10 easy ways to give your rental kitchen a makeover

August 30, 2016

6sqft’s series Apartment Living 101 is aimed at helping New Yorkers navigate the challenges of creating a happy home in the big city. This week we’ve got tips on how to give your rental kitchen an inexpensive makeover.

For renters, the kitchen is often the least attractive area of their home. And this is especially true in NYC where landlords often turn to the cheapest finishes, built-ins and fixtures they can find in order to save a few dollars. But even if your apartment ultimately won’t be your forever home, there’s no reason suffer through an interior design nightmare. Ahead 6sqft highlights 10 easy and affordable ways to transform a ugly rental kitchen into a chic space—all without putting your deposit at risk.

kitchen cabinets without doorsImage by Cambria Bold

Remove upper cabinet doors ↑

Take the doors off your cabinets and put the contents on show. This simple move is an excellent way to add some personality to a space. You can also line the shelves or the back of the cabinets with patterned or colored paper to add more vibrancy, or strategically stack plates for a more curated look. Just make sure you stick to a specific color palette and that your dinnerware isn’t too eclectic, or your kitchen will just end up looking disorderly.


kitchen-cabinet-wallpaper-ideasImage credit Esteban Cortez via Apartment Therapy (l); Cabinets covered in removable wallpaper via Pinterest (c); Mondrian-inspired kitchen by Ande Bunbury Architects (r)

Wallpaper cabinet doors ↑

If you feel uneasy about stripping your cabinets of their doors and putting what’s inside on display, then consider decorating the doors with wallpaper. Use removable wallpaper or pinned pieces of cloth to create a color-blocking effect, or completely cover them in a funky pattern if you’re feeling really bold.


kitchen-before-and-after-painting-blueA Brooklyn rental kitchen before and after painting two walls

Paint one or two of the walls ↑

This is an obvious solution but still worth mentioning, as most landlords have no problem with tenants painting. Paint just one or two of your kitchen walls to create a new focal point, and use a color that complements your cabinetry. Since most kitchens have far less wall area than other rooms in the house, save money on paint by simply requesting a sample container from Home Depot or Lowe’s. These samples usually cost around $5 and hold enough paint for the average NYC kitchen.


vintage oriental rug in kitchenImage via Dina Holland Interiors

Add a rug ↑

Ugly tile or linoleum is all too common in rental kitchens. Add a patterned rug to hide the despair and brighten up the room. This also helps distract the eye from other unsightly areas of the room. We recommend getting rugs that can be easily vacuumed or washed given the high foot traffic kitchens can get. Oriental rugs are a truly chic and practical option that can easily hide spills and stains if they happen.


wood butcher's blockImage via Grothouse

Cover the countertops ↑

If you can’t stand the sight of your pink laminate counters, get permission to cover them with countertop vinyl. There are hundreds of colors and styles available, typically priced under $20 a roll. Alternatively, if you’re not interested in doing anything that requires installation, consider buying extra-large cutting boards in marble or wood and keeping them out on display. In addition to being attractive, they’re also functional.


mediterranean-backsplash-tile-stickersImages via HomeArtStickers (l); Houzz (r)

Decorate the backsplash ↑

If you have an unattractive tile backsplash that can’t be painted, use tile stickers to give them an updated look. Wallpops sells all sorts of peel and stick designs that are waterproof, humidity resistant, and easy to clean. HomeArtStickers on Etsy has a great selection as well.


Pacific-Street-Cobble-Hill-Apartment-14Image by 6sqft

Add plants, tchotchkes, or framed art ↑

Fill wall, window, and countertop voids in your kitchen with bits of decor. If you have cabinets that don’t reach to the top of the ceiling, add draping plants or use the area to store books. The latter is a surefire way to make a space look and feel more warm and personal (and you more well-read).


hanging shelves in kitchenImage by 6sqft

Display your cookware using a hanging rack or a peg board ↑

Take a cue from celeb chef’s like Keith McNally and turn your pots and pans into a focal point in your kitchen. Hanging racks are inexpensive and easy to install and they can be painted to match the rest of your decor if desired. Peg boards are also a clever idea that’s trending all over Pinterest and Instagram, and they’re a great way to introduce plants into the mix.


lawn sod drying rackThe Finell version (l); The Target version (r)

Change your dish rack ↑

This might sound silly, but if your dish rack is always on show, consider trading in that Rubbermaid for a sleek stainless steel model, or even something quirky like the above “sod” drying rack by Finell (Target also sells a less expensive, albeit much smaller, version from Boon). You’ll be surprised by the difference it makes.


kitchen with soft white lightImage via Chocolate and Chiles

Change the lighting ↑

The easiest and most impactful change you can make is swapping out your bulbs. While fluorescent light is easy to work under, it also makes every imperfection of your kitchen glaringly noticeable. Change these bulbs for those within the soft and bright white range; Your kitchen will look and feel a whole lot cozier, and you’ll still have enough functional light for food prep and other tasks. If you have a built-in lighting system that doesn’t allow that flexibility, use clamp lights to achieve strategic lighting.


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