Being a renter rather than a homeowner shouldn’t be a barrier to creating a home you truly love, as the hit blogger, DIY guru and now author – who’s built a career out of it – tells Rosalind Sack
MEDINA GRILLO IN HER HOME IN BIRMINGHAM FILLED WITH HER CREATIVE DIY PROJECTS
Being a Brummie, it’s regrettably rare that I have the opportunity to interview an influential interiors guru from my home town. She’d probably shuffle uncomfortably at that label – we tend to be a self-deprecating lot – but decorating expert and blogger, Medina Grillo is changing things, and not before time. She’s a proud renter, has called out high-profile industry panel events for their woeful lack of diversity and is determined that hardworking influencers get the recognition they deserve.
Having put her career as an NHS midwife on hold, she is now working full time on her business and with her blog and popular #HowIRent video series continuing to attract huge audiences, regular partnership projects with international brands, as well as the release of her first book, Home Sweet (Rented) Home, she’s definitely riding high.
As much as I’d like to claim her as a Brummie, Medina was born in Croydon, but spent most of her childhood living as an expat with her family in the Middle East. They moved around a lot with her Dad’s engineering job and renting was the norm. “My mum is very creative,” she says. “Wherever we’d be, Mum would always make sure the house was decorated and everything was on theme and she change things up regularly. So I think I first had a passion for interiors through her, without really realising it at the time.”
Sitting in a room that you really enjoy adds the missing piece to the jigsaw of your life – it has a big impact on everything.”
Like most of us, after leaving home at 21 she started renting her own place with her husband Vince and Medina figured that they would hold off on decorating until they bought their own house. But as two became three, following the birth of their son, she found that her stark surroundings were impacting her wellbeing.
“I remember coming home from work, looking around at the boring white walls and realising I needed to have a place to come home to, to relax. Sitting in a room that you really enjoy adds the missing piece to the jigsaw of your life – it has a big impact on everything.”
MEDINA’S REDECORATED STAIRCASE (LEFT) AND BLACKBOARD WALL IN THE DINING AREA (RIGHT) CREATE A BIG IMPACT IN HER RENTED HOME
Juggling a demanding job with being a Mum to her son, now seven, Medina found she was craving a creative outlet to cope with the stress and, in 2014, she tentatively launched a Facebook page and group to share her DIY projects and decorating ideas. She quickly grew a vast community of like-minded people and, realising its potential, a year later she launched her blog – not as a hobby this time, but as a potential business. Her entrepreneurial spirit is paying off and she is determined that hardworking people like her are given the credit they deserve.
“A lot of people think that influencers and bloggers just get free stuff all the time and are lazy freeloaders. So I want to show that no, we are professionals who are working really hard behind to scenes to create content that I hope people will like. The British mentality means that money can be an uncomfortable thing to talk about, but my time is valuable and as a business woman it’s important I understand my value.”
“When I first started the blog I felt quite guilty and ashamed that I was almost 30 and we hadn’t bought our own house.”
Ironically, what has set her apart from so many other well-known names in interiors and is arguably one of her ‘unique selling points’ was something that she initially tried to hide.
“When I first started the blog I felt quite guilty and ashamed that I was almost 30 and we hadn’t bought our own house. There was a feeling that we shouldn’t express ourselves and be creative in our own homes because we were renting, and a feeling that we weren’t as successful as other people who owned their own home,” she says. “So coming out and speaking about it and hearing people say, ‘Oh my god, I feel this way too,’ was actually a big surprise.”
Medina is now determined that renters, who may have felt excluded from the world of interior design because of the constraints of their landlord’s tastes or the limitations of their letting agreement, have someone they can relate to.
“I found when I started on Instagram, a lot of the interior design accounts I followed were people with huge houses, really expensive furniture, big renovation projects and I felt like none of them related to me at all. Which is why my blog has always been about inspiring creativity, making the most of what you’ve got and making small changes in your home to create a big impact.”
Finding the right home has been a bumpy ride for Medina and her family: “I moved out of my parents’ home when I was 21, when I got married and ever since we’ve been moving to different rented properties. It’s not always been our own choice, we’ve had nightmare neighbours that have been horrific and landlords that have wanted to sell. That’s one of the most annoying things about renting – you don’t have a lot of control over what happens next.”
Having been in her current home for three years, the changes she has made are brilliantly bold and original – and all documented on her blog, of course. Everywhere you look are creative, upcycled, inexpensive – and non-permanent – design and DIY ideas that stamp her personality on the space.
Take the homemade kitchen utensil rack, floating plant shelves in the window and amazing removeable wallpaper flooring in the entrance hall. Then there’s a DIY outdoor sofa and trough planter, homemade OSB wardrobe doors in the bedroom, a floating wall desk under the stairs, IKEA hacks aplenty (don’t we just love those!)… the list goes on.
One of the most annoying things about renting is you don’t have a lot of control over what happens next.”
She’s quick to add that many of her creations are a family affair with both Vince and her son getting involved in her many of her DIY projects: “My son enjoys it when we’re cutting or sanding wood and he likes taking pictures and pretending he’s recording what I do! My husband is the one who taught me how to build things and use power tools, and he’s great at all the technical stuff that I don’t care to think about much, like measurements!”
MEDINA’S BEDROOM FEATURING HER MID-CENTURY CABINET FOUND AT A CHARITY SHOP AND UPCYCLED USING A DIP-DYE PAINT EFFECT. READ MORE ABOUT HER BEDROOM MAKEOVER HERE.
While Medina has a huge online following, she refuses to be a slave to social media – first and foremost she designs for herself and her family and her trademark black, white and mustard colour palette brings a harmonious flow throughout her space.
“I find those colours really relaxing and calming and reliable, so I use them consistently. Some things will look great in a picture, but not in real life. I had a room that was all painted really dark which looked amazing in pictures, but I didn’t really like it, to be honest. So if I use a dark colour now, I will only do a wall, or half a wall, because it doesn’t really help my mood – I feel a bit enclosed in a dark space. On the flip side, I find bright colours very alarming. I like pops of colour, but I don’t like everything bright – it just makes me feel anxious. It’s up to us as individuals not to follow trends but to go with what we genuinely like, because we’re the ones who will be living with it.”
Medina’s authenticity and her honesty is a breath of fresh air and it’s little surprise that she is going from strength to strength. In June, she was named in Marie Claire magazine’s Power With Purpose list that celebrates women who are using their platforms for positive change.
On hearing the news, Medina wrote: “This year I told myself that I wanted to take up space. That I wanted to open doors that I had been afraid to open before. That I wanted to share more, represent more, create more, love more, speak up more.”
She’s doing just that.
Home Sweet (Rented) Home: Transform Your Home Without Losing Your Deposit by Medina Grillo is published by Mitchell Beazley, £15.