Before & After: How a Renter Brightened Bland Kitchen Cabinets (Without Paint) for $35

published Aug 14, 2023
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White stone tile floors in kitchen with dark wooden cabinets and black countertop surfaces before renovation.

Picture it: You find your dream rental apartment and it checks every single box — except for the kitchen (which, admittedly, is a pretty big box). You’re probably already familiar with temporary ways to personalize your space — like peel-and-stick wallpaper or stickered floor tiles — but what if your cabinet doors are the problem? 

Most landlords won’t appreciate you painting your cabinets, which is a more permanent update. If you’re scratching your head wondering how to make a substantial change without losing your security deposit, we’ve got you covered. Meet: contact paper.

Self-adhesive contact paper is great for temporary changes, and is super easy to apply on flat cabinet doors. However, Katelyn Sailor, who rents this glamorous New York City apartment, had to figure out how to use contact paper on her grooved kitchen cabinet doors, which presented a definite challenge. Here’s how she tackled the project. 

How to Hang Contact Paper on Grooved Kitchen Cabinets

The first step to transforming Sailor’s cherry-colored cabinets was taking inventory of what she was working with. “Mine had an indentation with decorative grooves on each one,” Sailor said. “This caused an issue because you couldn’t simply cover the entire thing with one piece of contact paper.” 

Sailor wanted the space to feel brighter and “more like her,” so she opted for this white-colored contact paper and tool set, and got to work, which ended up being something of a trial-and-error process. Here are the steps Sailor landed on.

  1. Cover the grooves with strips and smaller pieces of contact paper cut with the X-Acto knife. 
  2. Cover the entire cabinet door with a sheet of contact paper. 
  3. Cut the top sheet of contact paper around the grooves where the first layer was applied. 

Sailor reminds us that every cabinet door is totally different, so it’s important to find what works for your specific set. “My biggest tip for renters is to test part of your cabinet with a square of contact paper for a few weeks before doing the entire project,” she adds. “I did this to make sure it wouldn’t damage the cabinets by peeling off any finish.”

Even though the project took some ingenious finessing, the transformation was worth it. “I loved being able to make renter-friendly upgrades and turn it into an entirely new space,” Sailor says. And now, you can, too! To see more of the apartment, visit the full home tour on Apartment Therapy.

This post originally appeared on The Kitchn. See it there: Before & After: How This Renter Brightened Her Bland Kitchen Cabinets (Without Paint) for $35