Before and After: An Affordable Rental Kitchen Makeover

Updated 10/02/17

When we heard that our stylist friend Peter Dolkas, a former MyDomaine market editor, was giving his Los Feliz kitchen in Los Angeles a mini makeover, we couldn’t wait to see how it turned out. He’d made a lot of nice upgrades to his rental apartment as soon as he moved in, but six months after living there, he felt his kitchen still wasn’t coming together. The red oak cabinets didn’t jibe with his neutral tendencies, his gray composite granite felt out of place, and overall it needed an infusion of style. As he puts it, “I wanted the kitchen to feel fresh and airy like Ina Garten’s but also have some interest like Grace Coddington’s.”

Dolkas got to work making just a few simple yet thoughtful changes, including painting the cabinets, changing out the knobs, and introducing new storage options, which quickly made the kitchen feel lighter, brighter, more efficient, and more current. For those of us living with rental kitchens that are less than desirable, it’s a great reminder than you can make impactful changes that won’t break the bank or upset your landlord.

We sat down with Dolkas to get the details on his kitchen transformation. Read on to learn how this space came together and shop some of his décor finds.

rental kitchen makeover
Peter Dolkas

Before

MYDOMAINE: What were your aesthetic and functional goals for your kitchen?

PETER DOLKAS: I wanted to brighten and neutralize the colors in the kitchen so that it would flow better with the palette in the rest of my apartment. The red oak cabinets had to go! Also, I knew the gray composite granite countertop would look intentional once the bottom cabinets were painted a matching gray.

Functionally, I knew if I gave kitchen items more-designated homes, like the pot rack and towel holder, if would be easier to keep my kitchen organized. If you find yourself often using certain items, keep them out on shelves and racks so they are quickly accessible. The items you don't use a lot, like a fondue pot, can be stored away in cabinets. 

Joyce Lee

After

MD: What was the biggest challenge of this project?

PD: The biggest challenge was reattaching the cabinet doors after they were painted. It takes a lot of patience to get them aligned right, which I may or may not have had.

Staub Black Round Cocottes $150
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Joyce Lee

MD: What was your greatest find?

PD: I was pretty stoked when I found the mirror that is hanging by my stove. It's from my favorite architectural salvage store here in L.A., the location of which I only disclose to my nearest and dearest. I also love the rug. It was my grandmother's, and she told me to get it appraised, but I'd never part with it.

IKEA Grundtal Towel Rail $15
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Peter Dolkas

Before

MD: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to make over a rental kitchen?

PD: Don't be afraid! It seems like a big deal to paint cabinets, but it's not really that much more challenging than painting a wall. And if you're unsure if your landlord will give you your security deposit back, just wait until the kitchen looks great to tell them. That's what I did! She loved how it looked so much that she couldn't fault me.

I decided on painting the lower cabinets a warm gray, to make the countertops match better and look more intentional. Benjamin Moore's Revere Pewter has always been a favorite because it walks the line between gray and taupe and doesn't feel at all sterile. And the top cabinets I painted a crisp white to match the walls (Benjamin Moore's Chantilly Lace).

Joyce Lee

After

MD: What were your best resources for affordable décor and supplies?

PD: I was pretty impressed with the $25 bamboo blinds I ordered off Amazon. I also surprisingly found my crocks at Michael’s. I think if you scour the discount stores like HomeGoods and Marshalls, you can find some real gems. Also, religious trips to your favorite thrift and vintage stores will always pay off.

Rejuvenation Pittock Triple Towel Holder $119
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Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter Paint $7
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Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace Paint $7
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Joyce Lee
Peter Dolkas

Before

Joyce Lee

After

Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co. Wayland Pendant $129
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Joyce Lee
Peter Dolkas

Before

Joyce Lee

After

Rejuvenation Numbered Earthenware Canisters $18
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Rejuvenation Small Oval Knob $9
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