Medina Grillo (@GrilloDesigns) is an author, award-winning DIY & interiors blogger, proud renter, and creator of the #howirent series.
Medina has lived in her semi-detached, three-bedroom house in Birmingham for the last four years where she has created a loving family home that she shares with her husband and their eight-year-old son. Her Instagram is full of creativity and inspiration with great tips and DIY projects to try your hands at. But she’s not just, dare we say it, an influencer.
Describing herself as a ‘naturally introverted person’, Medina has been vocal in helping to normalise the stigma around renting and, as a Black Muslim, she has, and continues to, use her platform to challenge perceptions and stereotypes.
Here, Medina speaks to House Beautiful UK about her renting journey, redefining what an influencer means, and never being afraid to speak out.
Home & style
There’s a lot to admire about the way Medina has decorated her home, not just because it’s a rented home, but because it looks like a happy home. Characterful, colourful and defined with zones, there’s an evident black, white and mustard yellow colour palette. Above all, it’s personal to Medina and her family, and it’s where she finds joy and comfort.
‘It’s hard to put a name on my style – modern with bits of vintage and loads of monochrome and pattern with pops of yellow,’ says Medina. ‘I like modern and clean but I like the texture of vintage pieces in a home as well.
‘I always make sure I’m decorating for myself and in a way that I know is going to bring joy in the home. I try not to follow trends, but if there is a trend that you do really like, invest in it, but you need to make sure that you’re buying with intention as well, so that it’s something you’ll enjoy in years to come.’
Does the colour have something to do with this uplifting space too? Medina has always loved the colour yellow; it was her chosen bedroom colour when she was younger. ‘I love it, it makes me feel happy and very uplifted. Especially being in England, the weather is grey on most days, so it’s just a happy colour.’
The living room is one of Medina’s favourite rooms in the home. The turmeric velvet sofa from Sofa Workshop may be the star attraction, but it works harmoniously with the neutral tones and pops of yellow, grounded with black woodwork.
Medina has decorated and styled her home on a restricted budget – and with minimal waste. The clever study area beneath the stairs is a really great example of maximising space in every nook and cranny.
‘That’s what I love,’ she says in agreement. ‘My future home would probably be a bungalow because I do like the idea of small space living and really maximising each corner of your home. Because of COVID-19 and through spending more time at home, I was able to see corners in a different way than previously. Recently, I made a little reading corner in my bedroom in an alcove so I really enjoy making the most of a small space.’
Medina’s favourite DIY project is her feature staircase, painted black with carpeted treads, and risers painted black and stencilled with numbers. ‘When I first moved in the stairs were a horrific brown colour and the carpet was really worn and tattered, so I asked my landlord if I could paint the banister and just do up the stairs a little bit, and he said yes.’
Medina is a proud renter. In the UK, the number of households living in the private rented sector increased from 2.8 million in 2007 to 4.5 million in 2017, an increase of 1.7 million (63 per cent).
‘My house is rented but I have a really accommodating landlord, to be honest. A lot of the things I’ve done to the house I would say they’re quite superficial, so if I had to move again I’d have to change certain things back, but on the whole he’s really easy-going.’
How I Rent is Medina’s popular video home tour series, shining a spotlight on rented homes in the UK and championing renters who decorate, whilst providing a ‘safe space’ and opening up a conversation about the stigma around renting, as opposed to home ownership.
‘When I started sharing my home on Instagram, although there was a renters community, there wasn’t a specific one and a lot of people weren’t as open with it and I think I know why. For me personally, whenever I shared my home I would get questions like “why are you decorating? It’s not your home, what would your landlord say?”. I don’t think people intentionally meant to be negative, but it was quite negative, so a lot of people just didn’t say they were renting.
‘How I Rent is a place where renters can come together and talk about renting, and how it affects them without having to feel guilty that they’re renting, because I guess in this society there’s an idea that you need to have owned a house by a certain age, and if you don’t own a house you’re not as successful as the next person.’
Personally, Medina is very keen to challenge these perceptions and stereotypes, and showcasing her home on Instagram plays a big part in that. Born in Croydon, London, Medina spent most of her childhood living as an expat with her family in the Middle East. She moved out of her parents’ house at the age of 21 and has been renting ever since.
‘Owning a house is great but it’s just not an option for everybody and that needs to be spoken about a lot more. From private renting to social housing, there are so many stereotypes that needs to be challenged,’ she explains. ‘For some people it’s a stop gap until they can buy a home, for others living in social housing is most likely forever, and some people just like renting because it gives them more flexibility.
‘I’m very comfortable, I have a good landlord, and I’ve created a home that I really love. I’ve always said, love the home that you live in regardless of whether you own it or not.’
According to the English Housing Survey Home ownership report (2017–18), social renters spend on average 11.9 years living in their home, compared to 4.1 years for private renters. In contrast, owner occupiers are likely to stay in their home for 17.8 years.
‘I think I’ll probably be here for quite a while,’ says Medina. ‘When I first started my renting journey it was all about saving, saving, saving, but I was also missing out on the now, and I didn’t want that to be my situation now, so if that happens in the future, that’s great, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It’s not at the forefront of my mind anymore.’
Home Sweet Rented Home
It’s been more than a year since the release of Medina’s first book, Home Sweet Rented Home: Transform Your Home Without Losing Your Deposit. Chapters start with a personal experience that Medina has had as a renter, and includes DIYs and simple tips for renters with different kinds of landlords. It’s a book Medina only wished she had at the start of her renting journey.
‘When I first started renting I wouldn’t decorate at all, I would just leave the house as it was because I told myself I was going to save my money for a deposit to finally get my forever home, but then years went by,’ Medina explains. ‘It becomes increasingly difficult to save your money and I had my son as well, so the fact that I kept putting it off just meant I was living in houses that I didn’t really enjoy.’
Medina describes it as coming back from work and living ‘in a box’ that she didn’t like: ‘One day I thought, I need to change this and just invest in a space that we can all enjoy, and that’s what I did.’
Grillo Designs blog
Medina has 162,000 followers (and counting) on Instagram. Her popularity on the photo and video sharing app today stems way back to October 2015, when she started the Grillo Designs blog as a hobby. Actually, prior to the website, it was a simple Facebook page where Medina would share daily DIYs, and soon enough she was getting requests to start a blog.
‘Grillo Designs just started up as a way to share my creative DIY,’ Medina explains. ‘It was a creative outlet because at the time I was working as a nurse and midwife. It was quite a stressful job and I’ve always been very creative but I never felt I had the time to put that creativity into something.’
With a focus on affordable and creative ways to decorate a home, Grillo Designs gained popularity over the next few years. Medina went on to win some blogging awards (including the Amara Interior Blog Awards) and her brand continued to skyrocket. By June 2019, Medina had quit her job in the NHS.
‘Last year I just thought, I really enjoy doing what I do and maybe it’s time to quit my day job and just focus on this full time. So last year in June I quit, I also wrote Home Sweet Rented Home during that year, and now I’m blogging, doing writing, working with brands and creating content full time. It’s been good,’ she says.
Medina admits that it has taken some adjusting to, explaining that there are good days and bad days, but by her own admission, she is now making money doing something that she loves.
The good and bad of social media
Instagram is a great way to connect, get inspiration and feel part of a community, but social media breaks are always recommended for positive mental health and wellbeing.
‘When I feel like I’m becoming a bit pressured or comparing myself to other people, or if I’m feeling that it’s becoming a bit toxic, I actually take breaks when that happens, and I put my phone down and take time off,’ she says.
One such example was in June following the murder of George Floyd, the reignition of the Black Lives Matter movement and subsequent protests, and the discussions around institutional racism.
‘There was a lot of noise on social media in general and what a lot of people don’’t understand is that especially when you’re a Black person, and people are talking about racial issues, a lot of us have experienced it and it’s quite traumatic,’ Medina explains.
‘I’ve now set myself to have Fridays and Saturdays off Instagram completely and then the rest of the week on Instagram. It is my job at the end of the day, and I guess sometimes you do need days away from your job. The pressure is always there because it’s a visual platform, but I think it’s really important to step back and reflect on why that is becoming an issue.’
What is an influencer?
Instagram is now a popular source of income for content creators. Influencer marketing is its own flourishing industry and some influencers are using their platform to discuss current affairs and everyday activism. What does an influencer really mean anyway? Medina’s somewhat redefining it:
‘When I first heard the word “influencer”, I thought it was cringe. I don’t like the idea that I’m just going to be known for influencing someone to do something. Although it’s not a name I would call myself now, I don’t cringe as much when people refer to me as an influencer. I’ve just come to a point where I’ve realised that we as individuals need to reflect on what we are influencing and that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, it could be a positive thing.
‘As we’ve seen recently, a lot of influencers have been speaking up about racial injustices – I think we can use our influence in good ways like this to spread awareness. It shouldn’t just be the superficial things like, “look at my new sofa or my new cushion”, it has to be in a way that is doing good and also impacting people in a positive way. As individuals we’re so multifaceted that we shouldn’t just be expected to speak about just one thing. I’ve been saying that for years.’
And so Medina is adamant that she will continue to use her voice to highlight and discuss social issues, alongside her beautifully curated feed.
‘On my Instagram, my passion will always be interior design, but if I know that I can help a movement, especially the one that we are seeing now, which I think is one of the biggest movements I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, we should really be helping to drive that movement forward.
‘A lot of people are resistant to talking about racial matters. They are more open to it now because it’s quite on trend, but when it wasn’t, people didn’t want to hear that. It shouldn’t just be Black people who are talking about it, it should also be non-Black people as well who are helping to push that message across.’
Diversity in interior design
Like many other industries, diversity and inclusivity within interior design has been widely discussed in recent months.
‘The lack of diversity in interior design has been a problem for a very, very, very long time and I personally feel that it seems to only have been talked about since the recent Black Lives Matter movement,’ says Medina. ‘It’s something I’ve spoken about for years on my Instagram and I know a few other people have as well. It has not always been met with a positive reception because a lot of people don’t understand why it’s needed.
‘A lot of the time we’d see judging panels, interior design discussions or magazines just completely white women and middle class and you’d have to make a lot of noise just to say that we matter as well.’
What happens next is the most important step, and Medina, like many others, hopes that real change does actually happen.
‘I’m glad that it is now being spoken about and I just hope that it’s a change that will be meaningful and that it’s going to help amplify Black voices, especially because a lot of the time we aren’t as visible, especially on Instagram,’ says Medina. ‘Even during Blackout Tuesday, I found so many Black interior accounts that I had never even seen before.
‘I’m slightly weary but I’m also happy at the same time that Black people in general are being given an opportunity to speak their mind and be included.’
Medina’s favourite home retailers:
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.
In need of some positivity or not able to make it to the shops? Subscribe to House Beautiful magazine today and get each issue delivered directly to your door.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io