Before and After: This $200 Rental-Friendly Hack Fakes the Look of Pricey Built-Ins

published Mar 10, 2023
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About this before & after
Home Type
Skill Level
Rental Friendly
white cabinet in corner of the room, before makeover

If you’ve got an awkward alcove or corner in your home, installing built-ins is one way to give that space purpose. But if you’re a renter, a project of that scope might not be possible — so instead, bookmark this project by Johanna Nauts (@johihome) to make effective use of the space.

“My whole living room was white when I moved in,” Johanna explains. “I thought it looked a bit bland and cold.” Johanna had symmetrical nooks on either side of the living room’s chimney, and she wanted to add more impact (and storage) in one of those inset corners.

“I wanted my living area to feel really homey,” she adds. “I felt like adding some color and putting energy into my space would be good for my mood.” Her project cost about $200 USD ($150 for the cabinets and $50 for the bucket of paint). Here’s how she did it.

“I started with choosing the right color,” Johanna explains. “After much deliberation, I painted the walls pink.” (She used European brand Alpina Paint No. 41.) Then, it was time to add storage. Johanna measured the walls and did some calculations to figure out exactly how big her cabinets needed to be if she wanted to use three of them for a built-in buffet effect. She was able to find cabinets online that fit snugly; each one is just under 2 feet wide.

“I usually thrift a lot of my items, but I needed the sizes to be pretty exact, so I ordered them new,” she says. “I bought the cabinets on sale from a Belgium website, but IKEA has similar cabinets from the IVAR line.”

Johanna assembled the cabinets first, then taped over the inner hinges and hardware before pulling out her paint. She set the cabinets on top of cardboard to account for spills and drips, then primed the pieces before following with the same pink paint from the walls. To finish them, she used leftover varnish from a different project.

Matching the cabinet color to the wall color behind them — and choosing furniture pieces with such an exact fit — makes the whole assembly look like a built-in piece. But unlike a built-in, Johanna can take this with her if she ever moves.

While using the same paint for both the walls and the furniture was a money-saver, Johanna says she would do things differently next time. “I would use a wall paint that has a matching varnish paint in the same color so I don’t have to layer three different products,” she says of using three different brands of paint, primer, and varnish.

The furniture paint project was a first for Johanna, who admits that she made a couple mistakes along the way. “When I assembled the first cabinet, turns out I had already nailed the back piece of the cabinet to the front of the cabinet,” she recalls. “I only figured that out by the end, when the last pieces didn’t fit, so I had to take out about 15 nails again. I also accidentally varnished some dust and cat hair onto the cabinet. So no matter how well I clean, there will always be some dust on the cabinet.”

But, small details and an assembly misstep aside, Johanna loves her new pink corner. Her final takeaway is to “go for it: use a bright colors that you feel drawn to,” she says, and “thrift the accessories, or make them.” Two DIY details you might not notice on first glance are the little candle stick holders, which Johanna crafted herself from white clay.

“The space now makes me feel happy and cozy,” she says. “I also feel proud that I put my own personality in the space.” And not only is the space more fun to look at, it’s more fuctional, too! “I like all the different shelves,” Johanna adds. “It makes organizing items really easy. I have a designated tea cabinet and a wrapping paper cabinet.”

Cute, colorful cabinets that corral clutter FTW!