Home makeover: 'Renting has made me more creative'

Here's how Emma Parkes transformed a bland rental property into a colourful, cosy home

Published: June 16, 2021 at 1:18 pm

Using bold paint techniques and clever design hacks, Emma Parkes has transformed her rental into a home full of personality.


Here, she tells us all about her home makeover experience...

My home makeover

Our last rental was lovely, but it was by a busy road and the garden wasn’t easily accessible, so I wanted something that was more family-friendly. This place ticked a lot of boxes, being down a quiet road surrounded by fields, but also near a town, and it felt like a lovely, safe environment for the kids. It’s an older property filled with character, which really appeals to me. Most importantly, being a single mum, it was affordable.

‘I love the log-burner and huge walk-in fireplace, which was already painted white and fills the room with character. Although I painted the surround pink, I would never touch the original wooden beam’

The house was very plain, so I wanted to add my own personality. The letting agent suggested I send photos of my last rental to the landlady so she could see my style. In fact, my old landlord asked me to leave the place as it was as he loved the improvements.

Style idea! Use the designer’s rule of three when hanging up large prints

I asked if I could have free rein to decorate, because if not this place wouldn’t suit me. Luckily, she said, ‘yes, as long as everything could be put back if we leave’. The first thing I did was paint the coral circle in the kitchen, and then I moved onto the living room, painting the walls green and pink.

‘The window was originally dressed with heavy silk curtains but I wanted space for more houseplants and I thought the window rail would be perfect. I can get away with it because I don’t have anyone passing the house, though my one worry was that it would be a lot colder but it’s fine. The pink bench is one of the few things I’ve paid full price for, though it was still a bargain from HomeSense’

I’ve always loved bold colours and pattern and even though this is rented, I’ve enjoyed adding personality to every room.

It’s not finished yet, but I love the transformation so far and it really does feel like my home now.

‘I used this coloured circle to complement the rest of the house though I’m constantly changing this corner to try and make it work. Sometimes getting interiors right takes time’

Dining area

‘The first thing I did when I moved in was paint the door and the coral circle on the wall. I don’t tend to spend long thinking about things and give any ideas I get a go. Here, I literally just drew the circle on the wall the old-fashioned way, with string and a pencil. Then I added the scaffold board shelves and the gallery wall, which I laid out on the floor first.

‘The large shade is an iconic design from IKEA. It looks great on its own but I wanted to add my own stamp to it so I weaved artificial roses through the holes’

‘I did the second circle a few months later and I love the overlapping effect. I’d never been brave enough to paint a mural on this scale before, but this wall was perfect for experimenting.

‘This pink trolley is from Ryman and is easy storage for my bits and pieces, though I’m thinking of filling it with a plant display’

‘I drew out the pattern freehand with a pencil and then filled it with leftover paints from other projects around the house, so it didn’t cost anything. Then I outlined it with a Sharpie to make it stand out.’


‘I love the kitchen area with the original quarry tiles, and it’s a deceptively big space. The ladder used to live in the garden, but I felt it was wasted out there, and I love the look of things hanging from the ceiling as it’s such a good but often overlooked space to use.

‘The pink and green walls were painted with leftovers from the lounge. I like it when colours flow and link from room to room, which is why I brought those colours through into here. The rug is from Wayfair and adds a bit of warmth to the beautiful quarry tiles’

‘I painted the ladder white and, being bamboo, it’s very light, so I simply hung it from screw-in hooks, then I added some cheap faux flowers from The Range.

‘I’ve had these vintage plates for a really long time and originally bought them from a quirky independent seaside shop. They’re almost too pretty to hide away in a cupboard’

‘I’m always a bit torn over using fake ones as I’m not sure if I’m a lover or hater of them. I have about 30 plants in the house and only about five are fake, but I actually think they work well in this room, and of course they never fade or need replacing.’

Living room

‘I originally painted the whole of the main wall green, but I really liked the half- painted walls popping up on Instagram so I thought I’d give it a go. I already had this delicate pink on another wall so knew it would work well with the green.

‘This gorgeous pink velvet sofa was an absolute steal at only £140 from eBay. My bidding tip is if you want to win things, you need to be on it constantly so that you get an offer accepted before anyone else’

‘I’m naturally drawn to leopard print, for my clothing and home accessories, so choosing this animal-print paper came easily, and I put it up myself. I’d never wallpapered before, but it was actually quite simple, though a friend did help.

‘It’s rare for me to pay full price for anything, and almost everything in my home is second-hand’ says Emma

‘I used to have a gallery wall in here, but I wanted something a bit more grown-up, so I replaced it with these Vogue prints from eBay. The flooring was already down throughout the house, but I would love to see what’s beneath the carpet in here. I’m hoping for some lovely, rustic floorboards.’

Master bedroom

‘I’ve used this Miami Mint turquoise paint by Johnstone’s a lot in my previous homes and I’m always drawn back to it as it’s such a sunny colour and makes me feel like I’m on holiday. Once I find a colour I love, I tend to stick with it.

‘I’m a cushion queen and love adding loads of cushions and throws to the bed. It’s the easiest way to add colour and pattern to a room and they move around the house, so it never stays the same in here’

‘My income isn’t great as it’s just me, so I have to be creative with my budget, and tricks like using cheap terracotta pots to create a stunning display costs just a few pounds.

‘This second-hand bargain chest of drawers was purple when I bought it, so I painted it this coral shade to suit my current style but I kept the handles. This piece of furniture often gets moved about and it used to act as my side table’

‘The plant display was free as I just found the branch in the field outside and put it in the shed to dry out for a few days. I picked up the wood for the shelf above the bed from the side of the road and my boyfriend, who’s a welder, made the brackets for it and engraved a little heart on the underside of one of them!’


‘I love all the rooms in the cottage except for the bathroom as, although it’s perfectly useable, it really isn’t to my taste. Also, the loo is in a separate room next door but has no sink, so you have to come in here to wash your hands anyway. I would love the chance to knock through and create a big open space.

‘I bought this cabinet second-hand about 10 years ago. It’s been pink, turquoise and now green. I recently découpaged the drawer fronts and changed the handle, and it adds a bit of me to this room’

‘For now, I’ve just tried to jazz it up as much as possible by adding the cute gallery wall, bright towels, and the colourful upcycled cabinet. In the next few months I hope to add some patterned tile-effect vinyl over the existing tiles, which will be a quick budget-friendly fix to make it look nicer.’


Feature and styling Lisa Moses. Photos Katie Jane Watson.

This is a digital version of a feature that originally appeared in HomeStyle magazine. For more inspirational home ideas, why not subscribe today?

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