Small kitchen with blue-grey wood grain cabinets.

Create A Rental Kitchen You Love With These Easy Updates

Erica Gellerman5-Minute Read
August 30, 2021

Rental kitchens never seem to be what you need: they’re either too small, too dated, or too ugly. But you don’t have to live with a kitchen you don’t like, even as a renter. If you have a landlord who is open to changes, you have a number of options for updates. But if your landlord isn’t so ready for you to make permanent improvements, there’s still a lot you can do.

Get ready to create the kitchen of your dreams, in a rental.

An Inspiring Rental Kitchen Makeover

If you’re worried there is nothing you can do to create a kitchen that you love – short of a full renovation – get ready to be inspired. This rental kitchen makeover adds style and functionality with new (temporary) countertops, better storage, additional countertop space, and finishing touches that make it feel like home.

This may be beyond what you’re looking to do, but it offers a great example of what you can accomplish with some creativity and a DIY spirit.

8 Apartment Kitchen Ideas For Renters

Ready to get started with some ideas for your own rental kitchen? Here are eight ideas that can implement easily in your rental.

Paint Cabinets And Walls

If your landlord gives the OK, a fresh coat of paint can breathe new life into an outdated kitchen. Do the walls look a little dingy? Brighten them with a new paint job. Do you have old cabinets that won’t look better, no matter how much decorating you do? A coat of paint might be just what they need.

For a little inspiration, this home tour on The Everygirl shows a dramatic rental kitchen makeover that includes painting white cabinets black. If you’re envisioning a paint job with a little more color, this Reddit post shows you that shades of green and teal will make your kitchen pop.

Update Counters With Contact Paper

No matter how much you scrub, dated (and grimy) kitchen countertops usually don’t look better (speaking from personal experience). But you may think that in a rental there’s not a lot that you can do, short of begging your landlord for a complete redo.

But if you want a cheap option to transform the look of your countertops temporarily, all you need is some contact paper and patience. Ready to give it a go? This tutorial walks you through how you can achieve gorgeous countertops with removable contact paper.

Style With Removable Wallpaper And Decals

If painting the walls is also out of the question, opt for something removable again. There are a number of options for removable wallpaper so you can have your pick of color and design.

Don’t need a full wallpaper job to make your space pop? Try removable wall decals for an easy and quick update.

Create Additional Storage

If your kitchen is lacking in storage space, it’s time to get creative. Try hanging your pots and pans (and any other kitchen equipment) on a spare wall or under a cabinet. If you have the space, you might consider getting a cart that can act as both a storage space and an additional countertop. You might also want to consider going up – for less-frequently used items, try finding storage space for them above the cabinets.

Update Hardware

It’s amazing how much a simple swap of hardware can change the entire look of a kitchen. Buying new knobs and drawer pulls can help make things seem a little fresher and up to date, and is an easy thing to do if your landlord isn’t open to you making some bigger changes.

Add Lighting

Lots of rental apartments seem to have terrible, harsh lighting that makes people want to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible. While changing out the lighting would be a big job that most landlords would probably decline, adding some easy-to-hang string lighting can have the right effect. This Reddit post shows a rental kitchen makeover with string lights that would make for a cozy evening in the kitchen. 

Accent With A Rug

Kitchen floors tend to take a beating, and in a rental, your kitchen floors may be an eyesore. While you may not be able to do anything about chipped tile or cracked linoleum, you can cover it (or at least distract from it) with a decorative rug.

Bring In Greenery

Don’t have room for an herb garden outside? Create one on your kitchen windowsill. Not only will this herb garden take up hardly any room and be useful, but it will also bring new life into a dated kitchen.

If you don’t have a windowsill large enough to hold the plants, try a magnetic version. This DIY tutorial shows you how you can make an herb garden on the front of your refrigerator.

How Can I Cover Kitchen Cabinets Without Paint?

If you have a landlord who isn’t so into the idea of you adding your own touch of paint, you still have options. Try using contact paper to cover your cabinets and give them a fresh new look. Here’s an example of how you can transform the look of your kitchen by using contact paper as a temporary cabinet cover. Don’t forget, you’ll want to test this first to ensure it comes off without damaging the cabinets underneath.

How Do I Organize My Kitchen With No Counter Space?

Cooking in a cluttered kitchen is frustrating. Sometimes, no matter how much you try to organize with the storage that you’re given, you end up falling short and keeping too many things on your countertops.

If you’re running out of counter space to cook because you don’t have space for everything you need, it’s time to look to some creative storage solutions: 

  • DIY shelving: If you want to seriously up your storage, an open shelf or two is going to create the space to help you get things off your countertops. This tutorial can show you how. It’s going to require some holes in the wall, so you’ll probably want to check with your landlord before installing it.
  • Hanging storage: No cabinet space, no problem. Find a place to hang your pots and pans so they can be out of your way but still easily accessible.
  • Use an island cart: If you don’t have enough counter space, bring in your own. Buying a kitchen island cart will give you more storage space and more counter space – a win-win.
  • Countertop shelf: If you still need to store some things on your countertops, try to make the most of the vertical space that you have. Buy some small stacking shelves that you can use to hold lighter things like spices and oil. This YouTube video shows you how to create your own countertop shelf.

Updating your rental kitchen takes patience and creativity. But the results can transform your less-than-ideal kitchen into something you really enjoy.

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Erica Gellerman

Erica Gellerman is a CPA, MBA, personal finance writer, and founder of The Worth Project. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Money, Business Insider, The Everygirl, The Everymom and more.