5 Failsafe Styling Tips From A Serial Renter

The nature of renting in Australia means not having total control of your home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it look and feel uniquely your own.

Monde furniture designer and Homebody stylist Tilly Barber has lived in numerous rental properties over the past 15 years, and she’s managed to personalise each one by observing the following styling tips.

From making your own DIY curtains, to switching out dated pendant lighting – and even using carefully placed carpet tiles to create the illusion of new flooring (genius!) – discover how to make your rental property feel more like YOU!

Amelia Barnes

A modular sofa in the former share house of Tilly Barber. Vintage 1970s modular sofa, rattan seat and light bought from Homebody. Vita Selma ‘Arata’ chair. John Taylor painting from Martin Allen Antiques. Chain plinth by Zachary Frankel. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Julia Busuttil Nishimura’s rented family home. House designed by by Eliza Blair Architecture and Studio Mkn. Extendable dining table from Grandfather’s Axe. Dining chairs by Thonet. Lola Terracotta Vase from Jardan. Lemmy Modular Sofa by Jardan. Cushion from Jardan. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli


Tilly Barber’s Alistair Knox-designed rental property. Monde sofa. Sādo coffee table by Sean Brickhill. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Styling a home as a renter in Australia is generally restrictive, but with a creative and inventive approach, it is possible to create a truly personalised space.

To find out how, we turned to the master — aka Monde furniture designer and Homebody stylist Tilly Barber, whose rental properties always reflect her timeless and modernist-inspired style (see here, and here and here!)

Today, Tilly reveals the tips and tricks behind her seemingly effortless home transformations to inspire your next rental makeover!

1. Choose modular furniture

It’s hard to commit to large furniture items in a rental property when you don’t know how long exactly you’ll be staying.

The solution —  invest in modular and extendable pieces, capable of adapting to your current and future needs, whatever they may be.

A versatile modular sofa, for example, allows a variety of configurations, ensuring flexibility in the future.

An extendable dining table is also a great solution for small rental properties, where only occasional entertaining takes place.

‘I recommend seeking out things you can utilise for as many rooms or uses as possible,’ says Tilly.

Painted walls cast a soft light in Tilly Barber’s home. Zachary Frankel mirror. HAY light. Dining table and benches made by Tilly Barber. Theodosius Ng ceramic (left). Stools bought from Facebook Marketplace. Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Painted walls in the rented home of Sarah ShinnersDulux Gold Dust wall paint. Lamp and side table are both vintage finds from Jolie Laide. Rug from West Elm. Bedhead made by Sarah using fabric from Unique Fabrics and The Fabric Store. Curtains by Esenar. Art by Sarah. Ceramics on bedside table from The Coburg Pottery Collective, storage dishes from HAY. Purple sheets from Kip&Co, and olive from In Bed. Incense holder by Tantri Mustika. Wall sculpture by Natalie Rosin. Photo – Dylan James. Styling – Sarah Shinners

2. Be brave with paint

Before you say anything — yes it is possible to paint a rental property! In Tilly’s experience, many landlords are open to tenants making property changes likely to increase the value of the home.

Always ask permission, and if you’re extra lucky, you might find the landlord is even willing to split the cost, as was the case with this Melbourne renter when making modifications.

A fresh coat of paint over a dated feature wall or damaged surface is usually Tilly’s first port of call when taking over a lease.

Lucienne and Sebastian Van Sebille’s rented home. Vintage dining table sourced by Curated Spaces. LaClasica Chairs by Spanish brand Stua from Stylecraft. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

The rented home of Holly Thompson and Stephanie Lane. Curtains were installed to form an additional bedroom. Orange and blue painting (R side of cupboard) by Abbey Rich. Cherry Bomb and Dante candle by Blazed Wax. Cream ‘Foli’ table by Lauren Lea Haynes. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli

Tilly Barber’s rental property. Sisal carpet tiles were installed to cover existing faux terracotta flooring. Akari UF3-Q floor lamp from In Good Company. Hali Rugs rug. Stitch work by Madison Wilday of Indor. Monde sofa.

3. Get creative with DIY

Some rental makeovers require some more creative and innovative thinking. In Tilly’s current home, for example, she installed sisal ‘carpet tiles’ over her home’s existing faux terracotta floors, to temporarily soften and warm up the space. (See image above right – they really do look amazing!)

‘When laying the carpet tiles we opted to not use adhesives, so they don’t pose any harm to the existing flooring and they can easily come up, so I can take them with me to my next home or sell them at the end of my tenancy,’ she says.

Curtains are another existing property feature that can often be removed / replace, then reinstalled if necessary, upon vacating.

Tilly chose to replace her home’s existing curtain rods with Tasmanian oak dowel, layered with washable Japanese-style noren curtains. ‘They’re very easy to sew yourself or have custom made to fit your windows,’ she says.

Curtains can also be used to divide large spaces into smaller, more usable, rooms.

The rented home and store aka Ma House of Ben Mooney. Couch from Itsniceinsde. Burl table from Jolie Lade. Coffee table above from Objects of Yesterday. Painting by Emma Creasey. Lamp on right from Jolie Lade. Lamp on right vintage Ikea. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

The rented apartment of Lauren Everett and Frances Normoyle. Painting by Julia Trybala. Sofa from Dwell. Sculpture by Angus Gardner. Candle holder Clump. Vintage Wassily chair. Mushroom lamp from West Elm. Vintage Kartell side table. Silver bowl from Alessi via Playground. Yellow vase from Marimekko. Incense holder from Soda Fountain. Vintage glass ghost table. Photo – Eve Wilson. Styling – Annie Portelli

The rented home of  Jordy van den Nieuwendijk and Kate Isobel Scott full of statement art. Niels Eilersen ‘Arizona’ Sofa by Jens Juul Eilersen. Pillow on sofa by India Mahdavi. Upper yellow artwork on wall by Martin Lukáč. Lower yellow artwork on wall by Gijsje Heemskerk. Raffia Donut Stool by Pan After.  Le Feu De L’Eau Chartreuse candle. Photography – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

Tilly’s former rental home in Warrandyte. ‘Blue decanter’ loop pile weaving was a collaboration between Homebody and Software Rugs. Flute side table by Zachary Frankel. Custom spotted gum bench seats made by Tilly and Zac Frankel. Table from marketplace. Pots from Pop & Scott throughout. Lumier Interiors lightshade. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli.

4. Invest in statement pieces

A rental property starts to feel like a home when it reflects the personality of the tenants. So it’s important to style your home with special pieces that reflect your tastes, as these are the elements that will really make your home feel uniquely ‘you’.

Art, cushions, bedding, loose furniture, and pot plants are the sort of statement pieces that can really impact the feel of a space. If you invest in them wisely, these pieces will stay with you for many years, and easily re-assemble in any spaces you inhabit in the future.

‘Be inspired as well as open minded to unique pieces that ‘speak to you’ or have a timeless quality, instead of pieces that are a momentary trend’ Tilly says. ‘If you have the means, consider making things yourself or commissioning makers whose work you admire.’

Don’t be tempted to fill a space quickly, and prioritise quality over quantity.

Tilly says, ‘When buying, consider if you really need it, then ask yourself, is it useful, will it last, and does it make you happy?’ My rule with styling, and with many things in life, is ‘if it’s not 100% “yes” it’s a “no!”

A paper latern in the rented home and store aka Ma House by Ben Mooney. Light fitting from Hub General Store. Shelf from Facebook Marketplace. Objects on shelf: Candlesticks from @stilllifesouvenir.  Vase by Maison Balzac. Planter from Coming Soon NYC. Vases by Georg Jensen. Antique foot sculpture. Matin Small Table Lamp from HAY. Photography – Amelia Stanwix. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

The rented home of Holly Thompson and Stephanie Lane. Wassily chair. Natuzzi floor lamp (1990s) and blue checkered rug sourced by Goodspace. Black coffee table sourced from Wavey Wares. ‘Sailor’ blanket by Curio Practice. Purple ‘Foli’ table by Lauren Lea Haynes. Photo – Caitlin Mills. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

A paper light shade above Tilly’s dining table in her former rental property. Tilly made the dining table using Tasmanian oak bought on Facebook Marketplace. Photo – Eve Wilson. Editorial styling – Annie Portelli

5. Light up your life

Attractive, warm lighting will instantly improve the look and feel of your rental property.

If your home has dated pendants that can easily be removed, switch these out in favour of paper shades that cast a warm glow.

‘Besides being simple and timeless, paper pendants are quite sculptural and emit a really beautiful soft light, creating a nice, calm atmosphere,’ says Tilly. ‘Even from the outside looking in, they can look quite captivating.’

Various lamps in every room are a must for setting the mood, and if you’re feeling more adventurous, try your hand at hanging a new lamp from the ceiling. ‘I am not afraid to fashion a ceiling light from a tactfully placed extension lead!’ says Tilly.

Always seek permission before making any permanent modifications to a rental property and consult your relevant state body for rules.

Tilly puts her impressive rental portfolio down to the positive relationships she’s developed with agents and landlords.

‘These two things are what will leverage a rental application and may land at the top of the pile for the house of your dreams,’ she says.

‘So maintain good communication with your agent and tread lightly. Take good care of your rental for the duration of your tenancy, leaving it in the same if not better shape than when you first arrived!’

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