DIY Makeover: This renter glammed up her one-bedroom with vintage French farmhouse-style decor
The renter: Camille Lalonde, a flight attendant
The project: A one-bedroom apartment in Forest Hill
DIY budget: $500.
Camille found her apartment near Casa Loma in 2012. She had just moved to the city from Montreal with her friend Sarah to pursue a career as a flight attendant. “Even at the time, we thought the prices in Toronto were crazy, so we decided to share a one-bedroom,” she says. When she saw the gorgeous original cast-iron sink in a century-old unit in Forest Hill, she knew she had to live there.
Camille took the bedroom while Sarah took the living room, splitting the $1,000 rent evenly. When Sarah moved out two years later, Camille decided to keep the place for herself; she couldn’t part with the apartment’s old-world character, like its French doors and cast-iron radiators. The decision paid off financially too: over the past 11 years, her rent has increased by only $100.
As a flight attendant, Camille was rarely home. Initially, she treated the apartment more or less like a dormitory. “I was travelling for work and during all my time off, so I didn’t care what the place looked like,” she says. “It was filled with old IKEA furniture. I barely updated anything.” But, when the pandemic grounded all flights, she couldn’t help but notice that the place was falling apart around her.
In 2020, Camille took on her first home improvement project: transforming an awkward built-in ironing board in the kitchen into a farmhouse-style coffee nook. The board was decrepit and awkwardly sized, stretching all the way to the oven when fully extended. “It was a fire hazard,” says Camille, who sawed the board in half and purchased two staircase poles from Home Depot for $3 each, drilling them into the board to create a permanent table for her Nespresso machine.
Next, she removed the door cover from its hinges and turned the dead space into open shelving using lumber from Home Hardware. After measuring and cutting the wood to fit, she attached the planks to the wall by repurposing moulding strips from Home Depot (a technique she’d learned from her dad when he added shelves to her hall closet years earlier). Camille found the wine storage rack sitting underneath the table via the Stooping Toronto Instagram account, which chronicles covetable curbside finds across the city. She picked it up outside a restaurant on St. Clair West that was shuttering.
Not long afterward, one of the kitchen cabinets underneath her sink caved in. When Camille alerted the landlord, he agreed to fix it but said it would require renovating the entire kitchen. Loath to give up her beloved cast-iron sink for something more generic, she told him she would fix it herself if he agreed to cover the cost ($100). She ripped out the broken drawer, bought wood to add new shelves using the same technique as the coffee bar, and covered it up with a curtain sourced from Value Village, which adds a touch of European flair to the space.
Camille inherited her knack for home improvement from her family, which she describes as being “very DIY.” Her grandfather ran a reupholstering company in Montreal, and growing up, she took yearly trips with her family to source antiques in Maine. As a result, she developed a love for both bargain hunting and quaint design. “I like to mix eclectic farm style with retro pieces,” she says, pointing to the green floral chair from the 1960s and two wooden chairs in her kitchen, all salvaged from the side of the road. Many of the items in the apartment—such as the hanging egg chair in her living room—are heirloom pieces passed on from family members.
At one point, water damage in the bathroom left an unsightly stain on the wall. It still showed through several fresh coats of paint, so Camille decided to cover the wall with an elegant black-and-white print peel-and-stick wallpaper from the online retailer Wallpops ($80). “I don’t have the right to destroy a wall, so I figured wallpaper is a good way to hide defects,” she says. “Plus I like that I can take the reusable paper with me when I leave.” She used leftover paper to create a matching backsplash area behind the sink in her kitchen. “Because it’s vinyl, water can hit it all the time and there’s no damage,” she says.
Her final fix was the bathroom’s original marble floor tiles, which were cracking and uneven when she moved in and had gotten worse over time. “I kept on hurting my toes,” says Camille. She ordered stick-on vinyl floor tiles for $100 to improve their appearance and prevent any future injuries. She measured everything precisely and used an Exacto knife to cut them so they would fit around the toilet. “I caulked around it to hide the imperfections,” she says.
Unlike many renters, Camille is happy to take on ambitious projects even if they don’t turn out looking perfect. You can still see where the water bubble was on the bathroom wall behind the vinyl wallpaper, and the shelves by the coffee bar are far from flawless. “But I think that’s the beauty of it,” she says. “Nothing is ever perfect.”
Camille felt so passionate about her DIY upgrades that she’s considering a career change. She enrolled part-time in the interior design program at LaSalle College last year and hopes to take on design clients in the near future. While she doesn’t plan on living in the apartment forever—“It’s not right for two people,” she says, “so if I ever have a partner I think I will have to move”—she’s thrilled to call it home for now.