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Interior Design Masters Ep 5 - Rental Flats - Design Breakdown

The Brief

Personalise a new build flat to show young professionals what they can do to make their rental homes feel like home. You are responsible for giving your renter a place where they can relax in the evening and entertain and work from home in the day. The bedroom should be a sanctuary away from their busy lives, somewhere peaceful. The developers have provided a sofa, media unit and dining table and chairs and it is entirely up to you if you want to keep them or swap them out for alternative furniture. The client doesn't have a preference about colour or style, as long as everything you do is reversible! They want their deposit back after their tenancy agreement.

My Design

Now listen, this challenge was complicated for a few reasons; one - what and who is a young professional? How far are people pushing the reversible design brief (are holes in walls reversible?) and what exactly are renters willing to do to a rental property? Not to mention that in terms of the show this was the biggest individual challenge so far - two rooms with essentially four areas to consider; the entrance hall, the open plan kitchen and living area and a separate bedroom.

Everyone of us left in the competition would fit into the google definition of a young professional and so the challenge felt like it really came down to showing how to use reversible design in our own styles. I think that a lot of people would consider a young professional as someone who works in finance and wants to come home to a minimalist or neutral space - but I find that really hard to believe, even still after leaving the competition this week I struggle to see that a young professional wouldn't want a fun design in their home - after all we weren't designing the office, but the space they would come home to and enjoy their free time.

The flats were...depressing. They were clean and new and had big windows, they would be safe and dry in the winter, but they were grey, grey, grey. The two things I really wanted to do in the space were to brighten them up and inject some joy.

I thought about renting as a young professional in my 20s and early 30s before I lived with my husband and before I had a child. What was the most important thing to me? Well, the first thing for me was always to request that any really ugly furniture was removed and then I would scour gumtree and FB marketplace and the local charity shop for furniture that felt more me. Of course this usually happened over time, but one thing that I think resonates for a lot of people who have rented for many years is that you collect things over time and build a collection of your own furniture. I would always rather have my own pieces than generic black or grey items that are completely not to my taste. In hindsight I could have kept the sofa - as what was actually in the flats when we arrived was different from what we thought would be there and it actually was easily covered with blankets and cushions - in that respect Michelle was right that I spent a lot on the vintage 1920s love seat I found - but it was so gorgeous I couldn't resist! It was also the first thing I purchased which in the confines of the budget and time you are given in the show can sometimes make or break a design. In my Ascot room the blue vintage Italian chairs I found made the space but in hindsight I could have held off on the sofa until I had figured out the rest of the space.

I started with a mood board for the living room. I loved the idea of starting from basics and going with a twist on a primary colour palette as the rooms felt so boxy and simple. I wanted to inject some retro glamour as I know that Sheffield has a massive vintage scene and an alternative arts scene and I wanted to reflect that in my design.

I had the idea of using Matisse and his cut-outs as inspiration to break down the boxy shapes in the space and to inject some much needed organic lines. I wanted to distract from the very square hallway into the living and dining space and I wanted to make the bedroom feel serene by adding some texture and shape. I also wanted the bedroom to reflect the rest of the flat but to be the kind of neutral serene version of the same design.

I wanted to use electric blue in the hallway to really make an impact when you arrived and to build a kind of barrier between the apartment and the outside world - I wanted something that screamed 'you are now in your own world' and frankly based on Michelle's response when she stepped inside, I definitely achieved that.

I wanted the kitchen to feel bright because there were no windows in that side of the flat and the light didn't quite make it across the room. I felt like injecting the wood effect vinyl gave the kitchen a lighter more organic feel and the white terazzo tiles carried through my playful shapes and organic lines. The white also just made the space feel much brighter and bigger.

I painted all the walls in the living and dining are in a very pale pink to give a bit of warmth and light. I think that at this point in the competition I was trying to appease as well as inject my own ideas into my design and I wish I had ignored everything apart from my own style

because in the end I felt like I shied away a little from myself and it was to my detriment. I was originally planning all different cabinet colours like this image I've swiped from pinterest and I think it might have worked better overall.

The vinyl wood I did use did match all the doors in the flat however and that was something that I felt really worked, to tie in the elements of the space that I couldn't change.

There were lots of elements I loved in my living area - I really liked that I created distinct areas in the flat for dining and relaxing - I think when you only have one room for both, it's important to create a variety of intimate spaces where the mood changes so that you don't always feel like you're eating in the lounge or lounging in the kitchen. I loved that there was a big window and I wanted to create a little sitting space around it to get the most out of that light. I also really liked my dining area, it felt contemporary and the silver pendant above was frankly an insanely amazing purchase from IKEA.

I really felt that my fabric artwork worked to show how a simple pile of cheap fabric scraps can make up a large piece of artwork. I think one thing that renters struggle with - especially if you're not actually allowed to paint your walls, is that there is so much blank wall space. This artwork was incredibly light and only needed two small picture nails to keep it on the wall. Another idea I had after the show was that I could have omitted the painting on half the room entirely by using more of the green ombre curtain all the way along the walls to make the space feel really soft. Ah the joy of having more than a week to design a room means that you do just come up with a lot more organically and I'm a bit sad I didn't have that thought before - so I've very quickly mocked up what that could have looked like.

I also think it was a shame I shied away from my favourite bubblegum pink so I've thrown that in here too.

I also felt that one of the issues with my room is that I didn't go big enough with my idea. I loved the slime element but I didn't think that my desk/media unit was very well executed in the end. Sometimes when you don't have enough conviction in a big idea and go too small with it it can look like a mistake or that it doesn't quite fit. But I think the slime needed to take over, so I've mocked that up too. One of the things that didn't translate was my work from home area. I hadn't intended for the entire unit to read as a work from home station - I wanted it to feel hidden into a side unit which also would house maybe a record player and television (so that the red sofa would be facing the tv) but I think without those props it really read as one massive desk.

The bedroom ended up being the most cohesive space in the flat and the judges really loved it.

I knew that creating a sanctuary would make sense in calmer more neutral colours but I didn't want to shy away from injecting a bit of that blue and matisse curves into the space and I think it really worked.

I loved being able to create a completely different vibe in this room because I wanted it to be the respite from the rest of the flat and it was definitely successful in that way.

I also really loved the artwork I produced for the bedroom. Again I think it's really important for renters to know how to produce quick and cheap and effective fixes to make a rented space feel more personal. I loved the Matisse inspired mobile and I don't think it was childish at all, it's joyful and playful and brings an element of fun to an otherwise very neutral space.

I do resent that sometimes this style of artwork that is intended to be naive and playful is considered childish - as an art history graduate I really appreciate and respect the artistic process and history of where expressionism came from and what it was in reaction to, what it stood against. Expressionism is one of the foundations of modernism and contemporary design and to not respect and appreciate it I feel shows a distinct lack of understanding of art and design. If I walk into a very neutrally designed contemporary or classical space and there is a piece of well chosen, bright artwork, I always feel safe in the knowledge that the person who designed the space has a respect and appreciation for their style as well as the art world and the history of how we got to where we are. I also just find it more fun.

Overall I think the space was fun, joyful and bright and it totally changed the vibes of the boxy flat. I hate to make any excuses about my design but it was a huge challenge for me and totally out of my comfort zone as I have basically spent my life actively avoiding new build flats like this. However, now that I've had a go at one and seen what did and didn't work and rethought my design I think it's something I could do really beautifully in the future.

I hope you've enjoyed this blog series of my episode design breakdowns and there will be other insights and design breakdowns to come!


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