The majority of us have had to endure time in rental apartments and homes that don’t have an ounce of character. From beige walls to less than ideal kitchen cabinets or a brick fireplace that you are dying to tackle, it may seem like there is no which way to make that space truly yours. Oh, but you’re wrong and Shelby Dillon is proving it. She’s got the secret to making any rental, (even the ones that the landlord absolutely refuses to let you take a paint brush to) the best version of home, sweet home.
After wandering the globe as nomads for the last eight years, my husband and I finally decided to move back to the US with our three-year-old daughter. Aside from colorful passports and a serious case of wanderlust, our time living abroad also left us with fear of commitment to any one place. Because of this and a quick timeline to set up a home base, we decided to rent while we readjusted to living in the United States.
When we stumbled upon a traditional southern home in south Durham, I immediately started imagining how we could use the house’s space and fantastic light to reflect our eclectic personal style. The only true decorating hurdle we faced was the clause in our lease stating we cannot paint without hiring a professional, licensed painter. Plus, since the house is a rental, we really can’t change certain fundamental components of the house, like the brick on the fireplace or the dated kitchen cabinets.
This meant we needed to turn to more creative and less permanent (read: often less costly) ways to make our space reflect our experiences and lifestyle. One of the easiest ways to add some personality to a room is to find new soft goods – curtains, pillows, throws, and rugs. These things are less expensive than, say, a couch, and can easily be swapped when seasons or tastes change. Or when your toddler experiments with Play Doh.
Artwork and travel-inspired mementos and a little creativity will also ensure your rental is unmistakably yours. I know it can be daunting to introduce color into a new space, or even to expand a palate in a pre-existing design scheme. Often people are afraid that their accessories won’t match, but I like to take the “mad-hatter tea party” approach to decorating with color. I try to use colors that are similar, but don’t match exactly. So this way if I miss on one thing, it doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb.
For example, to liven up the living room, I picked several shades of blueish green from a Kelly green all the way to Aqua and Turquoise for drapes, pillows, wall art, and other accessories. These colors all go well together, but if one is just a bit different, the room still looks pulled together because the hues are in the same family. I pulled in black and white stripes to act as a contrast to the greens. Black and white are neutral, so they showcase the greens without competing. I’m so excited Emerald Green is popular right now, it is such a luscious color and you can use it to highlight other colors as well.
Often renters have to improvise when it comes to adding their personality to permanent fixtures in a home they don’t own. Since we couldn’t change the fireplace or its glass front, I opted to bring in a fireplace screen, then decorated the mantel in artwork and small pieces we had picked up from our travels over the years. The bells are used in Thailand and Cambodia for elephants, similar to how herdman use cowbells to keep track of cows here. I’ve always been fascinated by the elephant bells and love the memories they evoke when I see them in my living room.
If you find yourself obsessing over the heinous linoleum or awkward door to nowhere in your rental, start thinking about how you could cover it up with a bright rug – or better yet, incorporate it into a funky gallery wall! No matter what decorating challenges a rental unit may pose, a space will instantly feel more like home once you add personal touches and favorite motifs. We’ve spent the better part of the last decade near the equator, so even though I’m no longer living among palm trees and turquoise water, I can still use them as decorating staples in my home. The living room is perfect for creating a tropical feel, especially as we go into Pumpkin Spice season and the temperatures are dropping!
All of the artwork on the walls are pieces that I painted and were inspired during our travels. As a fine artist living and painting in Singapore, I would always tell people to pick the artwork they fell in love with. If you emotionally connect with a piece of art or accessor, it really reflects your personality. If you keep picking things that really represent you, you’ll find a common style or theme and you can’t go wrong. I’ll be honest – I’m pretty much obsessed with elephants and foo dogs. So you’ll usually see at least one of those in every room in our house. I love how they add so much warmth to a room and they definitely represent an exciting, adventuresome time in our lives.
After so many years of renting, we’ve learned how to adapt and make a space our home by playing with color and showcasing our quirky interests and unique travels. I’m really pleased with how this room turned out. It has a lot of personality and showcases many family memories, but is still cozy and inviting. The overstuffed couches are great for lounging with family and friends, and we’ve already found out that the rug is easily spot cleaned when our three-year old decides to color on it!