This Rental Kitchen Got a $300 Makeover and Is No Longer Recognizable

updated Jul 16, 2020
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(Image credit: Dabney Frake)

This is what Tara’s kitchen looked like when she first moved in. Not too pretty, eh? With her landlord’s approval, our friends at Apartment Therapy did a light reno that didn’t cost a lot, but made a major difference in both appearance and function. Spending money on a rental isn’t for everyone — but for those of you who love to cook, have a horrible kitchen, and plan to stay put for a while, then a little investment may well be worth the time and expense.

See all the before photos: Tara’s Budget Rental Remodel: Severing Ties With a 1970s Style Kitchen at Apartment Therapy

(Image credit: Anna Spaller)

Here’s What They Did

1. Painted the cabinets black.

Painting the cabinets made the largest impact, for the least amount of money. The dark paint covered up all the weird “wood” laminate and is pretty timeless and sophisticated. And, unlike before, the now “vintage” brass cabinet pulls actually look nice against the black.

(Image credit: Anna Spaller)

2. Lowered the trim around the cabinets.

Wood strips were added to the bottom of each upper cabinet, which made the kitchen look a little more custom and covered up the unsightly cords from the undermount lights. Although you can buy something called light rail at the hardware store, for just this purpose, the AT experts used some basic pine wood cut to size and painted to match the new cabinet color. The wood was installed with just a little caulk.

More Apartment Therapy Original Makeovers

(Image credit: Anna Spaller)

3. Installed a checkerboard floor.

The team was able to stick VCT tiles right on top of the existing linoleum floor, so there was no need to rip out the old material. The black and white pattern is classic, and the durable vinyl tiles won’t need to be updated anytime soon, making them a good option for a rental.

(Image credit: Anna Spaller)

4. Hung removable wallpaper backsplash.

The one pseudo-expensive indulgence was the botanical print wallpaper, which just adds so much interest and texture that it was completely worth the cost. It’s removable, so if Tara, or the next tenant, wants to take it down at any point, no problem. Plus, this re-positionable wallpaper is easy to wipe down and works well as a backsplash.

(Image credit: Anna Spaller)

5. Added smart storage.

A series of quick projects made Tara’s space more functional. The takeaway: Add hooks, shelves, and knife racks wherever possible.

(Image credit: Anna Spaller)

6. Rearranged and reorganized.

Once they had more storage options, the AT folks went to town shifting things around and giving them a new home. They pushed the kitchen island up against the brick wall next to the fridge, which opened up the room and made it feel bigger. Lastly, they made use of the space above the cabinets, putting less-used things up above and out of the way — wine bottles, linens in a basket, etc.

(Image credit: Anna Spaller)


  • Paint and Supplies: $57.29
  • Wallpaper: $120 plus shipping
  • Flooring & Supplies: $35.79
  • Metal Rails & Bars: $43.94
  • Wood for Shelf & Trim: $22.67
  • Miscellaneous Hardware & Supplies: $43.28

Grand Total: $322.97

(Image credit: Anna Spaller)


(Image credit: Anna Spaller)

This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: $300 Later, This Rental Kitchen Is No Longer Recognizable