Making Your Flat Feel Like Home

Whether you’re renting, or you own your own property in the UK, furnishing your home is a way to make a space truly feel like home, even if you’re miles away from where you grew up. Some small investments in your flat can really bring a sense of coziness and familiarity. Having recently furnished my own flat from furniture down to soft furnishings, I will share with you some tips I’ve learned along the way for where you might find affordable or indulgent ways to spruce up your home.

A common misconception is that making a place feel like home can often be expensive or not possible if you rent a flat: this is simply untrue. For design inspiration, I recommend heading over to Apartment Therapy for advice on how to furnish rentals and spaces tiny and large. Then, below, you’ll find a list of websites and stores that I bought / found things for my flat in the UK.

Buy / Sell

There are sites where you can either buy gently used items or find free items for your flat. Conversely, I managed to sell some mirrors, a dresser, and a sofa on Gumtree when I was moving into my new flat.

  • Facebook Marketplace – marketplace app embedded in your Facebook app
  • Shpock – a marketplace in App form; popular in the UK
  • Gumtree – a more evolved version of Craigslist (it is owned by eBay); think classifieds
  • Freecycle – people post things for free pick-up and everything is organised by neighbourhood, so you might be able to get anything from furnishings to furniture for free if you’re willing to pick up items
  • Car boot sales – find a car boot sale that may be taking place near you on the weekends. You may be able to find good antiques or prints for the cheap. Google “car boot sale”.
  • Furniture sample sales – look for any furniture sample sales that might be held in your neighbourhood as you can get some high quality gently used (display) furniture for cheap and it’ll be a bonus if you can carry / Uber it home.

Prints and Frames

If you’re renting and are worried about putting nails into your landlord’s walls, please check out 3M Command Strips! This product allows you to hang quite heavy things on a wall, without making holes, and you can remove the strips without damaging the paint when you move out.

  • DIY – use what you got. Get creative and draw, paint, or print out all those travel photos that you’ve hidden somewhere. It makes your space a bit more personal and sentimental. I painted the Toronto skyline, and curated / printed out a set of my travel photos on Photobox. I bought a bunch of basic white frames on Amazon and IKEA, and with the help of Command Strips, created this gallery wall.

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  • iAmFy or Desenio – a lot of beautiful and very millennial prints at an affordable price.
  • Etsy – if you want one of a kind, unique productions that sometimes come framed as well.
  • Spittalfields, or other markets – support a local artist and check out what art is available at your local market.

Soft Furnishings and Homeware

  • Flying Tiger – dubbed the “Scandinavian dollar store”, everything in here is not, strictly speaking, a pound, but you can find a lot of decorative items and homeware (glasses, plates, cutlery, corkscrew, etc.) that are both scandi-chic and cheap. I got this lovely letter board for £14 and loads of plain white candles.

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  • H&M Home – There are two locations in London, but you can also shop online. For me, this has been the perfect balance between stylish and affordable, as H&M home have brilliant pillow case cover, kitchenware, and candle holders.
  • Next – The fashion retailer also has a large furniture and homeware collection at reasonable prices. My living room lamp was purchased from Next, and I’m planning on getting some of these planters.
  • La Redoute – This website has a comprehensive selection of affordable rugs, but also of furniture and other soft furnishings that you might find in a Parisienne appartement. They frequently have sales and discount codes as well.
  • John Lewis – Do not, I repeat, do not get bedsheets from Argos or Amazon unless you want to sleep on sandpaper. If you know how threadcounts work, then use your own judgment here. Otherwise, check out the sales that often happen on House of Fraser, as I’ve found high threadcount Egyptian cotton bedsheets for reasonable prices. If you want to spend some coin, John Lewis has a solid range of soft furnishings and homeware, from the more affordable home brand, to high end brands.
  • Columbia Road Flower Market – no home is complete without a trendy fiddle leaf fig plant, succulents, or a Dracaena. The prices here are closer to wholesale prices, and you get a large variety of plants and flowers to choose from (vs. the limited section in a Sainsbury or Tesco). Make sure you go early (before 9.30am) to avoid the crowds. The shops along the street also sell beautiful pots. If not, the bigger Sainsburys, Tescos, and M&Ses do sell plants complete with pots for reasonable prices.
  • Amazon – Most of the homeware I purchased was branded goods on Amazon on Black Friday, or at high street shops on Boxing Day. I use camelcamelcamel to figure out if I’m getting a good deal for my purchases.

Furniture

Even if you’re renting, sometimes a side table or a lamp can spruce up a room. Furniture can retain its value depending on what you buy.

Usual Suspects

  • Wayfair – I was looking for a fairly functional ottoman storage bed, and found one on Wayfair. It was easy to assemble and came reasonably quickly.
  • IKEA – I really wanted a mid-century sofa, but because my flat is very small, I bought a double bed ottoman storage sofa, and an extendable dining table from IKEA. This sofa is the most functional and reasonably stylish piece of furniture that I own, and even though my flat is tiny, it allows me to host 2 people on a comfortable sofa bed.
  • Zara Home – When I was first renting, I bought a country-rustic side table from Zara Home and managed to resell it at face value when I moved out, so while the items here tend to be pricier, they are good quality.
  • Made.com / Swoon Editions – These companies do high quality imitations of higher-end furniture for a more affordable price.

Unique Finds

  • Ebay – Because I have a small space, I couldn’t get a large bar cart. I scoured ebay and found this vintage tiny barcart that suited my needs for a reasonable price. I also managed to get used, lovely teak dining chairs (4 for £100), and I’m planning on re-upholstering and oiling them to give them a refresh.

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  • Maison du Monde – they stock a great range of statement chairs that emulate the styles of the high end brands (chair from Maison du Monde pictured below with IKEA faux fir).

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  • West Elm – West Elm are on the high end of furniture and home furnishings often in the popular mid-century modern style; however, one little known free service they offer is free design services. I used this service before I started buying pieces for my flat, and there was no minimum spend required. Even though the designer obviously wanted to design a space with lots of expensive West Elm items, I ended up taking her designs and buying some West Elm furniture, but taking the other ideas and buying cheaper versions. Having the designer’s input greatly helped me best utilise my space.

What are your favourite home decor tips / places to shop?

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So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: Finding a Flat, Part 2

For the previous posts in this series, please see So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: Finding Work on Tier 5So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: The Visa, So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: Circular Finances, and So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: Finding a Flat, Part 1.

So now that you have a good idea of the neighbourhood you want to target, it’s time to view some flats and make an offer.

Sourcing and Arranging Flat Viewings

Email, call, and walk-in to the letting agencies in the neighbourhood that you are targeting. You will receive many calls and emails for a few weeks, but it’s ideal to book in as many viewings as possible in a short period of time so that you have a good frame of reference for comparison of rates and the kinds of flats that are available to you within your budget. If you see a flat that you like that meets all of your criteria, jump on it and make an offer, or it may be gone by the time you get around to it.

Making an Offer

The process of making an offer is fairly informal. Nothing is binding (for either parties) until the physical letting agreement has been signed, so keep this in mind. There have been cases where landlords have re-negged or asked for a higher price because of competitive bidding. Be wary and know that nothing is confirmed until the agreement has been signed.

Typically, the process works as follows:

  1. You view a flat that you like.
  2. You contact the agent you viewed the flat through to verbally make an offer. They will either provide you a template to fill out, or you should send them a word document via e-mail with the following details:
    • Proposed start date of tenancy
    • Length of tenancy, and break clause stipulation (rolling or one time): standard lease break clause is 6 months (i.e. you can give the notice period that you’re moving out after 6 months)
    • Price: stated in per week terms
    • Special conditions: i.e. furnished or unfurnished, bathroom to be repainted, etc.
    • Full names, occupations, and indication of full time or contract employment status
    • Mobile number, email address
    • Photo ID (passport) & proof of address
  3. The landlord will either accept, reject, or counter-propose your offer. If the landlord counter-proposes you, you should ensure that you like the flat that much to accept his / her conditions.
  4. Once the landlord accepts your offer, you will need to put in a holding deposit so that the agent will stop showing the flat to other prospective tenants. The holding deposit can vary in size, but it was 2 weeks’ rent for our flat, was deducted against the security deposit after our offer was finalised, and was non-refundable should we have changed our minds.
  5. Following this, you’ll then need to transfer 1 months’ rent in advance and a security deposit upfront. The security deposit is usually equivalent to ~6 weeks rent, but some landlords will ask for more. If it is any more than 6 weeks’ rent, do ask the agent and understand why that might be. Also ensure that you get a Deposit Protection Scheme reference number for your deposit, as this will ensure that your deposit is protected should any conflicts or disagreements arise over deposit deductions at the end of the tenancy.
  6. Once the deposit has been paid, you’ll need to submit copies of your passport and visa. Then, the necessary background, credit, and reference checks will take place. This is where an ex-pat new to the UK could run into some issues. Given that you will have had no tenancy record in the UK, either one or more of the tenants entering the agreement will need to make a monthly salary equivalent to 1.5 – 2x the monthly rent and he / she will assume the rental risk as a lead tenant, or the landlord will require a guarantor living in the UK to agree to take on the risk of your lease, should you default on the lease. Again, this is where you’ll have to rely on the support of family  and friends. This is also a sensitive area because it revolves around salaries and asking someone to be legally liable for your debts in a worst case scenario. Hopefully, you’ll know someone. If not, you may have to go down the path of finding a place to rent via a private landlord, where the requirements will not be as stringent. See OpenRent, Gumtree, or Spareroom for private landlord options.

Assuming the above steps have been sorted and you’ve passed the checks and made all payments, you’ll finally get to review a lease agreement! Before you sign your lease agreement, even if you are not a lawyer, make sure you take the time to read through the entirety of the agreement; the language is generally comprehensible, and it is in your interest to make sure that the terms laid out in the agreement match the offer. You should especially pay attention to clauses that pertain to the end of the lease, dispute resolution, and landlord responsibilities for repair. If you have any clarifying questions at all, do go back to the agent before you sign – better safe than sorry.

After you sign and the landlord(s) countersign(s), the keys should be yours! Within a week of moving in, you may receive an inventory report to sign off. This inventory report is important because it documents the state of the flat when you move in. You should check the report with care before you sign it and ensure that what it states is detailed and accurate; fill in any gaps where appropriate. It also doesn’t hurt to take pictures of your flat at this time, as this will help you down the line if there are any disputes. Make sure you submit your version of the inventory report on time, or else they may disregard your comments if you leave it too late.

Good luck with finding your dream flat!

Have thoughts to share on your experience? Leave a comment below.