before and afterDIY

Before & After: A Drab Kitchen Gets A One-Day Makeover

by Maxwell Tielman

Design*Sponge | Apartment Kitchen Before & After


Beautiful, functional kitchens are sort of the holy grail of a renter’s life. Unless you are one of those rare, oh-so-fortunate souls that stumbled upon a beautiful rental kitchen serendipitously, you have likely encountered the dreaded and tragically ubiquitous Rental Kitchen of Doom. The RKD has a long and sordid history, haunting many an apartment renter throughout its terrifying reign. Although its exact origins cannot be pinpointed, it can be easily assumed that this abominable trifecta of generic wooden cabinets, faux-stone laminate, and sporadically functional unmarked appliances came to the fore in the 1990s—that sad time in design history where new wasn’t necessarily synonymous with quality. For whatever reason, the RKD continues to dominate the rental scene even to this day. Fortunately, there are ways of dealing with and coexisting with the RKD—even on a renter’s budget! Teddy Lee, a designer living in Manhattan, is one such renter who managed to work within the constraints of his East Village apartment’s kitchen. With just a few cosmetic touch-ups, Teddy was able to transform his RKD into a RKA (a Rad Kitchen of Awesomeness—do you like what I did there?). Even more amazing—the entire project took less than a day and cost slightly over $300. BANG! If that’s not inspiration for all us renters out there, I don’t know what is! Check out all of the photos plus Teddy’s design notes and sources after the jump! —Max

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“The space felt small, dark, and cluttered,” Teddy writes. “I needed to find a way to brighten the space and give it a fresh look on a small budget. My starting point was the faux wood block countertop that I could not replace. I looked for inspiration kitchens that had real wood block counters and decided that white would compliment the counter well and make it look more expensive. From there I decided to add elements that were semi-country and industrial. I always feel that a designer should keep to the bones of the space and add a twist to update it. I knew my cabinets had a country contemporary feel so I was not going to go ultra-modern, but instead used industrial elements to update the look.
“I believe that the final look is such a difference because of the cabinet color and lighting. Paint can do so much to transform a space. Also, good lighting is key to add warmth and depth to a space. Both paint and lighting are inexpensive things that anyone can install in a short amount of time. Lastly, the whole look was executed within a day, but that’s after many days of research, prep, and organizing. Most times my design is organic, but my advice is to always stick to the plan. Sticking to the plan will not only help you accomplish things more efficiently, but it will help narrow down your search when you are bargain shopping or browsing through sale sections.”


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teddy_ba_form_4 Design*Sponge | Apartment Kitchen Before & After

  • Paint/Supplies/Hardware – Home Depot – $120
  • Drum Pendant – CB2 – $59
  • Undercabinet Lighting – Home Depot – $39
  • Rug – West Elm – $20 (Sale)
  • Bar Table – Craigslist – $30
  • Stools – Amazon – $140

Suggested For You


  • This is an amazing redo that I would love to embrace if I wasn’t certain that my landlord would almost literally kill me. I do have to point out how the room behind the kitchen changed as well. You don’t notice it as easily because your focus is on the kitchen but it does factor in the overall look of the redo.

  • looks fabulous, but something extremely noteworthy is the fact that this is a rental!!! Most landlords would not allow someone to come in a do this. Wall paint yes because it can easily be changed back to how it was to begin with, but not cabinetry. And to those saying it cannot be done in one day…it most certainly can. It’s only 8 cabinet doors and very small cabinet space. A palm sander, a coat of good quality primer, and a coat of quality paint wouldn’t take long at all.

  • For those of you who are so concerned and/or certain that your landlords would not allow remodeling, show them this article and these before and after pics. Offer to pay for the supplies and handle the labor and you may be very surprised. Remind them that kitchens and bathrooms are what sell (rent) an apartment!!

  • you did a great job for that small space! Are the under cabinet lights hard wired and did you do that wiring yourself? Was each lite unit $39. ? Or what appears to be 3/39?

    Thank you in advance for information on lighting.


  • You have to sand better for get that wax off and the sealer and grease off makes the paint stick better, you don’t want to have to redo it next year cause the paint is coming off

  • I’m getting ready to sell and want to update the kitchen,we have 70s look and off white ceramic tile counters. How do you paint cabinets in white with the dark color showing in the weathered look and update the counters for an almost nonexistent budget?

  • Why have none of the questions been answered in over a year? I would be interested in this… along with the questions which were asked.

  • I see this article pop up from time to time in my news feed. I would certainly recommend leaving a little more time for the primer and paint to cure if you want the paint to hold up to daily wear and tear for any length of time. Prep typically includes a light sanding and de-greaser (Krud Kutter works great and is non-toxic/biodegradable). Shellac-based primer has great adhesion and works best for sealing wood tannins, with oil-based primer being a close 2nd. My best results have come from PPG BREAKTHROUGH, and Benjamin Moore Advance & Sherwin Williams Pro-Classic Acrylic Alkyd also do a nice job. I have used BREAKTHROUGH on roughly 20 sets of cabinets over the last several years and had 100% positive feedback. Any sort of bright white will look great, and ideally you can match the cabinet color with the rest of your trim. Good luck everybody, freshly painted cabinets make a HUGE difference in a dated kitchen ~

  • WOW.. now THAT is a makeover! :) That really blew me away. So tasteful. Im so used to seeing cold, industrial style makeovers that take away the cosiness… and then I see this! Gorgeous. Finally someone with taste

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