More Ways to Waste Time reader Lisa writes: "I'm hoping you (or your lovely readers) might offer some guidance. This is the kitchen in the apartment I'll soon be moving into. I'm a renter, so major renovation is out. But I'm willing to paint, change the pendant fixture, and do anything else that can be un-done when it's time to give up the lease.
My biggest concern is paint. There's a yucky fluorescent light -- how do I compensate for the greenish cast with paint color? Any other ideas to brighten up the room? I love cooking and I have to feel comfy and happy in my kitchen. Thanks!"
Oh, the dreaded "landlord beige." Will somebody please explain to me why the people who own rentals think this will make their properties more attractive to prospective tenants? I don't get it.
Anyway, Lisa, here's what I'd do to freshen up that bland kitchen:
First, don't assume that the landlord won't let you make permanent improvements. He or she may not want to deal with them, but might be more than happy to allow you to. Hell, the landlord might even be willing to split the cost of minor remodeling with you, or let you deduct the price of materials from the rent as long as you provide free labor. And though you don't want to sink too much cash into a place that isn't your property -- it is your home, at least for the next couple of years, so it's worth fixing up a bit. There are lots of simple changes you can make that won't cost much, but that will have a big impact.
I'm guessing that you can't paint the cabinets, baseboards, or wood trim, but it's still worth asking about. (Nick and I once had a landlord who let us paint our horrible, orange-y plywood kitchen cabinets a deep teal -- hey, it was the early '90s.) A bright, glossy white on the wood would work wonders to freshen up the space. Above is the kitchen at our last house, where we painted the (again, horrible, orange-y plywood) cabinets with Ralph Lauren's Polo Mallet White in semi-gloss. It made a huge difference.
Then you can swap out the existing cabinet hardware for something crisp and clean, like the Ephram knobs above, $7 each from Restoration Hardware -- or for something sweetly vintage-y, like these colored milk-glass knobs, $3.50 apiece from eBay seller AuntiGin's.
As for wall color, I'm partial to tart apple greens and snappy pale aquas in the kitchen, but if you can't paint out that stained wood, those colors might not work so well. If you must leave the cabinets and trim as is, my vote would be for a soft sage green on the walls, which will warm up the space and work nicely with the wood. And while you're at it, just paint right over those almond-colored lightswitch and outlet covers.
To soften the Arctic glare from the fluorescent fixture -- and to help camouflage its plain old unsightliness -- you could wrap it with warm-toned rice paper or even a semi-sheer fabric stuck on with double-sided tape. And be sure to replace those cold fluorescent tubes with ones from the warmer end of the spectrum. (Without fail, landlords will buy the cheapest and ugliest bulbs available, but there are some better choices out there these days.) And while I don't mind the simple light fixture in the breakfast area so much, one of the crocheted pendants above, $224 from Rian Rae, would be lovely.
Next: Take down the metal mini-blinds (you can always put them back up when you move out). In their place, install some fresh and simple roman shades (available inexpensively in standard sizes from places like IKEA); colorful cafe curtains (buy tension rods, fabric, and heat-activated fabric tape, and you won't even have to sew or install hardware to hang them); or even pretty window film (which lets light in but maintains your privacy and blocks an uninspiring view), like Emma Jeffs' Moroccan Tile pattern above, $75 a roll from Pure Modern.
I think the orange tiles on the backsplash are kind of fun, but if they don't work with your new color scheme, cover them with these cool Tile Tattoos by Mibo, $16 for a set of six from 2Jane.
The counters aren't too offensive, but a simple butcher-block countertop would be a nice improvement that won't cost much. It doesn't look like there's all that much counter space to begin with, and (with you landlord's blessing, of course) you could have new butcher block put in for a few hundred bucks. That's what we did in part of our old kitchen, at left above. Formica is another cheap option -- and there are actually some pretty cool laminate patterns available these days, as well as solids like crisp white or deep charcoal that are understated and reasonably attractive (for real!).
And, oh -- those floors. I have a huge pet peeve about this sort of faux "Tuscan tumbled-stone" ceramic tile, which sells for about a buck a square at Home Depot. I'd happily take a sledgehammer to all of it if I could. But since you probably can't, I'd cover it. Ask your landlord if you can put down some stick-on vinyl tiles, which aren't too tough to pull back up when you move out and can be configured in fun patterns, like a checkerboard. Carpet tiles are another option; FLOR makes some great ones in a variety of poppy colors. The beauty of those is that if you spill on one of them, you can simply pull it up and rinse or replace it. Even better: You can take the carpet tiles with you when you move on to your next place.
At the very least, throw a couple of colorful area rugs over that frightening floor. These plastic floor mats by Koko are just $36 each from 2Modern. They're bright, fun, and can be taken outside and rinsed off with a hose if you drop a casserole on them.
Now for furniture: You need something compact and round for that breakfast corner. I'd get a white Docksta table, $149 from IKEA, and a set of colorful chairs (like IKEA's Snille chairs, $15 each), and then splurge on some happy supermarket Gerbera daisies for the table every week.
Finally, pick up some cheerful table linens and tea towels (like Fractil, above, $8.50 from Tikoli), and hang some colorful prints or even a grouping of thrift-store plates on those bare walls. I love the collection below, for instance, from San Francisco artist Lisa Congdon's home.
And then I think you'll have yourself a pretty stylin' kitchen -- even if it is a rental.
Readers, what say you? Add a comment to share you own advice for fixing up Lisa's kitchen!
(P.S. Have a design dilemma of your own? Send it in, along with a photo or two, and I'll put it up here for a communal brainstorming session.)