The UAE is a renter’s market. Almost everyone rents their home and with that comes the tricky choice of “making do” with cheap furniture at the cost of living in a cookie-cutter space, or investing in pieces that work best with one’s personality.
Here, we ask three interior designers how to make a rental property feel more homely, plus what decor items are worth investing in and what should be avoided.
Removable flooring and real plants
Viviane Khoury, an interior architect and designer who lives in Dubai, firmly believes in loving where you live, regardless of whether it's a rental or owned. Khoury has designed many rental homes in the UAE as well as large-scale projects for the Arabian Radio Network and Dewa Institute, and enjoys seeing how great design can be used to inspire and increase productivity.
“Think of choosing and buying furniture that you can take from place to place,” is her top tip. With many homes tiled and potentially not to everyone’s taste, she suggests looking at removable flooring such as laying wood that can also be taken to the next home, or sticking vinyl on top of existing flooring.
“If you can't afford sticking vinyl, you can add a nice rug. A statement rug can change the look and feel and make the space even more cosy,” says Khoury.
Rugs aside, Khoury suggests investing in accessories that are not hugely expensive, such as picture frames, lighting, cushions and bed sheets, which have affordable options and are an easy choice for lifting a space and adding character to a room.
Adding real plants is high on Khoury’s tick list when designing a home. Being able to bring nature into a home has a huge impact on our well-being, she says. “Indoor plants are great for de-stressing your space and purifying the air around the home, increasing workflow and adding a splash of colour if the space is more neutral in design.”
If you’re looking for a quick fix in the kitchen or displayed storage areas, a simple hack is to replace existing cabinet knobs with colourful ones, says Khoury. “Handles, too, can be picked up inexpensively and can transform a space quickly and easily without compromising a deposit,” she says. Some companies also offer wrapping services for kitchen cabinet doors and counters that can be removed without damaging the original surface.
Finally, says Khoury, wall paint and paper can instantly transform a space. “Creating a feature wall in a different colour and texture to the rest, it’ll make a huge difference to the space.”
Khoury's top three picks are: candles from Beldi Bazaar (Dh300); macrame wall hangings from Kleuah (Dh1,260 for one that is 130cm x 190cm); and custom-made mirrors from Haze Homewares.
Lights and mirrors galore
Kat Wightman, an interior designer and stylist who lives in Abu Dhabi, is on a mission to “bring colour and charm to the desert”. Eclectic is the way to go, according to Wightman, who isn’t afraid to clash colours and patterns to form a vibrant home space that’s at once comfortable and inviting.
She is a firm advocate for “buying well” and avoiding poorly made products that run the risk of coming undone when you move houses. Rather, she says, invest in furniture that will transition from space to space; taking along an existing sofa or sideboard can make a new space feel like home.
Adding light and reflection are also high on Wightman’s list for making a rental more homely. A well-positioned table lamp or beautiful shade for the ceiling light can transform a space and create a comfortable feel without overspending.
“Mirrors are a must,” says Wightman. “From long, freestanding ones to oversized wall-mounted ones, mirrors add light and depth to the smallest of rooms.”
A rug, some cushions and a throw can instantly finish a room, says Wightman, and offer an opportunity to add a colour scheme without major redecoration.
Furniture and accessories aside, Wightman says you may be able to go further with your design if you “try to get your landlord on side; they may just approve a kitchen remodel or larger scale designs rather than just repainting”.
Wightman's top three store recommendations are Urban Nest, for high-end furniture from Europe; Bound No.82 in Abu Dhabi for throws and cushions in organic fabrics; and paint from Benjamin Moore.
If a fun interior is what you seek, look to design duo Emilie Jacob and Julia Woodger, of Stella and the Stars in Dubai, who don’t shy away from bright colours and quirky interiors. Jacob has even worked with clients who were not allowed to paint or over-drill in their rental homes.
One of the team’s top tips is to use art, whether it’s displaying figurines and decorative items on freestanding furniture or drilling just two holes for an Ikea picture ledge and placing as many frames and prints as will fit on it.
“One ledge, two holes, but the possibility of displaying an endless number of frames” says Jacob. “And if you want to add colour without painting the wall, then paint your furniture!”
The designers believe bold accessories are key to a great rental. White walls can be offset by colourful lamps, trinkets and candle holders. Adding a neon is a great talking point, too, as it adds light, colour and art all in one go, says Jacob.
Texture is another element to play with, and a great idea is to layer sheepskins on beds, chairs, dining chairs or on the floor – and not just in a plain cream hue, either. “Sheepskins are an affordable and easy way to add cosiness, warmth and texture to a space, and sheepskin is so versatile it can be incorporated in pretty much any scheme, no matter what your style is,” says Jacob.
Jacob and Woodger’s top three custom-made picks are: picture ledges from Ikea; neon lights from Vertical Design DXB; and sheepskin rugs from Smallable or Ebarza.