By New York City standards, I have a great kitchen. I’ve got a decent amount of cabinet space, a big window that lets in a ton of light, and a most-beloved dishwasher. But there’s always room for improvement. While I couldn’t rip out cabinets and swap out the countertops to make it my dream kitchen, I was able to make a major impact with a few small changes to a kitchen that’s now more functional and aesthetically pleasing. Liz Rui, trend strategist at Lowe’s, says that now is the perfect time to test out your DIY skills with renter-friendly kitchen upgrades.
“Even though infusing personal style in a rental space requires a touch more creativity to ensure that updates are not permanent, there is so much value in taking DIY one step further to doing it for yourself,” says Rui. “From incorporating fun throw pillows and rugs to going all-in on a renter-friendly kitchen renovation, there are plenty of ways to infuse non-permanent touches of style that can make all the difference in the space you call home.”
The easiest (and most impressive) renter-friendly kitchen upgrades
1. Add color and texture with peel-and-stick backsplash, countertops, and wallpaper
Peel-and-stick options have come a long way. Cover up gross old linoleum with durable contact paper, add a pop of color with removable wallpaper, and add texture with peel-and-stick backsplash tile. “Peel-and-stick wallpaper can also make a big difference on the faces of cabinet doors, adding a pop of color and texture with a minimal time investment,” says Rui.
In my kitchen, I used SmartTiles Metro Blanco ($8) as a backsplash and I couldn’t be happier. The quality is amazing—they truly look like tiles as long as you don’t look too hard. And even when you do take a closer look, they don’t look cheap. To prep, I measured the walls and used the SmartTiles calculator to figure out I needed about 48 tiles for both walls. Once they arrived, I used a ruler, utility knife, and level to get them up. With all of the tiny cuts I had to make for corners, the whole process took about six hours—and it was beyond worth it.
2. Get more storage space with shelves, islands, and console tables
There’s nothing worse than a kitchen with limited storage space. Installing shelves can make a huge difference. “Open shelving can make the space feel more light and airy, especially in smaller kitchens, so consider adding floating shelves or removing the cabinet doors from upper cabinets and using peel-and-stick wallpaper to decorate the back wall,” says Rui.
If you’re also short on counter space, consider adding an island, like this Home Styles Kitchen Cart ($223) or a console table, like this Faux Cement And Wood Cordova Console Table ($300). “If your rental kitchen doesn’t have an island, a rolling or freestanding island is a great add that buys you more counter space and can make a bold statement in your kitchen,” says Rui.
And depending on how handy you are, consider DIYing the storage solution of your dreams. This summer I built this console table with my dad (read: designed it and then watched him do all of the building) and it’s completely changed how my rental kitchen functions.
3. Swap out hardware and fixtures
Even though it’s a little change, adding new knobs to your cabinets can breathe new life into your kitchen. All you have to do is save the old ones and put them back before you move out.
“Swapping out hardware is a simple upgrade that has a big impact on the look and feel of a space,” says Lui. “The options can feel endless, so be sure to check out Lowe’s cabinet hardware buying guide for insight on the styles and finishes available.”
A new fixture really makes a big impact. The faucet in my rental had been leaking since my roommates and I moved in, and when we told our super, he said he’d “keep an eye out for a new one,” as if faucets magically appear. So, I took it into my own hands and installed this American Standard Filtered Kitchen Faucet ($279). I’ve never installed a faucet before and installing one with a built-in filter made the task even more difficult but after a few hours, a bit of stress sweat, and a frantic call to my dad, I got the thing in. (Tip: Be sure to put the batteries in the filter before reopening the water valves, or water will just flow out of the faucet even when the handle is in the off position.) Paired with a cute soap dispenser from Home Goods and this Grove Collaborative Ceramic Sink-Side Tray ($13) this faucet really pulls the space together.
4. Get creative with lighting
Harsh overhead lighting is great when you need to see what you’re doing while cooking—not so great when your meal is done and you’re enjoying it with a glass of wine.
“Lighting is a game-changer for the aesthetic of any space, and the kitchen is no different,” says Rui. “Even if reworking wiring or removing standing fixtures is out of the question, using battery-powered puck lights under the cabinets is an incredibly easy upgrade and doubles as a practical solution.”
I used these Brilliant Evolution Under Cabinet Lights ($17) and they’re amazing. I wish the light was a bit warmer, but out of the battery-powered undercabinet lights I saw, these were the warmest. They attach with command strips so you don’t have to put any holes in your cabinets.
Over the table, I opted for a picture frame light similar to this House of Troy Advent Picture Light ($60). It puts off the perfect warm glow and makes every dinner feel a bit romantic.
5. Show personality through art and rugs
Because most kitchens have neutral finishings, art and rugs are a great way to add color. Society6, and Saatchi Art are great spots for finding artwork from tons of different artists. I got this Support System Art Print ($44) from Society6 years ago and it’s still one of my favorite pieces. All Posters and Etsy are also great options for posters. I was very set on having a vintage liquor ad as kitchen art, and I’m in love this Martini & Rossi ($18) poster that I got from Etsy. When it comes to kitchen rugs, having one that is machine washable is a must. Ruggable is perfect for that.
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