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The ultimate guide to decorating rental homes – Part 1

  • Ideas & Inspiration
Feb 08, 2024
Chic living room with unique coffee table – Beautiful Homes

Purva Agrawal, a Mumbai-based interior stylist, shares insights on designing stylish and budget-friendly living and dining rooms in the first part of this series

Very often, the idea of investing in the design of a rental home raises eyebrows—why spend money on a place you might eventually leave, right? Then there’s all the nightmarish scenarios we hear of—dealing with obstinate landlords, navigating a labyrinth of permissions for even the smallest alterations.

 

At Beautiful Homes, we regularly speak to first-time homeowners, like Anirudh Sharma, co-founder of Third Wave Coffee Roasters, who express the relief of finally having the freedom to design their dream homes after years of renting. In an interview last September, he remarked, ‘If you have a parrot green wall in your rental home, you have a parrot green wall (for the rest of your lease)’, a sentiment that’s truly stuck with us.

 

With our new series on designing and decorating rental homes, we’re ready to challenge these notions and demystify the common misconceptions around interior design for leased properties with Mumbai-based interior stylist Purva Agrawal. Through her studio named Attirail, which translates to paraphernalia from French, Purva is spearheading a change in the narrative, where decorating rental spaces is not just a privilege for those on long-term leases or premium properties.

 

In Part 1 of our series, we delve into the initiation of a rental home transformation, exploring where and how to begin, along with a step-by-step guide to living room design.


 

Meet The Stylist

Purva’s journey into the world of interior design is as unique as the spaces she creates. Starting out her career in set design, her early experiences on advertising film sets fuelled her love for designing spaces that people inhabit. Understanding and imagining characters and scenarios through script readings during this time, laid the foundation for her personalised approach to interior styling. The fast-paced nature of film and advertising productions, which demand swift, cheap and temporary designs, led her to finding a niche in rental home makeovers, which also require quick-fixes, economical substitutes and a whole lot of jugaad to ensure rapid turnarounds.

 

But it wasn’t until 2018, a turning point arrived when a producer fell in love with the set of a Parisienne apartment Purva had designed for a Yardley London commercial and entrusted her with designing a 2BHK house in Mumbai. “Initially, I didn’t even know about laminates or veneer; the basics of materials and construction,” she says. “So I would go home, study, and return to the site and say to myself, ‘Yeah, I think this will work,’” she says, reflecting on the challenges that marked her initial foray into the field.

 

She launched Attirail in January 2020 as a business focussed on the bohemian style of interiors. “Back when I started, the stylish boho-themed products I wished to use, the stuff you see on Pinterest mood boards, were still out of reach,” she says. “So I worked with vendors directly and hunted down made-in-India brands to create nine distinctly styled spaces at a pop-up in Mumbai to showcase my indie-boho aesthetic for Indian homes.”

 

While the response was tremendous, the onset of the pandemic brought unexpected challenges and opportunities when people sought to enhance their homes for remote work, home-schooling, exercise and more. “Suddenly, people wanted their spaces to look and feel nicer because they were spending all their time at home.  Rented homes were no longer places you just return to after a long day at the office,” she explains. “Virtual consultations and online shopping, processes most Indians are reluctant to try when it comes to interior design, became the norm and I was able to expand my team, simplify processes and turn around projects at an unprecedented speed.”

 

Her incredibly popular before-and-after posts and reels on Instagram also led to a teaching gig by October 2020 when her followers insisted on learning interior styling directly from her.

 

Here’s her step-by-step guide to designing stylish and budget-friendly living rooms:


 

Step 1: Assess and Document

Before diving into the design process, Purva emphasises the importance of taking stock of the existing elements of the leased property.

 

Conduct a thorough examination of the rental property before signing on the dotted line, taking into account factors such as natural light, duration of the lease and the landlord’s stipulations. This assessment lays the foundation for a design plan that aligns with your lifestyle.

 

Identify what can and cannot be changed. Once the assessment is complete, Purva suggests categorising elements into what can and cannot be changed, removed, repurposed or repaired. For instance, while a landlord might allow you to paint the living room in the colour of your choice, he may not allow any structural changes. This clear distinction helps in developing a focused design plan and prevents unnecessary frustration.

 

Photograph the fixed components such as flooring, door and window placements that cannot be changed. The non-negotiable aspects become an integral part of the mood board, ensuring that any new design decisions seamlessly integrate with them.

 

Pin down your preferences. Purva’s next tip involves making a list of what you like and what you absolutely don’t like about the property. Then make a list of all the interior design styles, paint colours and decorative elements you like and dislike. Knowing what you dislike can be just as important as knowing your preferences to streamline the design process.

 

 

Step 2: Negotiate with the Property Owner

When property owners impose strict limitations, securing their approval can be a delicate process, and Purva has developed a knack for navigating these discussions. Purva advises her clients to negotiate only for changes they truly desire.

BYOM, that’s bring your own mood board. A comprehensive presentation, detailing everything from reupholstering furniture to minor structural changes, is an essential tool for negotiation when seeking landlord approvals, offering a visual roadmap for the proposed transformation.

 

Make your case by presenting reversible changes and highlighting the benefits. Whether it’s suggesting a new entry door for added security or the use of wallpapers to protect walls, the goal is to strike a balance between personalisation and respecting the property.

 

Open communication and compromise with landlords can lead to favourable outcomes. Sometimes, a simple deal like handling repairs independently in exchange for design changes can be struck or a written agreement to ensure the return of the property in its original condition can be signed.

 

Embrace what you can’t change. Purva also encourages clients to embrace elements that cannot be altered. This pragmatic approach involves incorporating fixed features into the design rather than resisting them. By doing so, you can turn limitations into strengths.

Light blue sofa with printed wallpaper – Beautiful Homes

When the client wasn’t permitted to remove the wallpaper, Purva utilised it to establish a palette incorporating all the colours present in the wallpaper for the rest of the living room.

Step 3: Stow Away Excess Baggage

Even as redeveloped properties and builder-finished apartments increase in number, you may not always be lucky to land on an unfurnished property. If a rental comes with furniture that doesn’t align with the client’s vision, Purva suggests exploring storage facilities. By stowing away bulky or unwanted items, clients can enjoy a fresh, clutter-free living space. This cost-effective solution ensures you aren’t stuck with the objects you dislike.

 

When one door opens, ask if you can change it. Very often, rental homes are simply given a fresh lick of paint and not much else before a handover. So, when you bring in your own furniture or wall art, there’s a good chance existing features like doors or window frames don’t match your style. She recommends the removal of laminate, the addition of moulding, a change of hardware, and a fresh coat of paint to rejuvenate the door’s aesthetic. If the property owner doesn’t allow a facelift, consider stowing it away with everything else at a storage facility.

Step 4: Prep the Perfect Canvas

Even with the most difficult property owners will ensure a rental home is freshly painted from top to bottom before you begin the lease. If it’s possible at all, Purva suggests picking your own base colour to set the tone for the overall design.

 

The right white. Purva emphasises the significance of selecting the right white for interiors. She recommends specific shades like L152 Cream Pie by Asian Paints by for a warm and inviting ambience. The right white also acts as a canvas that ties all design elements together, enhancing natural light and creating harmony within the space. She also dispels the myth of using different colours or shades of the same colour for walls and ceilings. By using the same colour for both surfaces, a room appears seamless and expansive.

 

Reversible wall treatments. If you’re facing stringent restrictions from property owners, Purva recommends reversible wall treatments such as panelling, moulding, wainscotting, installing batten or shiplap designs. These involve installing prefabricated sheets onto walls without causing any damage.

 

Of course, wallpapers are the quickest way to transform a room and Purva advises selecting the most affordable options for living rooms, which tend to be the largest rooms in most rental homes. Purva recommends choosing wallpapers in the range of Rs. 50 to Rs. 60 per square feet or rolls priced between Rs. 3,000 and Rs. 6,000 by brands like Asian Paints. While customised wallpapers sound pricey, by printing your design on the most basic, simply finished paper, you can create a one-of-a-kind look without breaking the bank.

Chic living room with unique coffee table – Beautiful Homes

In a cost-effective decision to transform the walls, Purva has added pre-fab panels in white to one half of a wall while the other half is painted blue.

Wall TV unit with art – Beautiful Homes

A heavily textured wall was packed with PoP sheets, easily reversible, to create a gallery wall around the TV, paired with a sleek console. Rather than packing the whole wall, two little alcoves were created from an existing niche to add depth.

Step 5: Save to Splurge

Every step of the design process of a rental home raises the question—“Is it worth it?” Should you cut costs and opt for everything cheap and chic or invest in timeless pieces that can move with you as you switch homes? Purva takes us through some of the ways in which she helps her clients decide how to save and when to splurge.

 

A couch for all seasons. “Your couch is the centrepiece; it's where life happens. Whether it’s a classic design or a bold sectional, you have to make sure it’s comfortable and built to last,” she advises. “Comfortable seating is non-negotiable.” She recommends brands like Magnolia and Blue Loft in Mumbai and online stores like Gulmohar Lane for long-lasting furniture.

 

Flexible seating. Purva recommends that all the seating options in the living room including benches, arm chairs, dining chairs and tables, must also be designed to be moved and rearranged effortlessly.

 

Save on storage. Storage units and other small, easy-to-move furniture like side tables and freestanding consoles can be paired cleverly with decorative accents to up your style game, so look out for budget options. “Save on these items to allocate your budget to more important design elements,” she says.


 

Step 6: Continuity in Design

“The living room sets the tone for the entire house,” Purva says. To achieve continuity, she recommends carrying forward one or many elements from the living room—whether it’s a bit of the colour scheme or a pattern—to every other part of the house. “Even if every other room in the house caters to different tastes, having a unifying element or a theme, ensures a harmonious transition throughout the home.”


 

In the next part of our three part series, Purva Agrawal takes us through styling and decorating dining areas and bedrooms for rental homes. 

Purva Agrawal - Beautiful Homes
Purva Agrawal, founder of Attrail.
Bohemian hall décor with matte paint – Beautiful Homes
The entryway is given a sophisticated facelift by levelling and painting an existing wall-mounted shoe cabinet that also features moulding and gold handles.
Sofa chair design with a ceramic flooring – Beautiful Homes
A solid dark wood door has been transformed into a delicate pastel fixture by using moulding, PU paint and minimalist hardware to complement the rest of the lightly coloured living room.
Bohemian style living room décor – Beautiful Homes
By painting the whole living room in Asian Paints shade L152 Cream Pie, Purva has transformed it into a bright, expansive canvas that enhances the natural light and highlights the colourful furniture and décor.
Living room design with yellow sofa – Beautiful Homes
The immovable window-side storage is cleverly used to create extra seating with pink cushioning to match the rest of the pop-coloured furniture in this compact living room.
Neutral living room with carpet – Beautiful Homes
For this living room, nearly all the bulky furniture, including the TV console, armchairs and a freestanding bookshelf, was placed in a storage facility when the property owner refused to allow any changes.
Neon signboard for wooden cabinet – Beautiful Homes
When her clients were refused permission to move or discard a bulky, ‘90s style TV unit, Purva added Ikat-print wallpaper and neon lights to transform it into a multi-functional bar, console and storage unit.

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