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Design on a Dime: Rental Kitchen Renovation

So just to give you a brief synopsis of this kitchen reno situation, I recently purchased a 4-plex property in Kingston, NY. Part of the reason why my offer won out in such a ferocious seller's market was that I dared to do the unthinkable: close on the property with inherited the tenants. Sure, it's a risk. But then again it's also a risk anytime you rent out to entirely new tenants. After I met them all, liked them, saw they had been paying consistently and saw how they took care of their apartments, I felt more comfortable taking that risk.

Then, a week before closing, I found out that one tenant had given noticed and would be moving out in 2 weeks. At first I was worried it was because I had already had a discussion with him about raising the rent slightly. I was worried that was the reason he chose to leave. Luckily I later found out that he was giving notice for a good reason and that it had nothing to do with raising the rent. He and his partner were having a baby and had just bought a new house. So yay! It was now ready for a guilt-free renovation.

With that being said, I had used most of my cash on hand to acquire the property and I didn't really anticipate needing to fix up one of the units until later. This was yet another reminder to me as an investor why having an emergency fund is soooooooo important. You never know when you are going to have repairs that come up out of nowhere, or in this case, a tenant that vacates unexpectedly. Always have that cash reserve on hand. And you also know me. I never want to dip further into savings if I can avoid it so, I knew I could get creative and do this renovation on a shoestring budget. The interior designer in me wanted to go bigger and more high end (good bye wall between the kitchen and the living room!) , but the investor in me told me to pump the breaks and keep it practical (why, hello again wall between the kitchen and the living room!). So today I'll share what compromises I landed on for the kitchen renovation. Remember, this is a kitchen renovation for a rental unit, not one for my forever home, so some tough choices had to be made...

Here are the before pictures. And for those who have been following you know that for some strange reason every property I have purchased so far (literally, every. single. one.) has had these bright yellow kitchens! I don't get it. People must love buttercup yellow in a kitchen. I definitely don't though. In fact, that color is downright upsetting to my soul to see on a wall.

Here is how the kitchen looked before I closed on the property:

Rental unit kitchen before I closed

Kitchen cabinets before

Kitchen sink before

Picture of kitchen before we closed

But this was my legit starting point once the house was cleared:

Kitchen cabinets before

"Buttercup" walls (that's putting it kindly)

Please note:

  • the yellow walls

  • the gross 1960's cabinets

  • the florescent lighting

  • the old white appliances

  • the brownish linoleum floor

  • the 40 amps of non GCI electrical sockets!!!!

Long story short, I would HATE this kitchen myself if I had to live there. And as an investor I have a personal rule of thumb-if I wouldn't live there myself, I don't want to rent or own it. So that left me no choice, I had to class it up!

First things first, I had to get rid of the yellow. I decided to go with "Chantilly Lace" white from Benjamin Moore. Choosing one color for the wall, trim, upper cabinets and flooring saved me a lot of time and money. Because it was all the same color, we could spray most of it and there was a lot less prep work (ie: taping off trim to paint it a different color). Aside from the upper cabinets needing a slightly different paint since they were metal, having everything the same generally sped up the process and cut down on paint costs.

Second, I chose a "pop of color" for the bottom cabinets. I went back and forth between black and navy blue. I figured black was neutral and more people might like that but there was just something about this blue shade that was fun and gave it the "wow" factor. Ultimately I figured the blue was somewhat like a neutral as well because don't blue jeans go with everything practically? "Evening Dove" from Benjamin Moore was the color we landed on and it did exactly what I wanted it to, made a design statement in all the right ways.

Repainted Cabinets in "Evening Dove" Color by Benjamin Moore

Several people asked me why I didn't just toss the cabinets. Yes, they were gross, yes they had seen better days, but I am not one to give up on classic pieces if I can avoid it. I decided to hold on to them for a few main reasons, the first being I was on a shoestring budget as I mentioned before. I didn't expect to have to pay for a renovation right away, so I was trying to keep costs as low as possible. New cabinets, even cheaper ones, can be a large line item in a budget. But I also kept these particular cabinets because I saw the potential. The shape was great. The top was in great condition and didn't even need to be reglazed. The metal was smooth, solid, lacked dents and made to last. Why not reuse it if I knew I could make it cute again? And lastly, I really am just over how we dump out perfectly useful things in society and continue to fill up landfills. This vintage sink was made to last and had great curves. I wanted to salvage it, and turn it into a wow moment. The kitchen may be small, but it doesn't mean that it can't be stylish and cute.

Restoring these vintage cabinets and saving them from the landfill

And as far as the pulls? Many people like to just update those for an extra bit of design. I do too, except when you have originals that are amazing in themselves. These pulls needed a good bath, that's all. I scrubbed them, used a little rust remover, and polished them up. Literally with a half hour's worth of work they were looking brand new again. So I gave them a second life by reattaching them and dare I say it? They literally make my heart swoon!

Rusty original pulls

Scrubbing rust off old pulls

Using soap and water to scrub the pulls

Soaking in rust remover

Pulls drying

Restored pulls

Next we had to address the lighting. Fluorescent lighting is the arch nemesis of all human beings and interior spaces everywhere. As far as I'm concerned, florescent lighting should be considered a crime against humanity. I'm serious. Please call your lawmakers now to propose a bill to ban it, lol. So I decided to update the lighting with a really cool low mount fixture that plays off the retro cabinet vibe. I also decided to go with a brushed brass finish that would offset the "Evening Dove" color. If found this great light from Wayfair called the Seekonk Light. While I couldn't update all the lighting throughout the unit, I figured the kitchen and the bedrooms would be used the most so why not add a little love to those spaces? And boy oh boy did this "Sputnik" inspired light deliver!

A statement piece light for the kitchen on a budget!

Statement lighting in the kitchen

After that I felt I had to address the appliances. Sure I could keep the white ones there. They functioned, but they didn't make the space feel special. If I was doing all this work to update the kitchen to make it cute, even if it was small, stainless steel was the way to go. While I wanted to upgrade the size, the doorframe into the kitchen wouldn't allow it. In fact, the frame still had to be popped off to get the old refrigerator out (how they got it in there in the first place I will never know!).

A couple blessings in disguise came from the smaller appliances. First, they were in stock. With most averaged sized appliances on back order due to the pandemic and the delay of production, I was worried about even getting them on time. So the fact that I got them a week later was a god send! Also, the apartment size appliances naturally are way cheaper. Since this was an unexpected reno, it was nice to save that extra little bit of money. What happened to the other appliances? Don't fret! I don't like to waste anything. I simply put them in the basement so they are available should the appliances in any of the other 3 units go out. You know me, always looking for ways to plan ahead and save down the road. That's what investors have to do. :)

Install new apartment size appliances

Lastly, I went back and forth about the flooring. I ultimately settled on simply painting the linoleum rather than laying laminate vinyl plank flooring over it. I figure I can always do that down the road if I need to, but aside from the fact that I was tight for money, the white floor made the room look incredibly larger. Since I was unable to take out the wall I initially wanted to, I wanted to make the space feel as large as possible. I think I accomplished that and saved a little chunk of change as well! :)

Painting the linoleum floor to make the room look bigger

The final tip I want to leave you with is to design your space for a specific renter that you have in mind. In the case of this kitchen, I am trying to market to a young professional who appreciates good aesthetic, perhaps is an artist or a designer, who likes to cook and have a well designed space. Perhaps they will be moving up from the city, perhaps they will be local, but they want a space they can be proud of that has "charm." Now whether I'll get a renter that meets that brief to a tee? I don't know. But that's what I will market towards.

Finished Kitchen Reno!

My renter's "retro chic" kitchen

Last shot of the super cute renovated kitchen!

Plus, as I said before, if I wouldn't live there myself, I won't rent it to someone else. This kitchen is absolutely adorable and I'd proudly live there myself. :)

Happy updating with your kitchens!

Forever Grateful,


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