Gallery wall in the living room
Interior design

How to decorate a rental: Emma Jane Palin on renovating a temporary home

Interior writer Emma Jane Palin shares the story of her rental renovation and how she transformed textured wallpaper and dodgy carpets into a 70s-inspired dream home.

Thought making over a property was a joy reserved only for those in a position to buy? Well, this is why we adore interior writer Emma Jane Palin’s Instagram and blog, because as a renting renovator she shouts the good news from the rooftops: you can still have fun with a home that isn’t yours. 

As a millennial, Emma is part of the generation often characterised for being disadvantaged when it comes to getting on the property ladder. But with her writing and interiors inspiration she sets a stylish example of how renters can add personal touches to a temporary home, which she illustrates brilliantly with the four-bed coach house she rents with her partner, Joshua, and dog, George, in Margate.

“We’re currently renting, but as interiors are so important to the both of us, we specifically looked for something that we could put our own spin on,” Emma explains to Stylist.co.uk

“Rather than going down the standard estate agent route, I enquired in a local Facebook group for landlords that would be happy for us to decorate. I had a few people reply, but the property that interested us the most, that we now live in, had great bones but needed some love.”

Emma used her blog, where she talks about rental updates and interior trends, as a portfolio and was able to make an agreement with her landlord for a slightly lower monthly rent in return for doing up the house. 

“It’s a three-storey, four-bedroom house that starts on the first floor rather than the ground floor. Cars can drive underneath us, which is why it looks like it’s floating. It was a complete blank canvas when we moved in, including smelly carpets and textured walls,” she continues. 

And, unsurprisingly, Emma has worked magic on this formerly run-down house, imbuing it with culture, music and the style of her favourite eras. Keep scrolling to be inspired and find out how. 

What was your decor inspiration?

“As an interior writer, I’m always seeing new trends and interesting styles but it’s the mid-century aesthetic that does it for both of us. We’re both very into music and fashion from the 60s and 70s, and our homes have always reflected this.

“We’ve done quite a lot of renovation work and decorating in the house as the landlord was happy for us to do so, but I’ve also invested in furniture over the years that really represents us. For example, the orange velvet sofa is a vintage 70s number picked up from eBay for £300 and our retro-style bed was something I saved up for. 

“I’ll never get rid of either unless they fall apart first. Art is a vital part of my signature style and I use it to bring colour and personality to a space. My favourite artists are Babak Ganjei, Charlie Evaristo-Boyce, Rose Stallard and Dave Buonaguidi.”

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DIY hack you’re most proud of?

“I think that DIY hacks are perfect for tapping into interior trends as you can always change them up later on. One of my own favourite hacks is the fluted cabinet I created from an IKEA Ivar. 

“It was so simple and easy to do, yet has made all the difference in our living room. I might even give it a fresh lick of paint in the near future to give it a bolder look.”

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What has been the biggest challenge?

“As I had already agreed with the landlord that we could make changes, it’s been easier to make changes here over my previous houses. I write a lot on my blog about how to make a rented home your own, but it still surprises me how limited some people feel. I generally choose to pick my battles and won’t take on anything too big as I know it’s ultimately the landlord who is profiting from my work.

“Nevertheless, when we got this place there were some things we agreed to take on like sanding the floors and getting rid of textured wallpaper. It was essentially a learning curve in trying to avoid those things going forward – we’ve established that we just like the making things pretty part, hah!

“The beauty of renting is that things aren’t your problem when they go wrong. Obviously I’m quite handy and I know lots of the right folks in the community, so largely when things have gone wrong, such as the boiler breaking, the landlord has trusted me to get it sorted without having to be a middle man.”

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Which is your favourite room and why?

“Our bedroom. It’s a modern take on 70s style and features a retro platform bed, a striped wall mural and lots of rattan details. It’s also a loft conversion which has always been my dream spot for a bedroom. There’s something so cocooning about sleeping in a loft (even if it’s a bit much when the winds are strong in Margate!). 

“I think the room perfectly encapsulates our style. There’s a nod to the 70s but it’s still contemporary and clean, with a colour palette that features all my favourite hues of pink, mustard, orange and brown. The bamboo platform bed is the stand out feature and I’m so happy that we invested in it.”

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Emma’s favourite interiors Instagram accounts:

  • Whinnie Williams

    “Whinnie is one of my business partners for our caravan renovation project @clubjupiteruk, but I first made friends with her over Instagram due to her 70s location house. It’s so unique and dreamy.”

  • Home With AJ

    “AJ’s orange stairs were love at first sight for me and I’ve loved watching her Victorian maisonette evolve. 

    “She’s done such an incredible job of renovating it.”

  • Tierney Terrace location house

    “Nikki and Luke’s home is a colourful breath of fresh air and again, it’s undergone quite the makeover. 

    “The front entrance of the property is my absolute dream and I love how sympathetic they’ve been to the era of the building while still making it their own.”

Emma’s favourite homeware brands:

  • W.A.Green

    Playful head vase blowing bubblegum
    W.A.Green

    “W.A.Green is an embodiment of founder Zoe’s interior taste, and I couldn’t be more on board with everything she picks. 

    “If you’re looking for something statement for your home, I can guarantee that you’ll find it here.”

    Shop Wonder Lamp at W.A.Green, £239

  • Poodle & Blonde

    Pink and cream trim pillow
    Poodle & Blonde

    “If you were to ask for the homeware website I frequent most often, it would have to be Poodle & Blonde. Every single design is stunning.

    “When I do own my own home, you can guarantee that it will be decked out in Poodle & Blonde!”

    Shop Tottenham Dalmatian cushion at Poodle & Blonde, £105

  • Smash & Stir

    Pink decorative tray
    Smash & Stir

    “Smash & Stir is a new homeware brand that came about as a result of the lockdowns. 

    “It’s still very fresh but the products being released are so on point and I can’t wait to see how it progresses. I adore her arches!”

    Shop curve decorative tray at Smash & Stir, £27

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