teeny tiny rental kitchen

new.beeSeptember 7, 2012

Help. I need some advice on renovating a teeny tiny kitchen in a teeny tiny studio apartment. I'm still in the early planning stages. The kitchen currently looks like this:

Here are my questions:

1. Open up the wall where the fridge and range are. Yes/No? This is the wall where the living/bed room is.

2. If yes, have a 'window,' i.e. with cabinets above?

3. Or take down pretty much the whole wall and have no top cabinets?

4. In that case, move range to middle and have undercounter fridge, or move fridge to opposite wall?

5. Have a breakfast bar?

6. Or tear the wall down partially?

Appliances/counter tops/sink

What is the best material for a rental, that is, as durable as possible but still attractive?

Below some examples of what others have done in the building:



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Frankly, it's not really clear to me why you need to do anything. Unless your photo is deceiving it looks pretty nice as it is. Are there problems that don't show in the photo?

If the appliances need to be replaced I'd do stainless-look with those cabinets, and I'd definitely replace the boob light and maybe the faucet, but otherwise it seems fine, especially for a rental (speaking as someone who lived in rentals for many years). I don't think the other kitchens you show look any better, especially not the one where the open shelves put all the kitchen junk on display in the living area.

If you are going to undertake a major reno, I do like the idea of moving the fridge to the sink wall and opening up the window to include the area behind where it is now, as they did in the last photo (just not the open shelves--too cluttery in such a small space).

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 12:34PM
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I know it looks a lot better on the picture than in real life. The kitchen is a tiny dark hole, ceilings are lower than 8' (the rest of the studio has 8' ceilings. The cabinets don't close, the bottom ones are painted brown, and the range hood is totally greased and grimed over.
So, I was thinking of replacing the cabinets and the range hood, but then figured why replace the cabinets and not open up the kitchen?
Right now, I think I like the white kitchen best but open the wall all the way with a breakfast bar, even if I loose the upper cabinets.
The drawback is that the main room gets a little smaller, and right now, it has brand new wall-to-wall carpeting.

Of course, I could just get magnets to close the cab doors, put a microwave with exhaust over the gas range, replace the light and faucet, and maybe paint the cabinets an off white or replace the doors with some glass doors.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 1:00PM
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i would only add lighting. Using one of the backsplash electrical outlets you can add expensive high quality thin fluorescent tube lights and some LED lights too. Under the wall cabinets. This makes the counters appear bigger and spaced farther apart. It's an optical illusion.

Then at the ceiling light circuit you can spend even more. I would make the ceiling lights directional. You never know where you want to have more light until too late.

Check out this low cost directional:
TIVED spotlight - ikea # 401.809.85

Here is a link that might be useful: tived multi LED directional

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 1:14PM
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I might remove the upper cabs on the frig side and open up the wall halfway as in the pic with the white cabs. It adds the option of an eating area where the stools can slide under the overhang so not take up any floor space. It's not a bad kitchen though. My son is a renter and would be delighted to have that much counter space.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 1:38PM
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Great ideas. I actually saw under-the-counter lights at Costco the other day.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 1:39PM
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Dunno if this helps but I thought of this finished GW kitchen when I saw your before pic:

Here is a link that might be useful: Brooklyngalley's finished kitchen

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 1:45PM
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The trouble with opening a wall is that you lose that much upper cabinet storage space -- or room for a range hood (or OTR MW) depending on the location of the range. If you only opened a "window" where the backsplash would be and left upper cabinets at a reachable height, the view from the LR would be of the cook's torso.

I vote for updating the lighting if you really want, even changing out the cabinets if they are coming apart; but I don't see a problem with the existing layout especially for a rental. It would be ideal to get the range a little further away from that side wall, but you might have to rearrange all your fixtures to do so -- moving electrical/plumbing etc.

As a renter of a tiny apartment I'd probably rather have upper cab storage than a breakfast bar, depending on where the dining table is. But you could ask actual renters what they think about that.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 1:57PM
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How much do you want to do/spend? Can the lowered ceiling be raised or is there some impediment (ductwork, etc)?

If you wanted to go all out, I would do everything possible to open up the space. Remove the upper cabinets and top half of the wall connecting to the living space. Raise the ceilings. Take down the walls around the kitchen doorway (or at least the range-side one. Put a tall, skinny, apartment-sized refrigerator on the sink side and center the range on the outside wall. Extend countertops over the outside half wall to make a place for stools. Replace the light with recessed lighting and maybe put two pendants over the counter overhang. Depending on the light you have in the space just outside the current kitchen, you could replace it with a semi-flush hanging light or even a chandelier to make a nice breakfast nook/table area. I would keep the colors light. A nice splash of color and white would be great.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 5:20PM
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I don't want to spend more than 5K, but, basically it comes down to opening the space up and sacrificing upper cabinets and a range hood/MW or leaving the kitchen cramped and self-contained.
There are pipes running behind the ceiling, so it can't be raised in the kitchen. The rest of the studio has 8' ceilings.
There is a dining area right opposite the kitchen door (pic 2). There's actually enough space that one could add some built-in storage for dishes.

I think pricklypears and northcarolina have suggested two possible ways to go. I just don't know what's more appealing to renters and better for resale down the line. I think the 'window' solution is out.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 6:08PM
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If you are going to rent it out, keep the existing lower cupboards if they are in good shape, like the first photo. Otherwise do laminate counters, saving money for cupboards that are well constructed as renters tend to be hard on cupboards, with slamming, shoving, etc.

Also, I would do a wood stain that can be "cleaned up" with a stain stick. A cut-out into the living area, perhaps with some open shelves to let natural light into the kitchen area would be nice, as you've shown in some of the other pictures. Or the cut-out with bar ledge on the LR side, but make the ledge wide enough to have some functional use. Maybe some cabs or drawers under it for storage on the LR side.

Remember light colors open space; dark colors close it in. So maybe white cabs on top with undercab LED lights and keep the existing cabs or put in some other dark walnut or cherry color cabs on the bottom.

I would definitely keep as close to a full-size frig as possible. (a tall skinny frig?) Maybe an induction stove top as they are so incredibly efficient. A 2-hob unit would be plenty for a small apartment, a microwave, and dish drawer or small DW.

If you have room for it near the kitchen area, a small closet/pantry for dry goods, broom, etc.

Remember, renters need storage space. That makes it more appealing to future renters or buyers so work in what you can as you're doing this.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 9:03PM
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Great feedback. Thank you. On the positive side, there's a lot of storage space in the rest of the studio.

What are some cabinets that are durable and sturdy?

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 9:31PM
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If I was renting and I also was living with another person in that apartment, I think maybe I'd want to be able to have some separation between the kitchen and the rest of the apartment. Not everyone keeps the same hours, so having someone working in the kitchen could disturb the other person's sleep/work/reading etc. If it was a single renter, it wouldn't matter so much.

You might want to look into cabinets through Lily Ann. My DH has installed them for a few of his remodeling customers and he's been quite impressed with the quality of them (and he doesn't get impressed very easily) as well as the price.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lily Ann Cabinets

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 9:44PM
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natebear zone 10B

Well, I have an idea based on something I remember seeing on a show. However, I don't know if it could be done for 5k. The show featured a studio apartment where the kitchen ran along the back wall, but the appliances were hidden behind cabinetry (some flip up doors, DW was paneled, etc.). I just went on houzz now and searched "hidden kitchen" and the first image found was similar to what I'm TRYING to describe. LOL Forgive me, I don't know how to post pics yet and to complicate matters, I'm on a Mac.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 9:56PM
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Unless this is a high-end apartment, keeping costs under control is key. Remember, you are fixing this for the ability to rent it, not for your dream kitchen. It's easy to forget that.

Who is your target renter? Is it a single professional female, a single professional male, a young couple just starting out, a single student? Are there others of the same type renting in the area? Depending on who you want to attract and who is attracted to the apartment depends on how you approach what you do.

I would tend to keep as much storage area as possible. And I believe that good lighting can work a lot of magic in small spaces...good lighting doesn't necessarily need to be expensive, good lighting is that there's plenty of light (and be sure to "stage" the property with those lights on when a prospective renter comes through).

I would be inclined to look at Ikea - even if you decide not to go that way, the stores always have great ideas on how to maximize a small space.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 9:59PM
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Speaking as someone who has lived in a studio apartment much like this one in Manhattan, I specifically wanted one that had a completely separate kitchen. I didn't even want a window. A studio is so small, you don't typically alot of entertaining, you meet up outside. I found the thought of sleeping in the same room as my kitchen, for whatever reason, creepy.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 10:59PM
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The stove (or cooktop) against the wall is a building code violation. Must be at least 4" away. Also, the compact freestanding fridge placed directly under a countertop and surrounded by cabinetry will have its compressor burn out from excessive heat in the back within a few years. Read the installation or owner's manual and you'll see it requires about 4" of space on each side and above. A proper undercounter refrigerator with the compressor grille in the front toekick area should be used here; these are designed for zero clearance to the sides, back, and top.

My usual space-saving tips: a 12"w two-burner cooktop, an undercounter 24"w, 24"h oven with a 5" or 6" drawer beneath it (I like Fagor's inexpensive oven with the side-hinged door and glide-out racks for easy access), either a good-quality 18"w dishwasher (Miele's is best; Bosch is good but less roomy, Danby, GE, or others if you're price-conscious), or Fisher & Paykel's 24"w but only about 16" tall drawer-type dishwasher with a drawer beneath it, and perhaps a shallow drawer above it too. Roll-out trays or drawers in the base cabinets and any full-height pantrys. Sink that is less wide than usual but deep front-to-back, with either a wall-mount faucet or the faucetry in the corner(s), and the drain in a rear corner or off to the side or back - no lengthwise faucet deck stealing space from the sink. Undermount sinks gain about 5" of countertop width, if you use a countertop that can accept one.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 6:19AM
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This is not a high-rent studio. It is geared toward a single young professional who's just starting out, so not a lot of money. However, most of them seem to go for the "bling", not necessarily quality. Meaning, they'll prefer a cheap stainless steel appliance over a white Miele. And they want granite! Quality becomes an issue for me because of durability.

There are other studios in the area with hardwood floors, granite, stainless steel, etc. They are substantially more expensive but also very shoddily built, so they are very noisy.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 8:44AM
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We used to have a vacation home with the first optional layout you show. It was a great kitchen to work in. I made thanksgiving dinner there from scratch, including pies. I often cooked for 8-10 people here. The secret was that the sink was in the end of the counter run, giving the continuous counter run next to it.

Our space had a microhood over the range. Then I had a large butcher block cutting board that I could use on either counter for setting down hot pans, or prep. This was an essential part of using the space as well.

Our space also had a large closet type of pantry for storage. Is this something your space can offer?

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 9:34AM
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Yes, there is a lot of storage space in the studio. I could equip one closet to make it suitable as a pantry.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 9:54AM
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I think you know this BUT...

If you are renovating a rental, a good rule of thumb is that all your renovation costs needs to be paid back within 3 to 5 years by the increased rental income. If you are not, then you maybe losing money on the investment. (the initial capital cost follows a different formula)

For most rental properties, it does not make sense to renovate because you can't recoup it.

Landlords renovate when they HAVE to, ie the place cannot rent because it is too run down compared to the competetion! Rental is a business first, ie you have to make an income. If not, you are subdizing someone else's lifestyle. Make sure that each month that the rental property does not cost you money. If so, you are paying your tenant to live there, IMHO....

If you have to renovate, I would research the rental market in the area and the vacancy rates and rent desirability associated with that. Then target for the midrange price and quality/look and see if you can get there with minor upgrades.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 12:29PM
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who cares if the average renter goes for bling... you just need one renter, and the best one for you is someone who is not too demanding. The place is not high end to start with, so accept it as it it is.

Light on the granite.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 2:48PM
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Or, just make sure the cabinets go with a level 1 granite. Our level 1 was only $30sf installed. As small as that kitchen is, granite won't be much. The level 1 was so inexpensive that we did it in 5 bathrooms and the coffee bar in addition to the kitchen. It was almost cheaper to do the granite in the baths than a cultured marble vanity top !!

The level 1's we used ... Black Pearl, Nero, Uba Tuba, Baltic Brown, New Venetian Gold Dark, New Venetian Gold Light, and New Venetian Gold Light again. (We didn't go in with the intentions of only using 1's ... took our cabinet doors to the yard and it just so happened those were the granites that by far looked the best with each cabinet. We considered it luck!!)

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 3:14PM
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you already have granite. Make it a feature by shining more light on it.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 10:10PM
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I have one of these small galleys in my condo. Fortunately the opening is on the sink side. I think the sink in the corner is a must to get a really useful counter run (I'm doing that as part of my reno). I think the stove against the wall is a problem but for your layout it may work against creating the opening and I think having a breakfast bar in a small space is a great convenience and space saver. I'm switching the cabinets to open shelves and keeping the opening as it is so I don't lose the storage above the breakfast bar. I would think about an 18" dishwasher - I'm switching out my 24" for an 18" so I can get some decent drawer storage (best storage cabinet is the one between the stove and fridge in the current layout which I'm changing to a 15" drawer stack and putting a 12" cabinet between the stove and the wall.

Flipping the fridge should let you open up that wall - I think the under counter fridge could be a deal breaker for a lot of renters. Students and young professionals often need to prepare food at home and a fridge that small could be a big negative.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 12:59PM
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It also depends a lot on where this is. If you're in a major city where shopping is right down the block, that's a very different situation than if you're in a situation where the nearest stores are a goodish drive away.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 1:30PM
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