…and 10 ways to make anywhere feel like home, on a budget.
Last week we said goodbye to Iran and decided to set up on more familiar terrain. So here we are…in Tbilisi, Georgia!
Although checking in to an air b’n’b is not quite the same as moving into a new home, we quite amazingly managed to find a place in exactly the same building we used to live! Familiarity helps to add a touch of homeliness. It also reminded me that about this exact time last year we had just moved out of the our 3rd air b’n’b in Tunisia and were slowly settling into our new apartment (and life) by the sea.
Our Tunisian beach shack apartment
After a week and a half of back to back apartment viewings, we finally settled on an almost perfect place. It was definitely the ugliest house in the entire street, but it was only a few minutes walking distance to the local market, supermarket, as well as all our favourite cafes and restaurants. Best of all, we were just 50 metres from the beach! We even had a sliver of a view from our balcony, accompanied with a lovely sea breeze and the sound of crashing waves.
Our apartment came fully furnished. In Tunisia the term ‘fully furnished’ is usually a pseudonym for ‘house with stuff the landlords don’t want’. Although our landlords were kind enough to purchase new-ish and relatively good quality furniture, there really wasn’t much of it. The rest of the house consisted of white walls and beige tiles. It was so stark and empty that it echoed.
After a few weeks, we grew tired of our blank walls and echoing conversations. We needed a bit of colour, warmth and energy in the place. But how to make it feel like home without spending a fortune?
Read on to find out what we did, with 10 ideas to help others that are wanting to add a touch of home to their living space, without burning a hole in their wallet!
10 ways to add a touch of home, on a budget
Buy some plants
In Tunisia, the very first thing we did was to buy some plants. Not only do we like plants, but they do a great job of adding a bit of life and colour to a room. Plants, especially larger evergreens and nice pots to plant them in, can get very expensive very quickly so I suggest not going to the local, trendy nursery as we did, and looking into other options.
A few weeks after we’d spent a fortune at the local nursery buying only a few of the most affordable greens, we stumbled upon a makeshift roadside nursery selling a massive variety of plants at massively discounted prices. We went a bit wild loading up our car with all that we could fit, but with absolutely no regrets. The house immediately felt more homelier and alive.
Another way to save on plants is to pick them up second-hand from expats leaving the country or people moving house. Most cities will have an online expat forum or several Facebook groups you can join. If you have ample time, you can also grow the plants yourself with a few clippings!
Get yourself some carpets, rugs or at the very least a welcome mat
I confess, I’m a carpet fanatic. There is just something lovely and warm about a good rug or carpet, not to mention the colour they can inject into a room. So naturally, we decided the next thing we needed was a bright and colourful carpet. As we already have a bunch of carpets with nowhere to put them (sadly, they all live in a trunk in Australia), we didn’t want to go overboard with this purchase. Instead we waited for the right moment and ended up grabbing a bargain from the back of a truck, literally. One day we spotted an old man driving his pick-up truck around town loaded with hand-made Tunisian beauties. It was also easier to choose than browsing through a hundred different options; we just grabbed one from the top.
Carpets are also ideal to purchase second-hand, or direct from the weaver if you’re lucky to be in a country with a tradition of carpet weaving. Online market places or second-hand stores are a good place to look.
Dress your windows
When we moved in, our windows were adorned with the most horrible curtains you’ve ever seen. They were something like bed sheets covered in bright pink and orange flowers. Needless to say, they came down pretty fast, and so our next challenge was replacing them with something a bit more ‘us’. Luckily, Tunisia is known for its handmade cotton cloths. After a bit of asking around we found a small local store where they let us choose the colours we liked, then sewed them up to exactly the right size.
Not everyone has this luxury, but curtains can be easily purchased ready-made for minimal cost.It’s an easy and relatively inexpensive way to make the room feel more homely, not to mention add a bit of privacy. If you already have curtains, table cloths or throws can be a nice way to change-up the look of a room without breaking the bank.
Make a home for your shoes
Some shoes tend to stay in our closets, but the everyday ones invariably end up dispersed on the floor all around our entryway. This is annoying and not the most pleasant sight to see the moment you walk in the door. A great way to clear up the entrance way and keep your shoes in order is to add a small shoe rack, or better yet a shoe cupboard.
In Tunisia, we didn’t have time to shop around and wanted something cheap. We thought about making it ourselves until we found what was actually a bamboo pot holder at the nursery. It wasn’t perfect, but it did the job. I’ve also seen people use regular shelves, or benches to store their shoes, there are loads of ways to do it.
Add colour with pottery and ceramics
Tunisia is known for its pottery and ceramics featuring bright and cheerful designs. Stocking up on these was a no brainer, but rather than waiting for our last day in the country, we decided to get in early so as to enjoy them in our house for a while (we also just needed a fruit bowl). Rather than buy every single thing we saw, we made a special journey to Nabeul, a town famous for its traditional Tunisian pottery (and much lower prices!). Although everything seemed like a bargain, we chose carefully and brought only a few plates and bowls that we loved and knew we would use in the future. We don’t have them with us at the moment, but you know you made a good choice when you miss your breakfast bowl! There’s nothing like a vase, or a few plates on display to brighten up a space and make it feel like home.
Get to know your local art
Everywhere we go, we make a point of visiting local art galleries to see what’s on offer. It’s a great way to get to know the culture of the country, and even better if you end up in a tiny back street studio and get to meet the artist as well. In Tunisia, while exploring the Kasbah in Hammamet we stumbled upon a local artist who specialised in painting wildly colourful scenes of Tunisia. It was love at first sight! We walked away with 10 smallish pieces, painted directly onto thin wooden boards. They did well to brighten up our beige-on-beige bedroom, but were also super easy to pack and travel with. No worries about folded and crumpled edges. Other good options, although slightly more breakable, are hand-painted tiles (often popular in Middle Eastern countries) and of course, just good old paintings and posters. While working in Ukraine, I went crazy buying a stack of vintage soviet posters. In the end it’s all about personal taste and whatever you love that brightens your home is a good option. Photos and prints work just as well. You don’t even have to frame them, ours go straight onto the wall or fridge.
Deck out your kitchen
As they say, the kitchen is the ‘heart of the home’ so it’s worth paying a bit of attention to the kitchen area. Even if you’re not massively into cooking, the kitchen is invariably the place where guests and family will congregate and if your kitchen is bare it doesn’t feel very welcoming or homely. In Tunisia we kindly requested our landlords to purchase extra items for the kitchen, as well as prepared a list of all the items we expected as part of our ‘rental agreement’. Renting a rather expensive fully furnished apartment, It was within our rights to do this, and we were lucky enough to have a very understanding and generous landlord. Nevertheless if you’re renting fully furnished, even if it’s a hotel or services apartment, don’t be afraid to ask for more items, especially essentials like chopping knives, and chopping boards. It will make your life so much easier and more comfortable. After all, the aim is to feel at home. In the end we also scored a bunch of stuff from a work colleague who was leaving the country. If you’re wary of spending too much, buying second-hand or inheriting items is a good way to go. Don’t be afraid to ask, most expats or families will be happy to offload stuff when they’re leaving and will often advertise what they’re selling on online expat forums or Facebook groups. Although staying at an air b’n’b doesn’t leave us much scope for home decorating, there are still ways to make anywhere you’re staying feel more homely.
How to make short-term stays feel a bit more like home:
Unpack your stuff as soon as you arrive
I know this sounds like a pain and some people truly love living straight out of a suitcase, but if you want to feel at home then unpacking is crucial. The moment we arrive, we get our clothes into the wardrobe (if there is one), set up workstations and of course, choose our side of the bed. Sometimes I like to use my small carry on case as a makeshift wardrobe, that way I have less unpacking and re-packing to do, but still feel like I own the space.
Bring your favourite things with you, including food.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about stuff we always travel with. Although we don’t take all these things with us on short trips, we’ll always have at least a few of them. The easiest ones to travel with are coffee mugs and of course, a yoga mat or workout gear.
Move the furniture around
Just because it’s a hotel room, who says you can’t re-arrange the furniture? We usually do this if we end up in a room with two single beds, as opposed to a double. Pushing them together makes it feel more like being at home. Some less obvious changes might include moving a sofa or comfy chair to make the most of a nice view, or switching around rugs and carpets to make a more conducive workout space. In Iran for example, we moved our sofa chairs into the kitchen. It left us with more space in the living area as well as a comfy space to sit together while cooking.
What else have you done to make a place feel more like home without spending a fortune? Let us know in the comments below!