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Rental kitchens pose a unique challenge: They have to hold up to years of continued use by various people with various levels of cleanliness and various interior styles. Essentially, they have to be designed as indestructible spaces.

But that doesn’t mean they have to lack the function or aesthetic you’d find in a home you’d call your own, says Kim Vargo, one half of the couple behind the Chicago-based home renovation blog Yellow Brick Home

So when it came to this unit’s first floor kitchen, Vargo was determined to show just how stylish a rental kitchen could really be. “I wanted a really budget-friendly kitchen that doesn’t necessarily look like it was done on a budget,” she says. 

And that’s exactly what the Vargos delivered. Here’s how:

Before kitchen with peeling wallpaper

Two tone white and wood kitchen with black counters

Choose durable finishes 

The basis for the whole design concept, which Vargo calls “classic, but packed with modern function,” was the matte black countertops. 

“I was really leaning towards dark countertops, and the advancement in the technology [of Formica] blew us away,” says Vargo. “It made it a really easy choice for moving forward—especially in a rental unit.” 

Though once thought of as a cheap, plastic-like material, Vargo says the advancements make the “new” Formica just as tough against stains and scratches, but a whole lot more attractive.


Keep it light

To play off of the dark and contemporary counters, the Vargos added Semihandmade Impression Tahoe fronts. “It was the perfect wood tone for the maple floors we had just refinished,” says Vargo. 

They kept the rest of the design light and airy, too, with walls in Sherwin-Williams Heron Plume, an off-white. They also added upper cabinets (Semihandmade White Supermatte Slab fronts) and shelving, as well as a unique white beadboard backsplash in a bright white called Sherwin-Williams Pure White.

Wood and white kitchen with black counters

Maximize storage space

As is often the case in small rental units, the kitchen was what Vargo called “a bit of an awkward space,” since it only allowed for one wall of usable space. “It didn’t fit into the typical molds—galley, etc—so we had to make it as functional as humanly possible,” says Vargo. 

To do so, they added open shelving above the countertops for daily items—think dinnerware and glassware. Above that, they installed uppers to house lesser-used, but still important, items like small appliances, servings bowls, and more. 

White and wood kitchen with colorful accents

Corner kitchen storage in a white and wood kitchen

Incorporate panel-front appliances

Though you may generally equate panel-ready appliances to higher-end spaces, the Semihandmade fronts made it possible to achieve on a budget. And, as Vargo says, it helps give the room a very sophisticated and seamless feel. 


Add in cheerful accents

An easy way to truly make a rental feel like a one-of-a-kind find? Add in some playful decor elements, like the bright yellow light above the sink. It’s not only fun, but it’s also functional, providing great task lighting.

Wood lower cabinets with front ready dishwasher

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We don’t believe that renovations should be daunting. The key is to arm yourself with the right knowledge, people, and products to achieve your goals. It also helps to ask the right questions: How much does it cost to renovate a kitchen? How do I find the right general contractor in my area? Where do I even start if I’ve never remodeled before? This is where we come in. Through hard-to-believe before and afters, first-person renovation accounts, and step-by-step DIY projects, we demystify every aspect of remodeling and give you a ton of full-house, bathroom, and kitchen renovation ideas. Semihandmade was built on a strong make-it-yourself spirit and we’re carrying that legacy beyond DIY kitchen cabinets (though we’ll certainly touch on those too) by bringing you a ton of weekend projects for novices (have you ever tried making your own planter?) and experts (try your hand at a full-wall media center). What do people really mean when they say a house has “good bones”? Before and after projects show first-hand what’s possible in a transformative remodel. How do you make the most of a narrow galley? Should you swap your upper cabinets for floating shelves? What would it look like if you opened up your small kitchen? Renovation ideas abound in our spotlighted projects. A lot goes into a kitchen renovation, but it’s usually hard to tell from a beautiful “after” shot. Our monthly series “Island Hopping” is about getting a behind-the-scenes account of what the process is like through honest conversations—you know, the kind that typically take place around a kitchen island. We’ll chat with designers, homeowners, and architects about their projects, hoping to peel back the curtain on picture-perfect spaces.