Solutions for Renters: Kitchens

By Kate Riley March 4, 2013

Greetings everyone!  The ‘Solutions for Renters’ series continues today and I’ve gathered up a few ideas for you to spruce up those kitchen spaces with temporary solutions that incorporate your personal tastes and unique style.

Kitchens and bathrooms are the hardest to personalize since they’re mostly made up of choices that are unchangeable – cabinets, tile, flooring, countertops, and faucets – all those details you’re stuck with while you rent. So what is to be done? You can accept the situation, or tweak the space with a few of these ideas. Here are nine savvy solutions to personalize kitchens in rental homes and apartments, many apply to homeowners too looking to beautify kitchens on a budget!

solutions for renters in the kitchen


1.  Change the Backsplash.  If you’re lucky, you’ll have decent cabinets in your rental but if you dislike the backsplash there is good news, you can always change it. Sure you won’t be ripping out tile but here are some smart and equally effective ideas. Nester wasn’t crazy about the pinkish tile in hers so she installed white beadboard panels to lighten up the look in her rental home.

white beadboard backsplash nestingplace copy

Nesting Place

Jessica at Four Generations One Roof took it to the next level with her removable backsplash where she installed beautiful glass tile on panels, ones she can take with her or reuse in the future.

glass tile backsplash in rental fourgenerationsoneroof

Four Generations One Roof

Mount boards covered with chalkboard paint, consider tin tiles either plain or painted; tattoo your tiles with a few of the available products, or use vinyl to add a pattern to a plain backsplash wall. Did you know there are peel and stick tiles on the market? Time to get creative incorporate a look you love that you can install as a temporary solution while you live with someone else’s design choices.

rental backsplash solutions

peel and stick tile

Design*Sponge / DIY Network / Tile Tattoos / Vinyl Backsplash / Peel & Stick Tile


2.  Remove cabinet doors.  If your kitchen cabinetry in your rental is not your favorite or you feel the need to lighten up, Emily’s solution for removing cabinet doors is a smart one. She’s not renting, but instead of repainting all of the cabinetry in her home, she simply removed the doors on the upper cabinets and painted the backs a dark charcoal – in a rental home you can do the same or even use wallpaper or wrapping paper to dress up the backs and secure it with double sided tape.

remove cabinet doors emily clarkEmily A Clark

remove white cabinet doors

Country Living

removed cabinet doors apt therapy

Apartment Therapy


3.  Slipcover Your Cabinets.   Short of painting, there is little you can do disguise unattractive cabinets, but here is an effective solution that costs only a few dollars. I’m still impressed with Erin’s kitchen makeover where she removed the doors and “slipcovered” the upper cabinets with contact paper.

white contact paper on shelves

Rare & Beautiful Treasures

Other decorative papers may accomplish the same thing, consider painted pieces of thin cardboard and attaching them with glue dots or using large pieces of removable wallpaper (you can buy it at Spoonflower or Design Public and other sources online.)

paper covered kitchen cabinets



4. Get Graphic.  Speaking of removable wallpaper, in lieu of a cabinet cover up make a graphic statement on an accent wall with a bold print.

wallpaper in rental

The Kitchn

Or take a cue from Kristin’s lovely home and paint a chalkboard accent wall in your rental or introduce a deep brown for dramatic contrast (assuming the landlord will allow you paint).

chalkboard wall hunted interior

The Hunted Interior

chocolate walls the kitchn

The Kitchn


5.  Cover the Flooring.  There aren’t a lot of options for covering an unattractive kitchen floor in a rental, but one of them is peel and stick vinyl tile which can later be removed but when they look as good as they do in Caitlin’s galley kitchen, who would want to?

peel and stick vinyl tile caitlin wilson

Caitlin Wilson Design

Your other option is to include kitchen friendly rugs and runners, even indoor/outdoor versions that can be vacuumed or hosed off.


6.  Maximize Storage.  Space permitting, increase your storage with an open shelving unit and accessorize it with your favorite dishes, cooking utensils, and small appliances.

open storage solutions bhg

Better Homes & Gardens

kitchen cabinet apt therapy

The Kitchn

colorful kitchen accessories thekitchn

The Kitchn


7. Upgrade the Lighting If your light fixtures in your rental are drab, change them out for something more stylish, more you!  Light fixtures can travel with you when you move out as long as you replace the ones that were there before (but check with your landlord and hire an electrician when in doubt about installation).

lantern pendant margot austin

Margot Austin

basket fixtures milk and honey

Milk and Honey


8.  Add Your Personality.  You have artwork, photography, or mementos that make you smile so include them in your space design so you’re surrounded by things that make you happy each time you enter your kitchen.

artwork in kitchen theyearinfood


artwork in kitchen country living

Country Living


9. Accessorize with Color.  Have you ever noticed how the brightly colored accents in a room are always the first ones you notice? Employ that trick of the eye by accessorizing your kitchen with bold colorful accents, whether it’s barstools, a colorful window shade, or your kitchen appliances and favorite dishes.

bright painted stools bhg

Better Homes & Gardens

yellow and gray roman shade

House Beautiful

jadiete dishes country living

Country Living

Both Apartment Therapy and its sister site The Kitchn are a wealth of information on small space living and making rentals personal and stylish.

Renters (current and former) let’s hear from you again, what tricks have you used in your kitchen spaces to make them more attractive and feel like home?

See Also:  Solutions for Renters: In the Bedroom




  1. Great ideas, Kate!
    I rented for five years before AJ and I purchased our house and currently we are landlords of a few properties. For an easy spruce up of a couple of properties I’ve used Rustoleum’s countertop paint (it went like a charm over that pink swirled kitchen counter. :)); it’s only $20 and covers a decent sized counterspace. We have also used Rustoleum’s tile paint for tubs, for us it was a very easy way to make a nearly neon blue tub tile look classic with white paint.
    Another idea is to ask your landlord if they won’t let you paint your apt any color if they have a palette that they would like you to use… maybe they can just give you some direction and they’ll feel more in control.

    • Wow Jen, impressed the landlord let you refinish the countertops, I love that solution!!

  2. These are such great ideas, Kate! I’ve been thinking about the peel and stick backsplash for a while. Oh, and some of these ideas can also work if your husband is not on board with the idea of overhauling the whole kitchen :)

  3. How about using vintage trays propped up behind stove top as a (fireproof & removable ) backsplash. Also, I like to add other room type pieces to a kitchen like a lamp on the counter, paintings on easels & book..vintage cookbooks & more. Makes the room more homey & personalized. I rented a few times while we built a house and it was challenging to make it your own, but little touches go a long way.

  4. Love this post! Our rental kitchen is not bad, so I don’t have much to complain about. We’ve got white cabinets that are in decent shape, and the set up is pretty good. When we moved in though, there was a low-hanging chandelier in the kitchen that my 6’2″ husband kept bumping into – not good! When we asked our landlord if we could switch it out, she not only said yes, but let us help her pick out a new fixture (that she paid for and had installed!). So all that to say, it pays (pun intended?) to ask about changing things. If you’re lucky like we were, he/she might even upgrade things for you! (The new fixture is attractive AND the right height!)

  5. I love all your ideas! Even though I am not a renter (anymore), but one thing in one of the pics struck my attention as being nice eye candy, but completely non-functional in reality: how can you place a canvas painting on the wall above a range that does not even have a hood where the cooking odors can escape? Hmmm……

  6. Thanks for this post! I am a renter and even though my kitchen isn’t terrible, its not something I would have chosen. Bathrooms as well. I’ve been thinking about making some changes and will definitely incorporate some of these ideas!

  7. OMG thank you so much for these ideas! We rent and I love how big our kitchen is, but it’s pretty dang ugly! I didn’t even think about a temporary backsplash or removeable wallpaper, I’m really excited now! (Assuming I can get my husband on board :-p)

  8. Our rental has blue laminate countertops…need I say more…The only saving grace is that the cabinets are white and the flooring is wood. I have accented with turqouise and teals and it feels nice. I wish they would let me paint them black…

    Thanks for this! I love the idea of taking off the cabinet doors. I think I might try that and add a colorful print to the back of them!

    You rock.


  9. These are some good tips!
    As a former renter, with parents who are also landlords, I will say be careful of peel and stick solutions. While they sound great, if you don’t do a thorough job cleaning up any sticky residue, you might get charged extra for cleaning on move-out. I think when you have a single person (or family) as a landlord, you can typically get away with more the in an apartment complex run by a property maintenance company. But either way, it certainly pays to clean up really well when you leave, and some of these products may add more cleaning time to your move.

  10. Great ideas….any suggestions on what to do when you have two different styles of cabinets? The landlord decided to only redo the bottom ones (ikea ramsjo) and left the top ones in the original style.

  11. Thanks so much for all these ideas! You have got my brain going. I don’t live in a rental, but we ARE renting our other house, and until it sells we don’t have extra cash to redo our ugly kitchen. I’m determined to make the best of it though, and this post has helped! Thanks!

  12. The chalkboard wall idea is genius! It’s creative and cute! Although, I don’t know if i like the idea of chalk dust floating around my kitchen. Yuck!

  13. Those ideas were brilliant! Thank you for rounding them up. I’m moving into a new rental this month, and I was brainstorming ways to update and personalize the kitchen, so these are so helpful and timely for me. Thanks!

  14. I’m excited about this series! PLEASE talk about the bathroom. We are military and will always be renting. In our current house everything is beige. Even the hinges.

  15. oh thank you sooo much for this post! I dont know why I didnt think of these solutions being an interior designer!

    I’m getting married soon and my fiance and I will be nesting in a rental since we are expats and the rentals kitchens here, Qatar, break my heart as to how they are designed in this country and I’ve always thought that I would be stuck with what I get, I was very depressed but now I will be approaching this with a great DIYish spirit which I never actually had!

    I’ve already shared your post on my facebook design page and will be sharing it on my blog too where I have your website as one of the must reads :)

    Thanks Kate!

  16. If your landlord is up for it, replacing the faucet isn’t such a big deal (just hold on to the old one to reinstall before you go). If you can find one with the same footprint as the one you’re replacing, all the better. We are a military family and have moved, gulp, 15 times in 13 years. Move number 16 is coming this summer. We always switch out ugly faucets and lighting (as well as upgrade shower heads). Sometimes we resell the faucet on CraigsList, other times we take it with us for the next house, or a few times the landlord liked the new one much better and it stayed. I’m loving the open shelving with paper backed cabinets. Definitely doing that in my next home! Thank you so much for this series. Love it!

  17. It’s been my experience that most landlords like it when tenants improve the property. When in doubt share your ideas with the landlord rather than asking for permission.

  18. I was just thinking about when you might post again about small space/rental living and I saw your post. I think I could use a lot of these suggestions in my condo since they wouldn’t cost a ton and are temporary. We’re hoping to sell within a year or so which means that even though I have tone of ideas for the space, I really shouldn’t be spending a lot on major renovations. I would add my “kind” to the type of reader who could benefit from these posts.

  19. Thank you for posting this! My husband and I are renting and it will probably be awhile before we can buy our own house. Our home is comfortable and our landlord put a lot of work into it himself before we moved here, so even though the styling and design is not what I would have chosen, I hate to make a lot of changes, especially since we’ll (hopefully) only be here temporarily. This series will hopefully give me some good ideas on how to bring my own style in to our home without completely redoing everything. :)

  20. This post makes me start to think that renting is something I can manage to to a little while longer. Heck, we’ve already added custom shelving, a new entryway nook and all new bathroom accessories. This gives me some new ideas to incorporate our aesthetic more. Thanks everybody!

  21. Because we rent, I have also come up with some of these ideas for making our space look more homey. We have a small galley kitchen, with upper cabinetry that allows only minimal organization; I took off only two doors, and it has instantly made it feel more open! Our cabinets are solid, stained wood, so if you can noticeably see where the hinges were, wipe on some dark furniture polish to blend it in – specifically, I used “Old English Scratch Cover” used for dark woods. Our white dishes and glassware are on display in there. I have thought of a removable backslash before, but that removable tile idea is AMAZING! I have also wanted to cover the cabinets in contact paper too (they are pretty rough looking!), so I am really excited for more of these ideas. I have done other things to make it more manageable in there, organization and simplicity is key, pops of colors are good too :)
    Thank you for the Renter’s Posts!!!!!!!! (PS – I was painting a dresser white this past weekend, and as I was in the kitchen, it was SO tempting to “accidently” touch the roller to the cabinet. I was chuckling to myself of the fantasy. “Come on Rental Management, I would be raising your property value here!”)

    • Oh Jennifer, you made me laugh with that “oops accidentally paint the cabinets” comment…. so glad to read about your changes that make a big difference!

  22. In my oak kitchen, I did the beadboard wallpaper for the insets, and then I did contact paper on the frames…I am a contact paper guru…and then I used duct tape on the surrounding frames. it gives the appearance of white kitchen without paint. It can be peeled off…I am selling my home, some people like it, others think it is horrid. I am not taking it down…Most people UPGRADE after they buy so I don’t want to change out anything. But the kitchen photographs well, and it cleans up well, so I don’t get WHY people have gotten weird about the fact that it isn’t permanent. If you want the real wood cabinets, they are there…peel off my coating and they are as they were. I don’t like paint, I love wallpaper, it isn’t as messy and it doesn’t have fumes. I have a basic tract home, so I don’t have to impress anyone. I know the trend is to have expresso or darker colors, but I prefer oak or whitewashed woods. I switched out to burnished bronze fixtures…they always look or show dirt, I think they are a bad idea. Dust collects on them and it looks like I never dust…hate that…

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