The first thing Toronto interior designer and visual artist Joanne Swisterski asked herself when she signed the lease for her 1,400-square-foot apartment was, “How am I going to snap this space out of its generic renter’s coma?”
Her quandary was the same as thousands of other renters who, on a limited budget, want to redecorate an often nondescript space so it feels like a warm, inviting home.
Swisterski and her partner allotted themselves a budget of $10,000, which might seem like a lot to invest in a place they don’t own, but she explains, her home’s look and feel affect her mental health.
“If I had a condo or apartment that didn’t look put together, I would feel like I wasn’t put together,” Swisterski says. “I don’t feel grounded and successful unless my space reflects that in some way.”
The first thing that had to go was the “renter-friendly beige walls.” She chose Benjamin Moore’s Witching Hour for a statement wall to run the length of living and dining rooms. “The dark contrast instantly made the space look sharper and more contemporary,” she says. It was also the perfect backdrop for one of her own paintings, the field of cattle that she painted from a photograph taken on a holiday in Ireland and coated with resin epoxy to make it reflective.
Next, they got rid of the 40-year-old covered vertical blinds. “They just screamed old and outdated,” says Swisterski, who owns the interior design firm Swisterski Designs. She replaced them with pleated sheers from Distinct Window Fashions to soften the room and make it brighter.
Typically, decorating and placement of furniture is the fun part of moving into a new space, but unfortunately, much of the couple’s existing furniture did not fit the confines of the main living area. In the end, Swisterski decided to keep four pieces and purchased the rest new.
“These days, it is easier and easier to find stylish furniture at affordable prices,” says Swisterski who turned to retailers who fit that paradigm, such as CB2, where she got the coffee table and ceramic side table; West Elm, where she found the floor lamp and white mesh pendant light that hangs over the coffee table; and Structube, for the dining table, chairs and grey sofa.
“We don’t like to be too matchy-matchy but I maintained some harmony through similar wood stains that complement each other,” she says.
They still had enough money left in their budget to pay an electrician to put junction boxes, an enclosure that holds electrical connections, over the coffee and dining tables. “The lighting was tricky,” she says. “Many buildings in the ‘80s didn’t incorporate lighting into concrete ceilings so we knew that was something we could not do ourselves. It was worth every penny: the light fixtures add a calm and serene vibe to the room.”
The last thing that had to be rectified was the “wall hatch” – a cut-out in the wall between the kitchen and dining room, another popular design feature in the ‘80s – that had a cheap, white laminate countertop.
“We didn’t really have a place to store our wine that fit properly or looked good, so we built a thin single-file wine rack and painted it black. Then we covered it with a slab of marble that was cut and affixed to the top of our wine rack,” Swisterski says. “It gives the entire wall a richer texture and it’s a lovely conversation piece. Our friends always ask about it.”
Swisterski says there is a certain mentality around rentals that “because they are not permanent residences, you shouldn’t spend any money on it.” She wholeheartedly disagrees.
“They’re worth the investment, even in the short term, if they make you feel better about yourself. We probably spent $7,000 of our budget on items we can take away. The rest, well, it’s an investment in what the space brings to our lives in the present.”
Get the look
Solace glass terracotta vase, $54.95 at CB2 (cb2.com).
Open weave pendant light; $299 at West Elm (westelm.ca).
Reclaimed barn beam side table; $130 through notlwoodcrafting.com.