How to make a temporary space feel like home

By Jessica Philbrick

Being between homes and between spaces is an irritation everyone has experienced, particularly in a city like Berlin, where a shortage of available housing makes moving places a frequent occurrence.

With winter swooping in and social life hours diminishing, it’s important to feel like your space is your own. Where we rest our heads at night should always feel safe, comfortable and welcoming. Yet in a temporary space, it can be difficult to feel at home.

I moved to Berlin from New Zealand with my partner about 4 months ago. We’re currently in a flat with a year-long contract after spending a month out in no-man’s-land when we first arrived. Below is a list anecdotal things we encountered while shaping up our new home that you may find helpful. Of course, if you’re really stuck for decor advice, Pinterest is always great to jump on.

The most important thing in the whole world: The Bed

Our first temporary home in Berlin was a fully-furnished summer house of a family friend. Everything we needed was there. Though we knew it was a short stay, we couldn’t get past how uncomfortable the pillows were. So, before we even completed our Anmeldung we were on a hunt for a good pillow/Kissen. To Ikea we went, multiple times, until we finally settled on some memory foam pillows for about 50 Euro a pop. Ikea has a great return policy on bedding (one whole year!), so it’s possible to take a pillow home, test it and swap it out.

Our next step, a month or so later in our new flat, was investing in a good duvet/Bettdecke and cover. Back to Ikea. We purchased a slightly grey linen cover so that we could place accents of colour around the room. Though the bedding is simple, it instantly gave our room a feeling of ownership and made the bed feel like ours. With good pillows and a comfortable duvet, we felt our foundation solidify. Not only was it a comfortable place to lay our heads each night, but we were definitely thanking ourselves when coming home at 8am on Sunday morning from the clubs. It’s 100% worth the investment.

Keeping it practical

Photograph by Jessica Philbrick

Furniture. Need I say more? Clunky and impractical for frequent movers. There’s only so much you can carry on the S-Bahn with you and a friend. For us, we were hunting out the perfect set of drawers for our clothes. Something from the Hallenflohmarkt or other markets. We wanted unique, authentic, cool etc. and it just wasn’t working out. So, back to Ikea. Good thing with buying new from Ikea, is that they deliver and can assemble for you (for a fee). We were lucky enough to borrow our flat mate’s car. Surprisingly, Ikea visits can be a fun experience. You stop for lunch in their cafeteria and act out imagery lifestyles in their showrooms. We came home with a Hemnes Kommode mit 3 Schubladen (chest of 3 drawers) for 109 Euro. Assembling the new item is another mission entirely, which you do need tools for. If you’re wanting second hand, you can also look online at ebay-kleinanzeigen.de. Which is mostly second-hand Ikea.

We did successfully find some bedside tables from the Hallenflohmarkt for 20 Euro each, which we carried home. One each on the S-Bahn with the occasional strange looks and bruises, worth every step. We’re still ignoring the fact that we may have to ship all of this home one day…

Accessories

As an artist, it was incredibly important to have art in our space. Mostly my own work that we shipped over. Adding some colour to your space or hanging things on the walls personalises your room and creates different levels for the eye to look at. I would recommend buying art from living artists, rather than mass produced art from stores. Head to some local markets, like Mauerpark, browse Etsy or ask people you know if they know artists (we’re in Berlin, they’re bound to know someone). Many emerging artists, like myself (hint hint) would be happy to sell a work for cheap, or even make a work especially for you! In regards to display, I used easy-peel wall hangers from Netto, (approx. 3 Euro for 3 hooks), so there’s no damage to walls.

Plants

Bringing the outdoors in. Succulents are the go-to. Peace Lilies are good as they help cleanse the air, look nice and are easy to take care of. You can also buy these from Ikea. Plants will be great to have during the winter so that you don’t feel too disconnected from nature, and they give you something to care for in your space. Another option could be to buy yourself a fresh bunch of flowers each time you move into a new place for an instant feeling of celebration.

Mementos

Bring a piece of home with you, something to feel familiar with. It’s important to keep elements of your home, family and culture with you to stay true to your roots. A family photo, a card from a friend, an ornament for your bedside table. My bedside table has a small bear from when I was a child next to a tiny picture of my brother and I. I moved a lot when I was younger and had many new bedrooms to adjust to. I’m rather sentimental and found that new spaces were made instantly welcoming with personal items. I may have shipped over more than necessary from home, but it has definitely helped me settle. No need to bring all your memories though, you’re here to make new ones!

Unpack! (Unless you’re staying less than a week… )

Even though you know you’ll be moving again soon, living out of your suitcase not only gives you crinkled clothes, but a feeling that your space will never be your own. We had a spare desk in our new room before getting our drawers and kept our clothes folded on top of the desk rather than crammed in our suitcases. It made the space feel just a little more functional. Alternatively, you can get DIY on some things and turn your packing boxes into cool shelves. Visit Pinterest for great ideas and get painting some funky patterns or sticking on photos.

Beyond the bedroom

Communal spaces are tough in every renting situation. We’ve moved into a fully furnished apartment (not including our bedroom) and it’s taken some time to feel like this is our home also. Something which helped was adding some bowls to the kitchen which we purchased at a market in Alexanderplatz. Don’t be afraid to add your personal touch to a communal space like a favourite mug or stack of magazines to make you feel more at home.

Photograph by Jessica Philbrick

Overall, Ikea is pretty great for some basics that you’re unlikely to have an emotional connection to. This leaves room to go hunt out the goodies at markets or purchase things from friends who are moving around too.

Although you can’t fully pimp out your space like you’re on Grand Designs every time you move, the least you can do is personalise it. Unpack your clothes, make a comfortable place to sleep and arrange some small objects and art which represent you. Go for colours and textures you like. If the space feels like you then you’re going to feel more at home – even if you’re miles away from your real one.

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