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Overwhelmed by my kitchen and don't really know where to start.

9 years ago

So I've been scouring the internet lately looking at all kinds of DIY projects and ideas because I HATE my kitchen. For financial and other reasons I'm locked into where I'm living (a rental through a friend's family) for at least the next couple years. And really, I like where I live. But I hate this kitchen. And of course, whenever I have a cookout or gathering, all of my friends are for whatever reason drawn straight to the kitchen to stand around and congregate in.
I have a pretty limited budget (probably $50-$100 a month) and it'll primarily be just me working on it. I'm not very good at picking out color/design stuff that would actually look good together. What I guess I'm looking for are smaller, realistic changes I can make that will make my kitchen look less like the out dated, falling apart, train wreck that it is.

Comments (34)

  • suzanne_sl
    9 years ago

    I'm a little confused about the color in this kitchen. In several photos it looks like the lemon special, but in the one the fourth from the bottom, the floor looks beige and the cabinets a very pale yellow. Not too bad in that photo.

    Regardless, let's talk about that ceiling in the second to the last photo. Where is that water leak coming from? Has the source been repaired? The landlord needs to come repair the ceiling leak, and then the ceiling. This cannot in any respect be considered a favor to you, but a condition of safe housing. Aside from that, this kitchen will need a total gut down the road. Sad to say that as a renter, you don't have much that you can or could do here. I suppose you could tear out the wallpaper trim and paint the walls, but I'm not sure it's worth it.

    If I were you, I would work on not noticing the drawbacks in this kitchen. I certainly wouldn't invest more than pocket change in this kitchen that doesn't belong to you. Just keep storing up good ideas for when you become the owner of a kitchen some day.

  • deedles
    9 years ago

    Oooo. Not too good in there. Agreed with the ceiling damage needing to be fixed. Agreed not to spend more than a couple dimes on that kitchen.

    I might scrub it within an inch of it's life and maybe, maybe spring for a can of paint for the walls and lose the border. That's about it. Sorry. I've had some crappy kitchens, too.

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  • herbflavor
    9 years ago

    have a discussion with landlord about obvious repair need of ceiling-peeling popcorn with old leak?......get this cleaned up and repaint...... I would want the microwave above range...see what collaboration can happen with you shopping for one[tons avail on Craigs list]...and they reimburse you for handyman installation. The mwave eating your counterspace with coffee pot on top would happen for about a week for me. If a mwave can't be installed above range, then get a cart or stand and place mwave elsewhere-even in eating area or adjacent room....maybe they'd let you get a non rusted hood-of the same type-get a used one-rust on the hood is not okay if I were standing there-that type of hood is not too expensive-and used--very cheap. Next thing would be similar kind of search for a more energy efficient white dishwasher-same thing-Craig's list or scratch n dent. Then you'd have some repairs done and create some efficiency in energy/a cohesive look/ and your use of counter/etc.Beyond that-just clean everything/maybe paint the backsplash. I don't like the burn mark on the range back, but not sure that discussion would get you anywhere. Get some mats or a runner or oval rug for the floor to add some pattern/complementary color. Save your money for other life phases/experiences-suzanne is right..

  • LoPay
    9 years ago

    I would investigate new window coverings and de-clutter if possible. Can you move the MW to a different area?

    Have you approached the landlord about repairs? Not suggesting you make any threats, but many cities have minimum standards for rental units. Might be worth knowing what they are in your area if you talk to him. Also, depending on how handy you are, could you swap painting or other repairs for a rent credit?

    Hope you documented this before you handed over a security deposit. I live in a university town, so other are all kinds of these rentals around and not so nice landlords. But other are good land lords too.

  • _sophiewheeler
    9 years ago

    It would be a win/win if the landlord would work with your and buy the materials to let you paint the cabinets and do new counters. But, if he won't, then what you can do becomes much smaller in scope. And, perhaps non existent at all. Some landlords would be miffed and not refund any security deposit if you did "improvements", so the first step here is to have a talk with yours. You need to have some pics of things that need to be repaired, and then discuss the cosmetic changes that you would also like to do. He's required to make repairs, but he's not required to let you make it pretty. Find out what he'll contribute towards, and what he's OK with you altering. Without that information, you can't plan to do anything here but clean things as well as you can.

  • Gracie
    9 years ago

    The cabinets are actually quite cute, but you can't decorate grime. Could your friends lend you a hand and help you scrub down everything? You've got to start there.

  • rosie
    9 years ago

    Great project! There's so much potential here. Really. From a does-it-work aspect, Wildernesslove, it's not so bad--compared to the many that are. That's a big deal because it means putting your own stamp on it with mainly paint should be most of what you need to be happy to go in there.

    First off, how about taking everything you don't have to have in there out and off the counters and refrigerator? Right now. What you love can go back in later, but for now just grab a box and simplify. I suspect it'll look better immediately and make you feel better, both because it'll be less cluttered and because it's action--a move forward toward the other changes you will be making.

    If there's simply no room in a drawer for those knives, I suggest eventually a magnetic strip to mount them on the wall. You need all the counter you have available for working.

    If it were mine, I would move the microwave to the left side of the sink--right now--to try that out. That would then open up the prize area between sink and stove for prep. It's not huge, but it's very convenient. And, no small matter, you could if you wished designate the OTHER side of the sink for cleanup, keeping the stove side clean and empty for cooking.

    Regarding color, what do you like? If your favorites are bright strong colors with strong contrasts, by all means look that direction. However, painting everything one very light color, or a narrow range of that color, will allow the surfaces of this small kitchen to blend together and seem calm and as large as possible.

    If you dislike an appliance and your property owner won't replace, Craig's List has your answer. There are tons of offerings there for very little. At least, there are if your area is large enough to have one. Newspaper and garage sales if not.

    Dish drainer? We all have our own ways, but my DW holds ALL my dirty pots, dishes, etc. out of sight until I turn it on, then it holds ALL the clean, dry dishes out of sight until I put them away. I long ago GAVE AWAY or put on a top shelf anything that couldn't go in my dishwasher, and my kitchen and I are by far happier for it. I can't recommend that more strongly for a kitchen of any size. Dump the drainer at Good Will tomorrow. Your counter will be 2' larger and much prettier before you even decide on a paint color.

    As for that color, have you considered having your friends over to discuss it?

  • ginny20
    9 years ago

    I like the cupboards, too. They are old, but they are cute and classic.

    I agree with Rosie- remove the dish drainer. But even if you still wash some things by hand - I do - one of those microfiber drainers that can be rolled or folded and put away after you dry the dishes will let you have your counter back. So much nicer to have a vase with flowers than a dish drainer. Put the microwave and coffee maker where you currently have the knives. You don't need all those knives - we had a very good discussion recently and the consensus was that all you really need on a regular basis is a chef's knife, a serrated bread knife, a paring knife, and possibly a filet knife. Move a single knife block over on the side where the microwave is, since that will become your prep space. And, as others have said, find a way to put away anything you can. Put the dish soap under the sink except when you're actually washing dishes. You can get a thing that sits inside the sink to hold the sponge so it's out of sight.

    What will the landlord let you do? Can you take off the border and paint the walls? Can you change the faucet? Is there any way to get that scorch mark off the range?

  • motherof3sons
    9 years ago

    This kitchen has great potential. Make a list of what you want to change. It does not need to be determined all in one sitting, but rather leave a pad of paper and pen on the counter to jot down ideas. Good luck!

  • joaniepoanie
    9 years ago

    You need to work with the landlord to fix up this space. At the very least they should repair the leak and plaster/drywall. it would be a bargain for the landlord to pay for a few gallons of paint for the walls and cabs and new hardware if you do the work. Not sure what shape the appliances are in, but looks like the range hood is rusty. A new laminate counter would also do wonders. If you are a good tenant and will take care of the place, they should be more than happy to help you make the space nicer and more livable.

  • katyde
    9 years ago

    I've been in this situation numerous times as a renter in the past. I would just go buy some "Navajo White" or similar paint, clean the surfaces with spic n' span and remove the border and cafe curtain, and give everything a clean coat of paint. Then pick your favorite color - turquoise or red or green - and buy a few accessories to splash around (a bowl for fruit, maybe a plant in a pot). Ask the folks at the paint store for the right products for painting. If your floor and counters are stained vinyl and formica, the "magic eraser" works wonders. The decluttering tips above are all important, ditch the fridge magnets and dish dryer for example. (we have this one for when we need it: I would hide the booze in a cabinet or get a small bar cart for your living space (they have loads of them at stores like home goods all the time). The MW would go great where the booze is and you'll have more counterspace. Clean will make you feel better about it believe me.

  • andreak100
    9 years ago

    In agreement with what has been said here.

    1.) Talk with the landlord. At the least, the leak that happened in the ceiling should be taken care of (I assume it's not leaking anymore).
    2.) Talk with the landlord some more - see if they will allow you to put money toward improvements to the kitchen in lieu of some of the monthly rent. We did this with a place - landlord bought paint (that way there was control over colors) and renter supplied the labor and other expendables (paintbrushes, etc.)
    3.) Clean, clean, and more clean. The cabinets really are charming. Their biggest vice appears to be that they need cleaned quite a bit.
    4.) Remove the wallpaper border. Just have paint. This needs to be at the landlord's approval.
    5.) Declutter - get as much as you can off the counters. This gives you room to work and gives a cleaner appearance.

    These are things that you would buy...I'd probably go with a "cottage" type look.
    5.) Change out the curtains.
    6.) Buy a cute little area rug.
    7.) Buy some new towels.
    8.) Buy some cute little pots to grow a few herbs. They are both pretty and functional (if you cook).

  • pricklypearcactus
    9 years ago

    As mentioned, work with your landlord to get the leak and ceiling repaired. Then scrub the kitchen, especially the cabinets. The cabinets are actually quite cute. I'd suggest reorganizing the contents of the cabinets so you can clear the counters completely. If you can do an OTR microwave, I think that would be nice. If not, maybe you can put it by the fridge, or to the left of the dishwasher. Can you remove the wallpaper border and paint? I think a slight contrast with the cabinets might be nice. I agree that a new window treatment would really help. Also, can you put the garbage under the sink?

  • bpath
    9 years ago

    In addition to what everyone else said, I'll bet you're depressed every time you open those black-hole cupboards. I was, too, in one kitchen. I had some white contact paper and, well, wallpapered the insides as a temporary fix, brightened them up.

    And, maybe you could find some 3M Command adhesive hooks (check out "back-to-college" sales) and hang the measuring cups, potholders, etc. inside doors. When you move you can remove them without damage.

    You have about 48" of counterspace on each side of your sink, that's not bad!

  • Mimou-GW
    9 years ago

    You have friends who gather at your place, a full size oven, a fridge that seems serviceable and cute cupboards! That's a good start. It does look like the place needs a good scrubbing followed by a paint job. I think you can make this work. I wish I had pictures of the kitchen we had in married student housing many years ago. I didn't realize the oven was so tiny until I put a pan of cookies in the oven and the door couldn't begin to shut! No counter space either but we came up with creative solutions and you will too.
    Sounds like you have a life rich in friendships and the kitchen spruce up will just enhance your festivities.

  • desertsteph
    9 years ago

    'dish soap under the sink except when you're actually washing dishes'

    I bought a small wire rack thingy from Amazon for about 6.00 that screwed into the inner side of the cabinet door. I put it on my bathroom cabinet door - and plan to buy one for the kitchen. I bought it when I got my gsons BD present so that I didn't have to pay shipping.

    There are numerous things you can do for very little $s. I agree on taking down the border print (with LLs permission) and painting the walls - and ceiling.

    What is above the damage on the ceiling? Has the leak been fixed? If not, it needs fixed before it gets worse. Then ask if you can repaint. Maybe one of your friends can help you prep it and paint. It'll make a world of difference.

    I'd also ask if it would be ok to put something on the wall behind the stove. Tile if you're up to it but you could just get one of those metal panel and put up. I've seen them in HD. They come in stainless, copper and a few other options.

    a super cleaning of cabinets, walls, woodwork.

    Change out the blinds and valance in the window.

    I wouldn't worry about changing out the stove as long as it works. I did buy one similar last yr on CL for around 100.00. It was super clean and worth it to me not to have to clean the one in the place I moved to - it was gross (too dirty to clean!)

    A runner on the floor in front of the sink cabinets would cover up some of it. You might get/rent a floor scrubber and try that on the floor if it looks grubby and won't come off with normal mopping. I use Dow scrubbing bubbles on things like the floor, the cabs, backsplash areas etc. I used a lot of it when I moved in here last year.

    the stove hood? check CL, you should be able to get one cheap from someone doing a full remodel and switching out to SS. I got my stove and dw from someone switching to SS.

  • Gooster
    9 years ago

    I don't have much to add, but if you encounter resistance to your ceiling problem with the landlord, mention that you'll be running test for toxic mold.

  • Vertise
    9 years ago

    I would start by getting the ceiling fixed. Then strip off the wallpaper, clean/prep the walls well, use Gardz primer to handle any residual wallpaper paste, put up a coat of clean white paint.

    Then scrub the room down, top to bottom. Stand back and see it with fresh eyes.

    Also replace the range hood. Maybe you can get permission to paint the cabinets too, but that is a huge undertaking and you'd have to make sure not to mess up with someone else's property!!

    This post was edited by snookums2 on Wed, Jul 17, 13 at 11:24

  • rosie
    9 years ago

    Renting from friend's family probably is not a standard landlord-renter relationship. :)

    I was looking and realizing all over again, though, how pleasant that kitchen could be. You're looking for ideas you can do.

    I don't know if there's something to hide or look out of from the window, but if the latter, how about making some simple cafe curtains and mounting them on rings so they can be pulled open and closed easily? Then open them while you work there. There are thousands of fabrics out there to choose from, and whatever style you like can be run up in literally minutes once you bring fabric and sewing machine together.


    But full height for privacy.

    A gallon of Navajo White then having fun with accessories sounds terrific, and classic. I think I'd definitely paint the hinges while I was at it and make dozens of "spots" just go away. Speaking of updating, the dotty hinge look has been out for a while. If the wallpaper doesn't come off easily, paint over it.

    Also for updating , note that mostly empty counters is a hallmark of virtually all the remodels you see these days on this forum. Look around. More "before" kitchens than not have stuff sitting out all over, not because there's no room in cupboards, it's just out. After, most of it's in cupboards because setting it back out would muck up all the glamorous new pictures. I do notice refrigerator pictures taking their places again here and there, though.

    A couple things others have done to kick off some ideas:

    Here is a link that might be useful: Loving your kitchen

  • bpath
    9 years ago

    I stopped by a neighbor I hadn't seen in a while and commented on her redecorating in the kitchen. New countertops? New wallpaper? No, she looked at me oddly, I cleaned off the refrigerator.

    I went home and cleared mine off, too.

    Remember hlove's "99% finished yellow kitchen"?
    Here is a link that might be useful:

  • desertsteph
    9 years ago

    I also went back and looked at hlove's kitchen - it's one of my favorites!

    having friends gathering in your kitchen sounds like it bothers you more than them. The friends are much more of a blessing than a fancy kitchen.

    but, I'm with you on doing what you can to fix it up and make it yours. Renting from the family of a friend is probably a bit like walking on jello ...

    Do what you can. If the friend of the family you rent from is one who gathers in your kitchen you might mention it to him or her. Like 'do you think they'd mind fixing the ceiling so I could paint it?' I'd even offer to pay for the paint. Maybe you could borrow a ladder from the LL or one of your friends.

    One thing mentioned here that I've done for the past 30 yrs or so - is keep my fridge doors mostly clear of everything. I have maybe 3-5 things on it. 2 being magnets, 1 for the vet and 1 for poison control. I've found that the inside of my cabinets doors are a good place to put notes to myself, recipes etc.

  • Gooster
    9 years ago

    Oh, although I did miss that unusual landlord relationship to begin with, I would still say a true friend would not let a friend live in a mold-infested household. I personally would be mortified to have a peeling, (likely) moldy ceiling like that and would push my family to make the right repairs. And test the mold -- sacrificing your health is not worth it.

  • Gracie
    9 years ago

    I don't think the landlord is the answer here. That is years of accumulated grime and grease. Even the stove front is coated with baked on grease. The simple answer is cleaning and paint.

  • ppbenn
    9 years ago

    Such great ideas for this poor forlorn kitchen.
    Wildernesslove hasn't been back to see them? Maybe busy getting to that kitchen!
    I am ever amazed at the helpfulness and interest from everyone on this forum. Amazing people!

  • Vertise
    9 years ago

    Fixing the ceiling yourself will be no good if it's still an active leak. Someone needs to check where the water is coming from.

    I'm surprised the landlord is allowed to rent without cleaning the place up first. Around here, I believe they are required to paint even, for sanitary reasons. It doesn't look like anyone ever checks on the place. Just walks to the mailbox to collect its income.

  • pricklypearcactus
    9 years ago

    I have a few more ideas. If you're handy enough (to safely) swap out the electrical plugs and plates with white, I think that'll give a more fresh clean look. What is right above the 3" countertop backsplash? More wallpaper border? I'd definitely remove that if possible. bpathome's suggestion to clear off the refrigerator is a great one too (front and top too). I find a clean clear kitchen to be a much more cheerful place.

  • seydoux
    9 years ago

    One more idea for the floor. The friend/landlord may not want to put new vinyl down so you could create a floor cloth. The easiest and least expensive way is to buy a drop cloth the right size, paint it with gesso, then latex paint and use a stencil around the outside. Then put two coats of polyurethane on top. This can be done for less than 50 dollars if you get the materials on sale and is very easy. As a landlord, I will tell you that even if it is a friend, they must fix that ceiling. It had lead paint and is a health hazard.

  • sleevendog (5a NY 6aNYC NL CA)
    9 years ago

    Seems to just be a random post with no return? Scrub it!. We have all lived, well at least i have, in rentals when young. Scrub and scrub. A degreaser with lots of rinsing with water and scrub again. Your friends are hanging in the kitchen because that is where the booze is, lol. A nice thrift store bar cart parked just outside the kitchen in the living room might help social flow.

    Does your landlord know about the ceiling? Is another tenant upstairs? Or is your bathroom upstairs? A slow leak needs to be fixed. A scrape and paint is just a 'bandaid' solution hiding the festering disease. It could be a simple tub caulking with a bad shower curtain above. And like mentioned could be a serious heath hazard.

    I would not spend much money. Some landlords will chip in with paint purchase if you do the work. Just ask. It does need scrubbing first. Even the best primer might struggle with all the grease buildup. Visit sites like retro-renovation and apartment therapy for easy low cost ideas.
    You do not need to spend lots of cash to have an adorable kitchen. Clean, un-cluttered, a fresh batch of solid towels, pale blue, red, orange.

    Maybe your rent is low but don't be afraid to ask. Or let them know about a leak. If they don't care, just scrape the ceiling and make do with cleaning. Save your money to move on...asap.
    Move the microwave to the booze counter next to the fridge. Invest in a few things that you can take with you. A nice big cutting board, next to stove. Bon Ami and Bar Keepers Friend are good powder cleaners that do not scratch surfaces.

    It is such a cute kitchen and tons of storage. And the fridge opens in the correct direction!
    (so rare, lol)

    Take a very wet sponge and soak the wallpaper border a few times over a few hours. (in a small test spot). It might just peal off easy, especially if the paint is an old hard glossy oil.

    And do not paint without telling your landlord. He just might have paint from other projects that he is willing to give for nothing. If your cabinets and walls are greasy and old oil paint, they need proper prep. Primer before an inexperienced latex application. It will peel and be a bigger mess.

    Relationships and friends are so much more important. Embrace what you have...but at least scrub it!
    (should take about 4-6 hours.)

  • stealthecrumbs
    9 years ago

    I agree with others- this kitchen has potential. The cabinets are cute. And though I think the advice about not spending your own money on a rental property is wise, I totally understand wanting to feel at home and happy in your space. As long as your landlord is okay with it, I think some paint will go a long way in this space! And definitely ask friends and family about extra paint they might have. A good scrub, some fresh paint and some cute curtains and you will really have a hip, vintage vibe going in there! (Landlord should fix the ceiling!)

  • daburke
    9 years ago

    As a Land Lord myself, the kitchen is functional, and is meeting his needs. When you approach him, if he isn't interested in doing any work ( which the ceiling needs attention) he may want you to be thinking of moving along. I'm not interested in replacing / updating a unit if the rent is going to remain the same, or if I'd really want the tenant to leave. Don't be offended but if my units had that much grease in their kitchens, the rent would be doubling the next lease renewal.
    Gooster mentioned "mold" , there isn't any mold from your pictures. A stain isn't mold.
    1) Again clean the kitchen from ceiling to floor and everything between. Pull out appliances and clean behind. Empty cabinets and clean them in side. It's your dirt.
    2) Remember your land lord wants the unit / kitchen to be marketable to all especially the next tenant with out a big rehab after you leave. Use neutral colors. White looks clean
    3) Ask if you can install (a DYI project) a white piece of Formica laminate behind the stove, just the width of the stove, placed behind the stove up to the bottom of the wall cabinet above the stove, to make the rear easy to clean and will blend in with the counter top and appliances.
    4) Mount the Mico wave over the sink if possible.
    5) De-clutter
    6) After you've put some effort into this, talk to your LL. about re-painting the cabinets ( if their wood). Painting Kitchen cabinets NEVER LOOKS GOOD painted with a brush. You'll want to get them air less paint sprayed. The company should remove the doors and take away and paint -return and the remount. But get some estimates before you ask the LL. I always appreciate tenants who attempt to be part of the solution and NOT PART OF THE PROBLEM.
    Good luck and start cleaning

  • rosie
    9 years ago

    Another viewpoint is always worthwhile.

    Chances are this landlord isn't a pro but just an owner who'd be glad of any refurbishing our poster here would be willing to do. The apartment seems to have some long-term deferred maintenance and is unlikely to have been repainted prior to occupancy.

  • nosoccermom
    9 years ago

    Grease cutter and elbow grease for starters. That's the lowest cost and will work wonders.

  • chicgeek
    9 years ago

    This kitchen reminds me of the one I had in my first apartment (although I had a vintage 1930's single door fridge on legs that was only good for keeping beer cold and making frost in the freezer!). The biggest improvement I made in that space was cleaning, painting, new window treatments and a nice trash can. It made huge difference and didn't break my budget.

    Lots of great suggestions. As others have mentioned, biggest (and most necessary) improvement getting the leak/ceiling damage repaired. Once repaired, paint the ceiling with quality ceiling white paint. That will make it look cleaner! Invest in some good cleaning supplies and really clean (Mr. Clean Magic eraser may help with that grease/grime build up). As previously suggested, ask if you can remove the wallpaper border and paint the walls with a washable paint in a light, neutral color (something that will be easy to cover when needs to be painted again).

    Move the microwave to counter either next to fridge or in corner on counter above dishwasher. Keep counter under window clutter free (that's what you see when you look into room). Please store the liquor in cabinet and pull out when friends come over.The bottles take up way too much space.

    Purchase some new, clean blinds for the window and a few new dish towels. A new trash can that has a cover on it will look much better since trash is out in the open. And keep the can clean with that Mr. Clean magic eraser.

    I like that you have a magnetic board and calendar on the wall. That looks pretty organized. Perhaps you can pare down the items on the fridge door or move them to the side of the fridge so the fridge door is clean to the eye. That will make the space look better too.

  • Ashe42
    9 years ago

    Check with your landlord first, but remove border (so 80s!) and curtains. Consider installing hidden cabinet door hinges if possible, unless you're going for a country look. Get new cabinet hardware--our basement mini kitchen had that kind of cabinets, and it was really astonishing what a difference paint and new hardware made.

    Assuming the leak is fixed, scrape the bloody popcorn, sand and paint--you'll get those counters emptied fast if you do that, lol! It's not hard, just tedious. The popcorn comes off fast, it's sanding and spackling the exposed seams that takes time. Liquor should go on a pretty silver tray in your living room; there's no room in the kitchen. The cluttery stuff off your fridge can go inside cabinet doors. I finally learned to tape school and soccer schedules, photos, lists etc inside the cabinets and it made a huge difference to the way my kitchen looked.