I have grown tired of my one-bedroom apartment. It started last year, when we were first plunged into lockdown. As it turns out, a bedroom, bathroom and living area is a very small space to share with a partner 24/7.
The build-up to claustrophobia was gradual – at first, spending chunks of time at home surrounded by my things felt novel, comforting even. Then the familiar became overly familiar. So we bought new cushions, swapped our coffee table and organised the linen closet. Those stopgaps worked.
This Sydney lockdown I sunk straight back into the itchy feeling of confinement, desperate for a new space, or more space. Last week marked five years in our one-bedroom rental, and now I daydream of gardens, multiple views, hours of natural light and all the ways we’d make use of two living spaces.
In response, once again, I’ve turned to making small changes so my apartment feels different. A patterned throw updates the bedroom. A replacement mattress protector makes the sheets on top seem cleaner. New candles change the way each room smells.
I’m not alone in my quest. Tegan Cone lives with her partner and a friend in a two-bedroom house. Last year during lockdown she colour-coded her bookshelf and started making her bed every day, since she was working from the bedroom. She also changed her pantry’s position to better suit a routine that included more cooking.
This time around, she’s installed curtains on the window next to her desk. They help keep the heat in and make the room feel cosier, she says.
Others have made bigger, more unexpected changes. Simon, 31, and his housemates installed a rock-climbing wall in the backyard of their rented Melbourne townhouse.
“My housemate was the main driver of this,” he says. “We would, in normal times, go rock climbing and bouldering all the time, like several times a week.
“We were lucky because we live next to the train line so already had a huge wall to build it on to.”
The project was fun, he notes, and “something to put your focus into with an end goal”. When one housemate recently moved out, the $2,000 wall went with him. It’s being installed at a house he’s building in the country.
Back in Sydney, Zui Duckers converted the back half of her garage into a music and office space. Duckers lives with her partner, baby and dog in a two-bedroom apartment, and she needed a space where she could be alone and feel creative and productive.
Her partner is a carpenter. “So spare building materials and Bunnings were our best friends,” she says. They installed soundproof sliding doors – the most expensive chunk of the $250 spent on materials – a desk, and a spare bench seat taken from their van, and painted the walls black.
Deb Saunders, a contestant with her husband Andy on The Block in 2019, made improvements to her own home during lockdown, organising and styling her pantry.
“We had some empty glass coffee jars that I recycled and used to hold food,” she says. “Then I styled the space with neutral coloured ceramics and some natural rattan baskets and food covers.”
As the interior decorator explains, small but effective changes don’t have to cost a lot. She recommends reshuffling your furniture, or painting a room or front door (if you’re renting, ask your landlord for permission first).
In lockdown, we cannot control anything beyond our balconies, courtyards, gardens and front doors. But inside, things can be organised and rearranged, decluttered and cleaned, until they are exactly how we want them to be.