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How Arlyn Is Working With—Not Against–The Dark Cherry Cabinets In Her Rental Kitchen

The year was 2004. My parents were remodeling the circa 1990s kitchen in my childhood home, complete with honey oak cabinets and beige tile countertops (originally a peach Formica). Many trips through IKEA and unnamed kitchen showrooms later, my parents declared my idea of going for a (gasp) white kitchen as unfit for their design aesthetic—”White kitchens will never catch on,” said my mom—and went the way of the penultimate in early aughts sophistication: cherry wood Shaker fronts, black veined granite, 1-inch square multi-color glass tile backsplash. Surely, this would always be a classic, yeah? Well…we all know how that story unfolds (did someone say “white kitchen”?). 

Fast-forward to 2023, where I find myself face-to-face with a blast from a not-so-welcomed design past. You guessed it, folks (probably because you read this post’s title): The cabinets in my new home’s kitchen are cherry. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with the space—it’s fairly large, it has a good layout for workflow, it gets nice light and has a breakfast nook—it’s really just not my style. Mostly, it’s pretty devoid of character, uninspiring, and pretty 2004. 

If any of this sounds familiar and you’ve been battling with what to do in your dated space, whether you rent or own, I’m here to hold your hand and walk us both gently into the great kitchen refresh we all deserve. While this is my journey, and the design ideas I’ve landed on may not work for you specifically, I hope you may be able to pull some inspiration for yourself if needed from how I’m bringing the room closer to “good” and “stylish” and “charming”…all those things we all want our homes to be. 

At first, I thought of doing by far the easiest and most cost-effective thing: That is to do ::drum roll:: …………. nothing. Charles would be perfectly content if we went this route. In fact, I’m fairly certain he has no clue I’m even writing this post or talking about any projects in this space apart from window treatments and finding a table and chairs. If he heard me even utter the words “peel-and-stick” floors OR backsplash—or worst yet…armoire/china cabinet—well, I’m not sure what the state of our marriage would look like. And then he’d ask how much it was all going to cost (totally fair). 

While the $0-do-nothing plan is enticing, as soon as I started envisioning what it could look like with just a small investment and a few weekends’ worth of work, I got that little bouncing glow inside of me that happens when a new design project is afoot. And I simply cannot ignore a bouncing glow, now can I? AND NEITHER CAN YOU!

So, let’s get started by taking a look at my space, and then we can chat through some solutions for me, you, and the rest of the stuck-with-cherry brigade out there.

Here we are. Our little rental kitchen. It’s not bad, I know, but it could be better. It says nothing about the people who live here besides “There must be a baby with all those sippy cups” as well as “My goodness, someone here needs to seek help for small appliance addiction.” Nothing a little ingenuity and creative reversible design planning can’t help. Dare I say…I don’t actually hate the wood. While I’d prefer something a bit more toned down and less red, wood cabinetry in general has a ton of style potential. 

After doing a good amount of research to see if there was a kitchen design I vibed with that had similar cabinet coloring and finding, well, very little, I started getting creative. I searched for photos of rooms that had mahogany furniture, cherry wood floors, or even just darker-toned wood pieces and studied what they did to tone down the warmth. All the spaces I was drawn to checked the same five boxes:

  • Modernized the red by adding natural, neutral wood tones
  • Brought down the contrast by going saturated with other colors
  • Created a warm, inviting palette
  • Changed the focal point with an interesting backsplash, floor, or furnishing
  • Added warmth with brass

Let’s explore these ideas a bit, and I can walk you through how I plan to execute them in my own space.

But first…

The Inspiration

In my opinion, the below rooms work to make deeper cherries and mahogany woods feel a bit more classic. Most of the designs are quite “old-world” in feel, which isn’t what I’m going for, personally, but there are still lessons to be pulled from them. In my home, as much as I love the look, it just doesn’t make sense to walk from the fairly contemporary dining room into an English cottage kitchen. It would be style whiplash, so I’ll need to be sure to keep some of the elements a bit more modern, like the shape of the table and chairs, and any soft goods. 

This is the closest representation of what I think can be done in my kitchen in terms of aesthetics. Obviously, I will not be painting my uppers, but the designers at Meet West, who reimagined this space, did an amazing job of taking dark stained woodworking and making it feel timeless, inspired and charming.

Queen of modern-yet-charming eclectic English cottage (I made it up, but I think that style applies), Heidi Caillier’s use of the neutral wood tones against the dark stained wood paneling is my muse for the breakfast nook furniture. This marriage does a great job of honoring the richness of the darker wood while modernizing it with blonder tones.

The dusty, French blue here pairs so beautifully with the red tones. I saw this color duo a lot in my hunt for design muses, as well as peacock bluish-green, and, on the opposite spectrum, dusty pinks or peach.

While not exactly “cherry” (okay, not cherry by any means) it’s still a fairly warm cabinet shade and I’m drawn to how the moss green and slate blue makes everything feel grounded, happy, yet timeless.

Okay, finally, let’s get into the plan!

Limit Contrast With A Bold Use Of Color

the appliances here are quite mismatched: white fridge, stainless stove, black dishwasher. finding a way to make these more cohesive will also help bring things together visually.

I don’t actually have a ton of exposed wall space in my kitchen, but leaving them stark white steals the potential charm of warm wood cabinetry. As mentioned, the blueish-greenish-grayish walls of the inspiration spaces (not dissimilar to my old dining room’s Inchyra Blue that I loved so much) may just be the ticket to adding some interest and homeyness here.

In addition, bringing the sage green of the countertops up to fill the space between top and bottom cabinets will visually simplify things. To me, this here feels so choppy. Your eyes have to take in the color of the cabinetry, the color of the backsplash, and the color of the wall in between. At first, I had the idea of just color-matching the counters and painting the white a similar green but now I have a different idea to use peel-and-stick tiles because I think I still wouldn’t have been fully happy with the orange peel texture of the wall juxtaposed with the smooth countertops. 

Change The Focal Point

Cherry cabinets are like the protagonist of a play in community theater: it wants all the attention. But here’s a trick to spread the visual love a bit: demote it from the kitchen lead. There are a few ways to do this: make your floors interesting, make your backsplash or walls interesting, make your furniture interesting. In my case, I’m going the floor route because I HATE these tiles. They have a very strange anti-slip texture that I was convinced was powdery residue from the landlord painting the walls with a spray gun. I confidently brought in the floor steamer when we moved in to rid the room of the sensory issue for my feet and, well…I was wrong. It’s just the tile.

As much as I try to avoid bandwagoning on a design trend, I can’t help but think the checkerboard treatment here is a great option. It’ll add a ton of interest underfoot, it’s cheap, and it would work perfectly with my existing tile size (11.75″x11.75″). I’m undecided on color, but there are so many options these days, so I’m sure I’ll find the right combination.

Add Warmth With Brass Hardware

Look, there’s nothing wrong with brushed nickel hardware, as much as Instagram-famous kitchens might make you think otherwise. But in my particular space, I think some brass cabinet pulls in a more modern style will do wonders for updating things. I also love the charm and function that brass rails add, and anytime I see them, my heart pitter-patters a bit.

Because my countertops are currently being eaten by *things*, I also think a rail system will help to bring utensils, produce and prep items up off the surface level to unlock more working space. I found a very affordable option at IKEA I’m pretty pumped about (see moodboard at the end of the post).

Modernize The Red By Adding Natural, Neutral Wood Tones

why yes, that right door *is* photoshopped, because the door track broke last week and no one needs to see what i stuffed on top of the washer that, yet again, i haven’t found a final home for.

I have long loved the idea of a little eat-in kitchen. A place to sit and sip my coffee in the morning or even plop myself down to work in. From a practical place, I’d really prefer to have my daughter’s high chair here rather than in the dining room for meal times since where she is now is not visible when I’m in the kitchen. So, our plan is to actually have this function as a breakfast (and lunch, and some dinners) nook, which lends the perfect opportunity to bring in some other wood tones.

While I temporarily have my old banquette in here (I was curious if it would fit and look good…it doesn’t, and it doesn’t), I’ll be on the hunt for a lighter-toned wood table and chairs. Possibly something white oak or pine, but the key is to keep the wood tone from going overly orange or red, similar to the example I found from Heidi Callier. Also, sticking to a more monochrome wood look between both table and chairs will simplify the palette.

And since we’re on the topic of simplifying the palette, I’m aiming to find curtains to match the new wall color that will replace the folding doors currently concealing our washer and dryer. That will make it easier to work around furniture since we won’t have to account for the space it takes to open them.

Don’t Let Your Cabinets Be Your Only Touch of Red

This last tip is a bit less obvious than some of the others, but I think it’s fairly important. Since design is all about balance, adding in a touch of red (either in a brighter hue or slightly different tone) somewhere else in your kitchen will go a long way to completing your color palette. It doesn’t have to be much: maybe some upholstery in a bar stool or the back of a glass cabinet or even just some pretty ceramics. For my space, I plan on achieving this via a burgundy piece I found that will also solve the problem of storing most of my small appliances that are currently scattered all over.

Alright, now that we went through that “how to make cherry modern” lesson, I’m eager to show you the moodboard I’ve put together for my kitchen. It will involve a handful of projects and tasks, which I’ve outlined below:

  • Swap out hardware
  • Paint walls a blueish-greenish gray to help with contrast
  • Install kitchen rail system into new “backsplash” to hold utensils, food prep items, and some produce
  • Add peel-and-stick “zellige” tile backsplash
  • Swap laundry closet doors for curtains that match the wall color for visual cohesion
  • Upgrade floor with reversible peel-and-stick tile
  • Bring in cabinet or storage solution for the breakfast nook area to house things I don’t grab constantly but still want regular access to clear counters
  • Find light wood table and chairs that are small enough to walk around to access the washer and dryer, but big enough to seat 2 adults and a high chair

The Moodboard & Color Palette

I know my design here won’t work for everyone, but this combination of colors and materials will go a long way to creating an inspiring, more up-to-date kitchen space for my home. Let’s talk through a few things:

Brass Cup Handle | Brass Bar Cabinet Pull | Green Tile Backsplash | Paint | Curtains | Pinstripe Fabric | Checkerboard Flooring | Brass Rail | Brass Hooks | Wicker Hanging Baskets | Rug | Dining Chair | Dining Table | Burgundy Cabinet

The tile: Believe it or not, those are peel-and-stick made to look like Zellige tiles. They’re a bit glossier than I like, but perhaps I could find a matting spray (or just leave them glossy). I’m undecided if it’s a bit too much square-on-square with a checkerboard floor, so I’m still hunting around for something else. I did find a more vertical “tile” but the color was possibly too yellow. I’ll need to order a sample to really know. 

The textiles: The window in the nook is crying out to me to rid it of the broken vertical blinds. If I had shot the space with them closed, you’d see four of the blinds are missing. The window looks like a third grader with a quarter of their front teeth gone. I thought of doing regular drapery here, but I felt it would be too heavy with the laundry closet panels. Plus, I can already see peanut butter hands grabbing at the fabric any chance my tiny human gets. A Roman shade is going to cost a literal fortune to purchase because the window is 70”x75”, so I may try my hand at sewing one with a pretty neutral striped linen. Pray for me. 

The cabinet: As mentioned, I need this to replace the wire shelving but also to carry the red through to the other end of the kitchen. Whether I end up with this specific piece or just something I paint, it’ll be a workhorse for much-needed storage.

The table and chairs: The neutral wood moment. I would love a stripped-back vintage table, but I know that’ll make the space feel overly traditional. It needs a modern silhouette to speak the same language as my dining room. The one pictured here comes in a ~32” diameter (as well as 39”) which is just big enough for what we need for daily use, but small enough to walk around and still be able to do laundry. I’ve thought about also making this table because I think it could be quite easy, but then I remember that I have a 15-month-old that requires constant bubble blowing, and think my time would be better spent just throwing money at the problem. 

So…that’s what I’m planning to solve my cherry cabinetry woes. I welcome the challenge and hopefully you do now, as well. I’m actually very excited about how this could all look.

Jess, clear your schedule because I’m going to need your help… 🙂 

BUT WAIT! Before I go, I just want to say something. For anyone reading this who also read my piece about whether investing in rental homes is a waste of money, I’m still of the mindset that this isn’t for everyone. To be honest, if I didn’t pitch the idea here to rework my space as an example to anyone looking for solutions to a similar kitchen, I might think twice about the time and money I’ll be putting into this room. But the thing is, I spend so much time in here. I want/need it to function better for me, and while I’m at it, look exciting. Everything is highly reversible and mostly damage-free (though if anyone here has had bad experiences with peel-and-stick floors or tiles, could you let me know?). There will be moments in the in-between of starting and finishing that I will 100% regret the decision to do any of this, but when it’s complete, I know I’ll just want to stand in the room and take it all in every single day. I want my daughter to see me making our home our own and putting my passions to work. Watching my mom tinker around my childhood home shaped me greatly.

Stay tuned. 

Your friend in design, Arlyn


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118 thoughts on “How Arlyn Is Working With—Not Against–The Dark Cherry Cabinets In Her Rental Kitchen

  1. Oooooh……kitchen inspo!!
    I’m here for this. I stiiiill haven’t jumped at using peel n stick on my kitchen backsplash (it’s whire tile, but I want it to be a pattern or teal), so you might give me confidence.🤞🤞
    My cabinets are 1950 white. I want to paint the lowers teal.
    Everything needs to be cheap n cheerful, even though I own my home, coz with my freedom from an abusive relationship, came noooo moneyyyyyyy.🥴
    Ready – set – go!, Arlyn!
    Can’t wait to see you work your FOAS magic!🤗

    1. DO IT! At the very least, the peel and stick tile is worth a shot and if it’s not your thing, you tried!

  2. When I first started reading the post I thought there was no way it would ever look good or contemporary…but I should’ve known better, because the moodboard at the end looks amazing! Can’t wait to see the final result. Love these kind of posts, great job!

  3. These are such creative and do-able solutions; thanks for a great post! I love the wall color— it’s so similar to Clare’s ‘Current Mood,’ which I used to paint my bedroom. So my only caution is that this seems, overall, to be quite dark, so I hope you have lighting bright enough to function. I put a single-bulb fixture in my bedroom initially but it’s not enough; I am still waiting on installing the new four-light one I got.

    My last house had natural cherry cabinets— really pretty wood, but the dark granite counters and partial backsplash weighed it all down. I replaced the cabinet hardware and the counters with a light gray, honed quartz, and did a white backsplash in glazed bricks from Fireclay in white (Olympic). It turned out so pretty, light and bright and made the wood grain sing.

    But I had many years in rentals before being able to buy a house, and almost always invested in new kitchen cabinet hardware. It makes such a difference.

    1. Yes I do worry if it’s too dark in general. But luckily, there are two windows and it gets very good natural light plus it has overhead canned lights that are also nice and bright. I may lean a bit lighter and dustier for the paint color but I have to try a few options to see.

  4. I agree that this is a lot of work and specific purchases for a rental, but I think your design idea is fantastic. And this is the kind of content that’s the most fun to read! Excited to see how it turns out.

  5. The kitchen as it is is a far cry from the bad Italian countryside examples of the early 00s. It’s really lovely on its own. I do like the inspiration you found and completely agree that some moody paint and a hardware swap would be a huge improvement. I would be wary of damage the peel and stick tiles and floor could leave, especially on a tile floor that already has a lot of texture. I’ve never used it before but our only full bathroom had peel and stick when we moved in and it looked really cheap. I know Chris Loves Julia used peel and stick tiles in their daughter’s bathroom once and posted a follow later on about how they didn’t hold up.

    My recommendation would be to start with paint, hardware, and breakfast nook furniture before moving on to the other projects to see if it is even necessary. Not to mention a big rug can fix many of the floors flaws (and an all white floor reads more modern to me than a checkerboard anyway).

    1. Unfortunately, I have to agree that my peel and stick tiles did not hold up well. I would wait until the end to address the floor. Rugs are a good solution. Maybe consider a indoor/outdoor sisal to bring the natural tones to the floor. I also don’t mind the white – it does read as modern to me.

    2. I forgot CLJ did that in their old home. I’ll go read up on it. I know Brady here did a peel-and-stick floor years ago in his kitchen that he said was in decent shape when he moved out. I’m less concerned with how it will hold up over the years (we won’t be here forever) but more about any lasting damage. It is just adhesive, so guessing there is some product out there that would strip it back but if anyone else has experience, I’d love to know.

      1. I think CLJs problem might’ve been that they didn’t install it right, they let the old grout show through. I think they’ve done it again since and now they have their own line so you can probably read their mistakes and corrections.

    3. We used peel and stick tile in both of our (owned/permanent) bathrooms and after a few years they’ve been holding up beautifully, BUT we leveled the existing tile floors with a skim coat of concrete first, we put down a tile primer, and we grouted as if we had traditional tiles – so, not things you can do in a rental. But like I said, they’re holding up really well if it’s something you’re considering. We also did peel and stick on primed subfloor in a little throughway/storage area that gets a TON of foot traffic and haven’t had any issues yet. So, you can have success with peel and stick!

      1. Kat – really curious as to why, if you are going to do all the work with skim coating with concrete, primer and grouting, you went with peel and stick instead of actual tile? I have no idea of the pros and cons and what other considerations you worked with, so just genuinely wondering. Thank you!

        1. Fair question! We didn’t have the skills or money to remove and redo the old tile floors, so peel and stick tile allowed us to put something over the existing tile without adding too much height and weight (the concrete was just a skim coat to level any cracks and grout lines, it didn’t add any height or anything).

  6. I love your plan off attack for this, your mood board is on point and I can’t wait to see it!

  7. Love this! While we all dream of doing total makeovers, this is more of the reality. It takes a lot of imagination to work with what you have. I really look forward to seeing it come together.

  8. When can we see the reveal? Please say IMMEDIATELY!!! It’s a really challenging redesign IMO given all of the constraints (no painting cabinets or installing permanent finishes due to it being a rental). I can not wait to see how this comes together. Sharpening my note taking pencils…putting on my glasses…refreshing browser…please hurry.

    1. HAHAHA This made me laugh. Stay tuned. Hopefully it won’t take me months and months.

  9. So fun to have your voice back here, Arlyn. This is such a thoughtful assessment of how to go from a neutral renter’s kitchen to something that feels more personal (and beautiful!). The dusty greens as a complement to the cherry is so spot on!

  10. Hey Arlyn!
    Great inspiration board! I totally get the desire to want to ensure whatever space you live in reflects your own personality and style. Maybe Kj can help
    me out here, but there was a dark wood kitchen posted on this site recently as a link I believe, with glorious curved archways in a 1920s Spanish style Cali home. I’ve tried to search for it, but no luck. I think it would really fit your aesthetic for inspo. At any rate, love your style and looking forward to updates as you progress!

    1. Hmm…I wonder which space it was. Maybe the Lonefox space? His cabinets are solidly dark brown but it’s SO good.

      1. Yes, thanks Kj! It was definitely the Lone Fox Home. I know the wood in that kitchen has a lot less red, but it’s an aesthetic that could really work for Arlyn I think!

  11. This post is so helpful for those situations where a total redo doesn’t make sense or isn’t in the budget. I can’t wait to see the reveal. I hope you’re able to find furniture pieces used.

  12. Oh I am so excited for this!! It looks soo good, Arlyn!! I love work-with-but-also-around-what-you-have-situations they require so much creativity and problem solving and often feel the most satisfying to complete to me rather than starting with a blank canvas (and I mean do we ever really start with a totally blank canvas?) there is always *something* you have to work around just some somethings are bigger (and less appealing) than others. Just in case you haven’t seen it already I MUST mention Caroline Winkler’s kitchen make over where she also worked around her very red kitchen cabinets and balanced them with blues and stick on tiles – though overall went for a bit more of an old world look than you are going for I’d say. It’s a super fun makeover to watch in any case and I think the result is so impressive considering how luckluster that kitchen looked in the beginning. I’ll leave it here in case others want to see and can. not. wait. to see your progress AAAAAh!!!!!

      1. Funnily enough, the backsplash vinyl tile she uses is the same pattern that CLJ used, in that bathroom that’s been mentioned, in a different colourway.

    1. Haha yeah, twinsies! Happy to hear somebody else also immediately thought of this make over 😀

  13. I am very intrigued to see what you’re going to do with this kitchen! Question: If you could replace the flooring, what would you replace it with? Just wondering what types of flooring you think would help to update this dark cherry cabinetry?

    1. I also have to his question! Putting in LVP and having a hard time trying to coordinate the cherry cabinets.

    2. Hmm…that’s a great question. I’m not entirely sure because the townhouse we’re in is fairly contemporary so as much as I’d want to do something warm and encaustic or terra cotta or marbled checkerboard, it might feel out of place. But if I wasn’t taking any of that into consideration, I’d probably do a checkerboard floor but in a cream and burgundy to pick up the red of the cabinets. Or that hex terra cotta from Meet West I shared above is also very tempting.

      1. I think a cream and light gray checkerboard like CLJ did in their gym (RIP) would be good. I would not want to add red!

  14. I love this post! Three cheers for getting creative with what we have!

    And, will be following these comments closely to hear about experiences with peel-and-stick tiles in a kitchen. I’m considering using some for a budget-friendly update and have so many questions about durability, whether water splashes from the sink make them peel up, and on and on.

    1. Hi, I did peel and stick tiles (from the same company Chris Loves Julia used in their girls bathroom remodel) in my last apartment’s kitchen and bathroom. The bathroom held up great- no peeling up at all in 3 years and I even had a little flood issue once. My kitchen did not hold up near the sink or my dogs water dish, but my tiles were quite textured. My bathroom tiles were smooth. I am actually doing it again in an apartment bathroom I own while I save for a big remodel. I would recommend for smooth tiles but nothing with a dimensional texture.

  15. There is a great DIY out there where you can take an inexpensive blind and turn it into a roman shade. I don’t know where it originated but go check out @minncenturymod on IG! She did it in her last home and it turned out GREAT. I think it is in her stories. 🙂

    Your plan looks beautiful! It will be so worth it. Can’t wait for the reveal.

  16. The direction you are going looks perfect! Those cherry cabinets aren’t as offensive as others I could imagine. At least they are in a shaker style, the traditional arched at the top cabinet doors are not for me. Even changing out the hardware, I think, will be a great start.

  17. These tips and the way you walk us thru it… SO HELPFUL! I can’t wait to see, and I’m hopeful there will be process posts, you know, the real process of making choices, trying things out, marketplace finds or ‘maybe items’; I know you’ll be looking. Good luck, stay strong. Kiddos do learn so much from what they see parents do; learning to be flexible and roll with the punches when the kitchen is in update mode is a life skill that transfers to so much more.

  18. Rental or not, if I’m planning on living there for a while the first thing I’d do is pay to have a microwave installed above the range, that one eats up WAY too much counter space and an installed one will look much more balanced.

    1. I would love to do that, but I can already hear my husband moaning and groaning and saying “YOU WANT TO DO WHAT?!?” (He’s the best, but he’s far more cautious about things than I am.)

      1. I think it all depends on the venting above the range. Sometimes you can move the microwave and sometimes you can’t. But if you can, get online and see if you can find a used one. I bet there are plenty of ppl redoing kitchens and getting rid of theirs. Another option would be to put the microwave in the storage piece in the breakfast area to create more counter space.

  19. ARLYN YOU BEAUTIFUL HEROIC TROPICAL FISH. My 1br railroad style rental kitchen is tiny with similar color cabinets, a pink laminate counter, and connects to the living area and bedroom a which both have – wait for it – GREEN carpet. Literally ordering that green peel and stick tile RIGHT NOW because if we’re going to be here for another two years while I finish my PhD I need to not hate it.

    I cannot possibly emphasize enough how thankful I am for this post and how much decision fatigue you have saved me!

    1. I am needlepointing “beautiful heroic tropical fish” immediately and that is my new mantra moving forward. HAHAHA

  20. Makeovers on a budget are my favorite and I love your plan. I noticed the appliances are three different colors. Maybe you could change the fridge to stainless or black if your landlord/budget allow? I think either one would work since the dishwasher is black and the stove is stainless with black accents. I was able to get my current fridge for half off because it had a big scratch on the side that doesn’t show in my kitchen, or maybe you could find one second hand? Just a thought. Excited to see the final outcome!

    1. I saw a blog post once where the person PAINTED their fridge, obviously can’t if it belongs to the landlord but that white fridge is a bit of a sore thumb.

      Adding that mulberry cabinet in is genius ❤️

    2. Or you could put temporary wallpaper on it! Alexandra Gater has a view makeovers where she does that, like this one: you could either just make it black or a fun/subtle pattern if your landlord doesn’t allow you to switch the fridge or it isn’t in your budget 🙂

    3. Or work those Emily Henderson contacts and get a sponsored one from Home Depot or Lowes or wherever.

    4. Yes that’s my plan! I left some note about it in a tiny caption I think but didn’t go too far into it. We’ve been looking for a stainless fridge on Facebook Marketplace or from some scratch and dent places. The issue is there’s a small lip on the right side of the cabinet that makes the opening 35.5″ when most refrigerators are 35.75″ wide. It’s MADDENING. We’ve looked into narrower fridges, but needing it to be counterdepth as well, it leaves us with very few options, and also kind of a tiny fridge for a family of 3.

      1. Fisher Paykael makes a 32 inch counter depth fridge that has lots of space (over 17 cubic feet). We have one for our family of four (including two teenagers). It has lasted 20 years and still working perfectly. They are fairly expensive though, not sure how easy it would be to find one used.

        1. Wait I’ve seen one of these on Facebook Marketplace for sale. Probably not currently, but I was concerned 17 cubic feet wouldn’t be large enough for us. But if you’re saying it works for your family of 4, this sounds promising!

  21. Vinyl “rug” by Beija Flor – I have a checkerboard one sitting on top of my kitchen flooring. Excellent.

    1. I had never heard of this company, but these look great. This may be the solution to my ugly, beige kitchen floor tile from the early 2000s. Thank you!

      1. Yes the vinyl floormats are a great solution! They’re a modernized version of traditional kitchen floorcloths – usually made from painted canvas that is treated to be durable and waterproof. It is still possible to get traditional floorcloths made, but the vinyl are a great alternative. I have a beautiful floral one from Spicher & Company. They make a HUGE variety of designs.

  22. It will look great! I would look for beautiful linen dish towels to use as curtains!!

  23. I love this walkthrough of your process! I could never leave a rental kitchen alone, personally. It makes such a big difference when you’re living there to feel like it’s yours in some way. Can’t wait to see updates!

  24. Love this! My cabinets are a similar shade. What backsplash would you pair with a black countertop? Black seems like too much dark but white would be a strong contrast.

    1. Hmm…yes I think black backsplash with a black counter is a lot. Very heavy. Maybe look at some black and white options? That way you still have some black for balance but brighten it up with the white?

  25. Boy do I love a good Arlyn post to sink my teeth into in the morning. So glad you’re back!

    I’m trying to make the orangest of orange cabinets work in my current kitchen (no budget for a redo, and trying not to be wasteful) and it’s been tough to get excited about. But this is really inspiring! I loved that you looked at other rooms besides kitchens to help inform your color palette. Super smart. I, too, was thinking of sewing some type of window treatment because I can’t find any ready-mades that I like (and custom is oh-so-very out of the budget), so maybe we can pray for each other. 😅

    I love what you have planned here. I think the brass hardware is going to look great, and a burgundy hutch will balance things beautifully. (Go burgundy!) Thanks for sharing! Can’t wait to see how it all comes together.

  26. we just left our rental when the renewable 6 month lease ended as the dark kitchen cabinets, floors, and beamed wood ceilings, coupled with little natural light, became too oppressive. But the landlord is married to the supposed MCM look. Although we tried temporary remediation, removing some cabinet doors and oppressive draperies, the enveloping dark wood continued to suck the light out of the apartment. We resorted to turning on lights even during the day. So much potential was lost. Glad to see your landlord is open to your wonderful ideas, Arlyn. Looking forward to the reveal!

  27. I would consider a mosaic style stick on back splash and new hardware and see what that does. I think small meaningful changes are super effective.

  28. Thank you for sharing this with all of us. Your plans look brilliant and I can’t wait to see this come to fruition. Also, I may need to copy that pinstripe linen for my own drape/curtain/shade project. Thank you!

  29. This is gorgeous, Arlyn! I actually think you can skip the peel and stick tile on the floor, because with the rug and other styling, the floor would recede. I love that rug by the way. I’m not sure about Ruggable, but I keep seeing it, and I’m tempted for my entry way, since it’s practical as well as pretty. I also want to point out that real cherry hardwood is beautiful and timeless. The fake stuff gives it s bad rap. I can’t wait to see the final result!

  30. I like the colors you chose, they will look great. You might also consider darker and toned down plum and especially its lighter sister mauve on the walls. They also work really with cherry colored cabinets. I had both with cherry bookshelf and wardrobe and loved them both in that space. Those colors will look well with the banquette seat and with lighter wood table. You could do sky blue for an accent, gray cream, green or more saturated complementary colors like pink or orange even. I personally found black picture frames and silver accents nice and adding a contemporary touch. Gold makes it a little more traditional. Which is fine too, if that’s the vibe you want. Generally toned down mauve and plum are universally good like any other neutral.
    I’m someone who finds owning a home as having more benefits than renting. I’m also someone who believes that you should make your home a home you love and care for it even if that’s a rental. I don’t think one thing precludes the other.

  31. When I initially saw the before pic, I thought “ooh this is going to be tough”. But I feel that a lot of people could really benefit from your ideas as not everyone can change their cabinets. As I read through your concept I got very strong William Morris and Arts & Crafts vibes which just happen to be on trend right now. Very excited to see your transformation!!

  32. Do yourself a favor and do a floating floor! Each piece sticks to eachother rather than to the existing flooring, so there’s zero damage and a much easier uninstall when you move out. I used TrafficMaster Grip Strip in my basement — it’s a LVP, and it’s held up wonderfully.

    I regret using peel&stick flooring elsewhere and would advise against. The white sections stained quickly and looked horrible, and it was a huge pain to uninstall. Might be fine with dark tiles on a small backsplash, but definitely would never use it for flooring again.

    1. I was thinking a floating floor would work best, since it won’t damage the tile.

  33. I love the direction you are headed – I think it’s doable without completely torpedoing a budget. My couple of thoughts are that a rug is preferable to trying peel and stick tiles. It’s not the durability I’m thinking of, but the horrible removal process. Same with the peel and stick back splash. As a landlord of our previous house I’d rather repaint (or leave) the nice light green paint that matches the counter tops than deal with the gunk and gouging that removing peel and still ’tile’ would leave. Especially if you are scrubbing it out of orange peel textured walls. Yuck. Just yuck to have to deal with on both sides. Lastly, just a couple of safety issues for your sweet little one – the metal shelves you currently have are strapped to the wall, right? Not just because you are in earthquake land, but because it is so top heavy and easy for a standing toddler to pull over. Secondly, I’ve made some roman shades – very doable and kind of fun, but I didn’t have little ones where I would need the breakaway hardware so that no one gets caught hanging in the lines. Again, it’s doable but to do safely, its more complex.

    I can’t wait to see what you end up doing! You have a great eye!

  34. It’s nice to see this post getting so much positive feedback, I agree you’ve come up with some great solutions to common problems. I know how it is to be afraid to ask for any changes as a renter but asking to mount the microwave to save space really does seem like a reasonable request! And, I wonder if you’ve considered a solution that will give the floor a dark wood look as we’ve seen in some of the inspiration photos. I don’t know what solution that would be but I like the “tone on tone” flooring you’ve shown us in this post.

  35. I really enjoyed reading your post and the research that you did to create your design plan. No doubt that the final result will be a beautiful improvement! I recently saw several IG influencers using Daltile mosaic peel and stick tiles – they are real marble but they may come in other colors, textures. Home Depot sells them but others may too. One person also tiled directly onto plywood sheets and then attached the plywood to the wall (or fireplace insert) to save the walls from damage. Anyway just thought I would mention that. I have made roman shades and in fact I am making some at the moment. They are not really difficult – very little sewing is involved it is more like putting a puzzle together. Gather all the supplies ahead of time (I have purchased supplies from Joanns Fabrics, Sailrite, Rowley co, Online Fabric Store…). Find a place large enought to work w the shade flat – either a table or on the floor because that is the key. Unless you have a drapery workroom sized table (a dream of mine) larger shades can be difficult to lay flat as you work on them. A floor works well too (tape brown contractor paper over the floor area). Another thing you could do is make two smaller shades instead of one larger one. Your window looks fairly large but not too tall which helps too. OFS Makers Mill has a roman shade tutorial that is fairly simple to follow w instructions and a video. It may be helpful to watch the video to acquaint yourself w all the steps upfront even if you have other instructions to use. Here’s the link:
    Anyway just my two cents for what it’s worth – but your plan is going to be amazing!

  36. So I’m not even done reading this yet but want to caution you on using the peel and stick tile on the floor- because of the texture it may not adhere well and then you’ll be dealing with a different sensory textural issue- sticky edges peeling up 🙁 I’d do a test run for a couple tiles and see how they behave before committing time and materials to the whole floor!

  37. Love design dilemmas especially this one. You are a very entertaining writer. Can’t wait to see your solutions.

  38. Awesommmme Arlyn 🙂 Don’t take your time getting this kitchen spiffed up because I am longing to see how it turns out!

  39. Let me add – regarding the flooring and the cautions you’ve received about peel n stick – other options might be a floating floor or even nice sheet vinyl. Mannington makes some good patterns, and I’m sure someone is making checkerboard colorways with the current trend.

  40. The mood board looks great, I love the choice of Ruggable. I peeled and stuck a mudroom floor over 30 years ago and it’s still stuck and still in great shape. It gets daily abuse. Five dogs (not all at once) and one husband haven’t made a scratch on it, but have ruined the wood floor in the adjacent kitchen.

    1. I’m kind of rethinking the peel and stick floor based on everyone’s comments. If we knew we were staying here for years and years, I’d be more for it, but the idea of pulling all that back up in a year or two (possibly) and dealing with the possible aftermath is scaring me…

  41. Personally, I’m a little tired of white kitchens, and I’ve always found them a little blah. So, I’m all for this!

    1. Oh I’m with you. I liked white kitchens maybe 10-15 years ago when I was tired of the super dark espresso and cherry trend, but now I just love color, or a beautiful oak or other wood finish.

      1. I’ve seen some beautiful white kitchens, but it’s sad when something becomes so trendy it seems like it’s all you see.

  42. I rented for years and each new place was either painted, rehabbed, or renewed. I never regretted the money and effort. When I open my front door the space envelopes me with joy and I’m so happy to be home. My home has always soothed me, energized me, and comforted me during life’s yes and downs.

  43. What a great post with all the inspiration rooms and the thought processes and the mood board. So very very helpful. We have cherry cabinets and when we had to replace the appliances, went with stainless because not much else was available. Changed white and shiny 90s brass hardware to champagne bronze to blend with the cabinets and now am thinking I should have gone with pewter-ish/brushed nickel to tie in the stainless appliances. Your idea to move away from the brushed nickel to brass is very interesting. This post is helping me to think through what we could do to help our kitchen from 1997. Also, about floor tile, check out Megan’s [of The Homes I Have Made] many experiences with temporary flooring in rentals like using peel and stick wallpaper
    I fervently hope you keep us informed of your progress, both the good finds and the places where you have to pivot.

  44. Thank you for the link to the beautiful Morris and Co rug. I was not familiar with these Ruggable options and was looking for a smaller replacement rug for a heavily traffic area.

    1. Ruggable is great! I NEED a washable rug in our kitchen, well…our entire house now with a little toddler. They have different thickness levels for comfort, etc. And once I saw their Morris & Co. line, I knew I had to have it!

    1. UGH this is so gorgeous!!! I do think light oak floors against the darker cherry/brown would be SO nice, but I’d only do that if I were renovating and since that’s not an option here, RIP that idea. I know I could install a floating wood floor, but I think the transition from cherry-finished wood floors in the rest of the home (yup, cherry all over) would be bizarre going into the kitchen, sadly. 🙁

      1. But your tile floors (at least in these photos) looks so similar in tone to her oak floors! And she has a rug. But I also like how she has hung some big art (maybe a wall paper piece unpasted) over the exposed ends of the run of cupboards. It breaks up the cabinetry. And the painted window inners (?)You could just flip her colours and do your in pink?

  45. Arlyn, this is EXACTLY the issue I have in my NY kitchen, dark cherry cabinets! We have dark greenish faux granite laminate counters and wood floors. We’re getting white (slightly patterned) quartz installed and a light green tlle backsplash installed (×8-glazed-distressed-gloss-light-green?_pos=1&_sid=be58e08b2&_ss=r) and I’m hoping it brightens things up. I’m especially happy I chose the green backsplash now that I see what your plan is. I can’t wait to see your finished project! THANK YOU so much for this article!!!!

  46. Can’t wait to see it all done! I like the palette. A little worried about the peel-and-stick floors!

  47. many decades ago (more than I’d care to admit) I covered my formica countertops with contact paper. This was really old school contact paper and it lasted the next three years I lived there. It was still in place when I moved out. My landlord thought I’d replaced the countertops with butcher’s block.
    It’s a valid work-around. I did use chopping blocks to help protect the counter but I would have anyway.

  48. Damn, Arlyn, youze a GENIUS. Can’t wait to see how this comes together based on the moodboard! And thank you for this relatable yet totally beautiful content.

  49. love this plan and I cant wait to see where it goes. Have you thought about doing a ruched fabric backing on the inside of the burgundy cabinet’s doors? it would help add a layer of softness in a room full of hard surfaces, would be a good place to introduce a fun pattern, and most importantly hide anything you dont want to see every day.

  50. Great post! I think it’s going to turn out wonderful and I can’t wait to see it!

  51. Please don’t remove the doors and add curtains ! My mom did this all over our childhood house and they are a pain in the a$$ and make the rooms look chaotic. And floors cost $$ so now my dad has to spend more money to add closet doors a decade later.

  52. I have been wrestling with whether I can do this same of Magic, with maple, yellowed inexpensive cabinets> The the nickel hardware, the black granite, and taupe- grey-shiny peel & stick backsplash are quite a difficult combo. I could paint the cabinets cream- not myself, or replace them, or change the hardware, backsplash, counter and the wall color. The original yellow walls got a coat of BM Revere Pewter- that was a good step- but the backsplash counter and nickel handles seem to clash in color and style. But if I do all that- will I still hate the old yellowed cheap cabinets?

  53. I was always the renter who left the rental better than I got it. My landlords always loved me. I asked for permission first and showed them what I wanted to do and they were happy with it. I never had to worry about removing anything afterwards unless I wanted to keep it. Several times the landlord helped with the cost of things.

  54. arlyn i love your posts because i always start them like okay i am not convinced (like this one and the mulberry one) and by the end i’m like yes, this is the only way and it is so obvious and clear. and that’s the true mark of genius, that you can take something unusual and absolutely NOT obvious and make believers out of us by the end! can’t wait to see how this all turns out!

    1. Okay, best comment ever?!? Thank you so much Annie! It means the world to me.

  55. I wonder if you could use peel and stick wallpaper on cabinets? or your bifolds?

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