Projects & Improvements

Before and After: A Rental Kitchen Keeps Its 1960s Cabinets in This $600 Refresh

published Apr 7, 2023
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About this before & after
Home Type
Project Type
Mid-century Modern
Skill Level
Rental Friendly
Kitchen before renovation.

If you’re a renter looking to make upgrades to a blah kitchen, there’s good news, and there’s bad news. We’ll rip the bandage off with the bad news first: You can’t shift the layout of your cabinetry, upgrade your appliances, install new countertops, or rip up the flooring — at least not without major repercussions from your building’s owner. Even if you did get permission from your landlord to take on these projects, you’ll never recoup the money spent on new cabinetry, appliances, counters, or floors the way a homeowner would on resale.

The good news? You’re not totally out of options for making a so-so kitchen stylish. Peel-and-stick upgrades, new hardware that fits into existing holes, and renter-friendly cabinet hacks are your friends. In remaking his own rental kitchen, Taylor Jordan (@ktaylorjordan) relied on all three.

Notably, Taylor decided to work with his existing wood cabinets — a trendy design choice! — and lean into a more mid-century look. “I really liked the original cabinets, so I let them dictate the types of colors I would use: cool darker tones to complement the light, warm wood tones,” Taylor explains.

In the two biggest pieces of the project, Taylor added deep green geometric vinyl floor tiles and a peel-and-stick black subway tile backsplash

The new floors and backsplash “took patience and an understanding that they may not end up perfect, especially when I was installing them for the first time,” Taylor says. But the hardest part of the project was just finding a way to work with what was there. “This is a rental, so the stove and refrigerator had to stay,” Taylor notes. “The granite countertops had to stay.”

Taylor says the peel-and-stick upgrades made the biggest visual difference in the space, but smaller changes, like adding renter-friendly lighting under the cabinets and replacing the knobs on the cabinets “were easier projects that were pretty impactful.”

If you’re someone who has been hesitant to personalize your own rented home, let Taylor’s project inspire you to make the leap. “Rental transformations are possible,” he says. “It is still your space for as long as you live there. Make it feel like yours. As long as you are willing to put whatever time and energy may be required into removing updates when you leave, go for it!”

And Taylor is certainly glad he put time, energy, and about $600 into his space. After eight years of living there, “the kitchen finally doesn’t ‘look’ like a rental,” he says. “It is still very mid-’60s, which is when the apartment was built, but I feel the space has more character now.”

The only thing he’d do differently? “I wish I had rolled up my sleeves earlier and done the biggest projects sooner,” he says. 

Inspired? Submit your own project here.