Before & After: A Thrifty DIYer Turned This Bleak, Bare-Bones Cookspace into a Fully Functional Kitchen for Just $543

updated Nov 12, 2020
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Johanna Beach's Kitchen Before

Sometimes a renovation isn’t a choice — it’s a total necessity. That was the case for DIYer Johanna Beach of At Home with Howie and her current Chicago rental kitchen, if you could even call it that. When she first moved in, the space (which is just inside the entrance of her apartment) had a fridge, a sink, a stove, and some sad, small shelving but no counters and zero cabinets. “It was … not workable,” says Beach. “If I wanted to cook and store things, I had to do something.” 

That said, the deficits in Beach’s cookspace actually made for a unique design opportunity. Whereas many rental kitchens have generic finishes and wonky layouts you can’t really improve without sacrificing your security deposit, Beach basically had a blank slate to work with. Over the past two years, she’s made a series of changes to get the room to where it is today, starting by painting the baby blue beadboard trim in Behr’s Less Traveled, a muted hunter green color, to establish a more modern color scheme.

After that, she snagged coordinating IKEA kitchen storage pieces on the cheap from OfferUp and Craigslist, which helped her gain some much needed counter space for prep work. Long open shelving seemed like a great solution for additional storage, but Beach didn’t want to have to deal with patching old holes from the current shelving. The solve? Using removable wallpaper from Spoonflower as an extra-tall backsplash to cover the holes from the previous shelves. In fact, the pretty herringbone patterned wallpaper actually looks a lot like marble tiles with gold grout lines, which makes it a great choice in this context. With the wallpaper in place, she hung two new, much longer IKEA shelves on the sink wall, which now serve as a spot for plates, bowls, and glassware. 

Fast forward to earlier this year, and Beach was ready to take on the stove wall. “I could no longer stand the crooked shelf that was there when I moved in,” says Beach. So she continued with the wallpaper backsplash concept again, covering the shelving’s original holes instead of patching them. When she ran out of wallpaper, she closed a tiny gap by cobbling together scraps. 

Then it was finally time for some cabinetry. “I lucked out — a neighbor had put out all their old kitchen cabinets — so I nabbed a new steel shelf to match the brackets on the shelves on the sink wall as well as one of the small cabinets,” says Beach. A quick coat of white spray paint later, she hung the cabinet on the wall, as well as the steel shelf above the stove, and was pretty close to calling it done. That is, until she decided, at midnight on a whim, that she should paint the backside of her front door with orange paint leftover from another project. “I have no regrets,” says Beach. “My best ideas come late at night, and it makes the whole room come together.”

Styling out the shelf above the stove with her art helped add personality, texture, and warmth to the kitchen, as did the vintage dining table and woven pendant light she hung above it. The terracotta tones in the rug she anchored the table with play well with the orange door and the pottery strewn about the space. On the whole, the kitchen feels modern but still warm and certainly not lacking life, thanks to well-placed houseplants and touches of honey colored woods.

Because Beach had all the tools and paint she needed on hand and managed to luck out with free alleyway finds, the total cost for this makeover was about $543. She spent $100 on her new shelving, about $205 on the IKEA kitchen pieces she bought secondhand during the first phase of the redo, and then $238 on the wallpaper, which she stretched by only papering part of the walls in the first place. Finally, Beach’s kitchen is fully functional and sets the right tone design-wise — clean and modern with a touch of nostalgia — when you walk into her home. “Now this is a space I like to be in,” says Beach. “It has so much personality and doesn’t look like anyone else’s kitchen.”