1) Keep houseplants.
My family have always brought plants inside, even when we were surrounded by the Australian bush, Pacific jungle, and British countryside. The idea of living in the city without at least a few house plants therefore seems like a living death to me, and guests are always drawn to them (former flatmates have not been, but if the plants go I go, so they’ve had to lump it). That said, I don’t really have the faintest clue how to look after them aside from each plants’ light and water preferences (by that I mean quantity and regularity of water; I’m not discerning between tap, bottled and carbonated), and this is more a trial and error process. I feel slightly guilty throwing a dead plant away, but my plants need to fend for themselves.
Orchids flower for ages, and are otherwise easy to care for aside from a few nonsensical rules (they like to be in clear plastic pots, and to be watered ‘from beneath’. Which sounds like some sort of weird fetish I know. I don’t like clear plastic pots though, and have better things to do than stick them in the bath every week, so my orchids just have to make do. They punish me for my lack of care by refusing to flower regularly, but they do so grudgingly every couple of years which is sufficient to save them from the rubbish bin).
Spiderplants are great as they are easy to look after, and can recover quickly from the occasional drought. For something a bit more impressive, Rubber-plants can get big if you look after them properly, and need very little maintenance.
Ferns are also lovely but need the right level of shade/ light, and struggle to recover from dry spells (when, er, someone forgets to water them for a while).
They also attract these, so beware.
2) Hang framed pictures on your walls, rather than blu-tacking posters to them.
The transience of posters does not shout out Grown Up, which is sort of what you’re after from a home rather than a den. Or squat. Landlords hate blu-tack, but are surprisingly amenable to picture hooks. I always ask estate agents if we can hang pictures, and they always say yes. Even if your landlord wanted their walls pristine, the agent’s acquiescence cannot be reneged upon. Buy second-hand picture frames in antique shops, or have frames made for specific pieces if this proves difficult, and even postcards and posters are turned into a piece of Art worthy of Display. Hang pictures that inspire you, or that have a story behind them.
Both the above frames were bought second hand, and are framing ephemera finds (the top is a printed sketch of Disraeli, whose manor house I used to look after when I worked for the National Trust, and below that is a programme for an 1883 Smoking Concert at the Vaudeville Club. I don’t know what a smoking concert is, but I’d like to.)
The above poster we bought from the Imperial War Museum, and the frame – for once – I had made specifically for it.
On the left is a very old photo of my great grandfather, sitting on the steps of their house in British Guayana (as it was then known), surrounded by his
beloved family dogs. On the right is a 17th century legal document written on vellum – another ephemera fair find.
Gorgeous second-hand frame above from an antiques warehouse near Lancaster, framing a postcard of Vita Sackville-West’s desk in her writing tower at Sissinghurst.
3) Lots of mirrors.
Don’t go crazy; you’re not trying to recreate a fun-fair, but large expanses of wall were made for large mirrors. Even cheap mirrors bring light into a room and make it seem bigger (this is an optical illusion. Otherwise known as magic), but antique/ vintage/ skip finds are even more impressive. When I first met Tom he and two friends were living in a ground floor flat near a school, so the curtains were permanently drawn and we were plunged into a perpetual, squalid gloom. Mirrors would have helped (that’s a lie, nothing would have helped, but it’s the thought that counts).
4) Avoid clutter.
Hide all your crap, or throw it away. Clothes go in wardrobes, books on shelves, papers in folders, and nearly everything else in boxes, chests or drawers. The things you keep out are on display; they should be aesthetically pleasing and/or meaningful. I admit that I like clutter, but I’ve learnt to hide anything utilitarian, or to keep it inside something else. The hardest thing for a hoarder or collector like me is to throw things away or resist putting them on shelves, windowsills etc, but I have learnt to do so (sort of. It’s a learning process, alright).
5) Buy fresh flowers.
I know they’re an unnecessary expense when you’re on a student budget or trying to save your pennies, but everyone enjoys fresh flowers. They bring colour and life into a room, and you can often get them cheaply from supermarkets (not Waitrose. Go to Waitrose for nice flowers, not for cheap ones), or if you time a market-trip right and are able to appear as they’re closing up and desperate to get rid of stock. Single stems can also be displayed in bottles or jars, and spread around a room or house, making a single bunch of flowers go a lot further. (If you’re single, or ‘courting’ as my gran would say, displaying flowers given to you by a different boy –the different boy doesn’t have to exist. Just so we’re clear – is also an effective way to inspire further acts of generosity and chivalry).
6) Collate and display books, music and films.
A single pile of books or a bag full of cds and dvds is what children have. If you’re sharing a house, buy bookcases from Argos and display all your books etc together in a shared living space. It’s a lot more impressive, pleasing to observe, and wonderful to be able to share your collections. If you’re worried about reclaiming books when you eventually go your separate ways, buy a cheap stamp and inkpad, and brand the inside cover of your own tomes.
This is not quite what I have in mind (reblogged from here)
This is more like my flat, but again, not exactly what I was going for (reblogged from here)
7) Buy antique/ vintage/ second hand furniture.
Furniture is more interesting if it’s a bit battered, as it has a history to it. ‘Antique shops’ are often more like second-hand shops in terms of price, and car-boot-sales are great for finding a bargain. A family friend once picked up a ‘door-stop’ for a pound at a car-boot-sale. The doorstop happened to be a medieval stirrup, valued (once he’d got it home) at several thousands of pounds. I’ve never been that lucky, but I’ve often found valuable and/or beautiful antiques that cost a lot less (than they look like they should) by being slightly (often imperceptibly) damaged.
I found this carved wooden coffee-table in an antique shop, and after some hard-core haggling (I said what I wanted to pay, she agreed) I got it for £45. A lot better than Ikea.
8) Paint the walls, and get new curtains or blinds.
You can ask that landlords have this done for you, but if they refuse they’ll usually be quite happy for you to do it yourself. Neutral colours will obviously be preferred, but if you want something more interesting (and you’re paying) you may as well ask. I’ve lived in so many rented houses with old, tatty, ugly curtains, moving up a price bracket (when I got a job and became a person) made me realise what a difference changing these would have made. Even if you can’t replace them, taking them down and hiding them is better than staring at tattered swathes of antiquated fabric covered in wax and suspicious stains.
9) Put things in jars rather than leaving them in boxes/ packets.
I learnt this trick from my mother, who has a knack for creating beautiful houses (we’ve moved house a lot). Cereal boxes and packets of pasta for example are not designed for display, but to grab our attention in a supermarket. Is your flat a supermarket? I hope not. HOWEVER. Storing cereals, rice, pasta, lentils, sweets etc in matching glass jars and throwing their cheap, tawdry casing in the bin makes an art installation out of food.
10) Finally, keep it clean.
This is the bug-bear of any naturally clean and tidy person. Leaving the washing up rotting in the sink/ all over the kitchen units is just nasty. DUST, for the love of God. Dust largely consists of human skin – get rid of it. My lovely fiancé once declared that a flat we shared was ‘a real dust-trap’. My query ‘have you ever dusted it?’ was met with confusion. Boys do not dust, I have learnt. Hang clothes up, vacuum regularly… Don’t bother with a cleaning rota, just assign each other different jobs. I hate cleaning the bathroom, but I hate taking the rubbish out more, so by taking on the bathroom-cleaner mantle I get to bully Tom into taking out the rubbish and doing the washing up. Winning.
Does anyone else have any tips/ flat-sharing nightmares? Expressing them is cathartic, I promise.