I recently asked my Instagram followers what they would like me to write about and interviewee Dani Crater of The Unseasoned Wag asked me to write about how we made our blank canvas apartment in Australia our home. I am sat at our dining table as I type this, looking around at everything we have managed to create and feeling incredibly proud.
We moved from England to Australia with a suitcase each. We had the odd trinket or photograph from home, but essentially we had nothing. Whilst this was exciting, it was also terrifying. Both Jack and I had moved out when we lived in England, even though we both lived with our parents when we met, meaning that we both knew what setting up a home entailed. In England we had people to help us – here we had each other.
I won’t sugar coat it – it was hard. We had four days to find an apartment in Sydney’s chaotic and competitive rental market and then had five days to furnish it before Jack started his new job. These demands were both physically and mentally taxing, but we got through.
The first few days in our apartment were spent sleeping on the floor with no chairs to sit on – cue terrible backache for the next week! We rented a car and drove to K-Mart for homeware bits like plates and towels and for our smaller pieces of furniture like our coffee table and tv stand. At $35 each (about twenty British pounds) the quality isn’t outstanding but in all honesty you can’t tell that they cost so little. We spent our days hunched over flatpack furniture, hauling bags up three flights of stairs and getting to know the K-Mart staff well. We were covered in bruises from all the lifting and manoeuvring and Jack’s hands were cut from assembling so much flat pack. Even though things were exhausting and tough, making our first meal together to eat sitting on the floor was exciting. This was our first home together, after all.
As soon as the sofa, the bed and the mattress came, things were looking up. We could finally sit down (!!!) and had somewhere to sleep that wasn’t the floor. With the basics set up and Jack able to start work knowing that he had some sort of home to return to on an evening, it was time to make this place look less like a hotel and more like it was ours.
Back home in England, my style was very quirky – I collected skulls, my walls were filled with weird and wonderful works of art and I loved trinkets and ornaments. In Australia, our style has become much more minimalist. This is partly because we came with nothing, but also because a cosy, cluttered environment just doesn’t seem to work in this heat. You want spaces to feel breathable and airy, whereas in England the clutter adds a sense of warmth and cosines.
The apartment is very white and cream – not my style at all – so we have tried our best to introduce colour where we can. Downstairs has lots of green in it, with fake plants, a big rug, mermaid style cases and a leaf print picture on the wall. Our guest bedroom/my office is white and pale pink – inoffensive and suitable for all guests. Our own bedroom has dark wood furniture and a colour scheme of white, grey and dark purple to try add a bit of cosines. We are not interior designers, but we tried to make each room feel different and the colours work for the purpose of the room.
Now our apartment feels like home. There are a few more bits I would like, such as more frames for our photos from home, but when I look at where we started to where we are now I am incredibly hard. Setting up a new home and a new life somewhere so far away from everyone and everything you know and love isn’t easy, but don’t they always say anything worth having doesn’t come easy? Well, our life in Sydney is definitely something worth having.
Top tips for creating a home when moving country:
1. Plan your finances before purchasing anything – When you first move, chances are you will have to find somewhere to live before you have any income so planning your finances is a must. We calculated how much of our savings we would have left after our bond, rent for the first month and living expenses had been taken out and then spent half of what was left on initial costs. We only spent half because despite your best budgeting intentions, expenses come out of the blue and it is better to leave yourself with a financial ‘buffer’ than spend everything at once and leave yourself short.
2. Check what is and isn’t included in your apartment – We took for granted that apartments would come with things like a washing machine and a fridge because most rentals do in the UK but in Australia they don’t. Straight away that meant we had to spend an extra $1000 on these items. Knowing what comes included and what doesn’t means that you can budget and prepare better.
3. Furnish on an ‘as needed’ basis – We have a two bedroom apartment but our second bedroom was empty for the first two months we lived here because we didn’t need to push ourselves into furnishing it and stretch our finances. We focused on the essentials first – a fridge, a bed, a mattress and a sofa – and then we have added bits around this until everywhere is furnished.
4. Search for new furniture items wisely – It would have been easy to spend a lot of money on furniture, but as we have a visa for two years and are unsure of where we will end up next there was no point in breaking the bank with expensive items that we might have to sell or leave behind. Jack and I Googled ‘cheap furniture Australia’ which led us to Fantastic Furniture, a reasonably priced shop that sold everything from sofas to beds to dining tables. We visited the store a few times to check quality and picked out our pieces from there. Cheaper doesn’t always mean better, so I would recommend viewing furniture wherever possible.
5. Facebook isn’t just for catching up with your friends and family – Facebook Market Place is great for finding bits of homeware or furniture at a reasonable cost. Some bits can seem pricey, but we found a rug that injected colour and personality into our apartment for a cheap price. The only downside is that you often have to collect your purchase yourself, but if you have a car (or a Jack willing to carry a huge rug through Sydney in 32 degree heat) then this isn’t a problem.
6. Have reminders of home around where you can – With being on the other side of the world, you can feel a little isolated. Having reminders of home, like a teddy bear one of my old students bought me on our bed, has not only made our apartment look more homely but reminded us of everyone we love at home. The best thing Jack and I did was to print and frame photographs of those we love and miss. Those homely touches are the things that make a house a home. Don’t forget them.