In the past seven years, I have lived in no less than 5 different rental homes. Some were fully furnished, not even a fork was needed, others like my current one were totally empty. Either way, it can be quite frustrating not being able to customise your kitchen (or even entire rental) to fit your taste, but there are some tricks you can use to get as close as possible. Of course, working with a base that is somewhat your style will make the makeover easier and cheaper. These tips will work with any kitchen. But first, check with your landlord what you are allowed to do or not (some can be very weird with their rental). Once you know your boundaries, get started.
1.Live in your space first
Before doing anything, live in your space first. How long will depend on how long you intend to stay in your rental. But getting a feel of your entire place, moving furniture around such as the fridge or oven will give you time to decide what you want and how you want it done. Of course, the more furnished the rental kitchen, the less options you have so this step could be very short for you. I recommend at least a week if not a month. In the past, I rented an apartment in Paris for 6 months and very early on, I realised nothing in that kitchen would work. I couldn’t do anything to the cabinets or counter space, nothing was practical and I simply had no room for nothing. From the beginning I knew it wouldn’t be worth spending any euros on that kitchen.Ten months separate the two pictures above. From the day I got the keys and the day I decided to install shelving, it took me that long to make actual decisions. But I knew I was going to stay longer in this apartment than the others, so I took my time. And I was right. My fridge and oven kept moving and after 6 months I found out I could after all have a washing machine. This piece of information modified my entire kitchen layout to what it is today. Take the necessary time to think about your space, don’t be in a rush and once you are sure of your decisions you can finally invest. But use the days, weeks or more before renovation to think about a budget, compare prices, get inspired. The less money you have, the less room for mistakes.
This will depend on your kitchen and how much room you have to work with. As I said earlier, I used to live in kitchens where I couldn’t move anything. If the work flow wasn’t right, I had to adapt to it, not the other way around. But if you have the opportunity to decide on where to display counter space,appliances etc, think about this carefully. Once everything is bought and drilled in, you won’t be able to move everything around (especially if you want your deposit back). Forget about trends or what your dream kitchen is. We are working with a rental and we have to make the best out of it. Stay functional and within the budget.
3. Declutter & organise
The smaller your kitchen, the smarter and organised you have to be with your stuff. Before trying to add more storage therefore more furniture and/or holes on the wall : declutter. Now you are living in your space, look at the items you use the most and the ones that you don’t. Get rid of what you won’t need for sure (especially doubles) and store away extras that aren’t used often but you still want to keep (such as baking accessories or beautiful dish sets). These don’t have to be stored in your kitchen. If you have some extra space in your living room storage use it.
With the remaining items that you actually need at least weekly, take the time to think where you can place them in your kitchen, what would be the most practical to your personal use.
4. Matching appliances
One of the best ways to get a neat looking kitchen is to have matching appliances. Over the years, I started with a simple white kettle, then a white microwave, a white fridge, to a white washing machine and oven. Each apartment required a new appliance and I knew from the beginning that white would be the easiest to match over the years. Some people love red or blue, even black or grey, but if the shades don’t exactly match, the overall result can appear quite busy. The best way would be to buy everything at once from the same collection. But if, just like me, you started building your kitchen furniture from University 7 years ago with a simple kettle to now a washing machine in the space, white will be your safest, cleanest looking bet.
Overall, having appliances that match will give your kitchen a fresh, new look. No matter if your style is vintage or very modern.
5. Invest a bit & drill
Depending on how committed to your place you are, the amount of drilling and painting you will be making will vary. In the apartment I stayed 6 months in, I didn’t even put a picture on the wall. In this one, I’m ready to install shelves, drill here and there because I know I will be staying a long time and I won’t mind painting over at the end.
If you are ready to repair everything whenever you give your keys back, have some fun and invest in some furniture to make this space yours.
6. Remove upper cabinet doors
If you can’t paint your cabinets because you are not allowed or can’t be bothered, one good way to upgrade their appearance is to remove the doors. However, everything inside will have to look neat and organised. If you can’t do that for all of them, keep one or two doors to hide the mess behind. The open ones should display your plates or bowls for a stylish result unlike food which packaging could clash with your colour palette.
7. Update door nobs
The easiest, cheapest upgrade to your cabinets is to update your door nobs. Classy, stylish or unique, chose the design you love. Make sure to keep somewhere safe the original ones to put back on before you leave. Also, these cute door nobs can follow you to your next rental, so have fun picking them.
8. Curtains instead of doors
Another personal favourite but this one requires another set of holes : switch your doors for a curtain. For an instant farmhouse/bohemian look use some earthy fabric such as linen or cotton. If you want colour, white and blue or white and red gingham will be perfect for a shabby chic cottage vibe.
9. Go custom
Whether it’s for your counter or your shelves, if your kitchen is an awkward space, going custom might be the solution for you. You would be surprised how affordable this can actually be. This is what I spent :
Counter top : Leroy Merlin 15€90 (cutting 5€)
Wooden shelf 2m : Leroy Merlin 6€90 (cutting 1€, I got 2 90 cm shelves for 7€90)
Metal brackets : Leroy Merlin 3€99 each
Lower cabinet : Conforama 52€99 (I didn’t put on the door nob and the top part)
For less than a 100€ I have an entire custom space perfect for my needs and awkward layout. I bought a regular, simple look lower cabinet that does the job and removed the ugly grey top part. This cabinet is a good investment since I will be able to use it in another kitchen or even a bathroom in the future. Simple white furniture go a long way.
My counter top covers the cabinet and the washin machine giving me the perfect amount of cooking space. For just 20€, I have a neat and functional area.
10. Use wall space
If your rental kitchen is small, wall space is a good option. Having too many items on ground, on your way can be messy and unpractical when cooking. Especially if you also eat in there.
Use the space between your upper cabinets and ceilling for extra storage of items you rarely use (into boxes that match the cabinets is even better) or instal shelves.
In my kitchen, the wooden shelves tie in with my half wood flooring and look less massive in my tiny space compared to heavy upper cabinets. They also double as decor since I get to showcase my favourite dish wear.
11. Style shelves
Shelves that double as decor is a great way to combine practicality and style. Show your most beautiful dish set. Don’t crowd it, keep it harmonious and have fun with it. Mix plates, glasses and cups with cook books and plants. A few curated accessories are always welcomed.
12. Mirror mirror
This tip is great for my galley kitchen renters here. If you can, add a mirror at the end of your alley to open the space. Even if it’s above a sink or a stove, it might seen awkward at first but it will bring more light and balance. Mirrors are always good anywhere in the house, and often underestimated in kitchens.
13. Clear counter space
If your space is small, try to keep your counters as tidy as possible. Put your items inside the cabinets, on the shelves or even stored away in boxes. Everything you don’t need or don’t use everyday can go away. The main purpose of your kitchen is to stay practical.
14. Turn necessary clutter into decor
You can’t put away all your clutter, some you actually need on the daily. And this is a lived in kitchen, not a magazine. So instead of trying to get rid of everything, try to turn your necessary clutter into decor. Pour your soap into a stylish container instead of keeping the plastic bottle. Transfer your dry food such as pasta, rice, flour, cereals etc, into matching containers like mason jars. And get a set of kitchen towels that tie in with your colour palette. Mine are white and blue because I have some blue on my tiles above my sink. So I decided to stick to this colour.
15. Maximise storage
Once you have your shelves and units, try to make the best out of them. Store some items above the upper cabinets. Hang items from bellow your shelves, hide away your cooking utensil inside your oven etc.