Before I get into things, I want to make it clear that I do NOT advise going down the path we did, or at least, make sure things are crystal clear before agreeing to renovate any part of a rental space. Who will be in charge of paying for what, who has final say over the design, what, if anything, do you get to take with you when you leave, etc..
Learn from our naivete.
I also want to make it clear that we are grateful to have this space and have moved on from any feelings of animosity over this ordeal. We got ourselves into this mess. We take responsibility where it is due and have learned a great deal.
The last five months have been a wild ride, ya’ll. We in no way anticipated moving any time soon from our beloved first Brooklyn apartment, but when I noticed rents dipping due to the lull in the rental market last year, I figured I might as well look just to see what was out there. That’s when I found a dreamy duplex (meaning two floors here in NY) apartment within a brownstone that had beautiful historic details (the original tin ceiling, original window trim, slate fireplaces, restored hardwood floors, etc.) and was at a price unheard of for the size and details.
The only hiccup? The kitchen was upstairs, very narrow, and hardly functioning. The range and refrigerator were broken in one way or another, there wasn’t a cabinet or any kind of enclosed storage to be found, and it was FILTHY. Grease and grime covering every inch, filthy. BUT when we first went to see it, the listings agent told us that the landlord planned to replace both the fridge and range. That’s when I mentioned that we already had a fridge that we would be happy to bring over (which was perfect, because it was more our style and would relieve the landlord of having to replace the appliance any time soon). I also mentioned that it was possible that I would be able to get a range at a discount, as part of my design blog and digital content creation work.
There was a lot of back and forth from the landlord about us renting in general. It was obvious that she had been burned in the past by previous tenants and was less than thrilled about having to rent at a price lower than she was used to fetching for the space. All understandable, of course. So before making our tenancy offical, she wanted to meet us IRL. We met her at the apartment and walked through the space while I showered her with compliments about her lovely building and mentioned a few cosmetic changes I would love to make, all which could be reversed upon us leaving. Those changes included painting the walls, swapping some light fixtures, and adding crown molding. (These are questions I always ask before renting a space. If they say no, I move on.) When we went upstairs, she brought up hearing about our comments regarding the fridge and range. I again let her know that I would be open to making some changes in there, starting with replacing the fridge. She got VERY excited, glanced into the kitchen, and said “you can do whatever you want in there.” I was elated. Sure, the kitchen was a downgrade from our previous kitchen that I had renovated, with the financial help of the owners, two years prior. However, I figured that over time we could make some changes to make the space a bit more functional and a bit more pretty.
Fast forward to moving day, and we walked into a kitchen that no longer had a range at all and had been gutted outside of the sink cabinet and broken fridge. I realized very quickly that we were going to have to put money into the kitchen and FAST in order for it to be liveable. We can only order take out so many times, after all. It also forced us to map out a kitchen plan way quicker than anticipated since there wasn’t even a work top or anywhere to put anything. As part of our lease, the kitchen renovation or general kitchen changes are mentioned as one of the approved building alterations (much like painting, and swapping fixtures). Though, as expected, we needed to run any major plans by the landlord for approval. Since we were unprepared for another renovation so soon, I put together a rather simple IKEA kitchen design, with some base cabinets, affordable marble-effect lamitate work tops, and our provided fridge and range. We weren’t super thrilled to have to spend so much so quickly after moving in, but that was situation we walked into. Keep in mind, prior to moving in I thought we could buy a cabinet here, a shelf there, a nicer sink eventually, so on and so forth.
It’s when we went to the owner with said plans (which were VERY similar in look and configuration to our Greenpoint kitchen) that things took a turn. While I won’t go into too much detail, I will say that the owner rejected the plans, claiming she only allowed us to move in because she thought she would get a high-end kitchen for free. She wanted stone counters, she wanted custom cabinetry, she wanted to pick the fixtures and colors and finishes, but we were to pay for it all. That was hard for us to stomach, as you can probably imagine. Remember, originally she told us “we can do whatever we want in there.” That’s the last word we had heard about the kitchen before we signed the lease.
After some back and forth and a tiny bit of compromise, we came to terms with the fact that we had allowed ourselves to get into this situation and just had to suck it up, put the money in where we had to, and move on for our own mental well-being. After all, we LOVE the apartment and we were simply too invested at this point to turn back.
So if you’re wondering how it works to renovate a rental kitchen, the answer is it depends. In the past, we had financial support from our landlords that understood we were upping their property value. In this case, we were left holding the bag. Now at this point I should add that ANY renovation like this, rental or not, is a business investment for me given my job revolves around sharing my design process via this blog and on Instagram, and taking on brand content creation work, which many times requires a “pretty” kitchen to shoot in. Not only that though, I want to feel happy in our spaces and since buying property in Brooklyn, especially one like this, is very much out of reach for most us, I think it’s valid to invest in your happiness if that means putting love and work into a home you may not own or even live in forever. Now that doesn’t mean I think it’s brilliant to pay for a gut reno in someone else’s home. But it does mean that I believe strongly that everyone’s money and how they spend it is their own business, ours included.
I am BEYOND privileged to have a few brand partners that were excited to help us with our vision for this kitchen, while also making any sort of renovation feasibly possible, especially on a such short notice. As I mentioned, the fridge we already had. However, SMEG USA kindly gifted the range and hood, I received a 50% discount on the stone from Hanstone (the fabrication was full price) and the cabinet fronts were gifted by Nieu Cabinet Doors. We paid for the paint, the cabinet bases and interior fittings, 50% of the stone and all of the fabrication, the faucet, all of the brass fixtures outside of the knobs from Pepe and Carols, and the sink. It was stressful on us mentally, physically, emotionally, and most definitely, financially. I am proud with how it came out though, and am grateful to have this space, a roof over our heads and the ability to have even been able to pay for what we did. I am excited to spend time in this new kitchen and enjoy it for as long as we call this apartment home. I hope you love it, too.
Thank you for reading, and as always, thank you for your support. Love to you all.
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