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Six steps to make your room feel like home (on a budget)

With the prospect of home ownership a distant dream for the majority of millennials, many young people opt to rent a room in a shared flat or student accommodation. While tenancies can be short, research shows that a poor home environment can very quickly become a source of stress – and that’s the last thing you need, when studying or starting out in a new job.

Fortunately, as an experienced interior stylist and lecturer in textiles, I can reassure you that there are all sorts of fantastic things you can do to help your room feel like a home – and you don’t have to spend a lot to do it. First thing’s first: come up with a “colour story” and try to stick with it. A good way to do this is to pick three colours.

The first colour will act as the main colour, taking up about 60% of the space, while the second will act as a complementary colour, taking up 30%, and the third will be an accent, using only about 10% of the space.

Once you have decided on your colour story, you need to start thinking about all the other objects in the room, and how they interact with one another. Apply your colour proportions to them, thinking about how much space the different elements take up.

Step 1 – paint (if you’re allowed)

Walls take up a large proportion of your room and act as the backdrop to everything else, so the colour of them can make a big difference. Get in touch with your landlord to find out if you’re allowed to paint your walls – and offer to restore the original colour when you leave.

Colours can help to convey a mood, so think carefully about the paint you’ll use – do you want your room to feel lively? Then pick a bright colour such as yellow, pink or blue. Do you want your room to have a more relaxed feel? Then opt for more muted tones.

Read more: We can use colour to communicate how we feel – here's how

Raid your parents’ garage for some old pots of paint and mix them together to create your own customised shade. You can even just paint one feature wall if you don’t have enough paint to cover the whole room.

If you intend on buying new paint, purchase a store’s own brand as this is a lot cheaper than the other brands that they sell. But before you do, get hold of paint charts – these are free and will help you to see how colours work together in order to make a choice.

Step 2 – refresh the bedspread

Bedspreads cover quite a large surface area, so the design and colour can really impact a room. If you’re not painting your walls, this is where you should inject your primary colour. And if your budget doesn’t stretch to buying new bed linen, here are ideas to spruce yours up or make your own:

  • Dip dye your existing set with a complementary colour, using supermarket fabric dyes.
  • Tie dye your existing set, using one of the many Shibori techniques, with supermarket fabric dyes.
  • Use fabric pens to draw your own design.
  • Pick up some old sheets you like from a market or charity shop and sew them together to make a duvet cover.

You can never have too many pillows. Shutterstock.

Step 3 – add soft furnishings

Add some scatter cushions to your bed in your complementary and accent colours. Buy plain cushions from a charity shop or market and add your own embellishments and designs. You can use dye techniques, fabric paint, pens, pompoms or tassels.

Step 4 – hang pictures

If you’ve got prints for the wall, charity shops often sell inexpensive frames, and you can paint them different colours using sample paint pots from a hardware store. Instead of scrolling through pictures of family and friends on social media – which can sometimes make you more lonely – you can peg printed images to a string of fairy lights or bunting.

Colour swatch art. Crazyoctopus/Flickr., CC BY-ND

If you don’t have any art, but want something colourful for your wall, take the free paint swatches at the hardware store and stick them to a sheet of card. Pay attention to the colours you put together – do you want to create a colour theme, or are you going for a rainbow effect?

Step 5 – adjust lighting

Lighting is very important for the feel and ambience of a room. You can create warmth by zoning your room with floor and table lamps, which you can switch on in the evenings instead of your main light. This helps to create cosy corners and a feeling of relaxation, which a bright overhead light doesn’t achieve.

Step 6 – style books and plants

These are the finishing touches. You can colour code your books for a gorgeous rainbow effect (this looks super styled and colourful). And plants bring a bit of life indoors, while the green foliage looks very sophisticated. Plants also absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, and have some capacity to reduce indoor air pollution. There is also evidence to suggest that indoor plants can reduce physiological and psychological stress and flowers in particular can improve your mood.

Feel inspired to create a lively, relaxing space to escape to at the end of your busy day. Think of your room as your favourite colourful painting – but one that you can walk around in.

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