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Photo by Karolina Grabowska via Pexels

Anyone who has experienced the world of New York City rental apartments knows that finding the unicorn; a pre-war, charming, historical, design detailed, affordable apartment with a renovated kitchen is like finding a needle in a hay-stack.

I have lived in different types and styles of apartments over the years; a renovated large high-rise, a brand new chic boutique building, a double-height ceiling loft and most recently a pre-war classic. I was lucky enough to have a great kitchen in each apartment with minimal required updates. Especially in the luxury rental buildings where updated kitchens were the norm. However, this came at a trade off for me in terms of character and the classic bones I craved.

When I sought out my current rental, I knew I wanted a pre-war gracious space (albeit how small) with classic detailing. I also knew that my desired location and price-tag would require a compromise. Eventually I found a diamond in the rough that met all of my requirements- except for the kitchen.

Though renovating a rental is certainly not for everyone and remains an expensive endeavor, there are some small and easy updates that can really make a drastic difference. In my case given my profession, accessibility of resources, connections and construction help; I was able to fully update the space and essentially create a brand-new kitchen.

The scary before! The doors of the cabinets were not only chipped but completely warped and not aligned. The appliances and sink were outdated and there was zero counter space due to the countertop microwave.

The window situation was also dismal. The window in the kitchen was a big selling point for me on this apartment due to the light so I knew I wanted to give it proper attention.

In order to get the microwave off of the counter and in an effort to make the kitchen appear larger, the cabinets were removed and re-installed at a higher height to accommodate a microwave above the stove and a new taller counter-depth fridge.

Since new cabinetry is a major expense, we did a cosmetic facelift and installed just new cabinet doors (pre-fabricated laminated white glossy doors that deliver a great look without breaking the bank). We couldn't add any additional electrical points so we installed under cabinet puck lighting with a local switch to really brighten up the work area.

To add a bit of design detail and warm it up, I opted for satin brass edge pulls for the cabinet hardware as opposed to standard polished chrome.

The big-ticket item of course was the statuary marble countertop which really is the star of the show. To compliment it, we installed a classic white subway tile backsplash and an extra deep stainless steel sink with a pull-down faucet.

The original kitchen housed everything on one wall but the space was actually just wide enough to allow for something on the other side. We really wanted to maximize every inch of space so we made new cabinets for the opposite side wall and installed them to the ceiling for a clean and custom look.

With a leftover piece of marble from the countertops we created a narrow ledge to serve as a little dining bar. The satin brass brackets were another small design detail that was an easy add-on but really enhanced the overall look.

With the last little leftover cut from the marble countertop, we installed a new window ledge to create a flat surface for styling and storage. We also removed the previous tension rod situation and installed a clean white custom blind.

Contrary to popular belief, dark colors in small spaces fool the eye into thinking the space is larger than it actually is so I selected Benjamin Moore’s Chelsea Gray for the walls. I also really wanted the whites, marble, and brass accents to pop in the space and knew a charcoal color would do just that.

The original ceiling light fixture was one of those cheap glass flush-mounts which allowed for an easy swap out. This shaded pendant added warmth and interest and tied back nicely to the other brass accents.

Since a new floor wasn’t an option, I found the perfect vintage Turkish runner on Etsy to help disguise the floor and once again create warmth.

To round out the design, I installed an oil painting that I had custom framed (at Wade Maxx on the Upper West Side) in a satin brass floating style frame. I actually really love having artwork in the kitchen (as long as it is away from cooking surfaces) and enjoy looking at it every day.

And there you have it! A brand new kitchen in a very old rental. While I will take the appliances and light fixture with me when moving on to the next place, everything else unfortunately will have to stay. Trust me, if I could remove the marble countertops they would come as well! But to me it was absolutely worth it to make a rental space truly into a home.

Here are the items I used (or similar if no longer available):

Get the Look:

Pull-down kitchen faucet

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