Before and After: This Rental Kitchen Redo Features Clever DIYs for Tiny Spaces

published Aug 12, 2023
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About this before & after
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New Yorkers are often grateful for any kitchen space they can get. A place with ample counter space feels like a one in a million, and decent cabinet storage is, well, more than difficult to find. When Paulina Brown found her 275-square-foot apartment in Brooklyn, she was “hot to trot” on making it her own, she says. 

“When I came to this unit and saw the high ceilings, fresh white paint, and big arched windows — it was ‘love-at-first-broker-showing,’” Paulina says. Soon after, she realized the IKEA furniture and uninspired hand-me-down decor she owned was not going to cut it for the light-filled space and classic architecture she fell in love with — nor was the gray and white kitchen that looked a little too cookie-cutter to fit an apartment with such rich architecture. Paulina set out to make the space warm and personality-filled. 

Credit: Paulina Brown
Credit: Paulina Brown

Much of her time was spent searching for the perfect furniture and decor, but she did a couple of in her kitchen, too, to add a bit of eclectic-meets-chic whimsy.

First up, Paulina found a bit of extra space in the hallway, right next to the kitchen, for a closet. “I got a nice little Amazon tension rod and an Amazon linen curtain, and I used these to hide my storage racks that I’ve filled with a large number of fabric storage cubes that are the same color as the curtain,” Paulina says.

“I am now a big fan of tension rod curtains to hide stuff,” she adds. “For $150 all-in, you can hide all sorts of unseemly apartment things behind a big, long curtain. The dream.” Paulina suggests springing the few extra bucks for longer curtains, to avoid your wall looking like it is wearing “capris.”

Credit: Paulina Brown
Credit: Paulina Brown

Secondly, before her redecoration, the bottom cupboards in the kitchen didn’t match the white on top, so Paulina came up with a renter-friendly solution to make everything match. “The other DIY project I did in order to brighten the very small ‘living space’ was covering the bottom halves of the kitchen cabinets in white contact paper,” she explains.

She says this project is easily removable and only took her one evening. It was her first time using contact paper, but all she needed to do was watch a few YouTube videos to get the hang of it.

Credit: Paulina Brown

Her final major addition to the kitchen space was a multi-use table. She found a “delicate white-washed wood writing table that has a top that is inset with linen fabric and covered in beveled glass” in Park Slope, she says. She topped the table with two matching table lamps, which help to divide up the space. The table works for both eating and working. 

“My tiny apartment has awoken a passion for table lamps in me,” Paulina says. “I try and create little stations in my apartment for different activities, and small lamps are a great way to create cozy distinct zones.” Her green lamps were a vintage shop find.

Credit: Paulina Brown

Overall, Paulina’s biggest home decorating tip — especially for an old apartment like hers — is to look for previously loved pieces. She calls herself a “Secondhand Decor Evangelist,” because with all her trinkets, Craigslist finds, and eBay hustles, she has created a space that is perfectly hers. To see more of her apartment, check out her living room redo