Whether you're renting and can't do a lot of permanent damage, or you own a house but just don't have a budget to tear everything out and start from scratch, you can still make impactful changes and additions that will make your kitchen quite a bit nicer to look at (and nicer to use, too).
Here are some of the best things you can do.
1. Add a mirror.
It seems like such an insignificant element to add, but having a mirror in the kitchen achieves all sorts of visual positivity. It's an unexpected element in the kitchen so it instantly makes a statement. If you have a window, it'll help spread the light around. If you don't have a window, it'll be even more vital for reflecting what light you do have.
Read more: 7 Kitchens Made Better With a Mirror at Apartment Therapy
2. Create a temporary backsplash.
A lot of times, rental kitchens don't have any sort of backsplash — just beige-painted drywall. If installing tile is out, you can hang some temporary wallpaper, put up some vinyl decals, or even consider painting some tile-like pattern yourself.
Read more: 15 Ideas for Removable, DIY Kitchen Backsplashes at Apartment Therapy
3. Disguise bad flooring.
You might be tempted to take a jack hammer to whatever awful flooring your kitchen came with, but you can disguise it to save money and not do anything permanent, while still improving the look underfoot. Also, you can always put down a rug!
Read more: 5 Ideas for Hiding or Minimizing an Ugly Floor on Apartment Therapy
4. Cover cabinet doors.
Use contact paper, temporary wallpaper, or vinyl to give your old cabinets a new life. Just make sure you'll be able to remove whatever product you use without damaging the cabinet material.
5. Take doors down.
You might not have the chic, all-natural, floating open shelving you dream of just yet, but you can fake the look by strategically removing the doors on a few of your upper cabinets. (If you rent, just remember to keep track of the changes you make if you'll be responsible for putting things back when you move out.)
See more of this space: Kerry's Fun French Quarter Apartment at Apartment Therapy
6. Update hardware.
I once lived in an apartment with these metal cabinets with metal handles that had all been painted over with the same boring paint color, but one day I removed the handles, took the paint off, and had a whole new kitchen look! (With landlord permission, of course.) Never doubt the power of a simple update with new or new-looking hardware.
7. Add more storage.
It's not just the aesthetics that can make living in a kitchen you can't renovate kind of miserable — it's a lack of usable and accessible storage. So add those magnetic wall-mounted knife blocks and hanging pot holders. Or use organization tools to make your cabinet storage smarter.
Get more ideas: 10 Ways to Create Storage in a Small Rental Kitchen
8. Add plants.
Whether a small little cactus on a windowsill or a giant overflowing ivy on top of the upper cabinets, plants always add life and interest to a kitchen space and might make you forget you can't tear your terrible countertop out.
Try any of these: 8 of the Best House Plants for the Kitchen
9. Add counter space.
Don't have a ton of space do your prep work? Consider DIYing or buying a chopping board that covers your kitchen sink or stove when you're not using them to add extra space to work. Or invest in a rolling cart that's at a height you can work at. Or look into installing a narrow shelf that can double as a workspace and a cafe counter.
This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: The 9 Best Kitchen Updates You CAN Do (When You Can't Renovate Your Rental)