Sunshine state: how to bring your signature style and colour to a rental home
Call it teenage rebellion; call it a fleeting trend; or call it the tastes of our parents or friends – for most of us, the decor of our childhood bedroom is something best left in the past.
But for author and content creator Medina Grillo, her childhood room has shaped her entire home – and potentially her career. She now has more than 200,000 social media and blog followers taking note of every DIY tutorial and paint refresh.
“I remember so clearly the first bedroom I was allowed to decorate,” she says. “My mum said she’d let me paint the walls, and I knew I was going to do it in yellow. It was just a happy colour for me. Even now, whenever I see yellow, it makes me feel joyful. It’s a little bit of nostalgia and it just feels like me.”
While Grillo has moved on from the wall-to-wall sunshine-yellow of her youth, her three-bedroom rental in Birmingham stars pops of her favourite colour. After seven years there, she feels she has truly mastered her design style, and has shared what she has learned in a book written for renters, Home Sweet Rented Home. “I think it’s a good idea when you move into a home to see how you and your family use it before you start decorating,” she says. “As we got more comfortable here, I realised how we could best use the space.” And that knowledge influenced the choices she made about how to decorate her home.
The warming ochre shade in the living room is a subtle backdrop for open shelving that houses vintage finds, mementoes, plants and books. “I don’t really put a name on my design style,” she says. “It’s just a collection of things I love. I guess it’s eclectic.”
She merges preloved treasures with pieces she can upcycle. “eBay is great for finding styling props and upcyclable items because you can pick up so many unique pieces that add depth and character, and mix them in with new furniture,” she says. “I always check eBay before buying something new elsewhere.”
And for Grillo, style must always be tempered by substance: “I’m definitely big on design that looks pretty, but it has to be functional too. Whatever you see in my home, there has to be a use for it.”
As well as a place to chill and watch TV, the living room is home to adept solutions such as a compact office under the stairs where Grillo and her husband work. “I’m neurodivergent so I like things to be placed in a certain way,” she says. “That’s why the front room is zoned because, in my mind, I need a different space for different things. I love reimagining how awkward spaces can function better.”
She recommends using large furniture and rugs to section areas, as well as playing with texture and colour. In her home, patterned wallpaper adorns the entrance area and horizontal wooden batons attached to the wall add interest to the sitting space and set off the mustard yellow sofa, dotted with cushions in geometric black and white.
The kitchen/dining room is another multifunctional space, one where the family can dine and unwind. Cleverly hung folding chairs and floral floor cushions once again offer purpose, but also add interest and texture. It’s an adaptable space for any scenario – entertaining, crafting or relaxing with a magazine. “I like to have a space for the children to play, and then an eating area. It makes sense in my mind, but it also makes sense for how we use it as a family. Things are less likely to get messy.
“For a long time the dining room never felt finished,” she says. “But since adding in the final touch – a room divider from eBay – it’s just come to life. It’s a lovely space, there’s great light in there [a rattan lampshade is also from eBay] and lots of vintage pieces that I love.”
As she rents, updates to the kitchen have taken time, but Grillo recently gained permission from her landlord to give it a complete overhaul. The result is welcoming, with walnut cupboards, textured tiles and open shelving, all of which have helped reignite Grillo’s love of cooking.
“Always ask your landlord before you do anything,” she says. “People sometimes think that renters can’t make any changes, but a lot of the time landlords are open to you decorating, you just have to make sure you get their agreement in writing.
“Renters often make the mistake of staying in a property that doesn’t reflect their personality. You can make it yours by doing something as simple as putting up a print from one of your favourite artists. It doesn’t have to be grand; it can be little things that show who you are as a person.”
This ethos is apparent in the master bedroom, with glimpses of Grillo’s persona coming through in the artwork, the vintage wall lighting (adapted to plugin so as to not damage the walls), fitted wardrobes transformed with stylish wooden doors, and the objects and books featured on a shelf above the bed. “I’m a big fan of upcycling, so a lot of the time I buy my furniture secondhand and then make it look more like me. I’ll add a bit of paint, change the handles, and give it a bit of a Medina makeover.”
If there’s one room that brings the design journey full circle, it’s the nursery that Grillo has set up for her youngest son. Once an office, she has turned it into a versatile space that makes the most of its square footage. A reading corner, changing area and suspended hanging rail for clothes are among the highlights, but it’s the sunshine yellow hue running halfway up the walls that has taken Grillo straight back to her roots.
Will her next makeover be yellow? It’s yet to be seen. But what is for sure is that it’ll be functional, full of character and representative of all the things that matter to the evolving needs of the Grillo family.
Medina’s eBay shopping tips
Use it for everythingAlways check eBay before buying something new from elsewhere. Chances are that you might be able to find it for half the price!
Make offersDon’t be afraid to haggle. You can often negotiate with sellers, so make an offer. You’ve nothing to lose, and you may get a few pounds off the advertised price.
Save your searches If you’re looking for a very specific item and are prepared to wait for the right one to come up, you can save your search. Then you’ll be alerted if there are any new listings that match your search term.
Get Medina’s look
Find warming neutrals and tactile naturals on eBay. If these have sold, there’s always more
Preloved lampshadeMirror Medina’s prized woven wicker lampshade with this vintage beauty – a steal at £30. Search “wicker lampshade” to find similar items.
Handmade rattan traysHandwoven rattan serving trays in four soothing shades from the aspirationally named Coastalvillahomeware. From £29.99.
Refurbed chest of drawersLovingly refurbished by Clearcycle_UK, Swoon’s Burris acacia wood and black steel chest of drawers would set you back £499 new – selling here for £185.
Shop Home on eBay for more pieces that add warmth with style