Behind The Scenes, Interiors

The Joy Of Working With What You’ve Got

Like a lot of people, I long for my so-called dream home and all the money in the world with which to decorate it. But right now that’s not my reality and I suspect, it isn’t the reality for many of you. If I’m honest I’m not sure I’d even know what to do with unlimited funds, I’m so used to making do and working with what I’ve got! It’s how I was raised and it has now become one of the key tenets upon which I’ve built my styling and writing careers.

Some of the chapters in my books will tell you all you need to know about my attitude towards decorating your home: “Work with what you’ve got” and “Creativity before consumption” being two of the most telling headings, from my books Bohemian Modern and Life Unstyled. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in creating a home you love while having to be resourceful and careful with your money. It really pushes you to think creatively and the results are often far more personal than if you’d been able to just buy it all in one go. This week I’ve been thinking about my own home and the small changes I can make to refresh the space, and I realised that, much like Marie Kondo and her straightforward guide to decluttering your home (see my last post), there are also clear steps to working with what you’ve got. Using my current home as an example, I hope to inspire you to begin your own creative refresh at home.

I’ve rented my apartment for two and a half years. It’s my post-divorce home, meant to be temporary but as these things go, temporary might become four or five years. It’s not my dream home by any means, but it’s in a great neighbourhood with shops, restaurants and a lovely park all within walking distance. It’s also quite literally a stone’s throw from my son’s school and most of his friends, a very important factor after living in LA for years, and being a good drive, not a walk from everything. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of making it a nice home for me and my kids, but because I haven’t known when we’d be moving on, I’ve never properly settled. Now that I’ve decided I’ll most likely be in this flat for another year and a half or more, I’m feeling the urge to make it a bit nicer, to tackle some of the annoying and not too pretty areas that I’ve been living with. But of course I’m also keen to curb the spending as I want to keep saving for when I buy my own home again.

First I decided which specific rooms/areas I was going to tackle, in this case my main open-plan living room/kitchen and my bedroom. And then I took a hard look around and began the following steps:

  1. Assess what you already have and decide what is useful, beautiful, or has sentimental value and should therefore be kept.
  2. Decide what key piece(s) needs to be replaced, if any.
  3. Consider small changes you can make that will have maximum impact in renewing the space.
  4. Think about ways to restyle what you already have in order to refresh things.

Using these steps I took a hard look at my own living room and made some notes.

  1. I really want a new sofa – we bought ours for £200 seven years ago in the damaged section of IKEA when we first moved back to London from LA and it was meant to be temporary. Ha ha. But sofas are expensive and I have a new kitten who likes to scratch so it may not be the right time. I decide the sofa can stay, but maybe I can refresh it somehow for a couple more years. Perhaps I can make that eiderdown-style seat cover I’ve been coveting from Caravane for years. I don’t like the rug. I bought it for a shoot, but it’s not really my style, although there’s nothing actually wrong with it. Perhaps I buy a new rug. Something more in keeping with my style. Then I remember I have a Moroccan style rag rug at my ex husband’s flat. It would need a professional cleaning, but the expense of doing that is far less than buying a new rug. (I discover the rug is moth-infested but I’ve been told it can be cleaned). OK, no new rug, make use of what I have that is in keeping with my style. Book storage is an issue. One side of my living room – behind the sofa – is nice to look at, but the view when sitting on the sofa isn’t as easy on the eyes. A big TV, more books than I have shelves for, an ugly black wall mounted heater straight out of the eighties and not in a cool way (currently hidden behind stacks of books), a Chinese red cabinet that I love for sentimental reasons, but isn’t really my style anymore. A hodge podge of things with no thread to link them. I decide that’s the section to tackle.
  2. So, what to replace? The tv sits on a good ol’ IKEA LACK cubby style cabinet, with books stuffed below. Not very grown up and also not enough storage for my overflowing book collection. A new sideboard would make all the difference. Something wooden, stylish, practical. I decide to look for something I love that is within my budget, works with the rest of the flat, and its nice enough that I’ll want to take it with me when I next move. Wish me luck.
  3. What small changes can I make to the rest of the room that don’t cost much, if anything? I can refresh the textiles – with a relatively neutral base colour palette in the room, it’s easy to quickly change things up with new cushions, throws, even curtains. I decide to change up the sofa throw cushions with some of my rotating collection of vintage and new textiles. I leave the main living room curtains as is – natural linen always works – but I look at adding something new to the smaller kitchen window, perhaps in colours that link to the rest of the room. I also think about painting the base of my tiny kitchen table. Paint can be a cheap and quick way to refresh things. I’ve already sanded and stained the table top almost black (after an unsuccessful attempt to sand it back to a lighter wood), but the base remains the same glossy brown wood as when I bought it at an antiques market. Not very cool and it seems unfinished, not in a good way. A thick coat of white or maybe palest pink on the base would be the modern touch it needs for the price of a small tin of paint. Same goes for one of the dining chairs. A cafe style chair I found on the street sticks out a bit compared to the other three, slightly more sleek chairs. Maybe it would also benefit from some darker stain like the table.
  4. Finally, how to change the styling to make it feel fresher? The pine cabinet behind the sofa serves as the main “styled” area with art, plants, candles and so on. I like the way it looks but decide to add some more art to the walls, making use of the full height of the ceilings. I’m now on the hunt for interesting art that fits in with the pair I painted myself. I also consider a new piece of art for above my (yet to be found) new sideboard, something that works next to the Chinese cabinet, not an easy find. Again, wish me luck.

And that’s where I am. I have a plan and now I have some work to do. I can’t tell you how good it feels to properly assess my own needs at home. I’m very good at doing it for my clients when creating shoots, but at home it’s a different story. Amazing what a difference a bit of careful consideration and planning can make! I really encourage you to do the same. Take a good look at your place and think about what is realistic, what will give you the most bang for your buck. Because maybe one day we’ll all get our dream homes, but if we don’t then let’s make the most of the homes we have.

Emily x

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