Need help adjusting to an old small rented house

marie26December 6, 2008

I just found this forum and need help. How do you cope with an old kitchen that just doesn't work when it's a rental? A year ago, we moved from a new house (rental) with an open layout that had my dream kitchen with a huge island and a 6-foot pantry to a 50 or 60 year-old-house in another city that we're also renting.

My previous place was so well organized. Here, even after a year, I can't get my act together and it's not because of my organizing skills, it's because the house doesn't work. There are hardly any kitchen cabinets, the tinest possible sink and even though the dishwasher looks like a normal size, it's so tiny inside that you can hardly fit anything in it. Then, there are is one outlet on the stove next to the tiniest counter and one other outlet on one other wall. I purchased standing metal racks for the empty wall which houses the micorwave that has a plug. But I can't use any other plugs when that is working or the breaker goes out.

We can't move now and are here for at least another year, maybe longer. The thought of moving is probably worse for me than living in a place I "hate".

How do you make a small place work that you don't own when it wasn't built to be functional?

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Hi, this may sound like 'reaching', but have you considered (or tried) sitting down with the landlord and pointing out to him in a nice way just how bad things are, e.g. that old wiring is just not working for 'today's' appliances, etc. and that you really are having a lot of trouble functioning there? I recently ran into similar problems with two very old and peculiar places I bought (one at a time :-)) and while the first was wired alright, I did have to put in a couple of new outlets, plus get very creative about storage as it was miniscule. I ended up using a combo of a 2 burner hotplate (I'm alone now), microwave and good, versatile toaster oven as the existing stove was garbage, but then I'm not into baking. My present kitchen's larger, but counters are strung all on one wall, with a bathroom entry in the middle of them, and the wiring's safe, but (like you) I can only plug in or use one thing at a time on any given outlet as there's only 100 amps (luckily there are enough to work with). I do now have a stove-top and wall oven, but still use the hotplate more often (it sits on the two back burners and saves a little energy). I wonder if you talk to the landlord (possibly with other tenants at a mtg. with coffee, etc. for all) and point out nicely to him how unworkable the place is whether or not he'd even consider upgrading at all (though of course your rent might be hiked to pay for it).

    Bookmark   December 7, 2008 at 5:46AM
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Definitely an electrical issue. I'll bet none of the wall plugs are grounded or GFIs. Talk to your landlord if possible, these could be fire issues. And depending upon your city codes for renting, he/she may have to change them.

My daughter has always rented small cottages and it seems to be the same with all the kitchens as you are experiencing. Her solution to cabinets was freestanding tall storage units. Workspace for one was just using her table, but this one had a dining area in the kitchen. I think she just got used to what was as it never really bothers her and still has many friends over for dinner, etc.

Instead of the wire shelves, possibly some used base cabinets and counter. They could easily be painted. Then hang the wire shelf unit (may need to be broken down).

    Bookmark   December 7, 2008 at 9:38AM
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Definitely talk to your landlord about the electrical, since it could very well be a dangerous situation that should be corrected. In the meantime, there are some great freestanding islands that could give you much needed counter space and storage. Check out IKEA, they've got several different options that are very affordable.

In your case, though, you do have the advantage of moving to a better place if you don't like this one! IF you owned it, you'd be facing a costly remodel.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2008 at 10:08AM
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I'd focus on learning how to be creative and functionality will come!

Old homes with old kitchens were built in the days before people had too much stuff. I'd keep the most important, use every day stuff, in the cabinets you do have. If you have a basement, set up storage down there for less frequently used things.

I'd add portable storage if it fits and make sure it either has a surface that you can work on or is tall enough to act as a pantry. I'd see if the landlord can have more outlets added; but if they won't, try and work out the surfaces near the outlets you do have so that changing plugs isn't a big deal.

There's a book by Jane Powell called Bungalow Kitchens. The book has loads of pictures of small kitchens which today's owners are using successfully all the time. Most libraries have a copy. Check it out for ideas. I think you'll be able to get this kitchen to where it works for you!!

    Bookmark   December 7, 2008 at 10:33PM
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Thank you for your advice. I like the idea of a base cabinet but only if I can find something really cheap. I don't want to spend money here on something that I probably won't need in the future. I thought of getting an island and found one I really like. For some reason, I can't commit to it yet. I guess I'm not positive that this will solve my problem.

I've lived in many homes, owned and rented and this is the first place that I feel this way. I have always been able to make it work.

My son gave me a good dishwasher today. He pulled it out of a home he just purchased because he'd bought a new dishwasher. That should help a bit.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 1:58AM
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Not sure where you are located, but Restore Habitat for Humanity has tons of kitchen cabinets. Some are as little as $10. You could create an island from them also.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 8:29AM
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"Old homes with old kitchens were built in the days before people had too much stuff. I'd keep the most important, use every day stuff, in the cabinets you do have. If you have a basement, set up storage down there for less frequently used things."

I couldn't agree with Paster even more. Very true. People have become accustomed to Cuisinart and many large appliances and things they can learn to do without, or store in the garage or elsewhere.

Now the only problem I had with my last home, and it is true with most homes, is that the plugs are darn near the floor and certain 'must have' appliances have short cords for a purpose and should not be used with extensions. I had to learn to do without the fryer I so badly wanted, and my landlord was not about to renovate just so I could have outlets at waist level. Good luck to you on that one.

I saw some great photos in Country Living magazine depicting a small charming kitchen in which they used coat racks to hang towels and wire shelves to store plates.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 5:16PM
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Craigslist is a great place to find used, or even new, single cabinets.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 11:15PM
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There is a cutting rack that fits over most sinks - has adjustable "arms" that pull out on the sides if necessary. This gives you more counter space. We got rid of everything we did not use on a regular basis. If you don't plan to stay there, you could pack up the extraneous stuff and put it in storage or in a friend's garage.

There are very few things that we keep on the counter top. I've heard of people storing extra pots in the oven or under the bed. It sounds like you have extra floor space if you have room for a second dishwasher. If there is still room, I would get an inexpensive (i.e., used) cabinet and paint it a bright color or a color that will blend with what you have. We had one with a plywood top and kept a dishtowel over it.

The sink and the outlets sound like a real problem. The wiring may not be up to code. You could wash dishes in a big pot on the table, but that sure would feel like camping out! We have a power strip plugged into one outlet and that helps, but you'd have to make sure your wiring can handle that.

Good luck! I hope there are other parts of the house that you love to make up for the kitchen.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2008 at 12:13AM
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Boy can I sympathize with you!! I have been in a small 1950's rental house in Florida for about a year and a half and everytime I walk into the question I just can't figure out how it EVER worked for anyone. Be thankful you have a dishwasher! My refrigerator is cater cornered in the only available corner blocking a window and built in shelving. Maybe appliances were all smaller "back in the day."

I took the doors off my upper cabinets and lined them with really cute leopard print shelf liner. It makes the room look bigger and I like getting to show off my dishes. I don't keep any appliances out and I bought a microwave cart that only takes up about 2 square feet. I put my towels,cooking utensils,and pots and pans on the shelves on that unit. I got those racks that screw underneath the counter to hang all my wine and martini glasses I don't have room for an island but if you do then I would definitely opt for that.

I love the charm of old houses but unfortunately the kitchens are never up-to-par for me. You can make small kitchens work but I'm not planning any large dinner parties at my house any time soon, lol!

Here is a link that might be useful: Microwave Cart I use

    Bookmark   January 2, 2009 at 12:27AM
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Our kitchen is 36 square feet, so I completely understand your pain. The last tenants had a fridge in the living room. And no matter how we tried, the space just couldn't work for us for all the reasons that you are listing. I hated it!
The thing is that I found a small space can work if it's built to function in that small space.
I'm attaching a link to our kitchen. We probably have a little more flexibility than you, so I send good vibes that you can find something, too.

Here is a link that might be useful: Kitchen Tour

    Bookmark   January 5, 2009 at 12:07PM
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I think you should consider more carefully your aversion to spending money on an island/cabinet that you won't take with you. Weigh what you'll get out of it compared to what you spend. If you don't object to paying for a meal in a restaurant or for a movie, which are ephemeral, why object to spending on this? If it would be worth say $5 a week to you to have more functional kitchen, and you plan to stay a year, why not invest $250 in an island?

In my rented house, I've already invested in a bathroom linen closet cabinet, a kitchen faucet, and a ceiling fan. Now I'm about ready to invest in a dishwasher (which I would not plan to take with me, if/when I move). My landlords love the fact that I take care of the house and haven't raised my dirt cheap rent in 5 years, and don't intend to. You may not be as lucky as me on your rent and your landlords, but you can still calculate the cost/benefit ratio of a small upgrade.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2009 at 10:56AM
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Katie, I love your kitchen story. The finished room is amazing. And for what it's worth, I think it looked more "American" before, with the traditional white arched cabinet doors.

It must be great getting to live in another country, especially Berlin.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2009 at 4:11PM
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