See Inside This Colorful 460-Square-Foot Rental Apartment That YOU Chose as a Dream Home
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Stuck inside for most of 2020, I’ve found myself fantasizing about dream houses. I’m extraordinarily lucky to live in a lovely New Orleans duplex, but my thoughts still drift to other romantic home types. Dream homes can mean a lot of different things to different people, and this week we’re touring all kinds, from an A-frame to an RV to living abroad and off the grid.
This week, I’ve shared with you several different versions of my idea of a dream home. There was Sheri Kowalski‘s amazing A-frame; Bree and Guilly‘s cozy RV; John and Fin Kernohan‘s off-grid paradise; and Jewells and Gunnar’s minimal and modern Iceland home. I wish I could one day live in ALL of these types of dreamy homes. When it came to ending Dream Week, instead of going with another home of my choice, Apartment Therapy’s audience (aka you!) weighed in. Apartment Therapy’s Instagram followers were asked: “Who do you follow on Instagram that is living in your idea of a dream home?” Y’all showed up with a ton of GREAT suggestions. And while there were a number of handles that were recommended multiple times, there was one account that stood out to me and that I had not heard of yet. Introducing Apartment Therapy’s Dream House Week Audience Choice: Casa de Modelei!
Both born and raised South East Londoners, Leila and Fleur wanted to stay close to their childhood neighborhoods when searching for their first home to share. “We love Anerley because it’s a rough diamond, aka a bit neglected and rundown, but has amazing transport links and green spaces,” explains Leila. “Unlike the surrounding gentrified areas, we can actually afford to live here, which makes it even better! Also, we both went to school in the area so there are a lot of familiar things about Anerley that makes it feel like home.”
Leila is a professional pole performer, choreographer, and instructor at Kelechnekoff Studio, and also runs Blackstage Pole, a project that works to showcase and highlight Black and POC pole dancers in the UK. Fleur currently works as a retail supervisor at a museum in London, while also working on changing careers and restoring furniture (and thrift shopping) in her spare time. Together for five years, the couple has had a blast decorating this 460-square-foot one-bedroom Victorian conversion flat (that’s basically only four actual rooms), so much so that they started the Casa de Modelei Instagram account “as a way of documenting our first decorating journey.”
It’s kind of shocking that this is a first decorating journey, right? Though a small space, the entire apartment feels airy, bright, and happy thanks to their decorating choices. Colorful mid-century modern-inspired furniture pieces stand out against creamy white walls, while a very cute collection of art is spread throughout the rooms. They have an envy-inducing array of throw pillows, and they’ve mastered using mirrors in each room to reflect light. They’re also great at organizing a small space, as their bedroom clothes storage wardrobe proves.
But perhaps the most eye-catching part of their home—and maybe the thing that made them an audience choice—is all of the plants! They have about 80 plants at the moment, and they add lustrous pops of green in nearly every corner. “Fleur was raised by plant-lovers and used to work in garden centers, so she has a lot of plant know-how,” Leila says. “During our time at university we owned about 30 plants, which we carried with us until we moved in here. Since moving in here we have expanded our plant family from visits to our favorite local garden centers such as Alexandra Nurseries, The Nunhead Gardener, Shannon’s Garden Centre, and Dobbie’s Garden Centre. We have also propagated several new plants, which are thriving. We are definitely plant people and we do a lot of reading and research on how to give our plants the best life.”
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: We often describe our style as personal touches, practicality, plants, and pops of color.
Inspiration: We’re inspired by nature and natural forms, so we fill our home with plants and different textures. We’re also inspired by mid-century modern style, space-saving hacks, practicality, and cleanliness. We love playing with bold colors and finding cute pots and ways of displaying our plants.
Favorite Element: I think we can both agree that the living room is our favorite thing about our home. It has been very carefully curated, from the colors of the soft furnishings to the artwork we’ve had commissioned for the walls. We adore the chimney breast and the symmetry it brings to the room, as well as the huge central window, which bathes the room in natural light. It’s definitely the heart of the home and the bright colors make it feel like a cheerful, happy, and chilled space.
Biggest Challenge: Our biggest challenge is the fact that this is a rented space so we are very limited in the changes we can make. We would love to change the color of the walls and paint some colored arches on certain walls to create focal points and drama in the rooms. We would also love to change the style of the doors but unfortunately, we’re not permitted to make these changes. To overcome this challenge, we are very intentional and specific about the furniture we use to furnish the space and try to add statement pieces to make the space feel brighter and more colorful. The room that poses the biggest challenge is the bathroom, as it is very small, tiled from floor to ceiling, and has no natural light, which really limits our ability to personalize the space. We try to overcome this by choosing colorful accessories for the bathroom in order to put our stamp on it. All of our bathmats are bright colors, our bathroom bin is pink, and all of our towels are either yellow, blue, or pink. We’re still looking for ways to make the space feel more like ours though.
Proudest DIY: We have a habit of finding great things on the street and upcycling and restoring them. We found a Windsor-style dining chair on the street in our local area, sanded it down, and Fleur painted it pink with grey legs and silver accent cuffs. Another of our favorite DIY pieces is the bedroom arch mirror which was a £20 find in Emmaus (UK homeless charity shop), which we spray painted rose gold. Leila also makes macramé plant hangers, which we hang plants in our windows with. In addition to this, we have found and bought other mid-century pieces for cheap and Fleur has restored them and sold them on. She is currently working on some teak mid-century Danish dining chairs, which she has reupholstered with burnt orange velvet material. They’re gorgeous but we sadly have nowhere to put them! All of our furniture renovations are in a highlight on our page.
Biggest Indulgence: The most expensive thing in our flat was our wardrobe. It’s honestly just an IKEA wardrobe so nothing to scream about. It was just important that our wardrobe was open and more of a display of our clothes than a box that would close off our space. Leila has a fair amount of Pleasers (pole dancing shoes) that are 8-10 inches tall and pole dancing costumes, which she measured out space for when designing our wardrobe. She was also very meticulous when designing the wardrobe and measured out exactly how much rail and drawer space we would need to neatly store all of our clothes with no overflow. The wardrobe was definitely worth it because our flat doesn’t have cupboard space or shelves, so without it we wouldn’t have anywhere to comfortably store bedding towels or Pleasers.
Describe what a “dream” home means to you. Do you consider this to be your “dream” home? To us a dream home is a home that is polished and has immaculate storage solutions. It’s a home that is colorfully curated with mid-century furniture, plants, and different textures. Our home somewhat fits with that image for us because we have mid-century furniture, we have around 80 plants, and we have beautiful pops of color. Having a home together in our native area has also been a dream of ours for a long time, so the fact that this flat has enabled that to happen, means it is definitely our dream home for now. In the future we would love to buy somewhere so we could have more freedom and design choices, and also have a bit more space to expand our family, but this flat definitely meets our current needs.
How did you find this home? It was very surreal and unexpected. We saved up money to pay a deposit and to completely furnish a flat. We had a budget and plans mapped out months in advance and because of this, we didn’t overspend by even a penny! When we had finished saving up it was Saturday night and by Monday morning we had at least five viewings lined up. This flat was the third we viewed and we were the first to see it. The moment we saw the huge windows and the kitchen, we knew we were home. I (Leila) remember feeling overwhelmed with joy and excitement. The thought of being able to cook in a big beautiful new kitchen excited me so much. Fleur was just shocked that it was in our price range as it was so much nicer than everything we’d seen online. We took it on the spot.
What was the biggest stumbling block on the road to your dream home? Our biggest stumbling block has always been and currently still is money. We came out of university with zero savings and had to live in Fleur’s parents’ attic whilst we worked/looked for jobs. Neither of us come from money so we didn’t have parents who were able to give us financial support to help us rent or buy property. We lived there for a year working and barely seeing each other because we were so motivated to have a home of our own. When we finally moved in we were so excited and happy. That feeling still hasn’t worn off. We’ve recently been really pleasantly surprised by our new neighbor. We live in a two-flat building and our upstairs neighbor is a dream. She loves plants so adds houseplants to our communal area and often leaves beautifully wrapped home-baked treats and smoothies on our doorstep, accompanied by cute notes. We love her and she’s one of the best things about this building.
What was your idea of a dream home when you were a little kid? How close is this home’s version to your childhood dream? When Leila was a little kid, her idea of a dream house was a house with a big kitchen and bay windows, in Catford, SE London. My idea (Fleur) of a dream home was a big Victorian house painted pastel pink by the sea. Both of our ideas of our dream homes have evolved since growing up and going to university. We’re both very happy to stay in the city. At our core, we love high ceilings, natural light, and character features such as picture rails and mouldings. Our current home ticks all of these boxes.
What is your best advice for finding/creating a dream home? Our best advice would be to keep an open mind and listen to your heart. A dream home may not appear to be that at first or may not be what you initially envisaged. It often takes time and tweaking. Things that are personal to you and have meaning in your life and bring you joy are always good to display in your space. It’s your space, you only have to please yourself.
- Welcome mat — eBay
- White plant stand — Lovely Jubbly Brighton
- Sage green side table — Nesna by IKEA, painted with Rustoleum Laurel Green
Round yellow cushions— Matalan
- Hetty sofa in Linoso Teal — Sofology
Orange, grey and yellow cushions — IKEA
- Abstract Colour Block Wool Rug — Matalan
- Midcentury teak coffee table — ID for London, Crystal Palace (@idforlondon)
- PS 2012 Dining Table — IKEA
- Dining chairs — IKEA
- Trio of prints above dining table — Exotic Cancer (@exotic.cancer)
- Gersby bookshelf — IKEA
Pink plant stands — Sainsburys Home
- Midcentury teak sideboard — Gumtree
- White abstract bookcase — Facebook marketplace
- White sewing box side table — Gumtree
- Blue canvas painting and yellow painting — @solaolulode
- Portrait illustration in gallery wall — @attzs_
- Print on chimney breast — Julia Mckenzie
- Blue lamp — B&Q
- Yellow Strandmon armchair and footstool — IKEA
- Plants and pots mainly from @thenunheadgardener @croxtedroadgarden @ivylinegb
- Ceramics — Mainly by Poole Pottery
- Rose gold arched mirror — Emmaus UK
- Linnmon table top — IKEA
- Mustard hairpin legs — Knott and Burr
- Hollywood venetian mirror Diamond X collection — Illuminated Mirrors
- Alex drawers — IKEA
- Pink plant stand — TK Maxx
- Pink chair — found on the street and upcycled
- Nesna bedside tables — IKEA
- Pink Jamiela lamp — Dunelm
- Floral bedsheets — Urban Outfitters
- Nesttun king sized bed — IKEA
- Grey and white scatter cushions — IKEA
- Round yellow cushions — Matalan
- Pink shell cushions — Matalan
- White leaf cushion — IKEA
- Yellow throw — ALDI UK
- Central print — Dorcascreates
- Elvarli wardrobe — IKEA
- Round rose gold mirror — Dunelm
- Female form candle — @shopemone
- Coloured candles — Sainsburys Home
- Minimalist candle holders — Primark Home
- Low candle holders — Sainsburys Home
- Brass candle holders — Facebook marketplace