Cons: Kitchen could use updating
July 18, 2010 2:16 PM   Subscribe

My new apartment is awesome, except for the kitchen. What are some non-permanent things I can do to make it nicer?

My biggest issue is with the countertops. They're a very old white laminate with some mystery stains that won't go away, and even though we keep them very clean, they don't look it. The floors are a little better, but not much: old, gray linoleum that's starting to crack in some places. I'm not crazy about the oak cabinets, but they're in fine condition, so they're not a priority. The kitchen is about 10' by 6' with about 1.5' deep countertops on both sides, so while it's not too tiny by Manhattan standards, there's not a ton of space to play with.

I can't make permanent changes, and couldn't afford to totally redo the kitchen even if that were a possibility. I could spend something in the $200-$300 range for solutions that would make a difference. One thing I'm sort of considering is laying down Ikea Tundra flooring for now and then removing it when I leave-- has anyone done that? Is there some way I can put something temporary over my countertops that could function as a work surface? Any other tips for sprucing up a sad little rental kitchen?
posted by oinopaponton to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You could get a very large or custom cut cutting board and use it as a countertop. Wood or plastic would allow you to do food preparation such as chopping.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 2:37 PM on July 18, 2010

Ikea also sell cutting boards like these that have a lip on the edge meant to seat over the edge of the existing countertop. For obvious reasons you wouldn't want to coat the entire counter surface with these, but they could certainly help tastefully cover up the particularly bad spots. The rest, you might want to cover with square silicone trivets laid just a few inches apart in a grid fashion--I've done this, and the silicone is usually pretty grippy so it'll stay where placed. Obviously this also gives you the advantage of having somewhere to place hot casseroles/pots/pans without melting your countertop.
posted by Phyltre at 2:37 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you haven't already, try bleach or a bleach-based cleaner (like Soft Scrub with Bleach) on the countertops. I had an all-white kitchen in my last apartment and ended up doing this every month or so.

If the oak cabinets just have a worn finish you can try something like this to improve their appearance. It needs to be reapplied every so often as it soaks into the wood. New knobs/handles can also help a lot.
posted by magicbus at 2:43 PM on July 18, 2010

You could look online at tempered glass cutting boards - they make them up to pretty good sizes - there's a black one on amazon that's 20 x 16 - maybe a few of those could cover the worst of the stains? I have a clear one that I love.

I know that there are DIY how do's on how to paint laminate countertops. Do a quick google, if you feel crafty and into the idea. It doesn't look that difficult - cleaning, priming, a couple of coats of paint and then a sealant. It obviously won't last forever, and with it being a rental you probably want to stick with white so the improvement isn't obvious. For the floors, you've got a lot of options. Linoleum isn't that expensive, maybe the landlord would pay for materials and you pay for installation?
posted by lemniskate at 2:50 PM on July 18, 2010

I found that a good bleach-based scrub followed by some serious buffing with Butchers Wax helped my sad dingy countertops.

What about a mat for the floor? They're supposed to be good for your feet and back if you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, come in waterproof styles, and will cover up at least some of the grungy linoleum.

Colorful accents can also help. In my last apartment, I hung a framed record cover over the stove and got fun tea towels. Anytime I had to buy new kitchen stuff I would pick a fun color or design over a nondescript one, especially if it was likely to sit out on the counter for any length of time. If there's a kitchen table that isn't a work surface, a cute oilcloth would be nice. They're expensive, but you can always bring it along to your next apartment.

One thing not to do - my ex hated his oak cabinets, so he took all the doors off. And then when he moved he couldn't find some of the hardware, couldn't get them back on easily, and the whole things was a major pain in the ass that almost lost him his deposit. He also didn't have nice dishes or anything, so it's not like the exposed shelving looked any nicer.
posted by Sara C. at 2:56 PM on July 18, 2010

I was also going to suggest huge cutting boards, they will need to be custum cut to cover the counter top evenly though. A second (cheaper) way would be to use large ceramic or granitic floor tiles in the same way. They are heavy enough that they will stay in place without being glued down. In both of these case though the edges and back splashes won't match you new counter.

You could even try vinyl flooring, but after a while the edges will curl.

Use some Murphy's soap on the cabinets and see if that helps. Then, if you want) rub them down with an almond stick (this is a long term hobby but will give you very strong fingers.) Also mineral oil will do wonderful things to old wood. However, it also is something of a dust magnet (I've never found it that bad, but admit is a problem). Tung Oil doesn't hold dust at all, and looks even better, but cost a whole whole lot more.
posted by Some1 at 2:58 PM on July 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Painting formica countertops very much is a permanent alteration. More permanent, even, than painting the walls.
posted by Sara C. at 2:59 PM on July 18, 2010

We have been wanting to change our white formica countertops to something nicer but we have found that a baking soda scrub takes out most of the stains. Also some bleach might help and a large marble slab is nice for setting hot things on.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:03 PM on July 18, 2010

Nthing cutting boards.

Snazzy countertop gadgets (rice cooker, food processor) tend to make things look nicer too, not to mention make your life easier. And you can keep them!

Another handy counter decoration that I like is good looking utensils in attractive food cans, like big McCann oatmeal tins.

Nthing (washable) kitchen rugs too.

And have you considered plants, especially of the fresh herb variety?

Also, I used to always put up some art when I lived in NYC kitchens . . . somehow it lit things up. In general, putting things on the walls, such as art, spice rack, good looking pots, draws the eye away from dingy countertops and floors.
posted by bearwife at 3:04 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can glue laminate over laminate. Just sand it well first, and use a good, solvent based contact cement.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:39 PM on July 18, 2010

You can put contact paper pretty easily over cabinets, especially if they don't have handles, and it makes them look a million times better.
posted by kro at 3:51 PM on July 18, 2010

I took the doors off some of my ugly kitchen cabinets (the top ones) and wallpapered the back. Now they are a pretty display space for dishes, glasses and teapots/cups.
posted by OLechat at 3:57 PM on July 18, 2010

Glass cutting boards will wreak havoc on your knives.
posted by mkb at 4:00 PM on July 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

I saw this link for tile tattoos a while back and have been dying for an excuse to use them.

In my old apartment with a not-so-nice kitchen, I used a large sisal rug on the floor. It was pretty easy to clean, and looked so much nicer.

I also painted the cheap-looking wood cabinets white, which helped the space look much brighter. (If you do something like that, you have to really commit to doing it well - sand first, take off the hinges, do the interiors too.)
posted by ella wren at 4:02 PM on July 18, 2010

I second the recommendations of contact paper on the cabinets and a sisal rug on the floor. The drawback is that both can attract dirt. However, I've found the Contact paper on my desk easy to clean and my kitchen rug has really smartened up my minute kitchen area.
posted by reren at 4:09 PM on July 18, 2010

Response by poster: I love the idea of big wooden or stone cutting boards.

I'd love to use contact paper (especially on the backsplash), but heard that the glue can attract roaches, which obviously I'd like to avoid. Myth?
posted by oinopaponton at 4:24 PM on July 18, 2010

Definitely get rugs for your kitchen. My suggestion is to either get those carpet tiles, which you attach onto the floor with little sticky tabs (you can remove them and stick them in the washing machine, and then stick them back) or get a bunch of smaller kitchen rugs and lay them close together. I'd suggest against getting a big kitchen rug, because they are hard to fit in a washing machine and even harder to dry. Although sisal is a popular option, you could also go with a braided rope rug or something else low-pile but softer. For carpet tiles, I suggest Flor, which I've had good experiences with.

Since this is a rental and you can't go around epoxying things to the countertops, don't neglect the little things. If you have a window, put up a curtain. Make sure your light fixture is using a good bulb - you can get tinted fluorescents that feel like softer halogen light, or maybe you can replace the shade. Consider putting a lamp directly on the countertop in a dark corner. Get dish towels that are cute and colorful. Try hanging things on the walls, just make sure they're framed and covered so you don't ruin anything with a stray oil splash. You can buy inexpensive melamine trays or plates with colorful patterns, which you could rest up against your backsplash. Use a little sticky tack to keep them from sliding down, but pop them off and wash them when you need to.
posted by Mizu at 4:36 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

+1 to the cutting boards. I would say get thee to an Ikea and look into the Numerar countertops. We bought a Numerar butcher block for a cabinet we bought there, and although it was huge, we got it cut down to fit. We then bought a small bottle of butcher block conditioner and sealed the thing, and it's perfect.
posted by gchucky at 5:25 PM on July 18, 2010

Anything hard - stone, glass, etc. - will destroy your knives. Wood or soft plastic are the only options. I got a large OXO cutting board from Bed Bath and Beyond for about 20 bucks which fits our countertops nicely; I think it's about 20x10 inches.

The biggest complaint we have with our kitchen is storage. If you have space, get a baker's rack or modular shelving unit to store canned goods and other non-perishables. This is especially helpful if you can put your dining table in another part of the apartment. Any clutter on the countertops will make the kitchen feel much smaller than it actually is, so be sure to put everything away when you're done with it.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:30 PM on July 18, 2010

2nd new knobs -- surprisingly big change, easy to take with you.
posted by kmennie at 5:43 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

What I did (also in Manhattan, about the same size kitchen) was to get 8' x 2' lengths of 1½" maple butcher's block from a restaurant-supply place on the Bowery and cut them to fit around my appliances, then rip and plane the cutoffs to ½" thick by 4" wide and biscuit them standing up on the back edge as backsplashes. It looks really built-in, but could come right out with just a screwdriver if god forbid I ever have to move. (Of course it helps to have a table saw...)
posted by nicwolff at 7:39 PM on July 18, 2010

Ugh linoleum is such a pain. One problem is that everyone wants to use Mr. Clean or some other cleaner on it, but all that does is leave a residue. I've been told to mop using a bucket of hot water, to which you add some white vinegar and a touch of Ivory dish soap.

Have you tried Mr. Clean Magic Eraser on the countertops? Seriously, it is magic.

The "change the hardware" tip is spot-on. I always thought it sounded silly, but I found some old fun knobs at my dad's house and put them on some modular cabinets that I have, and they made such a difference! Anthropologie always has really pretty ones - maybe a neat color would help too?

Also try putting up some artwork. Obviously nothing that you would worry about getting damaged from steam, etc, but a few little things hung up always cheers up a room. Also as mentioned above, use cute dishtowels. Even splurge on some new plates and such? I loooove these bowls from Anthropologie (I really don't shop there much, I can't afford much except the knobs and bowls!) - they come in a ton of colors (I have lime green!) and brighten things up.
posted by radioamy at 9:01 PM on July 18, 2010

I'd love to use contact paper (especially on the backsplash), but heard that the glue can attract roaches

I've always heard this regarding contact paper as shelf liners/on horizontal surfaces, because roaches like eating the glue and living between the paper and the cabinet...I don't know if that would apply to a vertical surface that's almost always in the light though.
posted by kro at 7:49 PM on July 19, 2010

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