Owning It | Zeena Shah
A rented home doesn't need to be boring, beige or generally sub-par. Case in point? Zeena Shah’s East London flat, nestled inside a beautiful Art Deco building. As part of our Owning It series, celebrating creative tenants, Zeena tells us what it's like living in one of London’s most Instagrammable rentals.
Name: Zeena Shah
Job: Art director and stylist, amongst other things
Rental history: Rented all over London. Lived in current place for two years
Lives with: Her fiancé, Zack
Location: Hackney, East London
Set-up: One-bedroom flat in a listed Art Deco building
Why did you decide to rent?
"Essentially because we can't afford to buy! I think that's why most people rent in London. My boyfriend and I are both creatives, so we don't have the luxury of lots of capital coming in to fund a big deposit pot. Renting is a necessity for people."
What are the benefits of renting a listed property?
"Everyone who lives in this building is very protective of the roots and looks after the space. It's a joy that everyone cares so much about this tiny part of history in East London. The neighbours are lovely and have parties in the communal garden. There's a Facebook group and people take your packages in — it's a very nice place to live."
And the negatives of renting a listed property?
"We pay quite hefty building fees, in addition to rent. We suck it up because the benefits far outweigh that cost. We can't do anything to the interior, so it's frustrating if we want to drill into the wall — it means we have to be smarter with storage instead. We also have to keep the original building colours. I happen to love pale-pink and blue, so that works well for me!"
This place is dreamy. How did you discover it?
"We were very lucky — sometimes that's what happens. I stumbled across an advert but had no idea what the building was like. My friends did, from going past it on the bus — and had always wanted to see inside! So when we came to view the flat we were trying to play it cool. Even though we wanted to offer during the viewing, we waited and text [the landlady] afterwards, so as not to appear too keen."
"I love the building so much; it brings me so much joy! I think people are quite amazed this is a rental. But you don't have to live in a boring space just because you rent it. You can still bring 'you' into it."
How can someone find a similar space?
"It is luck, but it's also about doing your research. Be inquisitive and don't settle. If this is what you want, then it's out there. It's more money than we'd pay in other places, but it's just such a lovely place to live. We don't pay a lot for travel as we cycle everywhere. It's a lifestyle choice."
Is space and storage an issue?
"There's no storage here at all. It was quite a struggle in the beginning. I have so many clothes — I'm a not-so-secret hoarder! But we make it work. Clear storage boxes hidden behind the curtain in my bedroom. Bags on door handles so they become part of the decor. I have quite an eclectic style, it's a mishmash of everything. I could never be a minimalist."
Live in a space first before furnishing
"Our flat was part-furnished when we moved in which was perfect, as we didn't have anything ourselves. You need to live in a space first to work out what you need and what furniture will fit in. It's okay not to have everything at once. It wasn't immediate for us; we've slowly built it up over time."
Add personality with things that you love
"It's completely different [now] compared to when we moved in. I do that to any space I'm in. It suddenly becomes Zeena-fied! I love to be surrounded by things I've collected over the last 20 years or so. There's a vintage tea set, books — every object has a story. It has to feel like you. Comfortable, cosy and home. I feel like I can relax the minute I get in."
Change the easy things first
"The first thing I did was remove the highly patterned, very theatrical curtains in the living room. I didn't replace them because I couldn't find any long enough, but it was Zack's idea to hang plants off the curtain pole. It lets in more light and draws the eye up to the beautiful feature window. Then all you need is a statement pink sofa! It's all about choosing carefully and wisely, and picking things with impact."
Every space is a storage solution
"I'm quite good at utilising all corners because I hate to get rid of stuff. Zack raised the bed with wooden blocks to allow for extra storage space underneath. We keep things under the sofa. Behind the console. I stack things on top of the wardrobe in beautiful boxes. It's about using every bit of space you have."
Article written by: Natalie Wall
Photography by: Liz Seabrook