It Cost $400 to Transform an NYC Rental Apartment’s Uninspired Kitchen

published Jul 25, 2023
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Small kitchen with some open shelves in NYC apartment.
Credit: Erin Derby

If Rachael Harvey, assistant membership director for a synagogue in Manhattan, had to guess the size of the kitchen in her New York City studio apartment, she says it’s roughly 20 to 24 square feet. It wasn’t just the fact that it was a super-small kitchen that posed a challenge to Harvey (who’s an avid cook) — there were only two cabinets in the entire room. But all of these factors didn’t deter her from making the necessary changes. 

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“My main, overall goal was to be able to look at my kitchen and feel excited to use it, even though it is very tiny! I hoped to increase and maximize the limited cabinet space I was given,” Harvey writes. “In addition to functionality, I aimed to make sure the renovations fit in with the rest of my apartment’s aesthetic and vibe. Color and personal touches are important to me, and I especially wanted this kitchen to reflect my personality in as many ways as possible.”

Here’s how she transformed her tiny kitchen into a practical and stylish space. 

Credit: Erin Derby

She DIYed kitchen shelves to maximize space. 

Immediately, Harvey knew that the limited cabinet space wouldn’t work for her lifestyle (she loves hosting Shabbat dinners!). So she decided to make her own storage solutions, including open shelves outside the original cabinets, under the sink, and above the refrigerator. 

Harvey purchased wood from Home Depot and Benjamin Moore primer and paint in “Meadowlands Green.” Next it was time to measure the wood, but they ran into bumps when creating the shelving against the original cabinets. Unfortunately, the brown cupboards don’t hang straight against the wall. To hang the new shelves, Harvey had to make exact measurements (which proved to be time-consuming!) and then insert wood scraps between the new and the old cabinets to ensure the new shelves were level. Once the measurements were made, it was time to cut the wood.

Looking at the finished result holding all my grandmother’s plates and dishes carefully in place made the hurdles faced during installation worth it,” Harvey shares. 

Credit: Erin Derby

Peel-and-stick floor tiles and contact paper on the walls and counters are renter-friendly ways to elevate a kitchen. 

Studio living means that one space inevitably blends into the next. So, Harvey wanted to ensure that her kitchen felt like a natural flow from the rest of the apartment. She added renter-friendly peel-and-stick tiles (just like in this space!) to the kitchen floor and contact paper to the countertops and walls to accomplish this.

“The difference from before and after is astounding,” Harvey writes about the floor transformation. “The floor area is so small, but the new tiles give it the extra pop it needs to complete the space. Installing these was more challenging than I thought because I had to measure and cut each tile perfectly to the original floor pattern. After many attempts and mistakes, I am very proud of the outcome.”

Credit: Erin Derby

She purchased innovative items to add more storage space. 

Even though most of the projects in the kitchen were DIY, she also used store-bought items to elevate her space. “The smartest thing about my kitchen is the spice rack. Instead of the spices taking up additional space on the counter or even in the cabinets, they are hung on the wall.” 

But she added her own clever flair to the spice rack by combining two of the same to make it look like a longer version. 

Overall, the kitchen makeover took 10 days and cost her around $400. Even though it was a labor of love, Harvey admits that it couldn’t have been done without the help of friends and family. 

“This project was not done all alone, and I am so appreciative of the help I received to make my tiny kitchen spring to life,” Harvey writes. “I am hoping to show others that you can still get creative in areas that might not seem so exciting at first. This project felt like a ‘true DIY,’ and I am grateful to really utilize and enjoy this cozy nook to its full potential every single day.”

Resource List

  • Peel-and-stick floor tiles — FloorPops Hudson Peel & Stick Floor Tiles, Black from Amazon
  • Lemon contact paper — Ace Hardware 
  • Spice rack — Bed Bath & Beyond 
  • Pink oranges print — Laura Supnik Art
  • Shabbat candlesticks — Ten Thousand Villages
  • Mezuzah — Camp Airy

This post originally appeared on The Kitchn. See it there: Just $400 Transformed This Tiny Kitchen into a Cozy Nook with Lots of Storage