Arlyn’s Rental Kitchen Reveal Just Might Have You Wishing You Had Brown—Or Even Cherry— Cabinets (Yes, Really)

Picture this: You’re given a can of paint and told that you have to make the color work in your home no matter what it is. You prop open the lid and see a hue that you frankly just don’t like. But the rule states that sorry, gotta use it and good luck making it look good. Well…that’s kind of how it works when you live somewhere with a specific tone on your kitchen cabinets you don’t love with no power to change them.

The twist here is this is my favorite type of challenge. The challenge with hard limitations. It forces me to try new things and come up with solutions I wouldn’t have had to think through if I started with a blank slate or even had some choice in the matter.

Is this my dream kitchen? No. I can’t say that it is. But is it a kitchen that I made visually work for me that now feels so much more welcoming? I’d say so. I’m really happy with how this turned out, even if many parts of it require a “don’t look too closely” warning label (keep reading). The act of pulling open my little cafe curtains every morning to let the sun stream in is ritualistic at this point, as is lifting the Roman shades in the breakfast nook. It’s what happens just before the kitchen is saturated with the smell of brewing espresso, the rush of a family of three prepping breakfast, and the beginning of a parade of toys being scattered across the floor throughout the day. I love it. And I hope you do, too.

So, let’s take a look, shall we? Welcome to my little perfectly imperfect rental kitchen makeover.

Step Stool | Peel and Stick Backsplash | Checkerboard Cutting Board | Brass Cabinet Handles | Brass Cabinet Cup Pulls | Mini Lamp (Similar)

How I Reimagined the Cherry Cabinets in My Rental Kitchen

The biggest change in this space is the backsplash you see in the above photo. When we first moved in, it was just a semi-gloss white textured wall. It felt stark against the not-quite-green-not-quite-yellow-sort-of-brownish countertop, which in turn made the dark brownish cherry cabinet stain feel even stronger. It was all too much contrast, and I knew I needed to mellow things out by bringing in tonal materials, adding a helping of lighter wood finishes and then just making it as charming as I could without veering too close to the grandmother’s cottage from Little Red Riding Hood.

Miss Honey’s cottage from Maltida, though? That…that was more in line with what I wanted. Admittedly, the visual notes were very different in my memory than they were in real life when I referenced photos from that movie, but it still works, IMHO.

As a quick reminder, this is a rough checklist of what I wanted to accomplish and/or change here:

  • Add a removable (peel-and-stick) backsplash
  • Change hardware to something warmer and less 2003
  • Swap rug to limit the amount of red in the room
  • Get appliance finishes to match
  • Find a better storage solution to clear off all the small appliances on the counters
  • Create breakfast nook
  • Replace broken vertical blinds in the breakfast nook with some sort of drapery or fabric situation
  • Swap mini blinds by sink window
  • Add color and personality somehow
  • Maybe improve the floors
  • Replace flush mount in breakfast nook with something softer (The light was intense)

You can read through all my “whys” and see more before photos in my original post as well as this update post.

Besides the floors (more on that in a bit), I was able to accomplish everything on my list. And the difference it has all made makes me *like* my cabinets. If I were my own teacher, I’d give myself an A for effort. 🙂

Black Pedestal Fruit Bowl | Potato and Onion Storage | Terracotta Garlic Keeper | Blue Staub Dutch Oven (similar) | Rug (vintage) | Art Print | Brass Frame Holding Art Print | Mini Easel (vintage) | Marble Lazy Susan

This little corner is where I essentially live in this kitchen. It’s where I do all my chopping, plating, and prepping for meals. I used to have my microwave caddy cornered there and every single day, I hated it. For some reason, it felt like a problem I had no control over changing, and then one day, I said ENOUGH, and moved it over next to the fridge and never looked back. Instead of two chopped-up slivers of counter to work with, I opened up a proper expanse of surface area and I don’t know why such a simple solution never crossed my mind prior. Funny how that can be sometimes, huh?

While I wish I didn’t have to eat up a quarter of my counters with a microwave, the truth is, we use it every day and there was no room for it anywhere else that made sense. Some people in my original intro post suggested I move it to the area where the breakfast nook is now, but there isn’t a plug on that wall and a giant extension cord is not something I wanted to look at every day. So this is where it lives now, and honestly, it’s fine. Everything doesn’t have to be “Instagram perfect” to work for your life. In fact, it’s usually more convenient when it’s not…

The other improvement to my workflow was creating a produce station here. Before, I had a bowl of fruit (strangely) over by the sink/coffee area, a two-tiered produce basket where the microwave is now, and another small bowl kind of propped wherever I could fit it because there were too many gosh dang things on the counter. It’s not a large space, so it didn’t cost me much to turn around and grab a lemon from the other side but still…it wasn’t efficient. Now, I use up the large, deep corner that wouldn’t be useful to me in any other way with all my produce (in real life, there’s an additional large bowl here holding even more fruit because we are a produce-obsessed household and I needed more vessels than looked pretty for a shoot).

A Serendipitous Rug And A Crappy Backsplash

I explained in this article how I got to this rug but I’ll quickly rehash it for anyone who doesn’t want to leave my pretty images to look at another process post (who could blame ya?). The red rug I used to have here was a holdover from three apartments ago. I just moved it from kitchen to kitchen to kitchen even if it wasn’t ideal, and it was *really* not ideal in here. It was a $20 vintage number I bought at ReStore nearly a decade ago and it was scratchy, produced a ridiculous amount of weird blackish lint and never looked or felt clean, even if I had just cleaned it. I picked a pretty Ruggable rug instead with the appeal of being able to throw it in the washing machine whenever it needed it. But the colors didn’t match what I fell in love with about it online, and every day I’d walk in, look down at it, and think “Bummer.”

I was OVER spending money, so I hit up Facebook Marketplace on a whim one day and saw this beauty for $100. It was exactly the size and color I wanted/needed and after a touch of haggling (I would have to drive down to Long Beach to get it which is a trek from Pasadena), we settled on $80. I put my toddler in her car seat faster than food burns under a broiler, drove the hour south and scooped up my dream rug. I’m SO happy with it and because it has a dense wool pile, it cleans very easily. So far, we haven’t had any major spills and I hope for it to stay that way.

Another bummer is actually the backsplash I picked, sadly. Yes, as a whole, I like the way it ended up looking, but it started peeling off the wall meer days after installation. Every day, I have to press in detached pieces. I’ve added more tape and other adhesives and no-go. I know the semi-gloss paint and wall texture are the main culprit here so perhaps you’d have better luck with it, but…it sucks.

Striped Drapery Fabric (gifted) | Cafe Curtain Rod | Cafe Curtain Mounting Hardware

Creating Charm With DIYed Cafe Curtains

This is my favorite photo of the entire bunch because it’s just a tad ludicrous. No one has a sink full of blooms and branches ever but I asked Bowser to make it happen (remember…Miss Honey’s Cottage inspo at work here). Besides that, the little cafe curtain moment is darling, isn’t it? I picked this pinstripe linen fabric from Tonic Living very early on, and it couldn’t be more perfect. Up close, my sewing handy work is…a bit wonky, but from afar you can barely notice that my seams are crooked! Huzzah! I bought some pinch pleat tape from Amazon, sewed that on, and then hand-sewed the pleats together at each meeting point. I hung the curtain at the point where we couldn’t see our back neighbor’s kitchen window but there was still plenty of room above for sunlight and moonlight (about 2/3 up is usually a safe bet).

The rod was such a mission that came together in quite a serendipitous moment. My friends, I ordered three tension rods to try here. The first one was flimsy and buckled in the middle. The second one didn’t even fit in the very narrow frame allowance (it’s under two inches). The third one fit but felt so bulky. It was too late to order a custom-cut rod from Rejuvenation, so I was kind of panicking. That is until a designer I follow posted about a store called Shade Doctor of Maine from which she had just bought a custom-cut cafe curtain rod. I immediately clicked over and saw the price was super affordable ($25 for the custom-cut rod and $10 for the inside-mount brackets), and it could be made and shipped on time. The owner even called me the next day to confirm all my measurements and mailed it straight away after that. It was a design godsend, I tell ya.

I opted not to worry about the fact that my faucet was still brushed nickel. Would a beautiful brass fixture have been great here? Yeah, but…I just didn’t care enough by the end. It’s totally fine, and frankly, works well to pick up the brushed stainless of the appliances.

Oh, and the hardware? Bought it for SUPER cheap on an Amazon Prime Day deal back in July. I confess I hated them when they arrived, being sort of a frosted light brass but after a few days of living with them, I was okay. I love what the cup on all the drawers adds. Traditional and hearty, like a good beef stew.

Burlwood Tray | Sink Caddy | Glass Cannisters | Striped Roman Shade Fabric (gifted)

Here’s our little coffee and tea station, which didn’t change much. I just corraled everything in a pretty tray, swapped a bulky espresso pod holder that used to live under my Nespresso machine for some glass canisters, and never looked back. It works, it’s pretty enough, and yeah…a tray is the one great design elixir of life.

I do have to admit something. A trash can typically lives between the side of the cabinet and the chair you see here. SUE ME! PUT ME IN JAIL. It’s a very slim profile Simplehuman I’ve had for five years and we are all surviving. Is it as pretty as this? No, but real life is ugly-ish sometimes, readers. Charles and I talked about putting small cans under the kitchen sink, but as we are not Rockefellers, we do not have the luxury of extra storage space and need to leave that open for other things. So alas, it lives where it lives, even if I have to lie about it in a photo on the Internet.

Yes, I Bought All My Appliances Secondhand

LOOK AT THIS BIG GIRL WITH HER MOMMY IN A VERY WRINKLED DRESS STRAIGHT OUT OF THE PACKAGING!!!! I cannot get this child off this stool. You’ll usually find her standing at the counter with my knee pressed up against her back as she cuts a banana with a butter knife. It’s the only way I can cook without having to hold her to see what I’m doing (and yes, a proper learning tower is on our list to buy which will be a better option).

Before moving on to the breakfast nook, I just want to appreciate how hard I worked (truly) to find matching appliances all secondhand on budget. I talk a little more about it here (and fully go into every single detail on a post I wrote on a different site if you’re interested), but it took me since last March to make this happen. Quick anecdote: I found a wonderful KitchenAid French door fridge for $600 that the owner just wanted out of her house (she was moving). It took days to talk her down in price because that was my max budget knowing delivery would be another $200ish. I just ASSUMED a standard size would fit, so I celebrated my win prematurely, ordered a pick-up service and when they were on their way to the lady’s house to grab the fridge, I decided…you know what…let me just measure. AND IT WOULDN’T HAVE FIT. The counter is cut just a touch too long on the right side and the opening is at max 35.5″. A standard width fridge is 36″ (but actually 35.75″ to build in space around it for ventilation). I immediately canceled the delivery service and felt awful and deflated.

The lady was nice enough to let me go to her home, measure the fridge just to be sure it was larger than 35.5″ (it was), and then I had to walk away from it. Let me tell you…finding a 33″ fridge in a counter depth (this space required that) was near IMPOSSIBLE. I’m not exaggerating when I say they make I think three models that fit that bill. ON THE ENTIRE MARKET. And then to try to find one of those secondhand, well, Everest territory.

BUT I DID IT. And the rush of exhilaration I felt is what I imagine stock brokers feel when they do stock broker things that make them a lot of money. I love our fridge, and while you don’t see it that well in these photos, it makes me quite happy every day.

Bistro Table | Chairs | Chair Seat Fabric (gifted) | High Chair | Peel and Stick Wallpaper (gifted) | Laundry Closet Door Paint | Cute Baby (she’s mine, not for sale)

Carving Out A Breakfast Nook (& My ~$35 Roman Shade Solution)

LOOK AT THIS BIG GIRL IN HER NEW BREAKFAST NOOK WITH A FREE BALLOON THE PAVILIONS CASHIER GAVE HER BECAUSE SHE WAS THE CUTEST BIG GIRL IN THE WORLD. I LOVE this breakfast nook. I LOVE IT. I sit in that same chair as Evelyn every day drinking my morning coffee, looking out onto the street and the trees and no one can steal that joy from me.

Just like everything in here, finding a table in the finish I wanted but in the size I needed was also not an easy feat. Anything wider than 32″ would not fit in here with chairs and room to open the laundry doors. West Elm came in clutch with this bistro baby I called around all of Los Angeles to find. The Craftsman-like profile is an ode to the outrageously charming original Craftsman houses on the street where I live, while the neutral wood finish nicely balances the red cabinets.

The chairs were another Facebook Marketplace find for around $60. Just a few bolts tightened, some cleaning and new upholstery were all it took to make them work perfectly in here. With banana hands constantly touching my fabrics, I opted for a bullet-proof performance Sunbrella x Pindler textile, gifted to me by its designer, Max Humphrey.

As the backdrop to it all is one of my favorite elements of the whole space: that Chasing Paper peel-and-stick wallpaper, designed by Jenni Yolo. It’s the crown jewel of the room I think, really delivering a lightheartedness that’s needed with such heaviness happening on the other side of the room. It was my first time installing wallpaper in any form and while the first panel is (purposefully and luckily) hidden behind the cabinet, the rest was super easy to get up. So easy, even a 21-month-old can do it! Because she did (I’m kidding, Evelyn just rolled the seam roller around the wall a few times and always seems to be trying to take credit for my hard work in here). 😉 I then pulled a sage green from the paper and painted the laundry doors rather than replacing them. It’s a decision I don’t regret for even a moment.

Oh gosh, and the Roman shades! Figuring out how to cover this exceptionally large window took me quite a while, but I ended up DIYing Romans from that same Tonic Living striped linen using two very cheap cordless lift mini blinds. It was so easy and I’d be happy to do a DIY for you if you’re interested (spoiler: it cost me under $75 to make both of those!). Ignore the darker spots where I got too heavy-handed with the fabric glue.

Fluted Glass-Front Storage Cabinet (gifted)

When in Doubt, Move The Pantry

This Arnika Dining Cabinet from All Modern is so sturdy and beautifully made that both Charles and I were in awe of it after building it. I thought the fronts were going to be some kind of plexi but they’re a thick fluted glass and the rest of the cabinet is metal with adjustable shelves. I decided to turn it into my pantry and use the space in the cabinets I was designating as my pantry to stash away all my small appliances and get them off my countertops. It’s been a frankly life-changing solution. Sure, it’s a little annoying to have to walk over here to grab granola or pasta or bread, but I’ll choose it any day over digging through a dark, narrow and deep cabinet to find a can of cannellini beans stacked above the tuna I forgot I had because it’s impossible to see.

Striped Pitcher | Napkins | Candelablra | Bowls | Taper Candles | Pendant Shade (used for DIY) | Mini Pendant Kit (used for DIY) | Pendant Shade Fabric

Before wrapping, let’s talk about these floors, shall we? They aren’t what I wanted them to be. I dreamed of a checkerboard design underfoot and ordered many samples to try out. My favorites were by Chris Loves Julia for Wallpops but they were constantly sold out. About a week before the shoot, I reached out to them and they were going to possibly help facilitate but it just didn’t work out timing-wise. And it’s okay. Would it have felt more complete in here with a white and taupe marble checkerboard floor? I think so. But does the room still work without it? I also think so. Rentals aren’t always ideal in their design choices, and at least these aren’t offensive.

And finally, my little DIYed pleated pendant lamp that I made from an affordable shade and some clearance sheets from Target. My first attempt was dismal, but thankfully I found this instructional video that helped guide me to redo what I originally had created to this finished product. I think it adds just a touch of whimsy that I think every room needs to not take itself overly seriously. A little banding of maroon bias tape at the top and bottom harken back to the cabinetry.

In Conclusion…I Love It (+ What’s Next)

So there she is. My little sweet rental kitchen. I’m so glad to be done with it to share with you all and also to just enjoy it. When I go back and look at the before, I can’t believe how far it’s come with truly not a drastic amount of work. Yes, it took time—five months give or take—but I work and also take care of a baby and a family so such is life. Everything is going to be easily removable when we decide to leave this place, but hopefully, we’ll get to call it home for a while.

I’m in the midst of giving a similar rental overhaul treatment to my boring powder bathroom and putting the finishing touches on my dining room, which I hope to share early next year so stay tuned. Thanks for reading my thousands of words and for walking through my home with me. 🙂

Until next time.

Your friend in design, Arlyn

*Design by me (Arlyn Hernandez) | Styling by Emily Edith Bowser| Photography by Veronica Crawford

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