Every renter knows there a few parts of a home that are generally off-limits to redecorate. Given that every structural change needs to be approved by building management, you usually have to turn a blind eye to a dated kitchen—or at least, that's what we thought.
If you've been putting up with '70s tiles and worn shelves because you can't renovate, Brady Tolbert, editorial director at Emily Henderson, says there is a way to update a kitchen without remodeling. Tolbert, who's gained serious DIY cred for his stunning dining room reveal, has turned his attention to decorating his kitchen, a once cramped, dimly lit space.
"In an ideal world, I would have been able to rip out the cabinets and create a more functional layout by adding counter space and storage," Tolbert tells MyDomaine. "But since I wasn't able to do that I started with a good coat of fresh white paint which instantly brightened up the kitchen."
A coat of paint was just the start of Tolbert's project. Take a look at the stunning before and after photos to find out how a design pro transforms a kitchen without renovating. Turns out it's possible.
When Tolbert moved into the new apartment, he knew the kitchen showed promise. "To be completely honest, I loved the kitchen when I moved in. Granted it was not perfect, but it did have a totally functional layout and tons of old character with detailed moldings on the walls and ceilings and vintage shaker-style cabinets," he explains on Emily Henderson's site.
He likens it to a first date: "My first impression of my kitchen was akin to one of those first dates where you definitely can see the guy has flaws, and that he might have some weird habits that you either have to get used to or change." Luckily, he adds, the kitchen has transformed "from Prince Alarming to a much more palatable Prince Charming."
If you only have an hour to refresh your kitchen, Brady recommends starting with hardware. "If you aren't in a place to renovate and don't have a DIY thumb, the easiest and quickest way to give your kitchen a refresh is to swap out all the hardware and clear off all the clutter from the countertops," he says. "The knobs will help to update the look of your cabinets and the overall feel of the kitchen, and clearing the countertop visually makes the space feel new and fresh."
If you struggle to edit the items on your countertop, Brady swears by this simple but effective rule. "Try to keep [tidy] by only leaving out the things you use on a daily basis. It might require a little juggling and reorganization of your cabinets, but in the long run, having counters that are clear from clutter and appliances is such an easy way to give your space a visual update," he says. Bonus: "It only takes a few hours, so you can spend the rest of your weekend relaxing."
In keeping with the black-and-white theme of the dining room, Tolbert opted to install an all-black Smeg fridge next to the existing stovetop. The floors are a genius DIY trick: They're actually removable peel-and-stick tiles he installed over the top of the existing floor.
Shelving and storage was a major focus for Tolbert. "When I first moved into the apartment, there was one single shelf on this wall above the sink, and not only was it pretty shallow, but it was at a little bit of an awkward height," he explains.
To make the space more functional, he replaced it with three new shelves at a better height and styled them with organic-shaped bowls, glasses, and ceramics. "Luckily the ceilings were quite tall, so I was able to add a lot of open shelving to the walls, which not only helped with my storage needs but visually made the room look larger as the shelves brought the eye all the way up to the ceiling."
The walk-through kitchen flows into a space Tolbert affectionately called his "dining nook," a light-drenched area that's a focal point when you enter the kitchen. The eye travels from the brass-and-leather Dwell Studio chairs up to the exposed-wire chandelier from Schoolhouse Electric, then to the feature wall: a Tetris-like display of elegant black-and-white artwork.
Looking back at photographs of the dimly lit kitchen space before Brady's makeover makes you realize just how much thought and effort have gone into the design. Every shelf is carefully styled with handpicked ceramics, every cupboard has been maximized, and every detail down to the size and style of the drawer pulls adheres to the same refined but cool aesthetic. It's just one more room in Tolbert's fast-growing portfolio of work. Next up: the home office. "I just got some wallpaper installed and things are shaping up so stay tuned for that reveal," he says.
We can't wait.
What do to you think about this rental kitchen makeover? Have you tried any of these styling tricks at home?