Bring Those Outdated Wooden Kitchen Cabinets Back In Style Without Painting Them

Cabinets, particularly in rental spaces, can be a mixed bag. While some kitchens have been remodeled with sleek new cabinets, others were remodeled decades ago and the look stuck. While many landlords and property management companies allow tenants to paint their walls, the cabinets are usually off-limits, particularly if they are wood-finished. While wood cabinets can be classic and timeless, they can also be a nod to bygone trends, like knotty pine or warm honeyed oak, that have seen far better days. Many design bloggers and social media DIY-ers have been spreading the word on alternatives to painting unsightly cabinets, including The Kitchn's Cullen Ormond, who recently wrote about how she handled outdated cabinets by simply embracing them and making changes to the rest of the room instead. 

Instead of painting or replacing the cabinets, which she wasn't allowed to do in a rental, Ormond decided instead to lean into the wood finish look of the cabinets, creating a low-contrast, monochromatic look that takes the focus away from the dated cabinets themselves and makes them more coherently part of a stylish Mediterranean look. The result is a renter-friendly approach to drab cabinets.

Renter-friendly hacks

Cullen Ormond began by painting her walls a rich terracotta color that complements the cabinet finish in warmth and depth. The look, combined with white accents, counter, and island feels sunny and warm, bringing the kitchen into the twentieth century by making it feel more like an age-old Italian villa.

While paint is perhaps the easiest way to transform the look and impression of cabinets, there are other ways that renters can make slight changes that bring a kitchen a fresh look within the confines of what they can and can't do. Many renters change out the existing hardware for new. Other elements, like backsplash and counter finishes, can be transformed through peel-and-stick vinyl, wallpaper, appliance sleeves, or adhesive tiles that will give the kitchen a fresher look working around the cabinets. If the cabinets are still not working, you can also cover them with peel-and-stick contact or wallpaper, adhesive vinyl, or decals that can freshen them up, all of which cause no damage and can be removed when you move out.