White modern Scandinavian style kitchen.

Rental Kitchen Makeover: Ideas And Tips To Transform Your Scape

David Collins8-Minute Read
PUBLISHED: October 27, 2022 | UPDATED: November 07, 2022

If you’ve ever leased an apartment or house, chances are you experienced a dreary rental kitchen. What are the symptoms? Bland colors, scuffed and dirty cabinets, chipped and stained countertops, worn-out flooring, minimal storage and overall lack of inspiration. If this sounds a lot like your current rental kitchen, fear not. You just need a rental kitchen makeover, and it can be done entirely by you, with very little time or expense, following our 10 tips and tricks.

Can You Update Your Kitchen In An Apartment Or Rental?

Before spending a dime or beginning even the most basic enhancement to your rental kitchen, run all your ideas by your landlord. While they cannot object to some things (such as buying colorful under-counter stools that you will take with you), there are some changes they might reject (such as painting) and things they will likely turn down (such as knocking down a wall or replacing cabinet faces). Some of these regulations might even be included in writing in your lease agreement.

Get approved to buy a home.

Rocket Mortgage® helps you start house hunting sooner.

NMLS #3030

Rocket Mortgage Logo

10 Renter-Friendly Kitchen Makeover Ideas

It’s easy to understand why so many rental kitchens get that burned-out look. First, the owner does not live there — they just collect the rent checks. Your landlord has little incentive to renovate or decorate. Second, unless it’s a new building, literally dozens of people have likely lived in this space — and because they did not own it, they probably cared little about the condition they left it in for the next renter.

Now it’s your kitchen. And you don’t have to settle for a lifeless space. Here are some easy but clever DIY tricks for breathing life and fun into a rental kitchen.

1. Add A Rug

Small brown rectangular rug with black dots on wooden kitchen floor.

One thing you can add without permission is a rug or runner. Often the floor of a rental kitchen is scuffed-up, stained, monotone, or all three. A rug adds dimension and contrast. For a darker floor, get a light-colored rug. For a lighter floor, get a colorful rug with an interesting pattern.

A rug can also add texture and warmth for bare feet, and it hides dust and debris between vacuuming better than a bare floor. There are companies like FLOR that market smaller adhesive-backed carpet squares in all kinds of colors and patterns that you can mix-and-match. To update your space, simply rearrange the squares.

You can find inexpensive rugs in big box stores, but also try second-hand shops and estate sales in your neighborhood. It’s possible to find incredible deals on even expensive Persian rugs on the final day of an estate sale.

2. Houseplants

White kitchen filled with different types and sizes of houseplants.

What better way to add life to your rental kitchen than with something that’s alive! You can squeeze one into a small space like a shelf or windowsill, or fill negative space near the ceiling by adding a hanging plant (might require landlord approval; definitely will require a properly installed, weight-appropriate hook with anchoring hardware).

Sure, plants require some care, but think of them as low-maintenance pets. They need light and water and occasional plant food. There are lots of interesting and easy-to-care-for succulent plants that can fill tight spaces. Bird’s-nest ferns and spider plants are just a couple of excellent options for hanging baskets. Herb plants such as basil and thyme add fragrance and can be used in soups and salads.

Check out our guide to the best houseplants and how to care for them to get started!

3. Paint

Modern sleek kitchen with black painted backsplash.

You’ll probably need permission to do this. Once you get it, do a little decor research to figure out a color that will play well with the rest of your rented house or apartment. Even painting one wall or just a backsplash brings color and dimension to the space. If you have little or no painting experience, be sure to ask your paint supplier for tips and watch online videos to learn about patching, sanding, taping and brushwork.

Painting the exterior of cabinets is a much more difficult undertaking than painting a wall. This can involve removing hardware and cabinet doors. And painting the interior of a cabinet is even harder. It’s a tight space to get a brush into, and there is a lot of surface area on the inside of a cabinet. It’s much easier to spruce up the inside of a cabinet with contact paper.

4. Update Countertops

Small apartment kitchen with window.

Speaking of contact paper, it’s not just for cabinets and drawers anymore. You can actually cover up a less-than-inspiring countertop with contact paper. You can purchase contact paper in rolls of varying lengths and widths to suit the square footage of your counter space. These come in all kinds of colors and patterns on one side and a light adhesive on the other. Some of the most popular ones mimic marble and quartz patterns remarkably well.

The best thing about these products is that they are removable. Your paper “countertop” can be applied to wood, laminate, quartz and granite countertops without causing any harm, as long as you’re careful when removing it. This should make it an easier sell for your landlord, but there’s a good chance they will like it so much they will ask you to leave it when you move out.

5. Hang Your Pots And Pans

Pots and pans hanging from a metal rack.

There are lots of good reasons to hang your pots and pans. You can use an inexpensive rack that can be easily found online. First, it adds visual interest and the impression that this is a working kitchen. Even if you can’t boil water, it will look like a real chef lives here. And second, if you do like to cook, it makes it so much easier to access pots, skillets, or even spatulas and cooking spoons. And because these heavy, bulky things are hanging from the ceiling, they’re not taking up space in your cabinets.

A great place to install a pots and pans rack is on the ceiling above your range top (assuming there is not a venting hood already there). This is normally considered “negative space” and by hanging pans in it, you make it interesting and useful. As always, make sure that the mounting hardware you use to secure this rack is stout enough to hold firm with at least 30 pounds of items hanging from it.

6. Under Cabinet Lights

Modern kitchen with whits cabinets and under cabinet lighting.

Strategic lighting can add ambience and spatial dimension to a rental kitchen. This is one of the tricks used at home improvement stores like IKEA — their display kitchens rely heavily on under-, over-, and in-cabinet lights to make every surface shine. Unfortunately, those kitchens are also heavily wired to multiple power outlets, which your rental kitchen likely won’t have and your landlord will not want to install.

Fortunately, there are dozens of lighting products available that are battery powered, can be easily mounted under your cabinets, are dimmable, come in different colors and are turned on and off with a remote control. These lights can come as a puck, strip, tape or rope that attaches to the underside of your cabinets (either with simple screw-in hardware or two-sided tape). These products splash light on the countertops and backsplash below. Choose a warm color for ambience or a cool color for tasks.

7. Peel-And-Stick Tiles, Wallpaper, Art, Etc.

Geometric peel and stick tile wallpaper on a kitchen backsplash.

As long as your walls and backsplash are clean with a smooth surface (no textured paint), you can apply decorative peel-and-stick “tile” or wallpaper. There are even products that allow you to add a border along the ceiling, a mural, or other art to liven up your wall space without having to drill or apply heavy glue that is difficult to remove (and could make it harder to recoup your security deposit if you cause damage).

The limits on peel-and-stick are seemingly endless, with detailed images that appear as a three-dimensional tile backsplash, for instance. Some come as individual tiles, others as sheets. Be sure to get a product that as is as easy to remove as to apply. With some products you may need to direct a hot blow dryer to the tile to loosen the adhesive before peeling the paper away.

8. Remove Cabinet Doors

Kitchen with white cabinets and exposed, doorless cabinets.

The purpose of kitchen cabinets is obvious. They provide lower and upper storage space for things like dishes, glassware, coffee cups, pots and pans, and pantry items, plus anything else you like to have nearby when you’re working in your kitchen. With shelves inside, cabinets provide even more surface area for storage. But whoever said a cabinet must have a door on it?

Think about it. A wall of closed-up cabinets can become a visual monolith, especially if the paint color is dull or the finish on the cabinets is worn or dirty. By removing the doors you break up that monotony and create visual interest. And now you don’t have to paint, although you can if you want to freshen up your cabinets even more (if allowed by your landlord). You can also add variety and personality to open cabinets with small plants, photos, pottery, etc.

9. Add A Wall Mirror

Small circular wall mirror above a kitchen sink.

A mirror brings multiple updates to a lifeless rental kitchen. Whether it’s vertical or horizontal, the bigger the mirror the better — just make sure the hanging hardware you use to anchor it to the wall can support double the mirror’s weight. A mirror lends a strong illusion that your kitchen is bigger than it really is. It also makes the room brighter because it reflects light, as opposed to a blank wall that absorbs light.

You can find a good-sized, lightweight, fairly cheap mirror in a big box store, but this is another item that you score big on by shopping thrift stores, antique shops and estate sales. Keep digging and you can often find a substantial mirror, sometimes with an ornate frame, at a bargain.

10. Hang Art

Framed art that reads 'Bonjour' hung on kitchen wall.

Artwork adds brightness and visual interest to any rental kitchen wall space, and if there is a good story behind it, even better. This is another thing that can take time to collect if you are searching antique stores and estate sales, but that’s part of the fun. There’s nothing wrong with shopping in art galleries, just be prepared to pay a lot more.

And art is whatever you decide it is. It can be personal, such as a kid’s finger painting or collage. Photographs also make great artwork.

Multiple small framed photos of beach scenery hung on kitchen wall.

Make use of all those photos on your smartphone. Get some of them printed and then buy inexpensive frames and hang them in your rented house or apartment dining room or kitchen. Photos of friends, family, pets, or your last vacation bring warmth and personality to your home, which is vital when you don’t own the place.

The Bottom Line On Rental Kitchen Makeovers

Rental houses and apartments, particularly older ones, tend to take on a lifeless look. This is because the people who rent them, and the people who own them, have little economic interest in spending a lot of time and money to update them. Rental kitchens especially have a tired appearance because kitchens get a lot of use.

But when it becomes your space for a few months or even years, you can breathe new life into your kitchen at very little expense and without too much work. Through the use of inexpensive home decor products, sleight-of-hand, treasure hunting, and a heavy dose of personality, you can refresh your kitchen into a space so practical you’ll be proud to invite friends over for your next dinner party.

And be sure to keep reading for more ideas on how to enhance your rental property on a tight budget.

Get approved to buy a home.

Rocket Mortgage® helps you start house hunting sooner.

NMLS #3030

Rocket Mortgage Logo

David Collins

David Collins is a staff writer for Rocket Auto, Rocket Solar, and Rocket Homes. He has experience in communications for the automotive industry, reference publishing, and food and wine. He has a degree in English from the University of Michigan.