or not, would agree that having a nice home to come back to at the end of the day is a lovely thing indeed. Unfortunately I think the general perception of renting is very much behind the times of where it’s at today – it’s no longer just something students and people in their early 20’s do before promptly collecting the keys to their forever-home – it’s a way of life for many into their 30’s and beyond, and increasingly it’s a lifestyle choice, too, rather than simply because they can’t afford to get on the property ladder. Sure, if you’ve just come to an area to work a bar job for a few months and don’t intend to stay longer than that then understandably you won’t want to invest much effort into your temporary digs, but if, like a growing number of people, you’re in your rental place indefinitely, then it’s a crying shame not to invest a little bit of time and money to get things to your liking.
People can also be reluctant to invest in furniture, for fear of it not fitting into a future home, yet if you’re sensible with what you buy and invest in freestanding modular pieces, most things can be adapted for future use, and if you buy cheaply in the first place, you could always sell the odd thing on that you don’t have space for – you might even make your money back!
What advice would you give people who are living in their first home and don’t have a large budget to do lots of work?
Live in the space for a while first before making any big changes or purchases (aside from the essentials!) – you might be surprised how much you change your mind about how you want to furnish or decorate each room. Be realistic about what you can do yourself and if you think it’s simply too much for you to take on, set aside some budget to get help where you need it, so you realistically know how much you have to spend on the rest.
If you plan to eventually move on to a bigger home, try to keep the space flexible by purchasing freestanding furniture where possible that you can easily move on with you when you go, meaning less investment in the actual bones of the property. And think about adopting more of a renter’s mindset where appropriate – for example, you might hate your kitchen, but know that it’s going to be a good couple of years before you can afford the refit you’ve got your heart set on. Consider investing a small amount of money into a refresh in the interim – paint the walls, stick up a couple of simple shelves, hide the ugly tiles with stickers and replace the handles with something a little smarter, to tide you through until you can afford to make any big changes.
What’s next for Joanna Thornhill?
I’ve got a few exciting shoots in the pipeline, though I don’t ever like to say what they are until they’re actually happening! I’ll be continuing to promote the book, which has been keeping me busy for a while now. And at home, I’m still desperately trying to practice what I preach and make it lovely! I’m in the midst of redecorating both my study and our bedroom but I’m hoping that this summer we might be able to finally tackle our kitchen/dining room, which will firmly take us over the halfway line in the house decorating stakes. Along with plotting up ideas for a book sequel!
Home for Now (£16.99, Cico Books) was published in April 2014 and is being sold worldwide – to find out where to buy, visit Joanna’s website or get it straight from Amazon UK here. You can also check out Joanna’s blog, Stylist’s Own here.