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You've been living in China for a few years or so, or recently arrived. You're excited to start your life here and have picked your neighbourhood with care. Very quickly, you realised that most homes here come already furnished and that it's difficult to get rid of the existing dark, massive, old-fashioned furniture. Since you don't know how long you will stay here, and after all you don't own the place, you resign yourself to that reality. You say to yourself: one day I'll move to my real home and I'll splurge on a fancy, nice decor ...

Years pass by, and you're still in the same rented home, or a different one, but quite similar, still with this massive, dark, old-fashioned furniture.

You probably feel like there's no choice and that it's like that for everyone anyway. Besides, there are so many more important things in life: your career, your family, your social life, health ...

Except that when you think about it, before Coronavirus, you were taking every opportunity to get out of your home. There's something that doesn't feel right there; you cringe every time you look at that ugly scratched dark door, these dreary dusty curtains that seem coming right from the 70's, ...

Now that you've had to spend so much more time at home, it may have downed on you that your home environment is in fact very important! It directly impacts your well-being!

The fact is you don't need to wait till you "settle-down", buy your own home, win at the lottery, (or insert any other excuse), to enjoy your home.

The energy of your home impacts your own energy, give it some love and care then!

You don't need to be crafty nor artsy to improve your rented home, just a bit of time and a few simple tools: a few rolls of masking tape, a set of brushes (a large, flat one to apply paint on large surfaces, and a smaller one to go on smaller parts and angles), a roller, a pot or two of paint, a rack to spread out the paint on, and a roll of adhesive contact paper. You can find all of that on Taobao, or in the shops around Yishan Lu station.
The main ingredients you'll need is a bit of time, energy and an open-mind.

Since travelling isn't much an option these days, you can easily block a weekend afternoon for some DIY. You'll see that painting walls is a great meditation exercise. There's something about the repetition of movement and the attention that it requires (without needing intense reflexion) that calm the nerves and allow our thoughts to freely wander, without controlling them. It's fun too and you can even use it as an excuse for a workout!


Read below for 8 ways to beautify your home on a budget, with these Before / After transformations of my home.

I'd recommend talking with your landlord / landlady beforehand though.

Most landlords will be happy to see their space overhauled, and if they don't like the colour you chose, you can always paint it back in white before leaving.

My landlady was thrilled when she saw the result!

So play your favourite music, put some old, comfy clothes on, and get ready to give some soul and style to your home!



Interesting how we often forget to give some love to our entryway. And yet, this a very important part of our life. This is where the exterior world changes to your personal world. It's the ultimate transition place really! So why not adding some joy to it?!

I love the effect of surprise it gives when coming from outside.

Besides, in Shanghai apartments, often there's no real separation between the living space and the entryway, and there's no window over there. So having that dark spot while chilling out in the living room didn't cut it for me! Now that my door is pink, it makes me so happy looking at it through my living room.


I moved in a place where everything was covered with stickers, and when you remove old stickers on poorly painted doors, you get interesting results. Since I disliked this dark brown colour anyway, I was glad to have to have to repaint the doors! I chose light and cheerful colours that help to circulate light in the apartment, instead of blocking it.

A light greenish-blue that reminded me of my childhood in Tunisia, that I framed with black, to give structure + a nod to the 20's, one of my favourite periods for decorative arts.

And for the bedroom, I chose the same pink as for the entryway, framed with poppy red.


Or any hallway, for that matter!

black frames give structure to the space


balance the colourful door


add some elegant simplicity to the home


make a small gallery wall with a selection of artworks that pick the colours you chose to repaint the doors and doorframes


As often in Shanghai, buildings are built super fast, and quality of materials is not always a priority.

If like me, you have some sort of light silver metallic window frames, you can easily cover them with paint. In my case, they were also covered with stickers and Velcro tape, and despite removing them all, I couldn't get rid entirely of the glue marks. Grr!

I chose to paint them in black as it's the colour of most windows in old Shanghai houses. It also gives structure to that big bay window in the living room. I have also repainted in white the faux balcony handrail, for a crisp contrast.

Add some plants to dress the space + give your home a garden conservatory vibe!


Ah this shiny dark brown furniture that we find in most rented homes. So gloomy and impersonal. Most of the times, these are cheap, old furniture, so your landlord is likely to accept you to paint it, instead of removing it, which would be costlier to him. I would suggest to go with classic, neutral colours here.

Simplicity is better when furniture is not crisp nor sharp. Also, it's rather a big place of furniture, so too much colour would make your space heavy. Instead, add some splashes of colour with a beautiful tray and a plant or a vase of flowers.


Same goes with chairs. When in doubt, go with white. No need to paint it perfectly, as the imperfections will give it a patina and "antique" feel. If the chair is uncomfortable, add a pretty cushion! Air is uncomfortable, add a pretty cushion!

PS: if there are already curtains, there's a chance they're super old, try and negotiate to change them. On the larger windows, go for simplicity: white, or cream, with a black trimming. I added a layer of translucent curtains, to let light in, while keeping my privacy from neighbours. I went with a copper colour as it goes with everything and it's another nod to the 20's (cue the geometrical floral pattern on it).


select an artwork the same size of the TV


place it in front of its lightly sand credenza so that paint can adhere more easily


mix your paint colours in different shades of the same colours with white to add depth and a patina feel


Have a dark gigantic book case / buffet that's taking a whole wall, from side to side, and from floor to ceiling? No worries, give it the "antique" patina treatment, just like for the chairs.

Granted, it will take time, but it's so worth it! Make it a rainy day project! Enlist family or friends to help out! Remember to protect the glass panels with masking tape before painting though.

You can keep the whole thing white, or paint in a complimentary colour. Here I picked the same blue I used for the apartment's doors.


When there's no room in the kitchen for the fridge and you've got to place it in the living room, it become part of the furniture. So why not giving it a facelift too?

It can be easily done by covering it with faux marble contact paper (found on taobao), or another pattern of your choice. I'd recommend staying with a light colour if the area around is already busy and doesn't have much natural light. Still, because I love having pops of colours here and there, I put my collection of cute magnets!

And this, my friends, is some of the ways I used to transform my initially unpersonal and neglected Shanghai home to my beloved "luxurious", stylish personal "castle / temple" home, without breaking the bank! I can tell you that it tremendously helped making home confinement more agreeable!

I hope this will inspire you for your home too! If you try these ideas, we'd love to see your before / after transformation pictures! Do send them to us via Wechat (ID: MlleBagatelles), and join our Creative lifestyle group to continue the conversation with like-minded people.

Wishing you lovely, creative May Day holidays!

PS: We're soon opening our online shop with original artworks and decorative objects for the home, so stay tuned!

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