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The art of making more from less

20 September 2015

10 years ago, fashion tutor Berni and her children downsized from a large family townhouse to a 75m2 apartment. Their home is a celebration of colour and creativity where old pieces like their inherited dining chairs are mixed in with vintage IKEA, found items and customised pieces. ‘We have less space and less money,’ says Berni. ‘But we don’t miss those things – the pay off is living in a part of the city we love.’

Berni’s dining area has a colourful mix of inherited furniture and vintage IKEA

‘As I always tell my fashion students, a limited budget is a blessing. It drives you to be more creative’

Berni, fashion and textiles tutor, London

A portrait of Berni, fashion and textiles tutor, and her family, London

A home for three generations

Meet Berni, Silver (16), Trey (6), Liberty (21), India (25) and Orlando (19). ‘We’re all creative people with strong personalities,’ says Berni. ‘We call ourselves the rainbow tribe! My oldest daughter India has now moved out with her son Trey, but he often spends a few nights a week here too. We miss him terribly when he’s away.’

Re-cover vintage furniture in bright fabric like Berni’s vintage IKEA sofa

Refresh an old sofa with new textiles

‘Our vintage IKEA sofa is over 10 years old and has served us brilliantly,’ says Berni. ‘We recently re-covered it and added new cushions – it looks as good as new! I love the energy that colours bring to a room. We live in a throwaway society these days, but I don’t believe in getting rid of things that still have use.’

Display treasure items like prints and fabric to full effect

Display treasured items

Tell your story. ‘The fabric in the cabinet is from an old friend,’ says Berni. ‘And I inherited the prints from my dad. Seeing them every day is a dear reminder of loved ones.’

Folding chairs are a great space-saver and essential for family gatherings

Have spare seats for guests

Don’t let a small space stop you from entertaining. ‘We all love inviting friends over,’ says Berni. ‘Often 20 or 30 at a time. The folding chairs are great for extra people.’ 

Display old photos in pretty glassware for a fun able display

Add small touches to your table

Make everyday meals feel special with personalised details. ‘I have so many old pictures of our family,’ says Berni. ‘It’s fun to use them in different ways.’

Customise the kitchen sink with fun fabric

Customise with curtains

‘We can’t afford a new kitchen,’ says Berni. ‘But we can find ways of making our current one work better for us. The doors of our sink cabinet were damaged by water some years ago – replacing them with curtains saves space and gives it a fresh look.’

Wall-hang sturdy bags for easy recycling trips

Streamline your recycling

Berni’s wall-hung bags in the hallway are a great space-saving solution. ‘I don’t like letting waste build up,’ she says. ‘These are easy for anyone to carry down to the communal bins every day.’

Create a pretty windowsill display with colourful glass bottles

Arrange colourful collections

Berni likes to line up rows of coloured bottles to liven up her windows. ‘It’s something I started in my previous home,’ she says. ‘I love how the light plays on them.’

Add extra lighting and open storage for a more cohesive kitchen

Adapt for small-space cooking

A few updates, like extra lighting and open storage, have made Berni’s tiny kitchen more comfortable to share. ‘Now two people can cook at once,’ she says.

Carve out a creative corner with colour and inspiration – make it your own

Make room to be creative

‘We love being around each other but we also need our own space,’ says Berni. ‘It’s important for development. My office is my retreat where I work and immerse myself in inspiration. But I still feel part of the action because it’s in the hallway. My son Orlando spray-painted each part of a IKEA PS MASKROS light and put it up as decoration. I just adore it!’

‘Listen to your taste and individuality. Let them breathe. Colour is important to me – it’s uplifting, so I find ways to surround myself with it’


Create a patchwork feature wall using wall paper samples

Invest in feelgood bedroom updates

‘Adding new bedding is a small luxury that makes a big difference to me,’ says Berni. ‘I love a lie in and the soft material feels wonderful. I wanted to create a feature wall but couldn’t afford wallpaper so I used samples instead. It took some time but it was free and makes a big impact.’

Floorplan for Berni’s apartment

A flexible city apartment for five

‘Our apartment is nearly always busy and we have to fit around each other’s needs,’ says Berni. ‘The dining table is an additional workspace where Liberty or Orlando can sew and work on their fashion, my grandson Trey will sleep in Silver’s room when he’s over, and if the children have friends over there will often be people sleeping in the living room.’

Photography Daniel Farmer  Styling Sam Grigg  Painting behind dining table Jo Self