The 9 Best Kitchen Updates You CAN Do (When You Can’t Renovate Your Rental)

updated Nov 2, 2022
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Credit: Carina Romano

Whether you’re renting and can’t do a lot of permanent damage, or even if 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) without a reno.

1. Add a mirror

It seems like such an insignificant element to add to try and create an effect on an entire room, but adding 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.

2. Create a temporary backsplash

Even if you don’t hate the backsplash you’ve got, you can still wow without a lot of money and in a way that won’t be permanent in case you rent or are just looking for a temporary solution until you save money.

3. Disguise bad flooring

You might be tempted to take a jackhammer 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.

4. Temporary cabinet covers

Use contact paper or vinyl to create designs and patterns on your tired cabinets or make them look like a whole new different solid color with a larger piece of contact paper. 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.)

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 a lack of storage 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.

8. Add plants

Whether a small little cactus on a window sill 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.

9. Add counter space

Many times it’s not just the look of a kitchen that rubs folks the wrong way when they’re unable to do major renovations; it’s the fact that it doesn’t function that great. So consider DIYing or buying a chopping board that covers your kitchen and 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. Even look into installing a narrow shelf that can double as a workspace and a cafe counter.

Re-edited from a post originally published 12.7.14-NT