Before and After: A Renter-Friendly Kitchen Redo Fakes the Look of Painted Cabinets

published Nov 4, 2023
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When Heidi Becker, a public relations specialist at CLYDE Group, was moving into her 403-square-foot studio rental apartment in Washington, D.C., everything was perfect — except for one room. “Originally, the kitchen was your basic, run-of-the-mill studio kitchen, and the bare-boned wood cabinets and lack of personality didn’t match the rest of my colorful and eclectic apartment,” Becker shared. 

Being an adept thrift shopper, Becker looked to her collection of fantastic finds for inspiration on reimagining her kitchen. She found emerald-colored knobs that were thrifted a few years back and decided to design her new kitchen around them. “To contrast the rest of the bright colors in my apartment, I wanted to base the color scheme around the knobs and create a darker, jewel-toned kitchen,” she says. 

But because Becker lives in a rental apartment, she had to make temporary and easily removable changes if she ever wanted to move (and get her security deposit back). Here’s how she single-handedly transformed her basic kitchen.

Credit: Heidi Becker

Becker hung removable contact paper on her kitchen cabinets. 

Becker wanted to create a contrast with the colors in her kitchen, so she picked up two rolls of matte-black contact paper to temporarily hang on the kitchen cabinets. The process had its challenges, but ultimately, Becker says it was worth the trouble — and is actually quite convenient because an all-purpose cleaner easily removes any stains from the paper. Here’s how her cabinets went from drab to dramatic:

  1. She removed the existing knobs and cleaned the cabinets.
  2. She measured the cabinet frames and drew outlines on the contact paper. 
  3. She peeled off the back, non-adhesive side of the pre-cut contact paper and pasted it onto the cabinet. A pro tip from Becker is to take this step slowly and don’t remove the back until it’s stuck to the cabinet to lessen the chance of bubbles. 
  4. She used her hands to smooth out potential bubbles. 

Becker had to get a little crafty with the contact paper as the roll wasn’t wide enough to cover an entire cabinet. “On each cabinet, there are two pre-cut pieces that I lined up together, and I was surprised you can’t notice where one piece ends and the next starts unless you are looking really closely,” she said.

Credit: Heidi Becker

Peel-and-stick backsplash added contrast to the matte-black contact paper. 

Peel-and-stick tiles, whether they’re on the floor or the walls, instantly add texture and depth to a space (just look at this kitchen floor’s transformation!). And pasting the peel-and-stick white subway tiles to the wall was an even simpler project than the cabinets.

Becker started by cleaning the walls and measuring the wall space to which she wanted to attach the backsplash. Once that step was done, she copied the measurements to the tile backs and held them up to the wall before applying. 

“From there, it was pretty easy to peel and stick the tiles, and they fit together like puzzle pieces,” Becker says. “Sometimes I had to measure and cut the tiles to fit in corners or around an outlet, but it wasn’t too difficult.”

From there, accessories tied the entire redo together. Even though Becker’s thrifted knobs don’t take up all that much space, they’re one of the focal points of the transformation. “I loved the emerald color of them, and I originally was planning on using them for an upcycled dresser I was working on, but ended up storing them away for a future project,” Becker shares. 

A Wayfair rug and floating shelves from Amazon also helped to add jewel-toned colors to the space to tie the new elements together. It only took Becker a couple of days and around $250 to transform her once-boring kitchen into a fabulous space that flows with the rest of the colorful apartment. 

“The experience was slightly tedious, with a lot of measuring, cutting, sticking, and some defeating mistakes and do-overs, but overall, it was rewarding,” Becker says. “I threw on some music, poured some wine, and enjoyed the process.”

For more of Becker’s smart DIYs, check out her full apartment tour on Apartment Therapy.

This post originally appeared on The Kitchn. See it there: Before & After: Jewel Tones Transformed This Bare-Bones Kitchen for Under $250