How do we upgrade a completely blank-slate rental kitchen?

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image-600x450After weeks and weeks of house-hunting, we finally found the right house for us. It’s not perfect but it’s a blank slate, and I love a blank slate. I’m full of ideas (thanks, Offbeat Home and Pinterest addictions!) for most parts of the house.

The only place where I’m running into designer’s-block (that’s a thing, right?) is the kitchen. See, when they say “unfurnished” in Indonesia, they really mean UNfurnished. The kitchen is nothing more than two (ugly) counters and a sink. We have the appliances covered, but for cabinetry/shelving, I’m at a loss.

We don’t have an Ikea here (yet!), so cheap-o modulars aren’t really an option. I don’t even want to consider a custom cabinet build-out — that’s way too much of a financial investment for a rental. My first thought was a combination of open shelves, peg-boards, and cuphooks — but there’s the issue of creepy-crawlies. There’s also the issue of all of the unused space under the counters — and the ugly tile on the counters.

So, Homies, what do you think? Any ideas for these issues:

  • DIY shelving that will let me close off at least part of it, so that the dishes don’t get creepy-crawlied?
  • Clever DIY uses for all of the empty space under the counters?
  • Ways to improve upon the ugly tile counters without retiling.


Comments on How do we upgrade a completely blank-slate rental kitchen?

    • You guys are AMAZING! It’s already the middle of the night here, so I’m hitting the hay, but I will reply to everyone tomorrow. In the meantime: here’s a Flickr album of the whole house. I’d love to hear your ideas!!! Could this be the beginning of the first ever Offbeat Empire Crowd-Designed Home??? 😀

  1. Gosh… We had an ugly white kitchen in our rental appartment & we solved it by painting 1 wall red, 1 wall black and 2 walls in a very pale grey. It went great with the white cabinets!

    But in your case you don’t even have cabinets… that’s a hard.

    There’s not much you can do about the tiles, so you’ll have to counter them with some colour on the walls. I think I’d paint the walls green. You find a lot of great examples of green kitchens on Pinterest.
    As for the storage room beneath the counters: have you thought about buying kitchen trolleys that fit underneath? Usually they’re not that expensive and very practical.

  2. For the lower “cabinets” I would use giant sealable Tupperware bins, they even have some with wheels. Then, hang pretty, colourful fabric under the counter to the floor. Easy to hide, at least! And I second previous posters, PAINT!

    • Giant Tupperware is a MUST — you’re totally right! We have them scattered all over the place. They keep out the creepy-crawlies *and* the growing household zoo we’ve acquired. (Current count: two stray dogs/one stray cat… We can’t say no!)

    • This has actually been my exact advice to my mother, who is redoing her workshop.
      For stuff with attachments (I’m thinking of my stand mixer/blender/food processor,) you can keep all the parts in one tub instead of searching through cabinets and drawers. As a bonus, tubs will make moving easy, and they’re so easy to label and reorganize.

    • I was thinking the same thing about fabric under the counters. You can make a “curtain” and hang it using a string or a tension rod.

      I also agree that adding color in other ways (walls, countertop accessories, etc.) will make the counters less noticeable. Also, Googling “paint tile countertops” turns up lots of tutorials if you’re so inclined.

    • I second the giant tupperware for the under counter storage. As well as the colorful fabric curtain to hide them!

      For on counter storage there are some really cool canisters that seal tight for dry goods. I personally really like these: Anchor Hocking 4pc Red Ceramic Canister Set Small Appliances

      Then for wall storage open shelves with more canisters, tupperware or ammo cans in bright colors. You can find a ton of metal ammo cans in the US at junk stores for cheap (I don’t know about in indonesia) (like these: Military Surplus .30 Caliber Ammo Can) I got a ton and spray painted them fun colors. They are good critter proof storage and painted anything but military green they look super cute! Not to mention they are near indestructible.

    • This was going to be my suggestion too!

      You can totally DIY open shelves for the walls, you just need brackets and boards (or if you can find a teeny bookcase locally, you could just put it on the counter.

      I LOVE the pegboard idea too! And maybe a few tiered hanging baskets for fruit and some veg (something along these lines

      I don’t think the counters will be ugly once you have things you like (fabric, cooking stuff, nice storage tins etc in here). (Oh yeah! Get some tea / coffee / sugar etc tins you love and have them somewhere they can brighten things up)

      • I second the shelves or mini bookcase idea on the counter. I actually use a shoe rack with clear shoe plastic boxes on my sewing table and think the same thing could look great in a kitchen (but with rice and pasta rather than zips and buttons).

        If you wanted the shelves to be more cupboard with a door get 3 extra shelves or same width and length pieces of wood to create sides and a top! simply nail them to the floating shelves and attach light weight doors with hinges. I did this with my shelves for my ribbons and bobbins and it works great.

  3. For the lower cabinets, you can use some steel shelving and baskets to give yourself ‘drawers’, handy for silverware, utensils, rags, etc. And you can get some covered baskets or plastic storage containers to help keep pests out so you can store some food items below.

    On top of the counters/on shelves over the counters, I would get a bunch of attractive jars/canisters with tight fitting lid, for storing things like sugar, flour, rice, pasta, beans, coffee… You can also put in things like bread rolls, crackers, chips, candies, biscuits, cookies… Pretty much anything that doesn’t spoil too quickly. Great way to add some color while keeping pests out of your breakfast cereal. A combination of colored and clear canisters would probably be really attractive, though these can get pricey.

    I’d use a lot of hanging storage for pots and pans, small hammocks for storing fruits or rolled kitchen towels, a few simple shelves with more baskets or canisters. And of course, a nice, punchy color on the wall. Spring green, turquoise, plum, or even a pattern of vertical stripes (interspersed with white) if you can’t pick just one.

    One last thing; I’d get some floor mats to put in front of the sink/stove, to help break up that white floor. You can get these in all kinds of colors and styles, just make sure you pick something easy to clean. I suggest rubber.

  4. If I had the money I’d buy a bunch of storage-ottomans and sturdy chests that have wheels (or could have wheels installed) on the bottom. Then they’d roll under the counters and hold my pots and pans. When I have guests over or my partner is trying to talk to me while I prep food I’d just wheel one of those suckers out. Sit down for a bit, chat, continue food prep.

  5. To me, the tiles are not so much ugly, as dull. When I lived in Germany, I often had blank slate kitchens very much like this one – I would use that as an invitation to make the walls, textiles and dishes as colorful as you like (I often used primary and secondary colors only – kind of like your basic set of crayons)!

    I think the tiles will look really different when they are against a colorful wall, and might even provide a nice contrast. You can also use textiles in your favorite colors: towels and potholders could hang off of stick-on hooks, a placemat on the counter can hold your morning caffeine altar. Finally, despite the creepy crawlies, I would try to keep at least one or two open shelves for colorful plates and mugs to display – the bugs are usually not all that attracted to clean plates. 🙂

    • I’m so glad you said Germany. The picture reminds me a lot of kitchens I’ve seen in Europe (mostly France). And I’m not a creative-type person, but for inspiration I was thinking to recommend browsing kitchen images from Europe specifically. I’m sure many apartment and house-dwellers have done awesome things with kitchens just like this.

  6. We have a cabinet/shelf thing on wheels that fits right up under the main kitchen cabinet. It provides storage (and is easily rolled underneath), but can be rolled out to be used as an island/cutting board/extra space area if needed, and when it’s in the way, it rolls right back underneath and nobody’s the wiser.

    • This is great because the ‘entrance’ to the kitchen is kinda small. I really wanted an island, but a permanant island would block the entire kitchen off. Something that can slide under the counters would be perfect.

  7. Purely decorative, not functional idea:
    Could you use little cling decals or stickers to make a pattern on the tile? If you painted the walls (or even one accent wall) the decals could bring some of that color into the great white expanse.

  8. For drawers sturdy enough to hold heavy things like pots and pans, you might consider getting some metal filing cabinets, the widest type you can find. (In the US, those would tend to be the ones to hold legal size paper, but I don’t know what your paper sizes are like over there.) You could put some of those under the counter. For lighter things, you could get plastic drawers. I like the idea of using storage bins on wheels as well. Fabric to cover up the under counter space sounds like a good idea as well, so long as you keep it far away from the stove to minimize the risk of fire.

  9. My family and fiance love those metal shelving units that you often find in restaurants. They come in different sizes and heights, so if you can find some of those for under the counters, that might help. I have a fondness for those cheap plastic drawer units. They’re ugly as hell, but some curtains under the cabinets would hide them.

  10. What we did to redo our (also a rental) tile countertop was a huge wooden board. Completely unfinished, and we used mineral oil to seal it (we had to reoil every other week the first 3 months, then once a month for 6 months, then every other month after that), and it’s soooo awesome. Underneath we have little rubber feet to help it grip, but the weight of it mostly keeps it in place.

    If anything gets forgotten/stuck on we can use a metal grill scraper (carefully, kinda) and clean that mofo off SO easily, and when we want to get it sterile, we use some vinegar and wipe it down well then let it air dry. Make sure you use good hardwood, and I cannot stress hard enough to oil the crap outta that mofo the first month.

    It’ll warm up the kitchen a lot more than you’d expect! Can we haz photos to see what you ultimately do?

  11. Sam, rip off the tiles and buy new ones, I would be wary of wood out here- termites love it.
    I used Anthracite coloured granite floor tiles; huge ones, my backsplash is of ceramic wall tiles that are white with black & grey circles on them and then the walls (because my kitchen is long and narrow) are a mix of white and really vibrant citrusy green, we put the green on the small end walls and the white on the big walls, it pulled the length in a hell of a lot.
    Re the tiles,the granite is great for making pastry cos its almost always cold. Because they are the huge tiles, there are less seams with the grouting in- I hate the grouted seams ‘cos they collect gunk & germs. 🙂

    • Hi, BA!

      I do have a bit of concern about the wood — all of our rattan furniture appears to be slowly being eaten so I think I’m going to treat and spray paint all of it to avoid bringing the creepy little buggers to the new place. (Plus: hot pink rattan bookshelves? Awesome.)

      I would LOVE to replace the tiles in the kitchen, but for a rental it seems like a damn big commitment. And granite is pretty expensive, isn’t it? I might just get some slabs to place right on top of the existing countertops, so that I can take them with me when we move.

      Also: I want to see photos of your remodel!!!

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