How to give your tiny kitchen a facelift—without shelling out for a renovation

By Virginia K. Smith  | March 30, 2017 - 2:59PM

BEFORE/AFTER: A paint job, wallpaper, new backsplash, and updated hardware breathed new life into this pint-sized kitchen. Images courtesy of Laurie Blumenfeld Russo

In a perfect world, when you move into a new apartment, you'd have unlimited time and money to make the space over to your exact specifications. This is especially true for a kitchen renovation, given how necessary that one room is. (How else to cook?) That, and a place to decamp to while a contractor rips everything out and starts from scratch. But not everyone has the budget for such luxuries.

For tips on finding a happy medium, we chatted with interior designer Laurie Blumenfeld-Russo about how to give even the most cramped, lightless kitchen a complete overhaul without having to bring in an architect. Below, tips from she gleaned after orchestrating the recent makeover of a friend's small Brooklyn kitchen (pictured above):

Lean into the features you don't love

In a small apartment, if there's a room or detail you're not wild about, there's no escaping from it. So instead, figure out a way to spin a negative into a positive.

"When my friend bought this apartment, she was really distraught about this kitchen. And she hated the long hallway leading into it," Blumenfeld-Russo tells us. "And I said, we need to love the hallway." To make the area pop, they opted for a bold, polka-dotted wallpaper to turn the hallway into a standout feature instead of an obstacle.

"We added wallpaper to make it the superstar as opposed to something she hated," Blumenfeld-Russo explains. "And I knew she loved dots, so we found this Marimekko print, and really gave the area love."

To that end, feel free to release yourself from years of drab eggshell and beige color schemes. "Don't be afraid to take risks, and add bold patterns and dark colors into dark spaces," she tells us. "The effect can be very glamorous."

A coat of paint makes everything new (or almost)

Putting in new cabinets, especially if they're custom, can be a notoriously expensive proposition. (Not to mention a significant hassle while you're having the old ones removed and new replacements installed.)

For a faster and more budget-friendly option, Blumenfeld-Russo recommends re-making your current cabinets with a high-gloss paint, and adding new knobs and drawer pulls to give them a refresh. "We scrubbed down the cabinets, picked a high gloss paint, and had a contractor repaint them and add hardware," she tells us. "You can really get such a big impact from painting the cabinetes. It's a great way to make a huge design difference and not spend a fortune."

To offset the dark sheen of the cabinets, she notes, they also added a backsplash of Moroccan tiles, which helped to break up the monotonous white wall that was previously in place. "To contrast the polka dots, we thought it would be nice to do a kind of organic backsplash," she says. "They add a nice energy to the space, one that's very organic compared to say, subway tiles."


Photos courtesy of Laurie Blumenfeld-Russo

Lighting is easy to replace—and does more than illuminate a space 

Pretty much every designer we've ever encountered has emphasized that the lighting in your apartment is of the utmost importance—even more so than the actual furniture.

In this case, Blumenfeld-Russo softened the kitchen's harsh lighting scheme by swapping out the fluorescent bulbs and white lampshade for a warmer gold option that cast a subtle sheen over the rest of the room. "We found that gold pendant lamp to contrast with the grey and white," she points out. If you only make one change in your kitchen (or any room in your apartment), it should be to scrap your fluorescent lighting (and drab fixtures) ASAP.

Approach open shelving cautiously

While this particular kitchen has self-contained shelving options, to add storage to small spaces, "sometimes it's nice to put extensions of your kitchen outside of the kitchen, like a bar cart [or kitchen island]," says Blumenfeld-Russo.

However, this comes with a strong word of warning: If the cart in question has open shelving, don't treat it as a catch-all storage space, but rather, a decorative statement unto itself. "I always tell people that if you're going to make additions like that, you have to be careful how you curate it," she explains. "Choose the plates, choose the liquor bottles—it can't just be a junkyard."

Unless you're committed to curation—and frequent dusting—you may do well to consider an option with closed shelving, instead. Even in a super small space, it's possible to leave some things to the imagination.



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