Buying a house might be out of reach for many people, but that doesn’t mean your rental can’t be more stylish than transient. Emily Hutchinson is, like so many of us, a share-house aficionado, and in her book, Shared Living, offers tips on curating a space you’ll want to live, eat, sleep and entertain in, whether you live with a group of friends, or a group of complete strangers.


The ideal situation when decorating a share house together with housemates is that you all have the same style, but when you each come with your own individual design approach, it can feel like you’re competing for space. While bedrooms offer a private decorating canvas, public areas of the house – the living room, bathroom, kitchen, entry and outdoor area – need a more inclusive approach.

Being able to merge styles is the key. Merging styles is about being open to other people’s choices in design, as well as sharing your own ideas. This will create a sense of unity in the household that’s both seen and felt.

Shop together
A major dilemma can occur when a housemate brings something into the shared space that doesn’t gel with everyone else. The solution is to be honest. That mannequin head nicknamed Sandra on the TV unit may not bother your housemate, but looking at it every night will bother you. So you’d better speak up about it before Sandra becomes a problem. Try to shop together. Picking something out collectively often saves the awkward vetoing of a piece that just one housemate has already committed to.

Manage conflicting styles
It can be a problem when housemates have completely conflicting styles. For example, merging gothic and shabby chic would be a struggle for even the most experienced interior designer. In this situation, stick to neutral basics for the big things (such as couch, rugs and tables) and build character with non-permanent decor (such as pottery, artwork and cushions).

Break style rules
Keep in mind that it’s okay to break the rules when merging styles. There’s something special about a space where you’ve chosen to use the things you love rather than following trends strictly. This way, the personality of each housemate shines through and there are more layers to the home’s story.

Live and learn
Above all, embrace and learn from your housemates’ design choices, even if they conflict with your own. What you discover might pleasantly surprise you.


Many people sharing a house feel stumped when it comes to decorating their digs. For some, it’s their first chance to unleash their inner stylist and it’s hard to know where to start. Even for those with a natural talent for decorating, piecing together decor can be tricky. It involves merging styles, knowing the rules of rentals and artfully filling those frustrating blank spaces.

That doesn’t mean you can’t put in the effort to decorate your rental and make it feel like home. In fact, most landlords encourage it. From a landlord’s point of view, they want a tenant who’s going to look after their asset, someone who’ll treat it as their home and not just a transient space. By working with your landlord, you not only foster a good relationship, but also improve their property and your lifestyle – it’s a win-win situation.

But this doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. You may come and go from a rental, but the landlord is the one stuck with your design decisions when you leave. It can differ in every country and state, but there are some general rules of thumb for knowing what you can and cannot do when decorating a rented property.

Changing fixtures
Take down ugly blinds or outdated light fittings and replace them with curtains and pendant lights of your choice. It’ll make a world of difference to your home’s style while you live there, and you can take them with you when you leave. Make sure not to throw the old fixtures away. Instead, keep them in a safe place and reinstall them when you move out.

Caring for the garden
If you have a garden, count yourself lucky and not only look after it, but improve it. Many landlords make maintaining the garden part of the signed lease agreement, but planting flowers or growing produce for your dinner will not only look impressive, but will make your rental feel more homely.

Drilling holes
Don’t make holes in the wall without checking with the landlord, especially since it can easily go wrong. Regardless of the type of wall – brick, plaster or wood – drilling a hole into it isn’t always the best design decision. If your landlord isn’t happy about you drilling through the walls there are alternatives, such as adhesive hooks and picture-hanging systems (using the cornice between the ceiling and the wall). You’ll often find picture railings in older homes.

Painting walls
Sometimes a paint job can add value to the property, so always run this decorating option past your landlord. They’ll want to know about your plans, especially if it’s a colour other than white. An alternative to painting could be wallpaper or temporary wall decals. It’s possible to have a lot of fun with these.

This is an edited extract from Shared Living: Interior Design for Rented and Shared Spaces, RRP $39.99, by Emily Hutchinson and published by Thames & Hudson. Available online here.

This article was updated on June 28, 2019 at 2.41pm.