Low-cost updates transform a rented cottage in Hampshire

February 14, 2022

Packed with creative, low-cost updates, Hayley Stuart has decorated her family’s rented cottage in Andover, Hampshire, feel like their own with some ingenious ideas…

Bringing your own style to a new-to-you home is always an exciting, creative and truly personal process – even if you’re on a tight budget.

But what would you do if you couldn’t alter the nuts and bolts of the property? Walls can’t come down, appliances need to stay where they are, flooring must remain unchanged – even plug sockets and light fixtures are off limits.

Decorating a rented cottage: Hayley Stuart made over her rental living room with simple additions

Hayley Stuart with her French bulldog, Arthur, in her beautifully transformed rental. Photo: Darren Chung

Decorating a rented cottage

Living in a rental, interiors and lifestyle blogger Hayley Stuart knows all too well about this decorating minefield. The imminent arrival of their second child, Mack, was the catalyst for Hayley and husband Jordan’s hunt for a three-bedroom house back in 2013.

‘One thing I always look for in a rental is a nice kitchen and bathroom, because you’re stuck with them when you don’t own the property,’ she explains. ‘These two rooms, plus the unexpected bonus of a separate utility, changed my mind about this house, as I had originally discounted it due to its rural location.

‘The gorgeous 30s cottage doors might have had something to do with it too – I absolutely adore the original features.’

Decorating a rented cottage: Hayley Stuart's Hampshire cottage

Tile and fridge stickers have given the kitchen a new, landlord-friendly look. Photo: Darren Chung

Paint, pictures and Pinterest

Keys in hand, the couple’s landlord kindly granted permission to paint and hang pictures, letting the young family make their new house feel more like home. Itching to start cecorating her rented cottage, Hayley devised a methodical and modern approach to each room update which begins on her smartphone: ‘I always create a Pinterest board to help bring all of my ideas together,’ she explains.

‘I find everything that I want to buy, from furniture to lighting and even plants, plus interesting upcycling projects. That way I have a good idea of how the space will look before I actually commit to anything.’

This initial research stage can take months of searching and refining, but it allows Hayley to do two things. Firstly, she can avoid any costly mistakes, plus she’s able to build her schemes with layers upon layers of interest.

Decorating a rented cottage: Hayley Stuart's Hampshire cottage makeover

Hayley sourced tile stickers from eBay to transform the bathroom. Photo: Darren Chung

Invest in things you can take with you

‘There is nothing I enjoy more than going into a shop and not knowing where to look first because it’s so full of beautiful things,’ she enthuses. ‘That is the exact feeling I that wanted for our home. I know my own style – a mix of vintage and boho – so I just follow my instincts and choose what I love.’

Moodboards in place, the first area of the rental to be transformed was the living room, now an earthy, eclectic mix of special objects and one rather beautiful green velvet sofa.

‘The fabric was a bit brave with two children and a dog,’ Hayley laughs, ‘but I knew I needed it to make the scheme work. I’ve learned that when renting, you should invest in the things that you can take with you – that’s how I rationalised it, anyway!’ she laughs.

Opposite, a less expensive grey fabric sofa ties in with the footstool and recedes into the background to keep the coveted emerald-green piece very much centre stage. Scaffold board shelves were an easy, rustic addition too: for a streamlined look, they follow the line of the existing overmantle shelf.

utility room makeover ideas: Hayley Stuart's Hampshire cottage real home makeover

The dining room is a snapshot of Hayley’s interior design ethos: eclectic, retro and fun The utility’s botanical theme brings the garden closer to the house, rather than obscuring it. Photo: Darren Chung

DIY decor

In contrast to the airy living room, Hayley embraced the deep rich tones in the adjacent dining area with a feature wall in Farrow & Ball’s Down Pipe, teamed with an antique Persian rug. This is where her hands-on creativity really begins to shine through.

A message from the editor:

Let us help you create the home of your dreams! Get ideas & inspiration from Good Homes every month, delivered direct to your door. Visit to sign up for the weekly Good Homes newsletter. Meet the Good Homes team at Ideal Home Show and be inspired by our on-trend roomsets.

~ Karen Walker, Editor, Good Homes

‘If I can, I will always make something myself instead of buying it,’ she says, ‘and that was definitely the case for the chandelier. I ended up using 4,000 beads, but the time and effort – and not to mention the swearing – was all worth it.’

Clearly, do-it-yourself talent runs in the family: Hayley’s father Keith played a big part in helping bring her bespoke projects to life. ‘Dad doesn’t always completely get my style, but he’s a very willing helper,’ she explains.

‘He made the internal shutters for the window, which are fixed with door hinges and can easily be removed and made good if we ever decide to leave.’ The kitchen finally reveals Hayley’s decorating masterstroke: tile stickers. ‘These are just incredible,’ she enthuses.

dining room makeover ideas: a rich feature wall in gun metal grey paired with Persian rug

Hayley embraced deep rich tones in the dining area with a feature wall in Farrow & Ball’s Down Pipe. Photo: Darren Chung

Self-adhesive makeover

A great way to decorate a rented property is with tile stickers: ‘I found the tile stickers on eBay and can’t believe how realistic they are,’ says Hayley. ‘I covered the wall of tiles above the cooker with them, plus the cabinets in the utility and the whole bathroom. Also, they don’t budge until you decide to peel them off, so they’re absolutely perfect for tenants like us.’

The fridge and utility room worktops also benefited from a quick self-adhesive makeover. ‘I ordered some sheet designs from Pixers, who even customised the marble print for me as their existing fridge stickers wouldn’t have suited our overall kitchen design,’ she explains.

Originally cold and uninviting, the utility room’s concrete floor has been covered with an offcut of carpet, bought for just £12, and filled with plants of varying shapes and sizes: ‘I must have about 30,’ she counts. These, along with the bold worktop design and hanging print, help link the space to the garden and create a cohesive and botanical view from the kitchen window.

utility room makeover: removable worktop stickers transform the laundry area

The utility worktops were also transformed with removable stickers. Photo: Darren Chung

Removable wallpaper

Upstairs, the children’s bedrooms are where Hayley has embraced her playful side. ‘I had such great fun making things for them and giving each space its own unique style and personality,’ she smiles.

The Wild West is a theme in Rex’s room, complete with a removable wallpaper – another idea for decorating a rental – that he chose himself from Hayley’s favourite retailer, Pixers.

Mack’s bedroom has plenty of woodland-inspired touches, including a wonderful folksy bedding set from Asda, which fits the theme perfectly. ‘In fact I bought two,’ she adds, ‘so that my mum could sew him a teepee cover to match.’

rental kids bedroom decor ideas: removable wild west wallpaper from Pixers

Removable wallpaper means Rex’s room can return to a blank canvas at any time. Photo: Darren Chung

Keep making little tweaks

The couple’s master bedroom is about to undergo a few changes, which is all part of Hayley’s design ethos. ‘I never quite stop making little tweaks once each room is finished – that’s all part of the fun,’ she adds.

‘Here, I’ve realised that our bed is quite domineering even though the room is a great size, so I’m thinking of ways around that. It would be great to see the little corner fireplace more too, as it’s one of the things I like most about the house.’

It’s taken Hayley three years to research, curate, edit and then cleverly implement her ideas into every room in her home, and it’s clear how much love she has poured into the process. ‘After having our two children, I felt a bit lost,’ she admits.

bedroom decor ideas: Hayley Stuart's master bedroom in her rented Hampshire cottage

Hayley is still thinking of ways to make more of the fireplace in the corner. Photo: Darren Chung

Playing by tenant rules

‘I needed a creative outlet to give myself renewed focus and energy, and this house was the perfect project.’ The imaginative ways she plays by tenant rules while still decorating with real personal style and wow factor is an inspiration to renters and homeowners alike – including her parents.

‘My look isn’t to their taste, but they are moving soon and they keep asking for my advice. I’m absolutely delighted to help them too: they’ve both been instrumental in bringing all of my ideas to life.’


A message from the editor:

Let us help you create the home of your dreams! Get ideas & inspiration from Good Homes every month, delivered direct to your door. Visit to sign up for the weekly Good Homes newsletter. Meet the Good Homes team at Ideal Home Show and be inspired by our on-trend roomsets.

~ Karen Walker, Editor, Good Homes