On “Rental Redo,” designer Keyanna Bowen (who’s also a renter) remodels rentals for tenants who must abide by a landlord’s rules on what they can and can’t change. Typically, massive makeovers are not allowed (or wise) since renters don’t own the property. But that still leaves plenty of room to add our own signature style to a space.
“I know what it’s like to want beautiful design, but not spend a million bucks on a property that’s not yours,” Bowen says. “Just because you live in a rental doesn’t mean you can’t make it your own. With a few easy fixes and not a whole lot of money, you can transform any space and make it feel like home.”
In the premiere episode, “Coastal Kitchen and Baths,” Bowen works with Alanna and Ryan in Millville, NJ, who have been living with their two daughters in a rental home for six years.
“Our original plan was to buy,” says Alanna, “but that’s not working out, especially because houses in this area have continued to skyrocket.”
Ryan and Alanna have given her $5,000 to redo the family’s bland kitchen, and as an afterthought, ask her to apply the same principles to their bathroom, too.
See how she makes this work, on a tiny budget no less. Furthermore, she shows how you can take a lot of it with you when you move!
Always check with the landlord first
“The main challenge in designing for a rental is working in some of the stipulations that you might have from your landlord,” says Bowen as she sits down with Alanna and Ryan. “Meet with your landlord, have a conversation with them, and you’ll be surprised by how much you’re able to do.”
In her own home, Bowen says, “I worked out a really great deal with my landlord that any updates we make he will either pay for or deduct the cost from our rent, so it’s really a win-win for both of us.”
Bowen’s strategy in this instance is to “put together a design plan to share our ideas, and once we get everyone signed off in writing, we can move forward.”
There’s a key piece of info there: Get the landlord to sign off in writing.
Use renter-friendly materials
“I always try to use renter-friendly materials, which means they can actually be removed when the tenant leaves,” says Bowen.
That includes the light fixtures, the hardware, the peel-and-stick wallpaper, and even the kitchen faucet.
“A faucet is one of those things that you think you can’t take it with you, but you actually can,” explains Bowen. “If you keep the old one, you can actually pop that old one back in and take the beautiful one with you to your next home.”
There’s another piece of wisdom there: Always keep the materials you’re replacing, so you can leave the place the way you found it.
Try a peel-and-stick vinyl backsplash
Everything in the kitchen is a dull, murky white, so Bowen decides to liven it up with a new backsplash made of peel-and-stick vinyl that “mimics the look of painted tile.”
“It’s made from a high-quality vinyl similar to what they use for billboards, so that makes it water-resistant and heat-resistant and it’s also renter-friendly,” Bowen says, “because they can take it down and it won’t damage the walls at all.”
It’s a little tricky to apply, however, so Bowen suggests centering it on the faucet, “because that way you’ll have a focal point when you’re looking at it.”
With $500 and a little effort, the kitchen is transformed already.
Peel-and-stick vinyl also works on the floor
“When selecting a new floor, I needed to find something that was super cost-effective,” says Bowen, but also something that could be easily installed. She found exactly what she had in mind.
“This flooring was perfect because it’s peel-and-stick, but it also kind of resembles a stone. It’s just going to make the space look more updated,” she says.
But is it easy to install? After taking a crack at it, Alanna and Ryan confidently say it’s a no-brainer. They’re shocked at how easily it goes on the floor and actually have fun applying it.
Take care when painting cabinets
Painting the dull cream cabinets a beautiful greenish blue, to add their preferred beachy vibe to the kitchen, is essential.
“That is just one way to really transform the space,” says Bowen. But it’s not easily accomplished.
“Apparently, they’ve already painted the cabinets but were not too happy with the results,” she says. “Painting cabinets is not easy, so that’s something that I definitely want to help them fix.”
She begins by removing the cabinet doors and sanding them down.
“Sanding cabinets is a very laborious task,” Bowen admits. “In order to get a really solid paint job, you have to do a lot of sanding, but it is the most cost-effective way to upgrade your space.”
But it doesn’t stop with sanding. You also must use primer, several coats of paint, and a top coat.
The finishing touch is brass hardware to add warmth. (Bonus: If you save the old hardware, you can take that brass hardware with you when you move.)
How does this rental redo turn out?
The family is awestruck when they see their new kitchen.
“It absolutely feels more like home now. It feels like us,” says Alanna. “It feels like I want to be in this space all the time, which is not a feeling I had before in the kitchen that we had.”
Bowen knows the feeling, because she’s done it all in her own home.
“As a renter, I understand the desire to create something that you don’t own, but make it feel like your own,” she says. “And I’m just so honored to be able to give Alanna and Ryan that gift.”