My childhood bedroom was always my cozy corner, an oasis where I can do and decorate as I pleased. In 5th grade, I had a clear, artistic vision for the room: a two-toned pink and purple paradise, both colors donning the walls separated by a thin white chair rail. Though the feel of my comforter was no better than an old movie theater chair, with pink and purple stripes separated by thin rows of sequins, I adored that the room was bright and bold, maybe reflective of the woman I wanted to grow into as I aged.
This décor, of course, did not last long. Less than a few years later, I was ready to usher in the newest era of my design fixation: surfer girl coastal. The pink on the top half of the wall was replaced with light sandy beige, and the purple beneath became a brilliant blue. My new bedding featured beach motifs of various waves, sunrises, and surfer girls running free on the beach. I wanted to emulate this lifestyle in my teens, I guess, though I was too spooked to swim and never was never actually that good at it.
The endless redesigns of my bedroom brought no disruption to the rest of design choices in the house, which is exactly why I was able to change the style with the wind. But now, it is challenging to determine a personal style and dream of what home décor I’ll choose in the future without a whole home of my own to do so, as I still reside in said childhood bedroom. I’ve only ever worked out of the confines of my room, and beyond those walls, the design was not for me to decide.
Plenty of others are living somewhere that isn’t their permanent home, trying to stand their ground and define décor boundaries to no avail. Renters go through similar struggles, stuck with paint colors and old light fixtures that cannot be replaced. And the other limitations are limitless—sharing a small space with someone else not of the same design mindset, or not having the budget to go after the design style you so desire. All beg the same question: how do you embrace a personal interior design style when your space isn’t entirely yours?
How do you embrace a personal interior design style when your space isn’t entirely yours?
These are a few tidbits of advice from my experience decorating in a space that isn’t mine, as well as tips from other great decorator’s successes who defined their personal style despite limitations—though it may seem challenging, it can be accomplished.
Work Within Your Boundaries
One piece of advice is to work within your boundaries. Don’t fixate on only the limitations, but see all the possibilities that can come from the limitations. Sometimes, limitations can actually put you in your most creative mindset, according to interior expert and designer Leah Alexander of Beauty Is Abundant.
"Having limitations such as renting, budget constraints, or customization no-fly zones like tiling or painting doesn't make finding a style you love impossible," Alexander shares with us. "Look to your closet for constants like color and pattern and get creative by incorporating those colors and patterns into your space with large area rugs, art, bedding, glassware, or new planters."
I find that connecting with other decorators on social media and beyond who created beautiful spaces despite limitations is always a helpful motivator. For example, this TikTok creator chronicled moving into the apartment of her dreams, only to find out that the butter-yellow walls were not allowed to be painted—and all of her current décor would not match the coloring. Instead of breaking her lease, she invested in a few pieces that highlight the yellow and helped to transition her current décor into one that looked seamless within her space.
Taking tips from others who have bent boundaries can help you do achieve the same.
Clearly Define Your Space from a Roommate's
If you’re creating or sharing a space with someone else, try to do as much planning as possible before coming into the space to define both of your personal styles, and leave space for one another to put personal touches on their corners of the space. Define even the smallest of corners with personal touches that resonate with you, even in a shared space.
You and whoever you are living with can create mood boards or save some inspirational photos and share them with one another. When the time comes, ensure that pieces you both love are included in the final space. It’s all about compromise, and a space that has meaning to the both of you will be much more beloved than one that sticks to solely one design style.
Stay Savvy on a Budget
Any design lover can relate to wanting a luxe-level space but not entirely having a luxe-level budget. But, it’s possible to create the space of your dreams—and stick to your personal design style—without spending a small fortune.
"When it comes to budget, it's all about determining what will pack the most punch in your space while remaining true to your personal style that you've already established," Alexander tells us. "You have to be willing to take a risk for big rewards."
Design expert Laura Genevieve of Blanco Bungalow knows a thing or two about finding personal style on a tight budget as well.
"Sometimes, it's easy to see Instagram-perfect houses everywhere you look and feel discouraged, which I've totally been guilty of," she shares with us. "I always try to give a very realistic view of what it’s taken for us to be where we are and create the home we’ve created on my social media."
There are so many creative ways to decorate, style, and furnish your home on a budget, according to Genevieve, including shopping via Facebook marketplace, flea markets, estate sales, and more. No design style is defined by a price, and you would be surprised how many places there are to shop that might align with an affluent design style. Adhering to a limitation like a budget doesn’t mean compromising on style.
Practice Patience and Planning
And as for those decorators like myself who have yet to define a space of their own, practice patience and planning. I find that it is much easier to put my design dreams into action when I create them concretely. I have several mood boards filled with design inspiration for when the days of having my own home ultimately comes. This motivates me to continue finding my style even without putting it all into practice just yet.
Patience is key in this case—keep in mind that a confined space is temporary, but a design mindset filled with your desired décor always outlasts.