7 Ideas to Steal From Rental Kitchens Rocking Their Oak Wood Cabinets

published May 16, 2018
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(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

What to do with builder grade cabinets in rental apartments? Painting is sometimes a viable option, but what can you do to freshen up your space if a fresh coat is simply off the table? All hope is not lost, and sometimes you just gotta embrace what you’ve got, and look for ways to make small enhancements. We’ve gathered a couple of our favorite no-paint space upgrades below.

Use Them as a Jumping Off Point

(Image credit: Julie Blanner)

Make design decisions with your cabinets in mind. If you use the hue and tone of your existing cabinets as the starting point, your other accents will all fall into place. Julie decided to embrace the oak finish in her builder grade cabinets and used complementary details to complete the room, like the rattan hanging pendant and blue accents.

Upgrade Your Hardware

(Image credit: Simple Stylings)

The fate of your finish might be set in stone, but switching out your pulls is one of the quickest (and we might argue most fun) way to bring your cabinets up to date. Summer from Simple Stylings went with classic farmhouse pulls for her in-stock Lowes cabinets, but the world is your oyster, depending on how much you want to spend (and remember, you can take these with you when you move….).

Paint Walls a Complementary Color

(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

You might not be able to paint the cabinets, but the walls are perhaps another story altogether. Embrace the oak and create some contrast in your space by painting the surrounding walls a different, but complementary, shade. In this case, Jaclyn went with “Starless Night” by Behr. The cool blue tone works well the warm wood oak, and together they live in perfect harmony.

Distract With Other Elements

(Image credit: Carolyn Purnell)

Marti and Jarrod were less than thrilled with the oak cabinets in their rental, so instead of focusing on what they couldn’t fix, they drew attention elsewhere. By painting the lower half of their walls a dramatic black, and adding a super graphic rug, the room became less about the cabinets, and more about their intentional decor.

Inject Your Own Personality

(Image credit: Melanie Rieders)

Counter your run-of-the-mill space with unique things that speak to your own style and expression. Niki’s personality shines throughout her Brooklyn rental apartment—including the kitchen—which is filled with DIY wallpaper, interesting artwork, and found objects.

When in Doubt, Add Plants

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Between the cabinets, linoleum floor, and old countertops, Jessica felt her kitchen looked a bit old and worn out, so she added texture and life with a ton of plants, which look great alongside the wood (also lead image above). When plants are in the picture, everything just feels cozier.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Take ‘Em Off

If all else fails and the oak finish just isn’t cutting it, take those babies off. With a little bit of elbow grease, Lauren and Matthew took off their cabinet doors to create their own “custom” open shelving. Just be sure to safely store the doors, in case your landlord pops by.