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A DIY Kitchen Redo Under $400

Every now and again I see a project on another blog that I wish had debuted on ours. A project so simple, cheap, and good that I’m like, Wow. Kudos. So when Maria of “Dr. Livinghome” sent through a link just in a comment thread on a post a month ago, I followed it and pretty much asked her if we could repost it. I think it resonated with me so much because I’ve had this “before” kitchen – twice in New York and once in LA. It’s depressing and sad and you think you can’t do anything about it since it’s a rental. Besides it’s so small, how cute could it actually be???


Maria’s kitchen was what you would expect from a rental unit – boring, small, and lacking any sense of personality. For under $400 (350 Euros) she gave it a full REALLY GOOD refresh. Let’s get into how she did it.

DIY Kitchen Makeover Before Photo 1

She started by ripping out the overhead cabinets and covering up the old tiles on the walls with a putty compound to create a clean and paintable surface. It is a pretty simple process which you can definitely DIY by following along with her step by step guide HERE.

DIY Kitchen Makeover Dr Livinghome Tile Process

To cover up the tiles she started by cleaning them with a degreaser to clear off any gunk and dirt. Once she had a clean surface, she mixed up the putty according to the box and started spreading on the putty with a trowel. A little tip if you are doing this yourself: you will want to cover your entire area thoroughly and don’t worry about making it too perfect as the next step after it dries is to sand it all down smooth and then repeat application of the putty and sanding it down as necessary.

DIY Kitchen Makeover Dr Livinghome Tile Process 2 copy

Once she had a clean new work surface on all the walls of her kitchen, she used simple 3″ x 6″ subway tile for her new backsplash. Although tiling may sound scary, it actually is very easy and the steps for installing it are quite simple. You can read through in detail how she did it HERE. Tiling can get complicated if you have a huge area to cover with lots of different things to fit in, OR if they are irregular tiles, but a project like this is absolutely doable with simple subway tile.

DIY Kitchen Makeover Dr Livinghome Tile Process 3

Once she had all of her backsplash tile installed and allowed some time for it to dry she finished it off by grouting in between the seams with white grout.

DIY Kitchen Makeover Dr Livinghome Tile Process 5

After the installation of her backsplash was complete, she painted the wall black, installed a few pot racks, a couple of open shelves, installed a faux marble kitchen floor, and even DIY’ed some awesome leather handles. All in all we are very impressed with this very budget friendly and easy kitchen makeover. Check out the transformation:

DIY Kitchen Makeover Before and After Dr Livinghome Emily Henderson

DIY Kitchen Makeover Dr Livinghome After Affordable Redo Emily Henderson 2

DIY Kitchen Makeover Dr Livinghome After Affordable Redo Emily Henderson 4

DIY Kitchen Makeover Dr Livinghome After Affordable Redo Emily Henderson 5       DIY Kitchen Makeover Dr Livinghome After Affordable Redo Emily Henderson 6

My 23 year old self, the one with $284 dollars in my savings account and the most depressing kitchen, wishes she had seen this post years ago.

Thank you so much Maria for calling this to my attention.

Follow along the makeover process over on her blog for a step by step guide into how she did it all: Covering The Tiles | Replacing Old Tiles | DIY Leather Handles | DIY Industrial Lamp | Kitchen Reveal

*Regarding submissions – if you feel like you have a project that is of this caliber (good design, compelling tips/information, shot/styled well, a lot of approachable takeaway) then yah, send them along. We are obviously very picky about the content and would probably only do 2-3 a month so we’ll vet them hard, but if you want to submit, go for it. Send through the links or the before and after photos with a description of your project to with the subject as “READER SUBMISSION – (the name of your project)”.  
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8 years ago

this kitchen looks great! and so cheap… wonderful. Congrats, Maria!

8 years ago
Reply to  Mila @jestcafe

LOVE the dark walls!
Amazing transformation!

8 years ago

I am too cheap even at 30 to ever redo my rental kitchen because I won’t be able to take it with me and then I’ll just be sad.

8 years ago

Fantastic job! This is really inspiring.

8 years ago

I love it! perfect timing for me

8 years ago

Her blog is in Spanish? I am not fluently bilingual but I can get through it… i think haha.

I was struck by those wooden circles. Are those wooden trivets? Any sources stateside for those?

8 years ago
Reply to  Amber

Me too! It looks they are trivets from Ikea.

8 years ago
Reply to  Carolyn

You’re absolutely right, that’s where I bought them 🙂

This kitchen is fabulous no matter how much she spent. It’s just all the sweeter that it was less then $250. I love these posts!!

8 years ago

Chic and budget-friendly is just my cup of tea, although I agree with another reader – I’d be so incredibly sad to leave the place after putting so much time and effort into it! I can’t even bear the thought that one day, although not any time soon, we’ll have to sell our little bungalow that we’re currently renovating. That’s terrible, isn’t it? I shouldn’t get so attached to material things…

P.S. You have no idea how excited I am to read that you take submissions. Best thing I read all day!

rachelle bell
8 years ago

Pretty impressive!!
*not gonna lie I’m DYING to see the Lorey’s kitchen reveal. Like… dying.*

rachelle bell
8 years ago
Reply to  Emily

ok ok ok can’t wait! 🙂

S Herron
8 years ago

I’m curious about the black brackets for the shelves. It looks like they screw in from the top of the shelf. Any idea on sources?

8 years ago
Reply to  S Herron

Hi! They are actually normal brackets but put upside down. Put a screw through the wood and hold it with a nut. Hope that helps! 🙂

8 years ago

I’m so curious how you’d be allowed to update a rental. I live in a SUPER old 50’s rental building with original metal cabinetry in the kitchen. Are these privately owned buildings? Not sure what would happen with a security deposit if I went and upgraded the kitchen. (THOUGH, I’M DYING TO!!!)

8 years ago
Reply to  Emily

Apparently your former landlord was an idiot. 🙂 He missed out on a great deal! Didn’t he know who he was dealing with?

8 years ago
Reply to  chelsea

lol. So true

8 years ago
Reply to  megan beth

those metal cabinets can be repainted / refinished too, they can be fab!

8 years ago
Reply to  megan beth

Also, in Europe, rental leases tend to be a lot longer than in Australia (and I’m guessing), the US. There is a very high percentage of renters rather than homeowners and leases tend to be 3-5 years, which means you can be a lot more invested in your home than if you’ve only got a 1 year lease and little housing security. I’m a homeowner but think that longer residential leases are a great idea. Housing affordability in Sydney is just ridiculous right now – average price of a home is right on $1m at the moment (about USD750,000) and that doesn’t get you anything special at all.

8 years ago
Reply to  megan beth

i just left a 1930s craftsman house i was renting. they had metal cabinets from the 40s that were originally white and someone had spray painted them black (only the outsides and the bits of inside they could reach). they were so disgusting i couldn’t keep my food in them! years and years and years of grease and rust. someone had a roach problem. when i moved in the roach carcasses were still hanging inside. sure if you want to pay to have them power coated they could be refinished and be nice (i guess) but my slumlord wasn’t about it. i tried to spray paint them after a deep clean and realized it wasn’t worth my time. those things are disgusting!! i do not understand the love of metal cabinetry and i LOVE vintage/antique furniture. i tried to love ’em (that website provides history and paint samples) but nope. give me wood pleeeeeeeeeease.

8 years ago

The details are my favorite thing about this. I love those leather handles!
Likely By Sea

8 years ago

This is amazing! Such creativity!

8 years ago

This is amazing! What kind of putty would you recommend using for smoothing out the walls? Something I could find in the US.

8 years ago

Love this “on budget” makeover but I wonder how hard it was to smooth the walls. I’ve read everywhere that you want to hire that out. Thoughts??

8 years ago

This is awesome and giving me suuuch renter inspo!

8 years ago

It looks awesome! But How did she install shelving and pot racks to walls that are tile underneath less than a quarter inch of putty compound?

8 years ago
Reply to  Blythe

Hi! I drilled through the old tiles, you just need a drill specific for that, it’s not difficult at all! 🙂

8 years ago

Can you recommend a comparable product to the Aguaplast for US purchase? =)

8 years ago

Ooooooooh my God, I just died and went to heaven, thank you SO MUCH for posting my little humble kitchen!! 🙂 For any renters out with ugly kitchens, be brave and go for it. If you’re goig to stay on that flat for some time it totaly pays off.
Thank you very much, Emily and Brady, I’m so so so happy!!!! 🙂

8 years ago

This is such a great re-do. I’ve never had a landlord who would allow it (where does one find a flexible and design-appreciating landlord?!), but these are great ideas for owners on a budget too. I love the use of wall space for the pot racks. It makes such a difference in the amount of room you have in your cabinets and on the counter, especially in a small kitchen. Plus the racks cost way less than wall cabinets or even open shelving. Bravo Maria! And thanks EH for reposting!

8 years ago
Reply to  shannon

I agree with the space issue. The kitchen feels less packed now and we have more storage space than ever. My landlady is absolutely adorable and she knew that the kitchen was ugly and old and needed a redo so she was very happy about it 🙂 Thank you!

Lauren T
8 years ago

I love this!! Love the leather handles, the open shelving, subway tile, plants, trivets….just everything! Great work Maria! Like some of the other commenters I too struggle with the idea of spending money on a space I can’t take with me when I leave, but when that space gives you so much joy (like I am certain this one does!) then it’s totally worth it the money. Besides, you can just think of it as a trial for when you finally get to design your own home. I would love to see a similar post with a bathroom 🙂

8 years ago
Reply to  Lauren T

Thank you so, so much. We’re very happy with the new kitchen, even if we can’t take it with us when we leave. The bathroom is on its way!! Stay tuned 😀

8 years ago

What an amazing transformation. Having friends who live in rentals in Europe it seems they are more prone to allowing renter DIY’s than in the states, although I think it is also very different depending on your location.
What a fantastic finished project, thank you Maria for letting EHD share.

8 years ago

I lived in a rental and I begged management to let me paint. After I painted the atrocious 50’s kitchen cabinets from harvest gold to white my landlord was thrilled and told me I could do any updates I wanted, within reason. I moved to two more apartments in the high rise and made improvements every time, with the landlord’s blessing. The hubs and I lived in the last apartment for ten years–we loved that place! I’d sanded the floors, put in tile floors in both baths and the kitchen, put in new bathroom fixtures… people thought we owned it. When we told management we were moving because I wanted a bigger kitchen they offered us the 5000 sf penthouse at a steeply reduced rate–as long as I kept improving it the way I had my previously occupied apartments. I turned it down! Now I wish I’d stayed… I miss apartment living so much. So, always ask! You might hear “no” but, then again, you might get the affirmative nod.

8 years ago
Reply to  Monika

Congrats, it goes to show they’re really just scared you’re going to have terrible taste. After a bit of proof of skill it helps a lot.

Dana Moss
8 years ago

This is so awesome! Our home has such a tiny kitchen so I’m always looking for beautiful inspiration to utilize our small space. Thanks for sharing, Emily! Great job, Maria!

8 years ago

Looks great! But not sure you’d get away with doing this to a rental apartment, not unless you’re willing to forgo your security the deposit at the end of your lease!

8 years ago
Reply to  izzy

Hi Izzy! I asked my landlady before any changes were done and she had no problem. She was well aware the kitchen needed a redo so we both won! 🙂

Susie Q.
8 years ago

Man, the “before” kitchen was sooooo depressing. Covering that awful tile w putty was such a great idea.

8 years ago

LOVE! The only thing I would have done differently is used black grout with those white tiles. This is super inspiring! I want to do my rental kitchen so badly (been in it 6 years)!

8 years ago
Reply to  Emily Abbs Beu

Take the plunge 🙂 what’s the price of your happiness?

8 years ago
Reply to  Rach

Exactly! 🙂

8 years ago

It turned out so cute, hard to believe it can be done with so little.

8 years ago

This is such an awesome transformation! I love the faux marble floor. Can you link to where you got the tiles? Was it hard matching up the tiles to look like natural marbling?

Reply to  Jenny

Hi Jenny! I’m afraid it’s from a European store called Leroy Merlin (similar to Home Depot), I don’t think you’ll find it in the US 🙁 They are not selling that floor anymore, anyway, I got it very, very cheap because apparently it wasn’t selling very well. Strange because I think it’s very pretty! 🙂