A Brown “Builder-Grade” Kitchen Gets a Bright, Modern Makeover

published Apr 13, 2024
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Apartment after moving in.

Sometimes, even the most luxe-looking apartments need a little bit of decor and personalization to truly feel like “home.”

When Shenel and Hassan Shaikh, co-founders of the interior design studio Elementerre, moved into their contemporary modern rental in Washington, D.C., they felt this way about their kitchen.

“The builder-grade rental kitchen was last renovated decades ago and felt like it belonged in the past,” Shenel says. “The dark cabinets made the kitchen feel small and cramped, and all the cool tones and materials created an atmosphere that felt colder and less inviting than we wanted.”

The apartment’s open floor plan meant that the kitchen was in view from most communal spaces, and Shenel wanted to “drench the adjacent dining room in color,” so for this space, she wanted something light and neutral. “We wanted the kitchen to feel bright and airy with a warming touch — simple yet elevated and organic with a whimsical lean,” she shares. 

But because their home was a rental, they had to strategize which updates would be realistic, and making the cabinets feel more contemporary was a top priority.

Shenel cleverly applied white contact paper to the cabinets, but the texture and coloring weren’t exactly what they’d hoped for. So, they painted over it with Benjamin Moore’s White Dove, a “cost-effective fix that tied it all together.” 

Then, Benjamin Moore’s Bradstreet Beige was painted on the kitchen bar’s removable beadboard, which was added to inject some texture. To warm the space, Shenel and Hassan selected other elements like leather pendant lights, a patterned rug, a renter-friendly backsplash, woven accents, and new recessed LED lights.

One of the most unique parts of the full DIY kitchen update was how Shenel customized the cabinet hardware herself. She’d always gravitated toward mixed hardware, and she’d been eyeing brushed brass pulls and thought a material like raffia or rattan would complement the metal. Unfortunately, she couldn’t find any woven-edge pulls that were the correct size. 

“I decided to make my own. I took basic black edge pulls from Amazon (these pulls, too!) and wrapped them in raffia ribbon woven over a small strip of brass, then coated everything in Mod Podge for strength and durability,” she explains. “They held up great over time and gave the kitchen a homemade quality that imbued the space with a playful warmth.”

The new kitchen (which cost around $1,500 for all updates) is exactly what the couple wanted. Shenel describes the spaces as “fresh, relaxed, and inviting,” and those qualities aren’t limited to just the kitchen. To see more of the apartment, visit the full home tour on Apartment Therapy. 

This post originally appeared on The Kitchn. See it there: Before & After: White Cabinets and Gold Accents Brighten an “Uninviting” Kitchen