10 Easy, Low-Budget Ways to Improve Any Kitchen (Even a Rental!)

Rental Kitchen Solutions

I'm always so inspired by dream kitchens like this cottage kitchen in Maine or any one of these gorgeous, glamorous spaces. I appreciate the details, materials, the layout, all the finer things that make it special and swoon-worthy. But most of us probably don't cook in our dream kitchen. Instead, we deal with our kitchens' quirks and inconveniences on a daily basis.

Thankfully, your kitchen can still be a place that you love and cherish, a place you enjoy, not merely tolerate. These 10 small changes are easy upgrades, but they'll go a long way towards making you feel more organized and uplifted in your kitchen.

1. Add or change lighting.

If the lighting in your kitchen is dim, or you hate the overhead fixture, change it! Switching out an overhead light fixture is much easier than it sounds. It doesn't have to be super expensive, either. I bought a vintage light fixture for $20 on Etsy, but before that I was eyeing a few options at IKEA. Don't forget about under-cabinet lighting! That might be all you need to feel like you've seen the light, literally.

2. Change drawer or shelf liners.

When was the last time you changed those shelf liners? Or maybe you don't have any at all. Laying down a fresh non-stick liner will a) give you an opportunity to take everything out of your cabinets and put them back in an organized way, and b) clean the cabinet or drawer so you start out fresh. There are simply so many uses for a non-slip liner. Bonus tip: You don't have to stick with white. My favorite non-stick liner is this non-adhesive version from Duck ($11.49 from Amazon). I have it in black, and I love how it looks. For drawers, you could also insert oil cloth.

3. Add a rug.

I used to have ugly, grey laminate floors in my kitchen, and it made a huge difference when I first put down a red 4'x6' cotton rug a couple years ago. I've since upgraded to FLOR tiles which were easy to install. I vacuum them frequently, and they've held up well.

4. Replace the faucet.

This is a very simple, straightforward way to upgrade your kitchen, particularly if it's a rental. Really, anyone can do it! Yes, faucets can get pretty pricey, but as Faith wrote here, you can find single-handle faucets for as low as $80, and nicer, high arched faucet spouts for about $150 - a small investment for something you use multiple times a day.

5. Update the hardware.

Switching out your old knobs or pulls for something more modern or decorative can really really transform the look of your cabinets, particularly if they're bland contractor-grade.

6. Add pull-out shelves and/or drawer organizers.

Sliding shelves and organizer inserts go a long way towards making you feel a little more in control of your kitchen. A few of our favorite sources for inserts and organizers include IKEA, The Container Store, simplehuman, and Rev-a-Shelf.

7. Add more storage space with small wire shelves.

Wire shelves and under-cabinet baskets make sure you're using all the space available in your cabinets, and even your fridge and freezer. We love these double cabinet shelves ($8.49 from The Container Store) and these under-shelf baskets ($6.99 from The Container Store).

8. Get a great dish rack.

I went through two replacements of a cheap wooden dish rack from IKEA, which warped and cracked both times, before I settled on a heavy duty dish rack from SimpleHuman. I've had it for a few years now, and it's held up under even the highest mound of drying dishes, which made it worth the price. As someone without a dishwasher, it makes a big difference to have a reliable dish rack, not to mention it looks nice sitting on the counter. (When I can see it, that is. As mentioned, it's often hidden under a mound of pots, pans, and dishes!)

9. Cover ugly countertops.

Putting in brand new countertops is not a small change. So to improve on what you have, try one of these tips: if you're a renter and can't make any permanent changes, top a portion of your countertop with a big, handsome cutting board. It's functional and good-looking!

If you're not a renter and are feeling ambitious, you can try painting your countertops.

10. Swap out the switch plates.

Faith and I have both swapped the dirty, dingy white switch plates in past and present kitchens for stainless steel ones. As Faith wrote here, there's something really effective about this small change. "The stainless steel plates are easier to clean, and they often lie flatter to the wall than the old plastic ones." If you want to go fancy, you can find decorative switch plates from places like Anthropologie, or you could DIY a decorative switchplate with pretty washi tape.

Originally published 2.6.2013

(Image credits: Leela Cyd; Faith Durand; Emma Christensen; Gracewood Design; Chris Perez; Martha Stewart; Simplehuman; Sara Kate Gillingham; Laure Joliet; Cambria Bold; Stoffer Photography)