Home makeover: ‘Renting didn’t stop us decorating’

With a passion for colour, Emily Dawe set about transforming her dull magnolia rental into a happy home

With a passion for colour, Emily Dawe set about transforming her dull magnolia rental into a happy home. Here, she shares her home makeover story…

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My story…

This is my first home with my now-husband Cameron. We searched all over London to find the perfect place that suited our needs for commuting and somewhere that felt like home. Our landlord was overwhelmed by offers of potential renters, so we were bowled over that we were the lucky ones chosen!

‘I’m an absolute stationery fiend, so I can’t help myself when I spot something quirky, like my bunny scissors!’
‘I’m an absolute stationery fiend, so I can’t help myself when I spot something quirky, like my bunny scissors!’

Once we moved in, I had a chat with the landlord about what I did for a living, as at the time I was working at Woman’s Weekly as the home editor.

Welcome to my home

A bit about me I’m Emily Dawe, a craft designer, author and creative workshop tutor (@editbyemily). I live with my Kiwi husband, Cameron, a web developer. We have a baby on the way, due in January.

Where I live Our home is a top-floor flat of a converted Victorian terrace house in Brixton, London. 

Emily Dawe

I explained that I styled homes all the time and asked if she would be okay with me painting and decorating, within reason. I did a happy dance after that call, as I set about making Pinterest boards for each room.

Thankfully my husband likes colour too, so we had a lot of fun picking out paint shades and learning to wallpaper for the first time.

Emily’s love of blue continues with a nest of tables from Made.com and a turquoise armchair. ‘After purchasing our grey sofabed, we knew we could go a little wild with our choice of armchair. We visited Sofology to test out a few and this one ticked all the boxes – bright, velvet and comfy’
Emily’s love of blue continues with a nest of tables from Made.com and a turquoise armchair. ‘After purchasing our grey sofabed, we knew we could go a little wild with our choice of armchair. We visited Sofology to test out a few and this one ticked all the boxes – bright, velvet and comfy’

Just three months after moving in I was made redundant. It didn’t come as a shock, but suddenly my home needed to now become a workspace too. I had to rethink the spare room as not just a hobby room, but as my office.

So, I invested in a proper desk and really thought about storage to make the best use of the small space.

A bit more about my home

What I wanted to change Being a rental, I knew I couldn’t do much. I was just super keen to start making the place feel like home.

How I made it my own I made some bold choices when it came to painting. Luckily the landlord trusted me! I was even allowed to wallpaper too.

My favourite part is My green bedroom. Waking up surrounded by such a beautiful colour makes me feel energised every day.

Emily Dawe

We have a baby due in January, so the function for the spare room will have to change dramatically. I’m so excited to plan the nursery! I also have plans of splitting the living room with some cleverly positioned furniture so I can continue to work in there instead.

The couple’s divan bed is a great space- saving solution – with four drawers it’s ideal for housing extra bedding and towels
The couple’s divan bed is a great space-saving solution – with four drawers it’s ideal for housing extra bedding and towels

This isn’t our forever home, but we’re really enjoying making the place feel homely and special. I don’t believe in putting things off until we can buy – who knows when we’ll be able to afford that – so, for now, we’ll continue to feather this nest.

With a combination of chopping boards and glassware, interspersed with succulents, little posies and artificial plants, the shelf above the sink is cleverly arranged, without looking too cluttered
With a combination of chopping boards and glassware, interspersed with succulents, little posies and artificial plants, the shelf above the sink is cleverly arranged, without looking too cluttered

Living room

‘Most people’s reaction when they step into this room is ‘wow’, as the vivid blue of the chimney breast really does pop.

I’d been saving this paint for a while before we even moved in together, so I was excited when we got the thumbs up to paint from the landlord.

Above the fireplace is artwork by Jessica Ford. ‘I fell in love with her use of colour, and knew I had to have one of her prints sitting in pride of place,’ says Emily
Above the fireplace is artwork by Jessica Ford. ‘I fell in love with her use of colour, and knew I had to have one of her prints sitting in pride of place,’ says Emily

‘Colour doesn’t scare me, but as soon as I started applying the first coat of Little Greene’s Ultra Blue, I knew I couldn’t do the entire room in it. I kept the original colour on the other three walls, but I’d like to paint these white as the magnolia is a bit too warm alongside the blue.

‘I bought this little bistro table before we moved in. I saw it had been reduced at Cox & Cox so snapped it up. I love sitting here, enjoying a coffee and reading through the papers at the weekend, with the sun streaming through the window,’ says Emily
‘I bought this little bistro table before we moved in. I saw it had been reduced at Cox & Cox so snapped it up. I love sitting here, enjoying a coffee and reading through the papers at the weekend, with the sun streaming through the window,’ says Emily

We have a large tree just outside the window that blocks a lot of natural light, so keeping the floor and walls neutral helps brighten the room.’

Kitchen

‘There wasn’t too much we could do to this room. I loved the grey metro tiles and everything else was pretty neutral. I swapped the existing knobs for these vintage ones, put a shelf up above the sink and made sure everything on the countertop was either practical or beautiful.

‘Despite my love of colour, I tried to keep the countertop accessories quite neutral, using a combination of concrete, wood, marble, wicker and glass. I’m quite partial to copper too,’ says Emily
‘Despite my love of colour, I tried to keep the countertop accessories quite neutral, using a combination of concrete, wood, marble, wicker and glass. I’m quite partial to copper too,’ says Emily

‘I’d love to redo this kitchen to make it more modern. The dream would be black Shaker-style with brass handles. I’ll have to save that for when we eventually buy!’

Emily’s space-saving dining table is from Next. She occasionally works here during the day, but handily, she can extend the table when she has guests over for dinner
Emily’s space-saving dining table is from Next. She occasionally works here during the day, but handily, she can extend the table when she has
guests over for dinner

Bedroom

‘The bedroom was the first room I wanted to revamp. When we moved in it was painted in a pale khaki green colour, which made the room look dull. We did a proper job of it, filling in holes and cracks, sanding it and making it all sound for a good-quality finish.

‘I recently got rid of my shabby chic dressing table and bought this modern alternative. I think the dark wood sits perfectly with the green walls.’ Emily bought the zebra print by Kerry Eggleton from a local art fair. ‘It was a second, so I got a real bargain’
‘I recently got rid of my shabby chic dressing table and bought this modern alternative. I think the dark wood sits perfectly with the green walls.’ Emily bought the zebra print by Kerry Eggleton from a local art fair. ‘It was a second, so I got a real bargain’

‘I chose Fortune Green by Dulux; it’s such a rich, tranquil colour. Green is said to have calming properties and supposedly helps with fertility!’

‘I absolutely adore this print – it makes me so happy! It was in an IKEA frame for ages, but recently I treated myself and got it framed properly,’ says Emily
‘I absolutely adore this print – it makes me so happy! It was in an IKEA frame for ages, but recently I treated myself and got it framed properly,’ says Emily

The bedding is kept quite neutral, with throws and cushions from HomeSense and IKEA to add comfort and texture.
A beautiful handmade macramé hangs above the bed, made by Emily’s friend Brooke (@brookellen_).

Bathroom

Emily loved the fixtures that came with the flat, as well as the tongue and groove panelling, which doubles up as a mini shelf. She painted the walls a soft blue, added a chair for storage, a statement mirror and a dark wooden cabinet, which makes a lovely alternative to typical bathroom furniture.

A quaint little chair sits in the corner of Emily’s bathroom. Painted in mint green, it’s another of her upcycling projects. ‘It makes an ideal spot for stacking the towels, only the pretty ones though!’ The colours reflect those of the artwork above, another one of Jessica Ford’s
A quaint little chair sits in the corner of Emily’s bathroom. Painted in mint green, it’s another of her upcycling projects. ‘It makes an ideal spot for stacking the towels, only the pretty ones though!’ The colours reflect those of the artwork above, another one of Jessica Ford’s

‘The bathroom is the lightest, brightest room in the flat, so I often shoot the step-by-steps for my blog in here. I’ve also been known to style my flatlays for Instagram on top of the toilet!’ laughs Emily.

Spare room

The spare room is now Emily’s office/craft room. ‘It was so incredible to finally have a room of my own, rather than a corner of my bedroom. I chose this stunning bird wallpaper from Little Greene called Great Ormond St. It was a real splurge for us, but I justified it as it’s such a small room.’

Storage is a top priority in Emily’s craft room. ‘I don’t want to hide everything away in boxes, so things like ribbons and twine need to be seen. Displaying them in this fabric basket from H&M Home is ideal – pretty and practical’
Storage is a top priority in Emily’s craft room. ‘I don’t want to hide everything away in boxes, so things like ribbons and twine need to be seen. Displaying them in this fabric basket from H&M Home is ideal – pretty and practical’

As well as teaching workshops, Emily creates craft content for Paperchase, Hobbycraft, Dunelm and her own blog, emilydawe.com. She owns a lot of craft materials, all of which need to be organised and stored away neatly.

Emily’s desk holds an assorted mix of craft equipment. ‘I teach calligraphy and brush lettering, so I have a lot of quills, ink and pens,’ says Emily
Emily’s desk holds an assorted mix of craft equipment. ‘I teach calligraphy and brush lettering, so I have a lot of quills, ink and pens,’ says Emily

‘With a baby on the way, I’ll need to rethink things soon, as I’m not sure we’ll be able to fit in a cot. Unless the baby is happy snuggled up under my desk!’

What I learned… 

If you’re renting and you know you won’t be living there for very long, try not to spend too much money on decorating. Yes, that might mean you have to live with magnolia for three years, but think of the time and money you’ll save. Make accessories your priority instead; things you can take to your next property.

Think about how a colour is going to be used in a room. I was so keen to use the Ultra Blue that I just dived straight in and started painting. I should have realised that it wouldn’t work with the magnolia and a whole room in this colour would be too intense. I think about eight coats went on all together… it took weeks!

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