IT’S every renter’s nightmare. The carpets are grim, the walls are magnolia and the bedroom looks like your nan’s care home. And if you so much as pick up a paint brush, you risk losing your deposit.
Most people make do or fork out for a more pristine pad. Not Medina Grillo. The 30-year-old nurse, mum-of-one and award-winning interiors blogger knows how to get round the rental rules. And her ingenious renovation tips don’t upset the landlord or her bank manager.
‘I’m an average renter trying to make a house a home,’ says Medina. ‘It’s difficult to stamp your personality on a place when your landlord is uncomfortable with you drilling a hole to put up a picture. But there are ways.’
Medina was delighted when her DIY projects started to get noticed. ‘Working shifts can be stressful so I found creative projects therapeutic. I posted a tyre seat I made for my son’s playroom on Facebook, and it went viral!’ She started her blog in 2015 and it now gets 250,000 hits a month.
It was her husband who taught her how to use a drill. ‘He works in IT and for obvious reason he didn’t disclose that he was good at DIY when we got married,’ she laughs. ‘I’m now a dab hand with the power tools.’ They moved into their current home, a three-bed semi in Birmingham, three years ago after their last rental was sold by the owner. ‘Always a peril of renting,’ she sighs. ‘The people who rented this place before us didn’t look after it. I could see the potential. And the landlord was open to me making changes. Communication is key. I always ask in writing via text or email before I do anything and offer to make good when we leave.’
As you walk through the front door, there’s a stylish black and white tiled floor. ‘It’s actually removable wallpaper,’ reveals Medina. ‘It was a horrible, red wood floor so I papered, then sealed it with six coats of varnish. I did it in the kitchen in our last house. It’s such an effective and cheap way of doing a temporary floor — and it just peels off. Layered rugs are another great way to cover up unsightly carpets.’
The blog about the wooden bench in the porch is her most popular, while her staircase gets the most Instagram likes. ‘It’s the first thing you see when you walk through the door, it had to be dramatic. There’s carpet on the top of each step, so I painted the risers black, then stencilled on the numbers.’
Medina is a recognisable member of the UK’s growing online interiors scene and an industry influencer. She publishes her first book later this year. But it wasn’t always that way.
‘In the early days, people knew my designs but they didn’t know the person behind them. My blog readership was growing and it was time to put my face to my brand. But I wasn’t sure how I’d be received. The interior community is amazing, friendly and welcoming, but there is an evident lack of diversity.
‘Now people recognise me for my work. It was important to put my face out there, because representation — whether that’s race, gender or class — matters. And not everybody can afford to own their own home. So not everyone can relate to homeowners dictating what interior design should be.’
It’s that ethos that kick-started Medina’s mission to help renters create stylish spaces. ‘I found the wallpaper in the hallway on Etsy — it peels off leaving no damage, unlike traditional wallpapers which are a nightmare to strip,’ she says.
One of her favourite projects is the home office she created under the stairs. ‘It’s such a great use of space. The desk is a set of white Ikea drawers and a table top. I secured thin planks of cheap wood as panels around the walls to connect it with the living room.’
In the dining room, there is a painted chalkboard wall. ‘If your landlord won’t let you paint, use a chalkboard sticker, it’s just as effective and peels off when you move. The dining room bench is three Ikea cubes covered in MDF with a foam seat pad and planks of stained softwood as a backrest.’
Kitchens can be tricky for renters, so Medina concentrates on accessories. Not allowed to drill into tiles, she attached plumbing clips onto a strip of wood, then onto the wall with removable Command Strips to make a utensil holder. When the home bar trend went crazy last year, she created a cool cereal bar. ‘I made two wooden box trays, secured them onto copper piping then spray-painted it black. My son loves it.’
Medina didn’t like the ‘grannified’ built-in wardrobes in her bedroom. With her landlord’s approval, she bought OSB (oriented strand board), cut to size, added black handles and some black Washi tape to add a geometric pattern. ‘It has brought amazing texture to the room — and cost about £40!
‘My ideas are great for renters — but they also work for homeowners on a budget and interior lovers who like to change their décor a lot. Everything I do is easy and cheap and the best bit is it can all be removed when you move house, so you won’t lose your deposit.’