Rent or buy? It’s the question most of us face at different times in our lives. These 6 homeowners around the world opted to buy, not only for financial reasons but to have a place they could call their own and tailor to their tastes. Step inside these residences — in Sydney, Moscow, San Francisco and more — and see what these first-time buyers have done to turn their new houses and apartments into homes.
Homeowner 1: Amelia Hallsworth Photography, original photo on Houzz
Shared-Ownership Flat in the U.K.
Who lives here: Stefanie Loveless, 34
Occupation: Interior designer
Location: Brixton district of London, England
Size: 624 square feet (58 square meters)
Year bought and why this property: In 2014. “I’ve lived in this area for four years and really wanted to stay in south London,” Stefanie Loveless says. “When I saw this flat was for sale, I jumped at the chance, as it’s a vibrant area with lots of cafes and restaurants, plus good transport links. It also has the outdoor spaces of Clapham Common and Brockwell Park nearby.”
Why buy: “Rent in this area became unaffordable. The previous flat I was living in was falling apart, and I just didn’t want to move into another rented property. So I decided to take part in the government-run shared-ownership scheme, where I part own, part rent the flat. I have a mortgage on the percentage I own, and I pay rent to a housing association on the remaining percentage.
“I love it! Everything is new, clean and working, and the best part is that it’s mine. There are obviously some rules I have to adhere to in living in shared-ownership accommodation, such as no pets, but that’s fine as a first-time buyer.”
Favorite piece or feature: “I like how the dark blue feature wall in the kitchen contrasts against the white units and the Ikea picture shelves, where I display [cookbooks] and photos. I chose a Zoffany’s Velvet Blue paint for this to add some depth and mood. I also love the balcony; it’s such a premium in London to have a bit of outside space where I can grow my herb garden and spend sunny Sunday mornings outside. The large living room windows allow me to gaze out there even if the weather’s not so good.”
Design style: “Modern with a quirky, colorful twist. I really like the American penthouse look, yet also enjoy mixing brass and bronze and warm colors together, and I also love the works of Suzy Hoodless and Waldo Works.”
What’s next: “When I first moved into the flat, I was still on a tight budget, so everything is furnished from eBay or Freecycle. Having lived in it for a year, I’d like to update some pieces of furniture and get a drinks [cart] and a console table. I’d also like to start collecting some artwork to put up on my bedroom walls.”
Homeowner 2: Le Klein, original photo on Houzz
Updated Building in San Francisco
Who lives here: Lauren Smith, 28, and Andy Muesse, 29, and their French bulldog, Beatrice
Occupations: Smith is an interior design student and blogger; Muesse is vice president of product at Internet media company Gree.
Location: Lower Haight/NoPa neighborhood of San Francisco, California, United States
Size: 1,000 square feet (93 square meters); two bedrooms, one bathroom, plus a converted attic
Year bought and why this property: “March 2013. Location was one of the biggest factors: We’d lived in this neighborhood before and loved it, so finding a home here was important to us,” Lauren Smith says. “With the San Francisco housing market being so competitive, there weren’t too many options in our budget and also in our preferred neighborhood, so that made it easy when narrowing it down. We also loved that the building itself was more than 100 years old but had recently been renovated with updated features and appliances in both the kitchen and bathroom.”
Why buy: “We wanted to invest in equity and not feel like we were throwing money away for rent every month,” Smith says.
Favorite piece or feature: “I love all the beautiful details, such as the original wooden floors, built-in cabinets and bookshelves, brick fireplace and stained glass window,” Smith says. “They give our home character without it feeling overwhelming or dated, like an oppressive artwork or tacky piece of furniture. Historical touches and character are very important to me and help inspire my choices when decorating a space. I also love the views from our back windows — on a clear day, you can even see the tippy-top of the Golden Gate Bridge.”
Design style: “Clean, simple, classic. I love mixing trendier pieces with eclectic ones, and one-of-a-kind treasures with cheaper, discount store finds,” Smith says. “We love to travel, so are always pulling inspiration from our adventures around the world.”
What’s next: “We would love some type of outdoor space and are looking into building a deck out from the converted attic, directly above our bedroom,” Smith says. “Much farther down the road, it would be nice to turn the converted attic into a master suite, and having the deck expand from that would not only be incredibly pleasant to wake up to every morning, it would also help increase the resale value.”
New-Build Apartment in Russia
Who lives here: Owner Anna Kalinina, 22; her friend, Kirill Karpunin, 23; and her cat, Foster
Location: Moscow, Russia
Size: 667 square feet (62 square meters)
Year bought and why this property: “In 2010, when I was still studying at Moscow Architectural Institute,” Kalinina says. “I just liked this new-build house and the area where it’s located for its good infrastructure and proximity to the river and a lovely park with amusement zones. The apartment itself was a blank canvas to create whatever you wanted. I found it intriguing.”
Homeowner 3: Olyga Shangina Photography, original photo on Houzz
Why buy: “If you have the chance to buy something, it’s always much more profitable than renting. This apartment was the first place I’d lived on my own. When my mother and I bought it, I was still studying architecture at the university and was already planning to work in interior design in the future. So I designed and refurbished the place together with my mum, who is also an architect.”
Favorite piece or feature: “The table behind the sofa in my living room. I made it from a kitchen countertop and three pairs of chrome-plated legs from Ikea. I like its irregular proportions and the way that helps it fit in the layout. It’s very comfortable for working at as well.”
Design style: “My mum and I agreed to give it an eco style, so we mainly used natural materials and colors. To increase this atmosphere, we covered part of the living room ceiling with wooden boards to make the interior more dynamic. In the bedroom, I made a headboard with cushions, which adds volume and rich textures to the space.”
What’s next: “I would really love to start another renovation. First of all, I would change the living room. I’d like to paint it and probably introduce a new, darker shade or cover a wall with wood. Also, I’d like to create a long, G-shaped working surface to replace the existing table that will merge with a bookcase.”
Avant-Garde Family Home in Japan
Who lives here: Takanori Manago, 30; his wife, Yuko, 32; and their three children, ages 5, 3 and 6 months
Occupations: Takanori is a corporate manager; Yuko is self-employed.
Location: Yokohama, Japan
Size: 1,700 square feet (158 square meters); four bedrooms
Year bought and why this property: “We bought the plot in 2011, but the building wasn’t completed until 2013,” Takanori Manago says. “A few years after we got married, we began to think of buying a house. We were both big fans of a popular TV program called <em>Atsushi Watanabe’s Tatemono Tanbou (House Tours).</em> We used to check the name of the featured architect in the closing credits, and that’s how we found architect Kazuhiko Kishimoto of acaa. We paid him a visit and asked if he would design a house for us. Our request was to create a unique home where I could relax while my wife runs a gallery.”
Homeowner 4: acaa, original photo on Houzz
Why buy: “My wife and I grew up in Mie, a region far from Tokyo, so we wanted to have our own home in the Tokyo area. I also wanted to have my own family house before I turned 30. As I have some financial knowledge through my job, I believed that if I wanted to buy a house, I should do so while I was young.
“In addition, we once visited the house of a senior colleague of mine that amazed us. It was a very stylish wooden house, the perfect place for the owner, who enjoys playing music. We determined that our house should have a unique design like that, perfectly customized to our lifestyle.”
Favorite piece or feature: “I like that the house is an open, fluid space full of stairs and different levels,” Yuko Manago says. “Also, wherever you sit becomes a spot to relax.”
Design style: “We like simple, minimalist style with a touch of natural wood,” Takanori says.
What’s next: “We change the decoration quite often,” Yuko says. “Recently, we have replaced the books in the shelves in the living room with our new collection of natural rocks. Basically, I like decluttering, because I want to live in a comfortable space. My motto is to throw away one existing item if you’ve bought something new. Lately, my children have started to do the same!
Feminine and Eclectic Flat in Australia
Who lives here: Charmaine Viscayno, 28
Occupation: Public relations and youth engagement specialist at Andpeople
Location: Zetland, a suburb of Sydney, Australia
Size: 818 square feet (76 square meters)
Year bought and why this property: “June 2012. At the time, Zetland wasn’t really on my radar in terms of buying a property, as I didn’t know much about the neighborhood,” Charmaine Viscayno says. “In recent years, however, it’s been gentrified. I wanted to be close to the city center, beaches and parks, and I thought it was a great location which I could see myself living in. The building was still relatively new when I bought the apartment, so I had a near-blank canvas to work with and transform.”
Why buy: “Being able to buy my own place was something I didn’t think would be possible at the time. But a girl I worked with was looking to buy, and after speaking to her, it sparked the idea that maybe I could do the same. I also had some sound advice and initial help from my parents, which is more than I could have hoped for. The property market was actually quite reasonable at the time compared to what it is now! And after looking at some options, it just felt right.”
Homeowner 5: Sushiiphoto, original photo on Houzz
Favorite piece or feature: “The dining table. It was the first piece I bought for the house, and at the time, I hadn’t even properly measured the space or worked out where it was going to go. But I knew I would make it work somehow. It ended up being the perfect size. I was drawn to the fact that it had a story: It had been refurbished in France and brought back to Sydney via a collector. Besides, my favorite color is pink. I also got to pick out mismatched chairs, which I enjoyed doing.”
Design style: “My overall style keeps changing. I wouldn’t necessarily define it as one theme, but I do like the idea of collecting items to make the home feel lived-in. My style has a certain structure: I don’t necessarily get drawn to designers, and I like it when pieces have interesting stories. Also, I think my personal interests in film, music, art and fashion have played a huge role in the aesthetics.”
What’s next: “My next focus is to design the balcony space — I still haven’t found the right table and chairs. At the moment, it’s a nice place to sit and relax, but it would be great to incorporate a dining element too. There are currently a lot of plants on display, and they dominate the area. I would like to keep them, as it has taken me a while to build them up. Ideally I’d like a table setting that doesn’t draw attention away from them.”
Homeowner 6: Pepa Casado D’Amato, original photo on Houzz
Restored Apartment in Spain
Who lives here: Mónica Álvarez, 38; Héctor Serrano, 40; and their two children, ages 5 and 3
Occupations: Álvarez is a hairdresser; Serrano is an industrial designer
Location: La Petxina, Valencia, Spain
Size: 1,507 square feet (140 square meters) with a 431-square-foot (40-square-meter) terrace
Year bought and why this property: “In December 2013, when we were just back from living for more than 10 years in London,” Héctor Serrano says. “We liked it because it has a lot of character. It’s an old house with high ceilings, original beams, clay vaults and exposed brick walls. All these beautiful features were hidden behind false ceilings and plaster walls. They were brought to light during the renovation and are an important part of the house character.
“We also liked that it’s very bright — as both north and south facades are pretty clear areas outside in spite of being in the middle of the city — as well as the large terrace.”
Why buy: “We wanted our home in this area of the city, but the most important thing was that we wanted it in our own style. It was impossible to find something like that to rent. Also, it was the right time,” Serrano says.
“We spent years in London in a rented house, because we didn’t know how long we’d stay,” Mónica Álvarez says. “When we moved back to Valencia, we were completely sure that we wanted to stay for a long time in this city, maybe a lifetime, so we started looking to buy.”
Favorite piece or feature: “There are many pieces of decoration in the house that we like, but perhaps our favorite is the Carmen pendant light over the dining table,” Serrano says. The light, visible in the first photo, is one Serrano designed for the Italian company FontanaArte. It’s made of metallic scales in the shape of a flower.
Design style: “Clean, simple and functional,” Serrano says.
What’s next? “We would like to change the flooring, but there’s a little bit of controversy in that. While Monica would prefer a warm wooden one, I’d like to go for micro cement to highlight the character of the clay vaults and aged wooden beams. We also would like to upgrade the bathrooms and create proper shade on the terrace to make it more comfortable.”
Article written by Houzz