The Insider: How to inject soul into an empty shell

A friend has just moved into a box-fresh rented flat – nice. But even with pictures up and Ikea purchases in, she said: "Looks a bit sterile, doesn't it?" It did. So how to banish that just-moved-in sheen?

Choices, choices

Resist Ikea overkill. Try (for modern classics); (online chic), (especially its statement cushions) and (oddities new and old).

Space oddity

Interiors editors hunt for homes with unique details: buy the thing that repels as much as it intrigues – try vintage taxidermy (thepeanut; unusual art (Jonathan Gould's "Bams" are an affordable risk,; or Katy Leigh's kooky plates on a wall (

Lean on me

Don't just hang pictures – prop them, overlapping, against walls.

Something old

Vintage softens sterility – but if secondhand isn't your thing, add new old-school touches from an enamel ladle set (£40) in the kitchen, say, or beautifully packaged Portuguese cosmetics (from £2.50) displayed in bathrooms.

Slim shady

Make lighting a talking point: I love's inventive chandeliers and – less pricey – Folly & Glee's vintage fabric shades (, from £25).

Outside in

Re-appropriate: a wrought-iron garden chair indoors is striking.

Hello flower

American interiors guru Martha Stewart suggests displaying flowers (or try little houseplants) in unusual food tins from cool delis.

Further reading

Decorate by blogger Holly Becker (Jacqui Small, £30) is a beautiful book of practical but quirky professional decorating tips.

Find Kate's blog on affordable interiors at