A creative photographer shows us all the inventive things you can do to make a home your own when you don’t own
Growing up in Temecula with an interior designer for a mother, Brittany Jarman developed a strong appreciation for a well-constructed space with good aesthetics and plenty of color.
The first time she got to put her stylish upbringing to the test was when she went away to college at Brigham Young University, where she majored in art history (and met her husband David, now a district attorney) and impressed friends with her dorm room decor.
Since then, she’s been busy. Aside from having two children—Jay, 3 1/2, and Cecelia (Cece),10 months—Brittany runs a lifestyle and wedding photography business. On the side, she’s made each of the three rentals she and David have lived in over six years feel like forever homes with design fixes, DIYing and paint.
Before her family of four moved into their current rental, a townhouse in Scripps Ranch, Brittany had a list of requirements: good natural lighting, an outdoor area, hardwood floors and all-white walls—because a blank canvas allows her to bring in character with color. And she’s not afraid of the transformative power of paint. In their previous Del Cerro rental, she used black for a master bedroom wall and a wall in Jay’s room; created a color-blocked geometric accent wall with white, yellow and mint hues; and bathed the dining nook in shades of pink.
“I’m a little bit obsessed with color,” Brittany admits. “I’ve had lots of people who follow my Instagram (@realityandretrospect) tell me that I inspired them to be more daring with it in their own homes. My philosophy is to buy what you’re drawn to and not stress about the shades perfectly matching. If you like it then you’ll make it work.”
The Del Cerro home also served as Brittany’s experimental space where she tried some basic home renovation projects—with varying results.
“Jarman [her nickname for David since college] and I tried to put linoleum flooring down in the kitchen,” she says with a laugh. “We really learned the value of patience with that project. Let’s just say it didn’t quite come out as planned.”
Three years in that home taught her a few lessons: Trial-and-error design eventually meets with success; curtains make any room look finished; and quality furnishings stay with you for life.
“When you are in a rental property, you can’t fall into the trap of living like everything is going to be temporary forever,” Brittany advises. “The majority of your furniture can’t be from IKEA for the rest of your life. If you never invest time and money into figuring out what you want your permanent home to look like then you won’t be prepared when that day finally comes.”
In Scripps Ranch (the last rental home before they buy, Brittany swears), the couple started with a foundation of large pieces they love—beds for each room, a sectional, a dining table and a sideboard.
Then Brittany worked her creative magic from the ground up, placing large rugs throughout the house that she could repurpose (the living room’s fun pink rug was a sweet accent in Cece’s nursery at the previous house).
“Rugs make a huge difference in a room,” Brittany says. “You should always have at least four large rugs in a home. They are one of the easiest ways to quickly change the feel of a space, especially rugs with a bold pattern or shade.” And they work just as effectively in rooms with wall-to-wall carpeting as they do in spaces where the floors are bare.
After that, Brittany moved on to the details. For the home’s smaller touches, she turned to her go-to shops: Target, CB2, West Elm and Etsy. (With the amount of decor she sources from them, she could not-so-jokingly be known as the stylish-but-affordable shopping guru.) She also considers Amazon an essential for saving on the little things, like light bulbs and stylish curtain rings.
“I have a strange love for curtains and their hardware,” Brittany admits. “They are always one of the first things I replace in a new home, as the originals are usually quite ugly. I found great matte black hardware on Amazon, 30 rings for $10. And super-fun, gold-dipped light bulbs that add a little extra something.”
Next on her list was lights—whimsical statement pendant lights used to great effect in all three bedrooms and the main living areas to draw the eye up and add extra dimension. To install them, she had to convert kitchen and dining room canned recessed lights. In the master bedroom, she also added funky plug-in scones.
For the kitchen, a friend in the construction business helped her sand and repaint the outdated oak cabinetry white. Brittany added stylish golden knobs with rounded edges to give them a more modern look.
The same friend also whipped up a false mantel with a wood veneer, for a simple, seamless fireplace redo—a DIY project that anyone without a friend in construction could undertake with a little help from YouTube tutorials. Brittany completed the fireplace makeover with affordable, look-like-tile decals. They were so easy to apply, she also utilized them as a quick-fix kitchen backsplash.
Over the kitchen sink, Brittany hung trendy curtains, which matched the decals’ chic black-and-white palette. She added her own twist to them by tying a loop of ribbon around each curtain end, which gave them a more structured and upscale look.
On the other side of the conjoined living space, Brittany and David put up shelving, bookended by hip mounted lights and adorned with artwork and family photos that Brittany took. To more effectively draw the eye, artwork and photos were arranged at different depths.
“Always get good art that you actually enjoy looking at,” Brittany advises. “I have found great pieces in museum gift shops, like the Rorschach prints that we had in our last place, and blown them up to create large-scale artwork.”
Upstairs, she brought in a fun green paint to help transform Jay’s room, which sometimes doubles as a guest room. The vibrant color, along with vintage children’s books and an easily added wall-hanging, were the perfect touches to create a space balanced between young and old.
In Cece’s room, open shelving provides storage for toys, books and accessories and also creates a beautiful vignette. A scroll that hangs behind the crib was done, freehand, by Brittany’s friend, Loren James, a calligrapher.
“It has the lyrics, ‘Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart,’ from Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia” on it, since it perfectly embodies Cece’s medical struggles for us,” Brittany says. [Cece is dealing with VACTERL Association, a disorder that affects many body systems.]
A storage structure Brittany placed inside Cece’s closet saves space in the townhouse. She transformed the outer doors with removable wallpaper depicting colorful peacocks.
Brittany’s friend Loren brought her freehand skills to the master bedroom as well, painting a floral motif on the wall behind the bed. A rainbow-colored book arrangement, which Brittany created on a shelf Jarman hung for her above the window, reflects the flowers’ pink and red hues.
A pink velvet chair and pendant light in the corner turn the space into the dreamy reading nook Brittany always wanted. Brittany’s arrangements of functional objects, such as books, wall sconces, stylish hats and jewelry, turn them into decor for the space.
In the master bathroom, plain oak cabinets were given life with a cool, pale mint paint and new matte black knobs. Brittany also applied her DIY prowess to the tarnished silver light strip, spray painting it matte black and adding fresh light bulbs.
With an eye for color and stylish but affordable goods, Brittany transformed this rental in creative and effective ways—ways that will serve as the formula for design bliss in her future forever home.