This post was sponsored by Home Depot, but all text, images, and opinions are all my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that keep Thou Swell running!

Easy and inexpensive rental kitchen makeover on Thou Swell #kitchen #kitchendesign #rentalkitchen #kitchemakeover

My family spends a lot of time in the kitchen – we love to cook (and eat), and my sisters and I help make dinner and clean up each night. It’s an important space for our family to be together in. One of my favorite activities is to play the “what would I change” game in a room – although sometimes far-fetched, it’s interesting to think of the simple solutions that could improve a room’s light, space, and efficiency. Of course, the kitchen often becomes subject to these daydreaming sessions, as it’s a room that’s central to the house and frequently used. Our current kitchen really wasn’t a bad starting place. Everything was painted white, which made for a great blank slate for our rental kitchen makeover!

the kitchen before

Rental kitchen makeover: Before
Rental kitchen makeover: Before

When I started thinking about giving our little kitchen a refresh, I immediately thought of what a big impact some color could have in our kitchen. And when I started brainstorming it hit me – I could paint the countertops too! They are white laminate, which is basically the most stainable material you could use on a countertop, so they show traces of spills very easily. I’ve always wanted to cover them in concrete (like ABM did here), but we opted for a much simpler update by just painting them with Rustoleum’s countertop finish in Grey Mist. I also thought it would be nice to bring some color to the bottom cabinets, so I chose a grey-blue Distant Star to soften the contrast between the counters and the lower cabinets.

Behr Distant Start in a rental kitchen makeover on @thouswellblog

Some of these updates might not fly with any landlord/landlady. But don’t lose hope – these next two updates are definitely non-permanent changes you can get away with. Our little white cabinet knobs were just begging to be updated, and it’s amazing what a huge different new hardware makes. Enter steel bar pulls, and suddenly things feel so much sleeker without the cost of custom kitchen cabinets. I picked the larger size so they would make the biggest impact.

Easy and inexpensive rental kitchen makeover on @thouswellblog
Silver modern cabinet handles in a rental kitchen makeover on @thouswellblog

We’ve also been craving a real backsplash behind the sink, and I’m amazed at the difference going from a blank wall to (faux) subway tiles makes. Although they’re the same color as the wall, they provide just a hint of texture and shine that makes the space look so polished! We used Smart Tiles, which are thin, adhesive tiles that are crazy easy to install and remove and very cost effective. They make so many styles of tiles now – check out the grey ones I used in the kitchen renovation at my dad’s house!

Smart Tiles white subway tile backsplash in a rental kitchen makeover on Thou Swell #kitchen #kitchendesign #rentalkitchen #kitchemakeover
Easy and inexpensive rental kitchen makeover on Thou Swell #kitchen #kitchendesign #rentalkitchen #kitchemakeover

At first, the new kitchen felt super different, but the new look has certainly become familiar now. I just can’t imagine going back to plain white everything! Which part of the update do you think made the biggest difference?


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  1. Gia wrote:

    Wow, what a difference. It’s funny bc it seems like its so simple but I’m sure it was not, lol. My moms kitchen is soo outdated, her cabinets are this hideous pale beige, her countertops actually have contact paper but this idea of painting seems so much better.. going to look into making some changes to help her. Thanks for the inspiration

    Posted 12.19.16 Reply
  2. Gia wrote:

    I think painting the countertops. I want to help my mom redo her kitchen its soo outdated but I’m a little scared, lol.. I’m going to look into the product you mentioned to change the countertop color

    Posted 12.19.16 Reply
  3. Scarlet wrote:

    How durable is that countertop paint? My rental has a very small kitchen with very little countertop acreage, so what there is gets used a lot as prep space. The previous tenant stained and scarred it up a lot, but since the building was practically brand-new, management deigned not to do much about the damage he’d done to the countertops AND the cabinet doors in both kitchen and bathroom (wheelchair scrapes galore and he only lived here a year). The countertop is a hideous laminate of green, brown, beige, and orange in a random splattery pattern, and I hate it. Would love to slap a bold solid color like red on it.

    PS>Also, how does it stand up to the usual sort of kitchen cleaning products, like the Lysol kitchen & bathroom spray?

    Posted 3.14.16 Reply
    • Hi Scarlet – the countertop paint does hold up well, but it’s key to let it cure for at least three days as the instructions say! Also, I would recommend using cutting boards if using a knife. It also holds up to cleaning products. Hope that helps!

      Posted 3.14.16 Reply
  4. Carrie wrote:

    This looks great! I love it all, but especially the white subway tile and new hardware!

    Posted 12.30.15 Reply
  5. Annaka wrote:

    Wow! Currently in a rental apartment and this is so inspiring! Awesome that you got to partner with Home Depot. Well done!!

    Posted 12.30.15 Reply
  6. Grace Ray wrote:

    I want to be you when I grow up. For realz. Love this refresh, Kevin. It looks fab.

    Posted 12.29.15 Reply
  7. Summer Hogan wrote:

    Love this Kevin! It looks great!!

    Posted 12.29.15 Reply