Before and After: A $1,500 IKEA-Powered Redo Doubles This Rental Kitchen’s Storage and Counter Space



We fell in love with our apartment for its roomy, pre-war layout and for the light; on a sunny fall day, the 6th-floor home was flooded with sun and difficult to say no to. What we didn’t love so much was the galley kitchen. It was roomy enough, sure, but the limited cabinets and counter space left a lot to be desired for two avid home cooks. Still, the pass-through window from the kitchen to the dining room got us thinking — before we knew it we were signing the lease, arranging for movers, and planning our very own rental kitchen renovation.

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How We Decided to Update Our Rental Kitchen

As ill-advised as a rental kitchen renovation sounds, we decided it was worth it for a few reasons. First, the math worked. By moving in together, my partner and I would be saving $900 per month. We reasoned that was money we could earmark for home improvements — including an updated kitchen.

Because we conferred with our landlord before making any changes, we also felt confident that we wouldn’t have to undo our renovations when we eventually moved out. Possibly most importantly, though, we knew that cooking was such an important part of our home lives that we couldn’t imagine not upgrading our kitchen.

So, we started looking into our options.

Our Rental Kitchen Renovation: IKEA Cabinets and Formica Countertops

We knew straight away that we wanted IKEA cabinets. Affordable, versatile, and easy-to-install, IKEA cabinets are the way to go for so many kitchen remodels. We chose the SEKTION line and, because our existing storage was mostly cabinets, we went with all drawers, a decision I would make over and over (and over) again.

We also knew that we wanted to create a breakfast bar on the other side of the pass-through window. There was a small countertop already there, but we wanted something more substantial.

What we didn’t know was what kind of countertop we wanted. We thought about butcher block, we looked at marble and quartz remnants, and then we decided to go with formica. If it hadn’t been a rental kitchen, we wouldn’t have even considered formica. But it had a few things going for it.

For starters, it was cheaper and faster than the other options out there — by a lot. For a previous kitchen, I had rescued a rectangular piece of marble for around $600, cutting and installation included, so I thought we might be able to find a salvage yard in Brooklyn that would do it all for around $1000. I was wrong. Our estimates were in the $1500 to $2500 range for remnants and butcher block, and the wait, while not offensively long, wasn’t insignificant.

Our formica countertops cost $700 all in and we could get them installed in a week. Of course, formica is a cheaper material, but another reason the formica countertops were cheap and fast was because our landlord had a ready supply of formica on hand and a go-to crew ready to measure and install.

We also liked the idea of our countertops matching, even if they wouldn’t have been our first choice, and we liked that our landlord was part of the process.

The final touch was adding knobs and pulls (to match the new knobs and pulls) to the old cabinets to try to tie everything together even more.

Ultimately, we doubled our counter space and our cabinet space for around $1,500 (a little bit less if my calculations are right). A year later, after many breakfasts eaten, cocktails served, meals prepped, and kitchen essentials stored, we would 100% do it again.


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