design blogs for schlubs
March 8, 2021 6:39 PM   Subscribe

I have a really, really dumb and ugly kitchen that I'm struggling to make reasonably appealing and functional. Where can I see pictures of regular folks' ugly-ass kitchens, and how they make them liveable? Especially apartments, especially renters!

Seriously, this kitchen is a piece of shit. It's less than 30 square feet total. There are three cabinets and each one is from a different decade. There is ONE OUTLET, and it is INSIDE A CABINET that HAS A HOLE CUT INTO IT THAT ISN'T EVEN SANDED DOWN. They just straight up banged a hole into it with a hammer. The oven is plugged into this non-grounded outlet inside a cabinet with an EXTENSION CORD because it is the only outlet.

There is one overhead light and it's just a bare spiral bulb. There is no natural light (no windows, just a door to an interior hallway). The countertops are the ugliest possible "faux-granite" laminate.

I can think of a hundred ways to spend $2,000 and make this a nice kitchen, but I don't like my landlord enough to improve their property that way. So I'm looking for ways to spend a less sickening amount of money to make it a bearable one.

Apartment Therapy and Real Simple are too wildly aspirational these days anyway, but this kitchen -- even their "befores" are waaaaaaaay nicer than my kitchen, in ways I as a renter can't begin to address.

Pinterest just seems like it's impossible to find or filter anything, and I just end up with a bunch of pins from...Apartment Therapy.

I feel like what I'm looking for is a blog for, like, Baby's First Apartment. (That's essentially what this place is. Everyone else in my building is 22. My life is a mess, but that's not the point.) Or some instagram accounts of New Yorkers without trust funds, or just a version of Apartment Therapy ca. 2009, when it wasn't all professional designers and influencers.

posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
My first thought because I am picky about lighting: replace that spiral bulb with a nicer-looking LED. And perhaps find some way to cover it. Installing a proper fixture might exceed the scope of your project, but I found this article with some more hack-y ideas. Be careful about fire/falling-object hazards of course.
posted by Ryon at 6:48 PM on March 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

Apparently these exist, too: Easy Light.
posted by Ryon at 6:50 PM on March 8, 2021

Would it annoy you less if the cabinets were all the same color at least? A paintbrush and quart of paint in a color that makes you happy when you see it will only run you about $30 and a couple hours of swearing. (I did house painting this weekend for the first time in my life!)

As for design blogs I don't know but I posted a question a few months ago about how do I make my tiny half bath a nice place to pee and someone was like put a rug in it and now I use that bathroom all the time, so I'd say you're in exactly the right place for solving weird home problems just like this.
posted by phunniemee at 6:59 PM on March 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

In addition to fixing the overhead, LED under-cabinet lighting that mounts with adhesives is pretty inexpensive (well, there's a whole price range, but no reason not to choose the low end) and can help a lot with seeing what you're working on.
posted by praemunire at 7:33 PM on March 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

I used command strips to hang under the cabinet lights in our rental kitchen which helped because sometimes I can't deal with harsh overhead lighting. Tricky with your limited outlets, but maybe something could work?

Running one of these power strips with a 9 ft cord helps with lack of outlets in the room.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 7:39 PM on March 8, 2021

Tricky with your limited outlets, but maybe something could work?

There are definitely battery-powered ones. I should've mentioned that in my pitch.
posted by praemunire at 7:40 PM on March 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Mmm. Consider what type of light you prefer - warm, cool, daylight - and make sure that the bulb in that kitchen light is what you want. I hate glary kitchen lights as it is, though I appreciate that they make it easier to clean... but if I don't even want to LOOK at my kitchen, I'm changing it to warm light. (My kitchen light currently has one bulb burnt out, and the only time I care is when I'm doing the dishes. Most of the time, I only use the light over the stove, anyway.

Also, if it would be helpful in any way, there are adapter things that screw into light bulb sockets that make it so that it's both a light bulb socket and a plug in... just to give you another possible tool.

There are stick on clings that could go on the fronts or sides of cabinets. Also, for backsplash. Different looking cabinets would drive me nuts, especially if there are color differences. I could handle different styles, though, I think, if the colors were the same or at least shades of the same.

I'm seriously considering buying a bunch of the thin wood tile squares and painting them or adhering images with mod podge for a decorative project... I'm sick of staring at my white apartment walls.

Are you at all willing to share photos for more specific suggestions?
posted by stormyteal at 8:43 PM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

1) If your landlord is unreceptive to correcting the problem, I think you should notify your local housing authority about the unsafe wiring situation. It's unlikely yours is the only apartment like this; even if you prioritize paying an electrician to address the ungrounded outlet, the sloppiness and risk may be building-wide.

2) Removeable contact paper on the cab fronts, plus new hardware, for a unified look; you could also remove upper doors for open storage, if the vintage giveaway is the door style rather than different finishes. Big cutting boards (even if you never cut anything on them) on the bad counters, or paper those surfaces, too. If you link a photo, or talk more about your specific kitchen design likes, you may get custom, detailed solutions with DIYs, so you can make a Pinterest collection of suggestions tailored to your place.
posted by Iris Gambol at 8:48 PM on March 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: So, the thing is, I'm pretty familiar with all of the standard tips and tricks for dressing up your rental kitchens--I've been living in nightmare rental apartments for 40+ years.

It's just that I'm just completely unable to imagine how any of them would look in this ultra-next-level-crapbox, and when I look for examples all I find is stick-on backsplashes over 6-burner viking ranges and quartz countertops, where of course they look fantastic. What I'm really looking for are blogs or twitter accounts or instas where I can see, for example, what those stick-on tiles look like when the counters are terrible and the stove is from 1973.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:59 PM on March 8, 2021

Best answer: You might want to take a look at before-and-after photos on the Unfuck Your Habitat Tumblr and subreddit (which is a bit more active). UFYH is mainly focused on cleaning, but that tends to go hand-in-hand with organizing and generally trying to improve the look of things. And many people who contribute photos are working with less-than-aspirational spaces.
posted by neushoorn at 1:44 AM on March 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

For a search term try “tiny kitchen organizing” - I found a few things I think would help but I don’t want to frustrate you with my guesses.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:33 AM on March 9, 2021

Best answer: Have you tried Houzz? Here's an example from them. I typed in rental galley kitchen, you could try other search terms.
posted by mumimor at 4:15 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think you have to address the ungrounded outlet as a problem of a separate and much higher level of magnitude than the ugliness of the cabinetry. You will need an electrician and negotiations with the landlord and possibly the help of a tenant’s rights group. That’s a very different thing from design help.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 4:27 AM on March 9, 2021 [5 favorites]

There’s an Instagram account called grillodesigns and she has beautifully designed her apartment. I think you’re going to find more ideas on Instagram than on traditional blogs - maybe try searching apartment design or rental design.
posted by areaperson at 6:38 AM on March 9, 2021

Best answer: For real people and realistic results, try searching "tiny kitchen" on reddit. I didn't look very long, but I saw plenty of people who were proud to post pictures of their work on their tiny rental kitchen or low budget redo.

Remodelista may work for you - I think of their aesthetic as "aspirational grunge." So maybe that will help you lean into the ugliness a bit, and use it. Rental Kitchen Tips, Tiny Kitchens - their sister site Organized Home might have ideas for you, too.

You might not have considered Architectural Digest a good source, but this has some good ideas I haven't seen elsewhere -

Here is something from Buzzfeed - more about maximizing your space, but may help.

I also look at The Spruce and Lonny for ideas and articles. And look at tiny house kitchens for inspiration.

My own ideas and things I have done (sorry if you already have thought of all of these), and putting aside the safety issue:

Use a tower bookshelf, rolling cart, dresser, or any other piece of furniture as kitchen storage, prep space, even if it is not in the kitchen.

Replace the range drip bowls if you can, get an over the stove cutting board or cover.

You may get more out of googling for answers to your specific issues than looking for inspiration - in your situation (and I have been there!) I would be searching "how to run power strip into next room?", "get more light into windowless room?" "diy countertop replacement" and so on.

Lastly, have a look at this list - it (probably) could be worse!
posted by hiker U. at 6:40 AM on March 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

The archives of Manhattan Nest spring to mind. He's done a lot with some very ordinary apartments, but has since moved on to big renos and flipping houses. Similarly Door Sixteen has also fixed up some questionable NY apartments before tackling entire houses with a bigger budget. I remember they were friends with a bunch of other design bloggers, so you'll probably be able to find links to other people and projects. Unfortunately, most of the design blogs I used to read have now migrated to instagram.
posted by little king trashmouth at 7:21 AM on March 9, 2021

Nthing that the outlet situation is a real safety issue, and makes me suspect that your unit is unlicensed? Because there's no way that would pass inspection without giving someone hefty bribe/having them as your brother-in-law.

I would also take the doors off the upper cabinets if possible. You can paint the frames and the backs of the cabinets and Crappy Landlo will never realize if you put the doors back on before moving.

My best friend is kind of an expert on making shitty Chicago apartments fab on a budget ... if you want to memail me I'd be happy to look at photos and share with him.
posted by cyndigo at 4:17 PM on March 9, 2021

Response by poster: Oh everything about this place is ABSOLUTELY illegal; it's over 100 years old and constructed entirely of roaches and bribes. But the rent is under-market for the neighborhood and most of the folks who live here (it's a 40-unit building) are really young and not planning to stay long, so I doubt there are many complaints. Heck this isn't even the worst place I've lived in, by a long shot; I'm just old and grumpy now.

These Unprecedented Times probably won't really be over by the time my lease expires, though, so I figure I may as well try to make the place bearable.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 6:01 PM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

A search on YouTube for "DIY Kitchen Makeover" turns up quite a few rental friendly under $300 projects.
posted by conrad53 at 10:00 PM on March 9, 2021

Remodelista definitely has some way too fancy projects, but this seems like a humble enough kitchen?
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:25 PM on March 10, 2021

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