This $450 Rental Kitchen Transformation Has “Main Character” Energy

published Jun 1, 2024
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White kitchen before renovation.

Even in a studio apartment, where sleeping, working, lounging are interconnected, the kitchen tends to distinguish itself as its own separate zone — often due to a half-wall or the cabinet layout. Take this colorful, cozy studio apartment kitchen, for example, or this dark and dramatic one. They’re their own small, special spaces within already-small, special spaces. 

Renter Amaris Gonzalez (@amarisgonzalez_) calls her own studio apartment kitchen “in essence … its own nook” because it’s enclosed on both sides. Amaris’ goal was to lean into the nook vibes and make the kitchen feel cozy and warm. 

“I grew up in a very busy and very warm kitchen,” she explains. “It’s where we did our homework, unpacked groceries, threw food at siblings, and learned to cook the best meals. That theme has followed me into my late 20s, which means the current state of my kitchen needed some character and warmth ASAP. I also needed it to remain perfectly functional because my favorite pastime is to cook delicious meals.”

The “before” state wasn’t cutting it: “My kitchen was a gray and white hub when I first moved in,” Amaris says. “The space felt neglected and cold. The yellowish vinyl on the floor was really the only warmth in the kitchen.”  

A peel-and-stick wallpaper makes a statement on the back wall.

“The first thing I knew I needed to tackle was getting some color in the space,” Amaris says. “I felt that instead of building on the gray theme, I wanted to replace it with a color scheme of my choice.”

Amaris gravitates toward rich yellows, rust, and deep greens, and she says the best spot to add color in a renter-friendly way is the walls. Her lease doesn’t allow paint, so she added a gold silhouette-patterned peel-and-stick wallpaper to the largest wall in the space. 

Green tiles elongate the kitchen. 

Amaris also added a pop of green — her favorite color — to the kitchen with $40 stick-on tiles from Amazon. “The glossy finish was essential to me because it reflected the overhead light, making the kitchen feel better lit,” she says. 

“There wasn’t a cabinet above my stove, so I took that as a perfect canvas to add my peel-and-stick tile,” she adds. “I extended it to the height of the wall, which made the space appear taller and therefore bigger, which is essential in tiny NYC studios!” 

This was actually the first DIY project Amaris took on in the kitchen. “The space already started to feel alive after this first step,” she says. 

The countertops and floors also got peel-and-stick upgrades. 

After adding the tiles, Amaris added some warmth to her once-gray countertops with faux walnut contact paper. She says this creates a seamless look throughout her entire studio, where she has lots of wood furniture throughout. 

Amaris also used peel-and-stick floors; she went with black and white square stick-on tiles. “When ordering as many peel-and-stick products as I did, I had to be rigorous when calculating how much of each product I’d need,” she says. “I learned the importance of measuring for sure. I also learned different resources for me to digitally view colors, textures, and patterns that I liked.”

The cabinets got a hardware upgrade. 

Although Amaris couldn’t paint her cabinets, she could upgrade them with new hardware. “Cabinet hardware is a very low-budget way to enhance any room or piece of furniture,” she says. Buying these in bulk helped me save some money on the project instead of going and buying one knob at a time. This was important because I was fortunate enough to have a kitchen where I needed so many of them!”

Amaris says if she could change one thing about the redo, she’d also swap out the lighting — and it’s on her DIY to-do list down the line! But for now, she loves the new vibe she’s created. 

“I love the coziness in there. I walk in and immediately want to pour a cup of tea and read a book or open a glass of wine and cook homemade vodka pasta,” she says. “It’s very functional, but also dreamy and warm. It’s hard to not feel like the main character in there when I’m chopping veggies!”

Inspired? Submit your own project here.

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: This $450 Rental Kitchen Transformation Has “Main Character” Energy