Interior design made simple: what should landlords invest in?

Which furnishings will make your property attractive to renters? And which are a waste of money? Make your buy-to-let a success with these top interior design tips from Phillips and Southern’s resident expert Kirsty Walker.

See the property being lived in. If you can, visit the apartment or house you’re decorating with tenants still living there. It’s interesting to see how people use the space and it’s often different from how you might perceive it without furniture. If it’s not possible, I try to think about how I would use the space – and what I would need, rather than what I would want.

Storage is the most important thing, although you don’t want so much it dominates the entire property. I always think about what people need as they enter the flat – where they’ll put all their shoes and coats. Good interior design is as much about practicality as it is making things look nice.

Keep it neutral. The main colours in the property – walls, major pieces of furniture – should be simple and calming. Wallpaper is fine if it’s fairly plain, but accent walls are likely to put people off.  Better to give them space to imagine their own decorations on the wall. There are exceptions though: I recently decorated a flat in Mitte, Berlin which had concrete walls, so neutrals weren’t going to work. I put a bright yellow chair and sofa in. They looked really cool – and, more importantly, they were right for the area and the rental market too.

Never use white gloss paint. It looks beautiful in show apartments but it’s not good for day-to-day living and it can be difficult to live with from a tenant’s viewpoint.

Save money on the easily removable things: cushions, artwork, bedding. They’re also the things I use to add colour and personality. Wool rugs protect carpets, can be easily cleaned between tenancies and if the tenant doesn’t like them they can roll them up and put them away. Similarly a few bits of art on the wall help to sell a flat. I tend to choose something colourful and abstract – make sure you avoid anything too sexy. I also stay away from images of cities because you never know what sensitivities people might have.

Lighting can make or break a flat. In London, a lot of apartments are close to other buildings and you can see right through, and there’s also a lot of external light. So you need to get a balance between privacy, as well as light in the day and darkness at night. I’ll usually layer very sheer blinds that can be left down in the day but still allow light through with some heavy blackout curtains.

Whatever I buy has to be hard wearing and fixable – whether it’s a bed or dining room table and chairs. All sofa and cushion covers need to be removable and machine washable. They’re more expensive, but they’re a lot cheaper than buying a new sofa. They also help the tenants take care of the flat – you don’t want them to be tiptoeing around their own home.

In the living room, TV is still king. It’s tempting to arrange sitting rooms so everything is beautifully positioned, but most people arrange theirs around the TV. Don’t put it on the wall though – tenants often want to use their own TVs so it’s important they can remove it easily.


More seating, less chairs. I try to get as much seating as I can with the least amount of chairs, so a corner sofa is always a good idea. It takes up less space than individual arm chairs.

Don’t waste money on bathroom accessories. Either they get broken, or they get grubby because tenants don’t clean them, which puts people off when they come to view.

If you’re showing flats in the middle of winter, add a floor lamp – it helps create a much warmer atmosphere. I’ll also bring in a few table lamps to add colour without being harsh or overwhelming.

It’s really worth investing in a good mattress. It’s one of the first things people will complain about, and it has to last a long time and suit different people. Mattress protectors are important too, but don’t spend too much money on bedding. Nobody wants second hand sheets.

Looking for more interior design advice? Try this article on when is the right time to give your tenanted property a refresh?

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