It makes good business sense for rental properties to be bland but the uninspiring décor can be a challenge for tenants who want to put their own stamp on a place.
Designer Emily Humphrey certainly had her work cut out when she decided to give her drab, top floor flat a makeover. But she has managed to turn it into an exciting space full of vintage treasures, art and her own creations.
“It wasn’t my taste. I love colour and texture but because the property is rented you are restricted in what you can do,” says Emily, who shares the apartment with husband, Steve, a surveyor. “It was important that it looked and felt right because I work at home and I thought if I’m going to be here all day I’ve got to enjoy the surroundings. I also think it’s important that your home expresses your personality and your journeys.”
Her own collection of furniture has helped add character. It includes her childhood desk, an old chapel chair and an antique mahogany bureau she bought in London for £150. She also has a coffee table from Camden Market and a bed and sideboard from Heal’s.
Colour comes from pictures and paintings that she began collecting as a student, including favourites by paper cut artist Rob Ryan. A collection of old books, featuring prints of her favourite flora, is also on display, while her own design textiles provide a lively contrast to the all white walls.
Emily studied textiles at Nottingham Trent University before her degree work was spotted at the New Designers show by Paul Smith, who offered her a job.
“I spent three-and-a-half years there and it was a fantastic experience. He is very hands-on and inspirational and he was at the forefront of digital print technology, which was exciting,” she says.
After later designing prints for Ted Baker, she and Steve sold their flat in London, got married and went travelling for six months before moving back up to her native Yorkshire. Emily is now a freelance print designer and has just launched her own collection of fabrics, which includes the colourful Marche au Puce, now stocked by Richard Grafton Interiors.
Her home in Harrogate has also inspired what looks set to become a bestseller. She has created a Harrogate toile du jouy print featuring well-loved local landmarks like the Turkish baths, Betty’s and the Majestic Hotel.
“I go out running every morning and the idea came to me when I was out there on a lovely sunny day. I went home, grabbed my camera and started talking pictures that inspired the sketches. I’ve also added magpies and rabbits, fat rascals and Victorian characters so that every time you look at the fabric you’ll see something different,” she says.
Her Harrogate toile cushions, all made in England, start at £70 each and are now available from James Brindley. She has also had a number of vintage Parker Knoll chairs upholstered in her fabrics and is hoping to have a Harrogate toile wallpaper.
The spare bedroom doubles as her studio and is full of ideas, samples and collections, including vintage tins. The landing is also dual purpose. She has fashioned a dining room at the top of the stairs and it is furnished with vintage finds from Newark antique fairs and Chapel Antiques in Sheffield. Wooden wine boxes from France make great storage cases, and there’s lots of mood lighting from the tealight chandelier, fairy lights and the bamboo and fabric lamps from Vietnam.
“We travelled round South East Asia visiting India, Vietnam, Cambodia and then on to Australia and New Zealand and back via California. It was a great and I took loads of photos, which have really inspired my designs. As a designer, it’s important to keep a library of imagery,” says Emily. “The thing we brought back from Australia and New Zealand was coffee snobbery and a taste for craft beer. I’ve got to have good real coffee now and a pint of Carling won’t do after tasting real ale.”
Memories of what was an extended honeymoon are everywhere and there’s also a happy reminder of her wedding. Her wedding dress is hung on the Edwardian wardrobe that came with the flat.
“I had a wonderful wedding and I hated the thought of having the dress stuck at the back of the wardrobe for years on end, so I decided to hang it up in the bedroom, It’s quite decorative and it reminds me of a wonderful day.”
She and Steve are preparing to pack their bags once more as, although they love Harrogate, they want to buy a property in an area that gives them more for their money. They are now house hunting in Sheffield, where Emily grew up.
“We sold our flat in London and we’ve rented for a while now but it’s time to put down roots and my family is in Sheffield,” says Emily. “I can’t wait to have a house of my own that I can decorate exactly how I want.”
• Emily Humphrey, www.emilyhumphrey.co.uk; Richard Grafton Interiors, Harrogate,www.richardgraftoninteriors.com and James Brindley, Harrogate, www.jamesbrindley.com